Brownfield, ME: Stone Mountain Music
One gig took Carol six hours to Dexter, Maine. “There was just this grange hall and flat fields,” she remembers. Her guitarist, a city guy, doubted anyone would come. “But it was like ‘Field of Dreams,’ ” Carol says. “The cars started coming out of nowhere, and the room filled up in five minutes. Kids in their 20s, old people, hippies, tree-huggers, chainsaw guys, snowmobile people, everybody.” Seeing that outpouring sparked anew her long-held belief that rural people create their own worlds out of whatever they have around them.It was time she created her own world in Brownfield. Her idea was to bring national acts to her own backyard, some 136 miles north of Boston. Jeff’s barn would be perfect, but it sat too close to the road, away from the view. “No problem,” said Jeff. “We’ll just pick it up and move it.”
They laid a foundation behind the farmhouse, built knee walls, inserted I-beams, hired a crane, and wrote their neighbors to get their okay. Half the town showed up for the barn moving in October 2005.
It wasn’t until the crane had the timber frame dangling just clear of the farmhouse roof that Carol thought, “Who do we think we are to do this? We’ve got some nerve.” But then, like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float, her neighbors grabbed the ropes and guided the barn, unbelievably, into place.
Before they could open a dinner theater hosting national acts and serving gourmet pizzas, fancy salads, fine wines, and imported beers, however, Carol and Jeff faced endless obstacles. If they didn’t pick an opening date, they’d miss the summer tourists. The first show would be August 5, 2006. But not even Jeff, the hardest-working man in Maine, could do it all.
With only a month to go, he still had to Sheetrock the walls and lay the hardwood floors. Rain poured into the building. The couple who’d booked the center for their mid-August wedding expressed concern. “You’re the least of my problems,” said Carol. “I’ve got Ralph Stanley coming!”
Jeff hired another local guy to work day and night. They lined the balcony with old barn wood and installed 50 refurbished 1930s seats salvaged from the Boston Opera House. They lit the rafters with tall ironwork lights salvaged from a church. The dressing room wasn’t ready for Stanley, but everything else was.
The grand opening packed out. The wedding went beautifully. The stars lined up: Mary Chapin Carpenter, the Indigo Girls, Mavis Staples, Bela Fleck, the Capitol Steps, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. There was music for everyone — folk, Celtic, blues, Cajun, bluegrass, country, classical — and from all over New England, people came.
Carol’s efforts rippled out to her neighbors, who came to work the shows; to local artists like Becca Van Fleet, who made mugs for the center; to area B&Bs, such as The Inn at Crystal Lake, which offered a Stone Mountain getaway complete with tickets and a shuttle to the show.
The scenic drive, however, proved challenging for musicians maneuvering tour buses and towing trailers. Marty Stuart’s vehicle got stopped by a tree felled in a snowstorm at 4 in the morning and had to back half a mile down Dugway Road. Kathy Mattea’s bus missed the turn, jackknifed in the snow, and had to be rescued by a neighbor with a backhoe. Carol figured that’d be the last of those musicians, but they loved it, and rebooked.