When I first heard the announcement that the Mumford & Sons “Gentlemen of the Road Stopover” concert this summer would have a tour stop in Waverly, Iowa, my first thought was, “What the hell? Why Waverly?”
A couple of days later, the Des Moines Register asked the same question in a March 7 story headline: “Why Waverly?” in about 400-point type, with the subhead “How a massive festival landed in small-town Iowa.”
I immediately knew I needed to pay a visit to this special little town north of Cedar Falls/Waterloo.
I drove there last Saturday, and after spending just a few hours there, I was smitten. This is a VERY nice small town – population just over 10,000 – that has just enough of everything in a great location: far enough removed from larger cities that it has a small-town feel – but, importantly, close enough that you can drive to Waterloo/Cedar Falls for more food, shopping, and entertainment choices when you need them.
I started my self-guided tour of Waverly at the Wartburg College campus. I parked in a (friendly!) visitors’ parking spot just inside the entrance. The campus was very quiet. A groundskeeper was mowing the nearly perfect central lawn.
The campus is small, with an enrollment of 1,661 students. Although it dates back to the 1850s, the architecture is mostly new – 12 buildings have been constructed since 1990. A few of the buildings are old and lovely. The grounds are graceful. With the exception of a group of three young women discussing their laundry, the place was eerily serene.
I finished my campus walk and returned to my car. I drove around town, trying to find parks and the downtown area on my own, but I finally resorted to using the map in the Waverly Visitors Guide I’d picked up.
I drove to the Three Rivers Park, hoping to get a nice view of the Cedar River. The park was small and well maintained, with a large shelter house but not much else. The view was of Three Rivers Pond. A great place to picnic, but, alas, I had no picnic food.
I crossed the Waverly Rail Trail, so I found a place to park my car and walked on the trail for a while. The trail includes seven bridges, three underpasses, parks, and river views. I parked near a Nestlé factory that smelled exactly like Nestlé Quik and made me crave chocolate milk.
I parked downtown and took pictures of the cool old buildings and the Palace Theatre. There are plenty of downtown shops, bars, and restaurants to keep you busy all afternoon. I decided to eat at the East Bremer Diner, a decent if not memorable restaurant. The waitress called me “sweetheart” three times.
After lunch, I continued to explore. The Cedar River runs through town, with a dam located right downtown. I drove by the county fairgrounds, more parks, the very nice-looking high school, an outdoor pool with a twisty water slide, and the really gorgeous Waverly Golf and Country Club. I got a bit lost and turned around at the CUNA Mutual Group campus, which seems like a heck of a nice place to work. According to Wikipedia, CUNA is “a mutual insurance company that provides financial services to cooperatives, credit unions, their members, and other customers worldwide.”
So, back to my original reason for visiting: to try to figure out how Waverly managed to lure the Gentlemen of the Road concert (featuring lots of bands I never heard of, like My Morning Jacket, The Flaming Lips, Rubblebucket, and a few others, plus Mumford & Sons, who I really like) on June 19-20. Well, according to the Des Moines Register story, one of the musicians said this:
“The town has to understand that this is about them as much as it’s about us. We’re trying to celebrate what they’re about and have people travel there and have a really positive experience. Finding cities that are willing and cool is half the challenge.”
I think this is awesome. I would love to be able to attend this concert – maybe not camp out, which is what most people will be doing – but just see the crowd and hear the music and experience the joy. The concert itself will be, I believe, on the Wartburg athletic fields, with camping nearby. They’re expecting 35,000 people.
This will be the second time in recent memory that Waverly and Wartburg have been the center of a major event. Last year, Waverly was an overnight stop on RAGBRAI. They obviously know how to put on a party.
Call me a new fan of this charming town. And so I say: “Why NOT Waverly?”