What went down at a secret show in Winters
It makes sense. Before factory farming made it possible for the majority of folks to live in nonrural areas, barns were the spot for communities to gather—to play music and dance. So when David Wilson of Ribbons Publications got the notion to do a show in a barn, things started to fall into place.
After a friend asked him to arrange a show for K Records artist Karl Blau, Wilson, a 26-year-old Berkeley resident, spent three weeks driving around looking for barns, dropping off notes of interest in mailboxes of properties with potentially accommodating barns. No responses came of the inquiries, but through his network, he found a barn on the farm of the nonprofit Center for Land-Based Learning on Putah Creek Road in Winters, Calif.
But the Barn Show on Saturday, January 31, wasn’t just about music: It was a dinner, light show, dance and sleepover—a multifaceted creative convergence.
More than 100 people attended the event, though none were recognizable Sacramentans, largely due to Wilson’s Bay Area-based network: By the time Sac folks caught wind of the secret show, it was already sold out. The low capacity limit was unfortunate, and the promotion may strike some as crossing over into a cliquish realm, but like house shows in Sac and Davis, those in the circuit will be in the know first.
Food was prepared by Sunday Food & Wine group; Bay Area Slow Club chef Chris Kronner laid out a bountiful buffet of comestibles around a pit fire under the stars, including Spanish rice, tamales and a couple of roasted donated goats. The Secret Café’s Christine Manoux made walnut cake—nuts donated by the CFLBL’s founder and walnut farmer, Craig McNamara—with warm apple compote on top that was ridiculously good.
Then, sated, folks sat on rows of hay bales in the loftless cutting barn, facing the table-lamp-lit stage. Little Wings, a.k.a. Kyle Field, played first, making the crowd chuckle with his fits-and-starts song delivery. Barefooted with blacked-out teeth and drawn-on freckles, he was joined by Blau on drums for several songs, his face similarly painted.
Next was a short set by San Francisco female psych-rock trio, the Sarees, who helped the audience dance the goat out of their bellies. And then Blau—an amalgamator of many music genres who is difficult to pigeonhole—took the stage. After a few songs with help from the percussionist from Brightblack Morning Light, he eased into his masterful use of loops. The hay bales were cleared out of the way, and a dance floor was born. Blau can beatbox, and he created multilayered dance tracks with just his voice and guitar; the crowd enthusiastically kicked up much hay. McNamara, the walnut farmer, kept exclaiming what a good voice Blau’s equipped with. Then, the clean-cut, gray-maned McNamara was spotted vigorously dancing a few minutes after Blau’s set wrapped, as Wilson and two other deejays spun records. People swung from the barn’s rafters, and Misto Reef Lights (Jeffrey Manson and Kelly Nicholson) continued their analog (read: overhead projector) light show.
By this time, it was frigid outside, but warm and lively inside the barn, thanks to the exuberant dance party that was powering on full force.
Tents were already pitched outside, and folks were invited to sleep in the barn or the farmhouse. McNamara said the next morning, the grounds “were cleaned up immaculately.”
With all the players involved in the Barn Show, it hearkened back to the community vibe of the bygone barn dance. It wasn’t just another bar-slash-live-music venue; it was a destination. While the CFLBL was thrilled about the event’s success, McNamara said it’d probably opt for quieter gatherings in the future. And Wilson plans to continue producing shows for his community because of the payoff he described on his blog: “[S]o many people helped and contributed out of good spirit. The lesson: an evening built on care is an evening where everyone feels cared for … and that’s a powerful feeling.”