Gratitude for a Barn Raising

Three summers ago – August of 2015 – Mike and Sue Schaffer of Circle C Ranches in Meadows Valley had an idea. After taking a few years to build a beautiful barn on their property in the meadow where they grow mountain hay, the Schaffers thought it would be fun to celebrate the barn’s completion. They wanted family and friends to come share the view of the meadow and surrounding mountains from the new open-air barn, along with the calm atmosphere they enjoyed there every summer. An outdoor concert seemed like the perfect way to celebrate.

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Mike and Sue Schaffer dancing while Marty Haggard plays at the first Barn Concert in 2015.

The Schaffers had been introduced to Marty Haggard, oldest son of music legend Merle Haggard, in Arizona, where they all spend time during the winter months. They asked if he might like to visit Idaho, give a small, intimate outdoor concert for a few of their friends. Having never been to Idaho, Marty agreed to come play an acoustic set, just him, no band. The Schaffers set a date and began inviting friends from Adams and Valley counties, telling those friends to bring a friend. The concert was free to those attending; the Schaffers paid Marty’s appearance fee as well as for McCall band The Bottom Line to open and close the concert. Some two hundred people attended the first Barn Concert on a fine, summer afternoon. Wanting to give back to their community, the Schaffers placed a large glass jar on a table where concertgoers could make donations that would be split equally between the Heartland Food Bank and MCPAWS Regional Animal Shelter. By the end of the concert, $7,000 had been raised for those charities. That donation jar is a feature at every concert, next to the homemade lemonade stand.

“We decided that at this place in our lives, if we don’t do for others, how can we counter all the negativity out there? We wanted to be a good example. Actions speak louder than words,” says Mike, explaining the motivation behind what has become an annual Barn Concert benefitting local charities. “If even a small handful of people can pull that from the concert, maybe they can go on to provide a similar example.”

“We also wanted to provide an opportunity for people to enjoy the country views and lifestyle that we’re borrowing for a time,” says Sue. Mike nods and adds, “This place is much too beautiful to keep to ourselves. It doesn’t reach its full potential if we keep it to ourselves.” Sue emphasizes how the concert has become a happy time shared with neighbors and the community in a beautiful place, which is much nicer than those same neighbors and community members only gathering at someone’s funeral. “It’s a compliment that we’ve succeeded at that,” says Sue.

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A New Meadows couple celebrating their anniversary dance as Marty Haggard serenades.

That first concert brought people old and young, from 85 years to 8 months old; it brought family from overseas, and friends new and old. One couple was celebrating their anniversary, having been married a few decades earlier near where the barn is located; Marty serenaded them as they danced. The couple comes back every year.

The Barn Concert Thrives

With the success of the first year’s concert, the Schaffers were encouraged to make this an annual giving event. “I was blown away by the generosity of people attending,” says Sue. “We didn’t realize how much people would appreciate the simplicity of the setting, the open-air barn and views of the countryside. We decided we should provide an opportunity for a nonprofit to raise funds each year.”

The Schaffers approached Marty Haggard again; he enjoyed himself so much the first year that he told them he’d love to come back. In 2016 he brought his life-long friend and bandmate Eugene Moles, adding another guitar and vocal harmonies. Marty also brought his wife, teenage son and dog, wanting to share the soothing environment with them. Local band Solstice opened the concert.

The 2016 concert was the first year tickets were sold. Despite being a new event in the community, 350 people attended. MCPAWS Regional Animal Shelter was designated recipient of the proceeds. The Schaffers encouraged MCPAWS to set a goal of raising sufficient money through private and business sponsorships ahead of time to be able to say to concertgoers that 100% of ticket sales would benefit MCPAWS. They succeeded, and $13,000 was raised for MCPAWS. The Schaffers don’t ask for any money for use of the venue; sponsorships cover out-of-pocket costs which consist of payment for musicians, Port-a-potties, sound equipment rental, advertising and other miscellaneous expenses. Volunteers and neighbors help the Schaffers with setting up the venue before the concert, directing parking during the event, and cleaning up after.

Last summer – the third annual Barn Concert – the Schaffers secured Reckless Kelly as the main attraction, an Austin-based band well-known to and popular with Idahoans because of their Idaho roots. Two of the band members belong to the Braun Family, sons of musician Muzzy Braun. (The family’s two other sons are also musicians, with their own band.) Line and swing dance lessons were offered before the concert as background music played over the professional sound system. The concert sold out; some 850 people attended. For the first time, tickets were sold at the gate and 255 were sold. Once again, sponsorships were sought to cover out-of-pocket costs. Tickets sales and excess sponsorships meant that $30,000 was raised for MCPAWS.

This year’s concert – set for Sunday, August 5th – again features Reckless Kelly, with father-son duo Kevin Welch and Dustin Welch opening the concert. The Shepherd’s Home, a private group foster home in McCall providing a safe home for at-risk children across Idaho, will be this year’s beneficiary of concert proceeds. To better estimate crowd numbers tickets will not be sold at the gate. Tickets are limited, so don’t delay. Dirt Road Dancing, professional dancers from Boise, will provide swing dance lessons before concert.

Listening to and learning form prior years’ audiences, the Schaffers chose the Welches for an opening set with blues and folk music, more of a sit-down-and-listen style, followed by the get-up-and-dance style of Reckless Kelly. “We have young and old and want everyone to find something they enjoy listening to,” says Sue. She discovered recently that the Welches have played backup for Reckless Kelly in the past, so the bands know each other. Who knows, maybe they’ll play a set together. Kevin Welch will be flying from Australia to Austin where he’ll meet up with Dustin before continuing on to Idaho. “Dustin Welsh created and volunteers at a nonprofit – Soldier Songs and Voices – that provides songwriting conferences for veterans,” says Sue. “They liked knowing that the Barn Concert provided 100% of ticket sales for charity.” Soldier Songs and Voices, started in 2011, now has 11 chapters across the United States. Kevin Welch, having married and moved to Australia in 2017, is creating an Australian branch of Soldier Songs and Voices there to promote his son’s philanthropic vision in his newly-adopted home.

The Schaffers received positive feedback from Reckless Kelly after last year’s concert. “Their main singer said, ‘I forgot to bring my camera, but I don’t need a camera, I’ll always remember this view,’” says Mike. “Their manager felt we were well-organized. The band said they had fun and wanted to return, saying ‘You ask and we’ll come back.’ That was a real compliment.” The Schaffers were excellent hosts, making sure the band was able to stay in a neighbor’s house and had a car at their disposal. “Our neighbors really pitched in, and will again this year,” adds Sue. The Barn Concert fits nicely into Reckless Kelly’s schedule because the following weekend is when all four brothers and their father gather to play at an annual concert in Challis, The Braun Family Reunion Festival.

Concertgoers will have the opportunity to purchase music CDs and merchandise directly from the bands.

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The audience enjoys the music at the Barn Concert.

Building a Sense of Community

During each concert, Mike likes to quietly circulate around the venue, watching people enjoying themselves chatting with friends before the concert, listening to the music, dancing. “One guy saw a neighbor he didn’t expect to see there,” says Mike. “People reconnect, discover shared musical tastes or a love of dancing. This helps bring rural people together doing something enjoyable with each other.” The Schaffers have had their ranch in Circle C since 1994; Sue is an Idaho native. They appreciate the country lifestyle they’re able to enjoy here and savor the opportunity to share it with friends and neighbors – hundreds of whom they’re just meeting for the first time!

The Barn Concert is a family-friendly event. Concertgoers are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket for seating and a picnic dinner to eat. While people can bring their beverage of choice, alcohol isn’t sold at the venue, which the Schaffers feel lends to a better-behaved audience. Children can safely dash about the field while their parents talk with friends and listen to the music. The Schaffers have been pleasantly surprised that there’s been almost no trash left behind after concerts; people pack out what they bring in, making after-concert clean-up minimal. “They’re a conscientious, appreciative audience,” says Mike.

One of the Schaffers’ goals for the concert has been greater recognition of Meadows Valley, its residents and businesses. For example, Roadhouse Java in New Meadows acts as ticket sales outlet every year, and last year The Intersection BBQ, Bar and Grill offered boxed meals for concertgoers to pick up and take to the barn. This year, 10% of sales of The Intersection’s “Dinner out the Door” prepared meals for the concert will be donated to The Shepherd’s Home, and because the restaurant was so busy after the concert last year, this year they’re staying open late – until 10:00 pm – to accommodate concertgoers.

“We want to shine a light on our community. Giving the town of New Meadows and Meadows Valley some recognition is a large part of our motivation,” says Sue. Every year some tickets are set aside to gift to community members who deserve a thank you for their contributions. This year, because The Shepherd’s Home is the beneficiary of concert proceeds, tickets will be shared with social workers, law enforcement, firefighters and others who volunteer their time and energy to The Shepherd’s Home, helping at-risk kids. “If there are people who can’t come to the concert but still want to contribute, they can buy a ticket to be given to a deserving volunteer,” says Sue. They can also contribute to a GoFundMe site raising funds for The Shepherd’s Home.

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Donation jar at the Barn Concert.

“In the years that we have opened our hearts and our meadow property to celebrate with gratitude all that we have and enjoy, we have gained new friends and watched old friends reconnect,” says Sue. “We know that we have created a place, a time, a moment, that is pure goodness. Those who attend would agree, so we invite friends old and new to join us this year and enjoy this amazing opportunity to give back to our community.”

When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another. –Helen Keller

Sue is quick to note that the Barn Concert couldn’t happen without the enthusiasm and help of the charity the concert benefits. “It’s a win-win with synergy. It’s exciting to see things come together to benefit and charity and the community at large. Our working with The Shepherd’s Home as beneficiary of proceeds this year reflects our belief in what they do, providing a safe place in McCall for at-risk children across Idaho. The Shepherd’s Home as a charity is a little harder to discover, so we’re excited to lend them this opportunity for greater visibility.”

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Go here to learn more about how to become a concert sponsor or to buy tickets online. Tickets can also be purchased at Roadhouse Java in New Meadows or Albertson’s in McCall.

You can also find information, updates and photos from past concerts at the Barn Concert website Idaho Celebrates with Gratitude and their Facebook page.

[Cover photo taken with Rick Sironen’s drone; all other photos courtesy of Debra Martins.]

About the author

Rebecca Wallick

Rebecca is a freelance writer and publisher living near McCall, Idaho. A Seattle native and recovering attorney, she much prefers the quiet, slow pace, and distinct seasons of the West Central Mountains, enjoying the skiing, hiking and running opportunities provided by the nearby Payette National Forest. Rebecca is a Contributing Editor with Bark magazine, and the author of Growing Up Boeing: The Early Jet Age Through the Eyes of a Test Pilot’s Daughter (Feb 2014).

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