Stone Mountain Arts Center: Off The Beat’n Path – Great Music Venues In Rural America
Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine has it figured out from both the fan and musician perspective.
Carol Noonan: songwriter, musician, former troubadour, critically acclaimed recording artist, venue owner and promoter. In another chapter of her life she was a touring performer so she understands what it takes to create an extraordinary night for both the performers and the audience. In turn, she and her husband Jeff execute this with grace several times a month, presenting some of the most talented songwriters and troubadours in the country.
Stone Mountain Arts Center (SMAC) is in the middle of rural Maine. The first time I went there with a musician we thought to ourselves, NOBODY will be at this show. You can’t even find it (nope, not even on the GPS). I know Mainers are used to the curvy narrow back roads, and this is probably nothing new to them; but at the time, the venue was still on the new side and we were concerned. I’ll cut to the chase; the show was sold out. In the past five years SMAC has presented such performers as the Indigo Girls, Arlo Guthrie, Marc Cohn, Ellis Paul, Dar Williams, Susan Werner, Jerry Douglas, Roseanne Cash, Shawn Colvin, Richie Havens, The Smothers Brothers, just to name a few. I might add… successfully, they are consistently packing the room. Click Here to see the impressive list of past performers.
The Musicians Perspective, A Weary Troubadours Palace
The restored 200 year old timber barn off a narrow dirt road nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains is one of the best venues I have been to in this country. I’m willing to bet, if you were to poll every musician that has toured through there, they would easily list it in their top five.
SMAC takes all the right steps to insure the performers have a great show.
“The Welcome Wagon”
When you arrive, while pulling into the gravel parking lot, there is someone walking out to your vehicle to greet you and help carry in gear. Just like your dog, it’s as if they never left the window waiting for you to return. It’s usually the sound person, who acts as the guard to the palace ready and waiting.
An unassuming exterior leads you into a beautiful rustic venue with a majestic air. Warm hellos from all the staff welcome you in and by the time you have clicked open the latches of your guitar case, they have already offered to bring coffee, water, a glass of wine, or a snack to rejuvenate your energy after the drive. The performers are truly treated like royalty, but in a very casual, laid back “Maine” sort of way. The sound people here are professional, friendly and take a lot of pride in the great engineering skills they provide. They are always prepared; never, have we arrived and they are still getting ready looking for cables or powering up the board or hauling monitors.
The large stage is big enough to easily accommodate a 6 piece band and a baby grand piano. But it still retains its intimate feel when a performer is solo on stage. They achieve this with white lights daintily strewn and a simple yet stunning backdrop of 3 tall windows framed in white wood and a stencil carving of a tall tree to emulate a stained glass window. Music is the religion here and it does have a bit of old country church feel to it.
The green room is a cozy home away from home. I can honestly say that I could live there, and would like to. There are couches and comfy chairs, TV with DVD and VCR and a stack of movies to watch, pool table, a stereo which includes a turn table and inventory of about 100 plus vinyl records. The most impressive amenity is a basket filled with guitar strings, picks, capos, 9 volt batteries, lozenges, and other little tidbits of necessities that a traveling musician might need. There is nowhere nearby to run and get this stuff so SMAC makes sure you are not totally screwed if you left your capo on the stage in Boston the night before. They also have delicious pots of hot coffee with hand pottered mugs, and a refrigerator filled with refreshments; both healthy and the not so healthy to satisfy everyone in the traveling group. There is even a little back porch to take in a little bit of the woodsy Maine scenery and relax in the country air.
They serve a simple but well prepared buffet style meal of fresh salad, delicious fresh pasta, perfectly cooked protein of some kind, fresh veggies and a few bottles of wine. It’s hard to leave that green room, trust me.
What have they done here? Besides satiate the artist with delectable munchies? They have completely set the artists up to have an amazing show. The weary travelers are given the opportunity to get in, sound check, be confident that they will sound great, refresh themselves, iron clothes, nourish themselves with something other than fast food, change their strings, take care of their voice, relax and get balanced for the show.
When the artist has a great show the venue has a great show, and the audience has a great show. Everybody wins! The artists want to come back to Stone Mountain not just because it’s the only place to play in the area, but because they love it. They talk about their experience; their fans talk about their experience and they come back to see other shows and bring friends because they trust it will be a quality night. Thus, it’s worth the risk to go and discover new artists at SMAC when they know the experience will be superb. Word of mouth seems to have contributed greatly to the success of this venue.
From The Fans Perspective; Let Them Eat Cake!
As welcoming as they are to the artist, they are equally welcoming to the audience members. Everyone is greeted and shown to their tables. They serve dinner, wine and beer. The meals are from out of a gourmet food magazine yet still has the “comfort food” feel you would expect from a country kitchen, and the prices are very reasonable. The seating is comfortable, the service is excellent, and they do not serve during the performance. There is always a 15 minute intermission when everyone can grab some more wine and beer for the second set.
SMAC takes pride in creating a quality and fun experience for the musicians and the audience. They have special dinner and accommodation packages with local B&B’s so you can turn your concert experience into a beautiful weekend getaway.
Recently, SMAC launched a free concert series to introduce up and coming talent to their already dedicated audience. Click Here to Read about “Waltzing for Dreamers”. This is so smart, and in the true spirit of being a promoter to help cultivate new acts and new audiences.
Carol and Jeff continue to create great events for their solid customer base, while always bringing in new audience members. Only thing missing is on line marketing using social networking, and a website that is a little more organized which also allows you to interact with music and video so you can check out their upcoming acts. If they get this together, their business is certain to bust open the barn doors. This venue is worth traveling to for a show.
I have run venues before and am certain there is an immense amount of hard work that goes into making this venue such a great place to see shows. But they make it look so darn easy!
You can read all about the history of the barn and upcoming shows here
Check out this Keb Mo live performance to see the great experience you get at SMAC.