Events: Madden Road MusicFest

I grew up in Ohio, one of six kids (number five, for those of you who believe birth order holds significance). My family sang together. At home, in the car, at church. These days my siblings are scattered from Mumbai, India to Mutual, Ohio — with a brother in Berlin along the way — so opportunities to make music together are few and far between. A few members of my family decided to put together the Madden Road MusicFest over the Labor Day weekend, giving the rest of us a little musical incentive to come home again. My brother, along with his band (composed of my nephews and niece) are the family members making music these days. So it makes sense that they host the festival, headlining the evening with their set of folk and Americana tunes, all of which were original songs written by my brother, except for his cover of Paradise County, a John Prine song that still makes me want to cry no matter how many times I hear it. The rest of the music at the festival was provided by a roster of talented singer-songwriters and bands, with a lineup that ranged from bluegrass to delta blues to indie rock to gospel.

We say that the Madden Road MusicFest is a micro-festival. It’s not intended to be a big operation — the Music Hall above my mom’s antique shop, the site of the festival, can only hold 120 people or so — and it’s not intended to be slick and polished. Madden Road MusicFest is designed to be a family gathering at heart, with an open invitation for likeminded souls to join us for a day of good food and good music. Not to sound overly sentimental, but the plan for creating a music-centered extended family reunion worked, with cousins from Virginia, Chicago and Washington D.C. making the trek to our little shindig. Even our 96-year-old grandma stopped by for a few songs and a piece of apple pie from the Screen Door Bakery. Which was the name we gave to the old screen door we used as a backdrop for a vintage bakery rack (stolen from my mom’s antiques shop) packed with homemade cookies and pie. There was other food on offer as well, provided by my sister Amy and her family, who ran the Madden Road MusicFest food booth, serving up homemade grilled pizzas topped with vegetables that Amy grew on the family farm, just a mile up the road. And Amy also managed to put together a produce stand with her butternut squash, zucchini and pumpkins with MRMF in raised letters, carved right into the surface.

The day was long, and hot — if the intermittent rain didn’t get you wet, the sweat making rivulets down your face would do the job — but no one complained. Everyone was too busy recalling just how good it is to pry ourselves from our screens and earphones and take some time to eat real food while listening to real people make music, all of us part of the same family, if only for a day.

All photos courtesy of Adam Caouette.

For more on the bands pictured — Daniel Dye & the Miller Road Band, Todd the Fox & Lisa Bunny, William the Accountant — along with the rest of the festival musicians, check out the links on the festival website: www.maddenroadmusic.com.

From New England to Ohio: Everybody Loves a Banjo

Tuning up in between sets in the Madden Road music hall.

It is my deeply held belief, after growing up in Ohio and living much of my adult life in Massachusetts, that New Englanders and Midwesterners have a lot more in common than they realize. Maybe the populations of each respective state go in opposite directions at the voting booth (somebody has to vote for the other guy, right?) or fail to place quite the same premium on organic food, or the same premium on going to church, or…well, you get the picture. But what most of us fail to understand is that most Midwesterners are just New Englanders at heart, a few generations removed. My people, for instance, came from New Hampshire, just over the Massachusetts border, and my own grandfather was as Yankee as it is possible to be, cardigans and all — even though he was, technically-speaking, a born and bred Ohioan. As Midwesterners, our puritanical ways are your puritanical ways, only without the sophisticated veneer that people in New England have developed over the last hundred years or so, a polish on what used to be a hard way of life that involved livestock and growing food and a lot of Bible-reading, the things that occupied yesterday’s New Englanders every bit as much as they are perceived to occupy today’s Ohioans.

So when I go back to Ohio to participate in some sort of down-home activity, like hosting a local music festival, I don’t feel all that far removed from my life in Massachusetts. Everyone in New England loves the banjo as much as anybody back in Ohio — even if they’ve forgotten this fact. Making music, especially making music with acoustic instruments, takes all of us, every one of us, back to another time — a time when we had much more in common than we seem to have now. I realize this sounds overly simplistic, and no doubt it is, but there is an unmistakable ring of truth to it, especially when you feel the power of music in a setting that brings people together of different ages, political persuasions and even musical tastes — which is what happened at the festival in Ohio.

The 2011 Madden Road MusicFest took place on September 3rd in a little crossroads of a town called Mutual. We had a great time hanging out with old friends and strangers who came to make music. A few country touches (sunflowers and straw bales for seats) along with a building that served as a music hall in the perfect state of dereliction — somewhere between poetic and unsafe — made the day feel like it was supposed to feel: a community made of up individuals, usually cocooned inside their houses watching TV, coming together to make music, hang out, and eat grilled cheese sandwiches made with homemade bread, Amish cheese, and garden-fresh tomatoes and basil. And the tomatoes and basil were organic of course. See how much we have in common?

For a great summary of the day, check out this lovely post from the blog Champaign Uncorked.

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Madden Road MusicFest photos courtesy of Allison Marie Photography, Adam Caouette and Tiffany Eckhardt.

Projects: The Perfume of Plaster Dust

Part of The Roving Home’s ongoing chronicle of one of our projects: the rehab of an old building in Mutual, Ohio in preparation for turning the site into the Madden Road Music Hall.

The future of the building, spelled out in plaster dust.

There’s nothing like inhaling 150-year-old plaster dust and a fine film of dried bird droppings to wake you up to the realities of rehabbing an old building. The American vogue for tearing structures down to erect new ones lined with brand-new drywall and vinyl siding seems briefly appealing. And then you remember why you’re doing this: old buildings such as this one are truly irreplaceable. Entering the 19th century structure we’re working on, a two story brick Georgian-style with enormous windows, gives a sense of history not contained in any book. You recall another time, a time when the crossroads of Mutual, Ohio was vibrant enough to warrant a building like this as its own Town Hall and community center, where people came in from their farms to watch basketball games and whatever else took place at this spot. Watching the building come to life again is a privilege of local proportions, shared in the most modern, universal way possible — online — the community of Mutual expanding to include anyone in the world who stumbles on this site to see a small relic of our rural American past, emerging from under a thick layer of neglect and plaster dust. (Postscript: To read about the Music Festival, click here.)

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