Musicians flock to farmhouse
Some remarkable things are happening in an old farmhouse in Stanstead, and they have little to do with agriculture. For about two years, Stanstead newcomer Hal Newman has been holding concerts featuring tal-
ented, emerging musicians from across Canada, the United States and beyond, opening up his home not only to the performers once or twice a month, but also to the small audience who attends, who also come from near and far.
Mr. Newman came to Stanstead with his wife, Dianne Brunelle, and their two daughters from the Montreal West area about six years ago. “Our dream was to have a place with horses. We knew the area a little because Dianne grew up in Coaticook and we had friends in Tomifobia,” he said in an interview with the Stanstead Journal. “What really blew us away was that we have seven acres of land; our entire street back in Montreal could fit on this property.”
The idea for the Stanstead House Concerts, as they are officially called, began rather unexpectedly. “When we first arrived here, Jerry Goodsell and the Black Dogs did a concert on our porch. The seeds kind of stuck then. About two years ago, thinking how there were limited venues for musicians in a small town, we wondered if we could host a concert in our house,” Hal explained
Less than two years later, the family has seen more than twenty musical acts perform in their living room and Hal has organized other concerts in other unusual venues such as a friend’s home in Tomifobia, the home of Ayer’s Cliff mayor Alec van Zuiden, and Princess Elizabeth Elementary School, in Magog. “Jordie Lane and Clare Reynolds, from Australia, played at the school a few weeks ago. The kids went wild; they all lined up after for autographs. My goal is to arrange something like that with Sunnyside Elementary, Jardin-des-Frontieres and Catamount Arts,” said Mr. Newman.
Stanstead House Concert audiences seem to be getting good value for their modest entrance fee: many of the musical acts who have performed in the Brunelle-Newman household have gone on to greater heights, while others were already wellknown. “Oh Pep!, from Australia, played here in October then sold out in New York City a week later. Their career has exploded. Belle Starr, a country super group, sold out their performance at the Spruce Peak Center, in Stowe, the night before playing here,” Hal mentioned, adding: “John Jacob Magistery played Osheaga last summer, and they were in our living room in March. And they want to come back.”
Asked why successful performers would be ‘lining up’ to play in a farmhouse well off the beaten track, Hal, who now has over fifty acts on a waiting list, explained: “In a small venue like this, they have an attentive audience. It’s also a safe environment, where they can experiment with their music. We start with a pot luck dinner with the artists and the audience, so they really get to meet them.” He continued: “Musicians are travelers, and when they come here we feed them and put them up in a local B & B. That’s a nice change for them.”
The audience, which includes some regulars, is made up of people not only from Stanstead and neighboring towns, but from as far away as Sherbrooke, Granby, Montreal and Vermont. “People from New York and New Jersey have made reservations for one of the concerts this summer. Everyone enters here as a stranger, and everyone leaves as a friend.”
The Stanstead House Concerts have been so popular with both artists and audiences, they seem like a welcome and natu-
ral addition to what the town has to offer visitors and residents. “We have all the elements here to make a music economy,” said Hal, who went on to talk about the small community of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where all the Motown hits, which changed popular music forever, were recorded. “There can be so many spin-offs from music, like training programs, social media; so many different pathways. We’re at the northern end of the Appalachians; music runs through that mountain chain like a big vein, and there are lots of small towns with challenges. A lot is possible with music,” he concluded.
The next Stanstead House Concert is taking place Sunday, May 15th, and will feature the world-class Quebecois traditional folk music duo, Yann Falquet and Pascal Gemme.
Hal Newman hosts musical acts at his home, in Stanstead, and at other special venues in the region.
Les Poules a Colin seemed at home as they made music on the porch of the Brunelle-Newman farmhouse last summer.
The country super group Belle Starr performing in Hal Newman’s living room, in Stanstead.