Home Culture From Concerts to Gigs: A Look Inside the Last Tailgate on the Iowa Magic Bus

From Concerts to Gigs: A Look Inside the Last Tailgate on the Iowa Magic Bus

From Concerts to Gigs: A Look Inside the Last Tailgate on the Iowa Magic Bus

Editor’s note: This is part of a series counting and exploring the mysteries of college sports.

Grinnell, Iowa – Standing in a harvested cornfield sits a 39-year-old bus that contains more stories, half-truths, obscenities and outright lies than an open Wikipedia page.

In the year In 1997, the Magic Bus was ranked the nation’s top tailgater by Sports Illustrated. Surrounded by old farm machinery and newer models still working the field is a 1984 International S-1800 bus with an irregular “Nude 69” capacity. ” moved a few miles around Poweshiek County to get the juice flowing on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a five-speed with a two-speed shaft that goes from zero to 60 “in about 5-10 minutes,” says heavy machinery mechanic Shane Carnahan, who has fixed the ultimate party board on wheels several times in recent years. For now, Carnahan’s border collie Duke keeps an eye on Magic Bass, which happens to be from his former home at 817 Melrose Ave. It’s 69 miles away – just down the road from Kinnick Stadium.

For 20 years, the Magic Bus was Iowa City’s ultimate keg party, averaging about 50 kegs and 1,500 people per game day. For $5, customers paid to see live music and drink whatever beer they wanted. At least these were the rules. City and university leaders didn’t always interpret Magic Bass as a concert, and two times caught organizers bottling it up.

13 years ago, he was symbolically put out to pasture by the Iowa City hierarchy and ownership of the Iowa City Ducks Rugby Club. But the tales, oh man.

“Some of these stories may be part of the reason I don’t have a degree,” says Brian DeCoster, owner of Magic Bus.

Good mysteries usually don’t start at the conclusion of the first paragraph. But when you talk about the Magic Bus, where the scantily clad performers in front of thousands of tailgaters are equal to the number of cupcakes lined up next to it, the legend begins with a fond memory.

The birth of the bus

DeCoster and the party life of Iowa City became synonymous when he was a student at Iowa in the early 1980s. Before dropping out and entering the rental business full-time in his fourth year, he bought and rented a refrigerator on campus every year. He has been the Big Ten’s top recruit for more than three decades. Any story about the Magic Bus starts with the decoster.

In the year Known for hosting some of Iowa City’s best tailgate parties in the mid-1980s, DeCoster wanted to add beer cakes to his tailgate location on university property. The University of Iowa shot down the request, moved the venue to private property, and the parties settled.

Then in 1990, DeCoster and a few friends were shooting pool at The Vineyard and one asked him where he was thinking of watching the Iowa game. DeCoster said the same party position. Then his friend reminded him that Iowa was playing in Miami.

“So I said, ‘Maybe I’ll buy a bus and we’ll all go,'” DeCoster said. “That’s how it happened. I bought a bus, I think the next day.

The black and gold bus cost DeCoster $1,000. DeCoster and 12 others piled into what they christened “The Magic Bus” after The Man’s song and immediately left for Florida. Back in Iowa City, people grabbed the pool. Yes, the bus broke down, but it was quickly fixed.

On the way, DeCoster and friends hit a bar in St. Louis and picked up some girls who joined the traveling party. They were ridiculously behind schedule and Decoster told everyone he wouldn’t stop unless he added fuel. It was a rough experience for the new passengers considering all the beer drinking.

“I said you can scratch in the bucket like everybody else,” DeCoster said. “We’re not dragging. And they’re like ‘okay’. They shrug, and we all grab sheets and knock in the bucket like everyone else.

The Magic Bass put more people in Atlanta and went on to beat Miami 48-21. The party did not end there. They continued on to the Florida Keys. No one wins the pool because the magic bus makes it back to Iowa City in one piece.

Party machine

In the six years DeCoster has owned it, the Magic Bus has made trips to the Kentucky Derby, Indy 500, Mardi Gras, bowl games, concerts and numerous bachelor/bachelorette parties. It once hosted the world’s largest Tupperware party. DeCoster estimates he has put 176,000 miles on the bus.

But nothing quite describes the Magic Bus like tailgating. Over the years, Iowa has developed a reputation as one of America’s ultimate party campuses. In the Princeton Review’s annual party school rankings from 2012 to 2016, Iowa City ranked No. 1 or No. 2 after Magic Bass’ heyday. In fact, it was a notch or two lower than in the 1990s, especially during tailgating.

DeCoster built a stage on the Magic Bus, which later featured live music on game days. Radio station KRNA-FM aired out of the Magic bus, and many bands built their following with pregame, halftime and postgame sets. There were other — ahem — acts on the bus that often resulted in nudity. We’ll stop short to explain everything that’s inside and above the Magic Bus.

But there are other memories for those who experienced it in person. In the year

“Everybody was in full party mode,” Winslow said. “Music was playing, beer was flowing and there were happy Hawkeye fans everywhere. We finally got into the stadium for the game. After the third quarter, Iowa trailed No. 2 PSU 21-7, the excitement soon died down. My dad and I stayed until the end, but my husband and my cousin He left after the third quarter to go back to Magic Bass. Let’s just say I was happier in Magic Bass than I was after the game when we met with him.

A good weather home game started with 30 to 50 kegs of beer. When it was down, DeCoster called a taxi, and another 10 or 20 beer distributors, bars and other establishments became sponsors. Brewer executive Jake Leinkugel sponsored the tailgate and provided about 50 kg. DeCoster and Leinenkugel went to take pictures, and Leinenkugel noticed that the kegs were not of the beers. When 70’s rock star Rick Derringer played at a tailgate in 1997, he was already out and about 100kg.

“It was really crowded. There was literally no place to take off,” DeCoster said. “After that, we sat on the roof of the bus with our legs dangling, and I finally fell asleep. I wake up around 10 at night, it’s dark. I climb down from the roof of the bus, down the stairs and lie down on the sofa.

“I heard this big bang and bang and some yelling. I go outside and my friend Eric is lying in the fetal position on a beer stein under the pipes for the bus. And it looks like he fell from the roof of the bus.

DeCoster’s friend said the blood didn’t fall from the bus, but from what had previously fallen from the garage because there was no room in the yard around the bus.

Another wild tailgate convinced DeCoster to sell the bus. He left the Magic Bus for more beer and returned to the crowd, cheering on the naked man clinging to the rusty antenna of a two-story colonial house.

“It had a triple layer of rotten onions,” DeCoster said. “I got up on the roof of the house trying to bring him down and encourage the crowd to stop cheering him on. And, of course, that won’t happen. I don’t remember how I got him down safely. But I decided that was it.”

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Brian DeCoster bought a Magic Bass for $1,000. (Scott Dochterman/The Athletic)


A party pad like the Magic Bus might feel like paradise, but it also had its moments in purgatory. One of the most infamous incidents occurred on September 11, 1993 – the day of the Iowa-Iowa State game. Local police warned DeCoster that other officers were planning to bootleg him and future Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan. Because DeCoster was serving beer at a concert, officers said it was a place of business. Both were arrested but the charges were dropped. Once again, law enforcement took Magic Bass away.

DeCoster bought two other buses – Magic Bus Too and Black Magic – but still struggled to recover his assets. Six months later, the state returned the Magic Bus to DeCoster.

“I got it back on Groundhog Day, and we had a big party,” DeCoster said. “Get out of the tied lot, put on a tux, and go straight to St. Louis.

After DeCoster sold the Magic Bus, he helped bring homecoming concert entertainment. This included Derringer in 1997, Leader East in 1998 and Molly Hatchet in 1999. Most of Iowa City’s finest were on good terms with DeCoster, except for one officer. The day Molly Hatchet arrived on the Magic Bus, Sgt. Sid Jackson warned DeCoster that if a southern rock band played, everyone, including the band, would be arrested.

“The band was like, ‘There’s no way we’re going to be tied to your cause,'” DeCoster said. “So we sat down and talked for a while and decided to make an air guitar.”

The producers played a Molly Hatchet CD and the band lip synced and played air guitar. Jackson says this show is inciting a riot, and DeCoster has him write the ticket on stage. Shouting and beer throwing ensued. After that, Iowa City had to reimburse DeCoster for the situation.

“It didn’t ruin the day, but it put a little bit of a damper on it,” DeCoster said. But I don’t think anyone would say Molly Hatch was playing air guitar at their party.

Changing hands

DeCoster in 2011. In 1996, he chose to rob the Magic Bus with proceeds going to the Children’s Miracle Network. It changed hands three times in 10 minutes before four members of the Iowa City Ducks Rugby Club were taken down by the Magic Bus.

Longtime Duck President Jeremy Fricks bought half of the raffle tickets, but two men from Des Moines won instead. That didn’t stop Freaks or his teammates from chasing him.

“We took them to Mom’s saloon and fed them a lot of beer, and I told them how their wives wouldn’t be happy if they dragged Magic Bass down to Des Moines,” said Fricks, who now lives in Pipe Fighter, Oklahoma. We might as well have handed them a little devil’s lettuce.

The bus was a burden at first. The rugby team moves from place to place until football season approaches. None of the rugby players had Decoster’s finances, so finding a way to break even was a challenge. Ultimately, they built the music scene and held bands on top of the bus. But the cleaning became a real chore.

“We have to clear the lot completely and then we have to pull the one port-a-potty that we’re back in – it’s always full – and Riverside Drive is going to slow down,” Fricks said. . “It was always good on Sunday morning to deal with this.”

When DeCoster sold the bus, it did not include the drop rack. The Ducks were on their way to a rugby match, and at a gas station, a man told them he had a rack of Magic Bass. They picked it up and welded it, but after the low filter bridge lifted it, it had no rails. The rugby players “borrowed” a piece of wood from one of their parents when the deck was built to make it “safer” for the bands.

Freaks and his rugby friends transferred ownership to the club. The ducks had their wrists out and acted as security. Donations from beer distributors — first Miller, then Shriner, then Miller again — kept the club profitable, which in turn allowed it to donate money to local charities. He worked with downtown Iowa City bars to book acts, so bands got weekend exposure. A rugby player was an electrician and by rewiring the property there were no electrical problems for the bands.

In the year In 1997, Sports Illustrated gave an issue to the top 50 college sports programs in America. Iowa was a wrestling dynasty and a perennial Big Ten contender in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. But the story offers “the best traveling tail party in America.” The Magic Bus made it big time.

When the photographer arrived on Easter Sunday, the Magic Bus had been sitting in the pasture all winter and would not start. The club pulled the bus up to the tailgate and called a bunch of regulars.


The Magic Bus became a symbol of Hawke’s hedonism, which city and university officials believed needed more control. The Ducks had to raise the cover charge to $10 per person, but it was still a bargain. In the year In the mid-2000s, the university suspended halftime access outside Kinnick Stadium, where fans would run down the street, knock back a few beers, and return in the third quarter.

Curbing binge drinking became a hot topic at the university a decade later. Longtime ownership at Kinnick has changed hands several times, but in 2010, the new owners wanted to build their own money-making horse business. The Magic Bus had to be moved, and needed a temporary use permit. Neighbors launched a petition against the bus, and the move was dismissed by city officials as “failing to meet standards, including proper public and emergency access to the tailgate.”

The Ducks looked for another location within a 10-minute walk of Kinnick Stadium, but it didn’t pan out. The disappearance of the Magic Bass coincided with the university’s “Think Before You Drink” campaign. In the year During the 2010 season opener, police issued 146 alcohol-related tickets or arrests. The protest was so violent that the university and the local police had to retreat. It took years before thousands of fans returned to traditional tailgating. The magic bus never came back.

“Iowa City and (then UI President) Sally Mason decided to take the icon from the University of Iowa, and the icon was the magic bus,” Fricks said. They decided we were going to find a way to cancel the bus and maybe this thing about Iowa City being the biggest place to tailgate and the biggest party town could be gone, which obviously didn’t happen. And why six Saturdays a year?

For a few years the Ducks brought magical bass to the pre-tailgate brew, then the ignition cords were pulled and it wouldn’t start. A magic bus pulled up to the Club 76 American Legion building. In the year When the Hawkeyes played at Soldier Field in 2012, the club moved to a Merkle trailer in Chicago, but it sat largely unused in rural Johnson County.

“It was such a bad thing there,” said Tyler Dailey, president of the Iowa City Ducks and coach of the University of Iowa club team. “Once we couldn’t start it on our own, we had to take it back to the lodge. And that’s where it sat for a few years until we found someone to fix it.


During the outbreak, Dailey was told about a mechanic in central Iowa who could fix anything. So Dailey called Carnahan and had the Magic Bus towed to the shop.

“An hour after I found him in the parking lot, he made it run,” Dailey said.

Pine needles and debris were everywhere from years of inactivity. Needs new tires, brakes and electrical work. But Carnahan worked on it, and burned it before stopping in the corn this week.

“It works like a sewing machine,” he said.

This summer Carnahan plans to rebuild the shelf on it. The hope is that the Ducks and University Club teams will eventually use it for charity events and rugby parties. Perhaps one day the tail will appear, but this is not the first thought.

“That sort of went with his head,” Dailey said.

As for the legacy, the magic bus lives where the legends are embellished because the details are fleeting. But there was no such thing as tailgating in Iowa City.

“They tell me that all the time,” Fricks said. “I said I don’t remember a hell of a lot.”

“Not a week goes by that I don’t hear people talk about it or people talk to me about it,” DeCoster said. “He had a great time.”

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(Top image photo: Scott Dochterman/The Athletic)