Monday, May 18, 2015

The Barn

As an outbuilding, it was so new that it hadn't been treated yet with stain or paint. When we first came to stay with Cynthia Dewick and David Gerbec at their Little House in Arden, you could still smell the fresh wood waiting to be cured by elements.  We sat with Cynthia and discussed the color she was thinking about staining it--a green to go with the trim of the house. The barn had been built by Amish men using the older methods and more secure connection of wooden pegs instead of nails. According to Cynthia, the builders sang as they built it. Perhaps that is what sealed its destiny as a music venue.

Our kids were the first people to sleep overnight in the barn in the blue swinging daybeds suspended from cables from the barn's high ceilings. Cynthia and David have a design sense that is at once sophisticated and casual--culled from magazines, a love of good typography, and travels in the Southern United States. Sitting on the swaying day beds, drinking good wine, if the motion overwhelmed us, we could catch our feet on the huge lacquered stumps of trees that were both coffee table and foot stool.

Joe del Tufo was the first to suggest that the barn be used as a house concert venue. Cynthia and David didn't quite know what this house concert deal was all about. But Cynthia approached a musician who was opening for an act at the Gild Hall, and soon she had booked Angela Sheik as The Barn's first act. From there, Cynthia has been able to book acts from all over the country. House concerts give musicians autonomy that few big venues can match. And the paydays aren't bad either; most places give them 100 percent of the house earnings. At $15-20 per person suggested donation, they can make more than they do in larger clubs that sometimes penalize artists if they can't bring in the crowds.

The Barn, photo by Joe del Tufo
Mark and I, living in Pennsylvania in the days before our Delaware dreams, didn't hesitate when we were invited to the first barn concert. I didn't matter that it was a weekday; we were there, driving the hour and half to Arden. We have been constants at The Barn shows, missing only one show in the three seasons of offerings. We have joked to Cynthia and David that they need to get engraved nameplates to affix to the backs of our chairs. We used to sit up front, but for the latest show, Keri saved me a seat on one of the the day beds, which are unhooked from their cables and set on the floor in the back to use as cushy seating for the shows. It is a different perspective seeing the show from the back. I got to witness the concert playing out on the faces of those three dozen lucky folks in attendance.

This past weekend, we were treated to the music of Matthew Ryan and the Northern Wires. Mark and I had heard Ryan play solo at Burlap and Bean, a coffee house in Newtown Square, PA, almost a year to the date of his show at The Barn. At that time, he was just returning to the stage from a hiatus, and he apologized as he stumbled on some of his own lyrics. While that, too, was an intimate listening room environment, it was a different concert than The Barn. Audiences in The Barn are leaned-in and primed for musicians' confessionals. It is as much a venue for story-telling as for song, and we always leave the place feeling as though we have been let in on a secret. Matthew Ryan was witty and self-aware as he referenced favorite poets Seamus Heaney and Leonard Cohen. He was coy when he revealed that he now lives in Beaver, Pennsylvania, a place name that is so lost on itself that residents fail to see the titillating double entendres in many of their town slogans.

Matthew Ryan performs at The Barn. Photo by Joe del Tufo
Then there is the music in The Barn. I am convinced that wood makes for honeyed sound. Something about the material adds richness to the vibrations. I've experienced it at The Gild Hall and heard tell of it when we toured Ryman Auditorium with its long wooden church pews. The amber lighting, a mix of bare Edison bulbs and mason jar candles, adds to the feel that you have stepped into back into a golden age before screens reflected blue light into our faces. At Ryan's concert, fabric artist Linda Celestian debuted a large artwork which acted as backdrop. The aquas of the curtains added another dimension. As did the band. Saturday night's concert marked the first time for a band, rather than a solo or duo act. As evidence, a huge van was parked in Cynthia and David's driveway, rather than the usual beater car of a traveling musician. They brought down the house and made Cynthia glad she preemptively told 84-year-old neighbor Ruth Bean to remove her hearing aids before she went to bed. After the show--in a continuation of the confessional and perhaps due to some celebratory Jameson shots-- we found out that band member Bones was the bass guitarist from Midnight Oil. Respect.

The Barn has ruined me for all other music venues. It is the place and the people, but it is also the music. If I had to reduce my CD collection to just the ones I bought at the shows--and one always buys the music offered out of the minstrel's suitcase--I would lead a well-soundtracked life. With Alternate Route's Nothing More and Barnaby Bright's Gravity, Angela Sheik's Run for Cover or Flagship Romance's Treason,  I could choreograph the rest of my days. Because it has no heating, The Barn only hosts shows in warmer months, and with the 2015 season open for business, I suspect that my CD collection will grow in spite of my current state of bliss.  To quote singer Susan Enan--Bring on the Wonder.

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