Brattleboro music venue gets a fresh start

Barnaby’s Music Hall seeks to put down roots in former Rocky Top space

BRATTLEBORO — “A natural progression.”

That's what Josh Hearne, owner of the upstart Main Street music venue Barnaby's Music Hall, calls his decision to open his own spot in Brattleboro after years of promoting acts all over Southern Vermont.

And Barnaby's seems to fit naturally into a certain downtown aesthetic here, a kind of free-spirit free-enterprise found in spaces like Equilibrium on Elm Street and numerous Main Street galleries.

Business and professionalism seem to be Hearne's focus in particular.

Hearne is a Bellows Falls native who has made his reputation as the promoter of big outdoor music festivals such as the Backroad Jamboree and the Rockinghill Music Festival.

During a recent interview, he spoke about “quality of production,” extensive relationships with booking agencies, and more than 15 years of entertainment industry experience of his business partner, Chris Lincoln.

And he's not afraid to try some unorthodox methods of getting attention. His eye-catching (or nerve-rattling) Barnaby's “cruiser” can be seen skulking around the Harmony Lot. Hearne calls his upcycled ex-police car a “tongue-in-cheek mobile billboard.”

As for the music at Barnaby's, Hearne is comprehensive.

“We've had bluegrass, country, rock, jam, reggae, funk, electro...a mixture of everything,” he said

The ubiquitous “groove-grass” group Jatoba is on the schedule this month, and past acts have included Pigeons Playing Ping-Pong (“high-energy Funkadelic full-spectrum”) and Hayley Jane & the Primates (“a genre-bending sound that is hard to define”).

A lot of these groups could have easily played at the Rocky Top Tavern, the previous inhabitant of the space, albeit hardly at the rapid clip Hearne envisions.

“We're just about booked up through September,” he said, adding that Mondays are an exception.

Hearne is eager to distance himself from Rocky Top's past reputation.

“We've turned around the previous clientele,” he said. “No fights, no B.S. The element that used to hang around is no longer there.”

Then what element does he have in mind?

Hearne envisions Barnaby's as a broad-based crowd-pleaser, cultivating an atmosphere one might call “beers, Burlington, and bass solos.”

“Not just a young crowd,” said Hearne. “We want everyone to feel comfortable...age 21 to 85, whatever.”

It's a strategy he thinks makes some sense in a small town with limited spaces to play live music in.

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