I’ve known Jen and Mike for a couple years now. Our kids have gone to the same small daycare (which has really become more like family than childcare). They are just dynamic, down to earth, all around good people.
Last year they invited my wife and I to a “barn concert” at their house. It turns out they have a barn that they renovated and host concerts in (I also learned Mike brews some really good beer). A few times per year they invite a musician that they know to play and open it up to friends and neighbors in the community in an effort to support the arts in our town. I’ve been fascinated with these concerts ever since.
I thought they would be great people to interview/acknowledge because their efforts to support the arts just makes our part of the world better. Jen graciously accepted the invitation to answer my questions which I sent to her via email. This is the result:
Jen, thank you for taking the time to talk.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. “How did the “”Flagpole Barn”” concept start?” I understand the concerts are free, but donations are accepted to support the Newtown Arts and Edmond Town Hall (and to support the bands). Tell us about those organizations and why you chose them.
A: I live on Main Street with my husband Mike and two daughters. I’ve lived in Newtown for about 11 years with 8 of those being on Main Street. I love music. I know that sounds funny, it’s like saying I like to breathe air, such a general statement. And who really doesn’t like music? But, music has always been a big part of my life and I guess I didn’t realize that until now, literally right now as I try and answer these questions.
I think back to fond childhood memories of my best friend and I walking to 7-11 for our afternoon sugar rush all the way singing “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince or the countless hours we spent swinging away in her backyard singing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” As I got older I found myself falling asleep every night to The Doors album or Pink Floyd’s Darkside of the Moon because silence to me was deafening.
Fast forward into my adulthood, my husband (who is also a music lover) and I have gone to many, many…many festivals and shows. But one particular festival that is close to our hearts is the Newport Folk Festival. Besides it having a personal sentiment to us having been the first music show we’d been to together and also the place we got engaged, the festival itself is filled with positive energy. There are all different types of people and age ranges from newborns to folks who have been going religiously for the last 40 years with the same group of friends. When I walk into Fort Adams it is like a breath of fresh air, like coming home from a long trip. There is no judgment, no negativity, only kindness and love all around. The artists even walk around the festival grounds and will happily pose for pictures or offer a high five as they stroll through the tunnel into the Quad.
This combined with incredible meaningful performances is what it is all about. So my husband and I wondered how we could try and create the same feeling in our hometown based around something we love. We worked with a friend to bring in artists to perform at the Edmond Town Hall and host(ed) the after parties which the artists would sometimes attend. After a few shows and conversations, we thought it would be great to have a live show in our barn and that’s how “Flagpole Barn” was born. We fund the artists and offer the shows free to everyone but accept donations which are split between the band and we donate to Edmond Town Hall.
Edmond Town is a great venue that we would like to see thrive. Besides being located in the center of town it has such potential to be more than what it is currently being used for. This is why we choose to donate funds, to help the theater bring in live events that will appeal to the entire community. I envision ETH to be a place that will give that same breath of fresh air I get when I walk through Fort Adams. A place that is fun…a place where you will run into friends and know you are going to have an experience that will be cherished memory.
Q: What inspires you?
A: My kids inspire me. I know, I know, so cliché …but for those who aren’t parents, it’s true. Everything I do (to a fault) is for my kids. Last year, my 9 year old told me how lucky we are to live where we do, right on Main Street in the center of town. Enthusiastically, she continued to cite all the different places we can walk to, school, the library, the playground, Dunkin’ Donuts (my daughter knows me well!), The General Store, and of course the movies! Her innocent mind and words are what made me want to join the Board of Managers at the ETH and continue doing what I/we as a family can for the community. And even if it is a little gesture as to host house concerts, while that may not seem like a lot, it is helping to show our girls the importance of bringing people together.
Q: Describe the impact you’ve seen from the arts in Newtown.
A: The arts in Newtown is definitely alive in growing. It’s refreshing to see so many people and organizations energized working towards the same goal. The challenge I have noticed is that the groups don’t always talk to each other and coordinate events. Rather than working as one and using each other’s resources, each group creates their own events and is burdened with the cost and marketing. If we can consolidate efforts it would help everyone to save on budgets and create a more cohesive message to the community.
Q: What advice do you have for others who may want to make a difference but aren’t quite sure how?
A: I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone and explore their ideas. Reach out to organizations or board members and ask questions. Town board meetings are open to the public. Start attending any/all of these meetings. If people are looking to make a difference it can start out as a small gesture, something as little as a letter to The Bee [the local newspaper] or an email to a neighbor. It’s sometimes intimidating to speak your mind or express a thought but that’s the only way to make a change. My advice to anyone would be to take a chance. As constantly quoted from my 9 year old from the latest movie we watched, “If you don’t leap you’ll never know what it’s like to fly.”
Q: Name 3 people who you think make the world better and why.
A: I have been thinking about how to answer this one since you sent me the questions. I don’t consider myself to follow any one particular political or religious leader and try to stay clear of all the negative news, while still being aware of what’s happening in our world. A difficult goal, I must admit. To help me answer this question I think about the people I turn to who make me happy (aside from my family). And since music has been so relevant in my life, names of musicians come to mind. People like Langhorne Slim and Michael Franti and people who put on festivals that bring these folks together in one place like Jay Sweet (Executive Producer of the Newport Folk Festival).
I was first introduced to Langhorne Slim about 9 years ago and have followed and watched his career as a musician grow. I’ve seen a dozen or so of his live performances with his full band and solo. The first show I saw was in a small bar in Milford and he was standing next to me in the crowd of 15 people watching the opening band perform. The last show I saw he graced the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival. Regardless of how many people he performs in front of and if it was a solo show or not, he always shows his passion. He doesn’t just perform his songs, he lives in the moment of what that song means and you can feel that. If he is singing “Song for Sid” one that talks about losing and missing his grandfather, you are there in that moment with him. You can feel the sadness overcome your body and thoughts. His emotion whether it be sad, happy, or excited is hard to resist.
Michael Franti has a similar, yet different approach than Langhorne but still equally as influential. His performances are always fun and energetic and promote positivity. He makes people happy and smile. There is not one person who can watch him perform and not dance or smile. It’s contagious. These are the type of people who make the world better. People who overcome tragedy, difficult life obstacles. People who persevere and don’t give up on their dreams. People who help to bring other people up rather than keeping them down.
And, Jay Sweet, he is a person who finds these people and sees the good and shares it with everyone. He loves doing what he does. I saw him at a music conference last May where he was interviewed alongside other festival producers and he was the only one whose face lit up as he talked about the NFF. It was inspiring to see someone exude such passion for what they do. He explained that the festival isn’t just about being introduced to new bands, it’s about bringing good people together to all be a family for one weekend. The festival, unlike others, doesn’t have a ferris wheel, slides, or any other attractions. It’s the people and the music that makes this a sold out festival for the last few years. The festival sells out before any musicians are announced. That goes to tell you that people know what kind of weekend to expect and that it’s all about a positive experience. These 3 people are the types of people who make my world a better place. And even as I sit here writing about them I can feel the endorphins start to flow.
Thank you Jen. I really appreciate you participating.
Tell us about the people that you think make the world better here.