Singing in the Barn an inspirational venue

July 31, 2006|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. - Harold Wildeson, the creative visionary behind local concert venue Singing in the Barn, looked at his barn much as he did when it all began.

"I heard two words, so loud and clear: 'It's time,'" Wildeson recalled.

For 25 years he dreamed of what his barn could be, but "dead-ends and one-way streets," he said, kept cows, not crowds, under its roof.

"Then I heard: 'gut the barn, invite the people, feed the people, but don't charge them,'" he continued.

So, acting on what he called "pure faith, dumb faith, just faith," Wildeson gutted his barn, removing everything but the supporting joists.

"I remembered the movie, 'Field of Dreams,'" he said. Keeping the mantra, "if you build it, they will come" strong in his mind, he undertook a massive renovation of his property.


What began more than five years ago as a humble answer to "the voice of the Lord," as Wildeson puts it, Singing in the Barn is now one of the most popular small venues for southern gospel music. About six times a year, Wildeson opens his barn to crowds of as many as 1,200 people and offers acts like The Issacs and The Booth Brothers.

On Saturday, Singing in the Barn welcomed about 800 people to hear Angelina McKeithen and The Pfeifers. The barn, on Mont Alto Road southeast of Chambersburg, Pa., allows audiences to feel how close Singing in the Barn is to home.

Saturday's audience was a mix of first-timers and faithful attendees. Gerald and Isabelle Kauffman of Waynesboro, Pa., have only missed one concert in four years.

"Only when I was sick did I miss," Isabelle said.

Others, like Ken and Sondra Funk, traveled from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to experience Wildeson's barn for the first time. Natives of Franklin County, Pa., the Funks knew Wildeson back when a concert venue was just his dream. Yet, like many others, they were astonished by his dream come true.

"I could see this working, but I never thought this would be in a barn," Ken Funk said.

Roger and Yvette Fuller of Waynesboro come to Singing in the Barn because they said there is no better place to hear southern gospel music in the region.

"And we know," Roger said. "Were originally from the south."

While the barn adds to the atmosphere, the audience says it is not just the barn that makes Wildeson's venue so unique - it's that the concert and the food are free.

According to Carl Alleman, Wildeson's brother-in-law, Singing in the Barn is funded entirely by donations from individuals. The donations pay performers and supply every audience member with a meal and a snack. However, no one is obligated to give.

"Some people come and do not give, and I want them here," Wildeson says. "I don't want people to pay to hear something this good."

Wildeson's wife, Karen, was initially skeptical of not charging for food or admission.

"I thought, 'you've got to be kidding,'" she said. "This is not going to work."

But, it has worked every time.

"Even if it's a bad evening, we have to pay performers," Alleman says. "Sometimes, all the money is not there at the end of the night."

Recalling how he once had to ask a band to hold their check until the following week, Wildeson smiles and says that even when he is certain the money will not be there, God makes sure it is there on the final count.

Audience members are inspired by Wildeson's faith.

"When God is in it, the finance thing works," said Shari Martin of Greencastle, Pa.

Singing in the Barn is wildly successful.

"I could make a killing doing this," Wildeson remarks.

Still he remains true to the directions he received from above. With record audiences filling the barn, Karen Wildeson says that on most nights they have more people than their 750 seats can hold. When all the seats are filled, lawn chairs begin extending the rows out into the parking lot.

Harold Wildeson continues to dream of what more his barn could be. He is entertaining options to expand his barn to hold even more people.

While no definite plans have been set, the venue will continue as is for now. Singing in the Barn will host Tony Gore and Majesty, as well as the Bumbaugh Family on Sept. 16 and the Booth Brothers on Oct. 7 for the last two concerts of the season.

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