No, they didn’t just throw a dart at a map and land on Iowa.
British folk-rock stars Mumford & Sons actually put a lot of consideration into picking the sites for their five Gentlemen of the Road festivals, which bring them next Friday and Saturday to the small city of Waverly in northeastern Iowa.
A three-hour drive from the Mumford-loving Twin Cities — a fact certainly noted in the site selection — Waverly has a population just under 10,000, a small Lutheran college (Wartburg) and not much else of note besides being a nice Upper Midwest town.
The band found all those traits attractive.
“Part of the idea is we find somewhere unique, somewhere people usually won’t go,” Mumford bassist Ted Dwane said by phone about next weekend’s festival, which also will feature My Morning Jacket, the Flaming Lips, Jenny Lewis, Dawes and six other bands.
“There are a lot of boxes to be ticked,” Dwane said. “We haven’t done that many shows in Iowa before, and certainly not in that part of the state where we’re going to be.
“I know it’s a 10,000-population kind of town, which is a nice size. People can walk around it, it’s pretty, and there are big cities that aren’t too ridiculously far away for people to travel from.”
There was one other very important category to mark off, too: “The people of Waverly had to be into the idea,” Dwane added with a laugh.
They most certainly are, said Waverly Mayor Charles Infelt.
“There’s a lot of excitement for it, and we’ve also done a lot of planning for it,” said the mayor, who expects at least 10,000 fans and said he believes that the dollars funneled into the community will “be in the millions.”
He also thinks the benefits go past the economic impact.
“It’s a good way for outsiders to recognize there’s a growing charm and a livability to towns like ours,” Infelt said. “They’ll get to know the good feeling that comes with being a Waverly resident, even if it’s only for a couple days.”
It has also given the mayor a chance to get hip to one of the top-selling rock bands of recent years.
“I’m catching up on who [Mumford & Sons] are, and I like them a lot,” Infelt said. “There’s a reason they’re a destination kind of band like this.”
Even for longtime fans of singer Marcus Mumford and his London-based band, the Gentlemen of the Road festival comes with something of a new learning curve.
The quartet changed directions on its new album, “Wilder Mind,” trading in the rootsy acoustic flavor of its Grammy-winning 2012 album, “Babel,” and hits such as “I Will Wait” for more electric guitars and a full-on, Coldplay-esque rock sound.
“It happened as naturally as everything else we’ve done,” Dwane said of the musical transformation, noting that the “Babel” album “represented us at that time.”
He added, “I think we did a good job exploring the parameters of that lineup of the band with acoustic instruments and not having a drummer. As we started writing songs for the third album, though, it became pretty apparent that people just weren’t that excited to play acoustic instruments this time.”
Rather than feeling the pressure to repeat the success of “Babel” — one of rock’s top-selling records of the past half-decade, with almost 3 million U.S. copies sold — the band trusted its instincts to try something new.
“We never could have foreseen the success of ‘Babel,’ ” Dwane said. “It’s not like banjo records were soaring up the charts, you know. We trusted our artistic instincts in that case, so if anything that’s really what we tried to repeat in this case.”
Likewise, the band used its leverage as a top-dog band to explore new territory on the concert front, starting with its first series of “stopover” festivals in 2013.
Waverly is the second of this year’s fests. The first one was last weekend in Seaside Heights, N.J. (This weekend the band is headlining the Bonnaroo festival.) After Iowa, the fests take place in Salida, Colo., and Walla Walla, Wash.
“As soon as we started playing sports arenas,” Dwane recalled, “we thought how great it would be if we could instead play to 25,000 people in our own way — a way we can control it so there’s not all kinds of company branding around the show, and do it in a way that celebrates the community.”
He believes it’s more fun for fans, too.
“Everyone has the same experience having to travel to get there. That’s part of the point. And when else are you going to get to Waverly?”