Entertaining with lively music and putting smiles on faces is what the Little Theater on the Farm in Fort Edward has been doing since 2005.
Staging a live concert with limited attendance on May 1 for the first time since 2019 because of COVID-19, Linda Hermans, owner, founder and president of the Little Theater on the Farm, said her “purpose for being” is putting on concerts in the barn for those in Washington County.
“We’re excited to have everyone come back,” Hermans said. “It’s a big draw. We don’t cater to the senior crowd but they’re the ones that like the music that we offer… we’re going to miss the hugs this year!”
Origins and vision
Hermans, 79, retired in 2003 after 40 years as a teacher, and upon purchasing the property located at 27 Plum Road 20 years ago, immediately realized a new purpose for the old wooden barn that brings out beautiful acoustics to bluegrass and country music every Wednesday and Saturday until the beginning of October.
Hermans had a cousin who was a Broadway actor and always had a love for live music and entertainment.
“I knew I wanted to do something where I could share it,” Hermans said.
Hermans’ first attraction on a weekly basis were performers from the Hudson River Shakespeare Company. The way she asked those entertainers was reminiscent of “Field of Dreams.”
“‘If I build it, will you come?’, and they were here for 10 years,” Hermans said.
The theater, a non-profit organization, isn’t exactly what Hermans imagined being in charge of as a child with big dreams, but she couldn’t be happier to receive grants from the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council (LARAC) and New York State in 2020 to support the bands with 16 live-stream concerts that would have normally performed on her stage.
“All my life I wanted to be an event organizer, but I thought I would never make any money from it. Now, I work seven days a week and I don’t get any money!” Hermans said with a loud laugh.
Debbie Austin is the webmaster and secretary for the Little Theater on the Farm, and she said Hermans’ trust in her has boosted Austin’s confidence and ability to engage in public relations for a non-profit.
“I’ve never known how to do any non-profit work before I came here, and she (Linda) took me under her wing. And now, I’m a powerhouse!” Austin said with pride.
When thanking the people that make the concerts in the red barn possible, Hermans mentioned an unlikely group to be initially thought of: the Warren and Washington County Alternative Sentencing program. Individuals with good behavior have constructed the ramp on the outside of the barn, as well as the sliding barn door.
“Without them, I wouldn’t have any of this,” Hermans said. “I treat them with respect because they know they have got into trouble and that they need to know that they are worth something.”
What draws the foot-stomping, singing-out-loud and always-energetic crowds, whether at the theater or watching from a screen at home, is the music.
The first band granted the opportunity to perform at the Little Theater on the Farm was the Whiskey River Band on May 1. They played tunes from Merle Haggard, George Jones, Hank Williams and other classic country artists in front of a limited, RSVP’d audience in-person and those watching the live-stream.
Bob Tressler is the drummer for the Whiskey River Band and the vice president of the board of directors for the Little Theater on the Farm, and while making sure the sound would be crisp and ready to go for his band’s performance, he took a minute to describe the importance of the special venue.
“We (Whiskey River Band) have, for the last couple of years, opened their season here,” Tressler said. “This is a unique performance theater.”
The “familiar friends” that make up the majority of the in-person audience members create an atmosphere unlike any other for performers who get to take advantage of a state-of-the art sound and lighting system.
Tressler said he loves attending other groups’ shows just as much as playing his own.
“As long as my band is not playing somewhere, I try to come to every show (here),” he said.
Jeff Anderson plays for the High Peaks Bluegrass Band and was assisting Tressler and sound manager for the theater, Russ Dunham, with making sure the wires and sound board were ready for the first concert of the year, even though High Peaks Bluegrass Band doesn’t play at the theater until May 19.
“It’s that ‘spring awakening,’ the start of a new season,” Anderson said.
Anderson loves running the sound board, making eye contact with musicians to give them cues to turn up or turn down their mics and amplifiers and communicating with bands week in and week out on their preferences and solos to look out for so the crowd can have the best listening experience possible.
“Equipment has changed,” Anderson said. “Mixing boards aren’t four-feet-wide, they’re pretty compact now. For a long time, we made it by with things we scarfed together… our product is sound. So, we need to do that better than anything else.”
Anderson and Tressler credited Mark and Mel Guarino of the Bluebillies for laying down the groundwork in the family-friendly, good-time vibe that is felt in the barn and theater.
“You could see how tickled Mel and Mark (Guarino) were to see this little kid (Anderson’s son) dancing on the mat,” Anderson said.
Hermans is highly anticipating her 80th birthday party in July, which she said will be attended by former state senator Betty Little. The owner of the Little Theater on the Farm also revealed that on the date of the party, July 5, a documentary will be filmed focused on the impact of the barn.
“It’s a celebration about the theater,” Hermans said. “It’s more about the theater than it is about me.”
On top of the weekly concerts featuring local bands, the barn threw book fairs and barn sales in the last week of April that Hermans claimed “saved” the summer season financially.
“It’s very popular. People can come and they don’t have to worry about a COVID crowd, they can take as long as they want,” Hermans said.
Starting Oct. 22 until Halloween on Fridays and Saturdays, the old barn will turn into the Haunted Barn to spook and thrill people of all ages.
Now, with volunteers and a board of directors that comes motivated and energetic to leave a positive impact and experience on others who walk through the barn doors, Hermans has found a joy in her life she could never compare.
“I finally got people coming in for coffee, I’ve never had that before… I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” Hermans said. “When you wake up in the morning and you’re excited for your day, there’s no better way to live.”
All concerts have a suggested donation of $10 for adults and $7 for kids and seniors aged 60-plus. To RSVP to attend a live show or to request more information, call 518-747-3421 or email [email protected]