A few months back we received this e-mail… verbatim:
Want to attend a show at the Sh*tty Barn sometime? Let me know..
After admittedly doing a little research, it didn’t take long for us to give an enthusiastic yes! We circled the date which coincided with our trip to Eau Claire, taking a slight detour west to the small town of Spring Green, WI roughly 50 miles west of Madison, along the shores of the Wisconsin River.
We departed from Detroit at 6 am – six coffees and 500 miles later, we pulled up to the Sh*tty Barn, not knowing what to expect. We were tired, wired but ready to work, ready to take it all in. We were greeted by Owen Brush, part owner, and bar manager for the Sh*tty Barn who was sipping a beer by the bonfire and upon introductions was genuinely excited that we had actually made the trip.
Our camera gear spilled out onto the lawn as we began setting up, Owen could sense the long trip had taken a toll and promptly encouraged us to take a load off. He secured our gear behind the barn, cracked us open a Grain Belt Premo and had us enjoy the bonfire before we got started. That Midwestern hospitality… you can’t beat it.
We embarked on the trip to experience The Sh*tty Barn but as the night went on, the unraveling stories of Spring Green, WI and the people that call it home was something we would never have expected. So let’s catch you up on this not so sleepy little town…
Spring Green, WI is roughly 2 square miles with a population of 1,600 residents. Farmland, open fields, quaint downtown – your quintessential small Midwestern town. If you blink you could miss it, but you won’t want to – it is a vibrant, eclectic two square miles filled with art, history and some of the friendliest people you could ever meet.
For starters, it is home to the American Players Theater which includes a 1,100 seat outdoor amphitheater where over the course of 5 months puts on 116 shows, covering 9 plays (primarily Shakespeare) for 100,000 visitors each year. The theater and the school are nestled right in Spring Green, which players from all over the world call home during the season.
The town is anchored by a thriving insulated glass factory operated by Cardinal Glass Industries (behind the Sh*tty Barn). This tech-forward company employs factory workers and IT professionals from around the world. The next time you look out a window at your home (wherever you are) there is a good chance it came from Spring Green.
Frank Lloyd Wright, ever heard of him? While many have seen the homes he built or inspired – his own home was Spring Green. It is there he built “Taliesin,” his estate, school and the foundation for his illustrious career. It sits just south of the river off County Road C and is open to the public for tours throughout the year.
Hmm, what else… Oh!
Ever wondered what happened to Joseph Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Aliluyeva? In 1970, she was invited to and visited ‘Taliesin’ via an invitation from Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow. While her complicated past took her and her family back and forth from England, Russia and the US, she lived the last years of her life and died in… you guessed it… SPRING GREEN, WISCONSIN.
Or how about Enos Farms, who provide farm-to-table catering for the region including the Sh*tty Barn. This expansive farm raises hogs that are rotated in a “dairy-cow quality pasture.” Along with locally sourced fresh produce, meals are catered to many dietary needs and most famously come together in their beloved tacos. You can really experience the farm during their annual Harvest Moon Dinner on the farm.
Soak all that in. This is Spring Green, WI.
Now… back to The Sh*tty Barn.
The venue itself seats 120 people who pack the place every show which can range from folk/country acts to pure rock and roll. We came through on a rockin’ night which featured Rob Hamdallah and opener Jake’O. Even with rock acts, plugged in – the sound is never overbearing and still maintains an intimate feel. How does this all come together you may wonder?
“The origin of the shitty barn goes back to several individuals with dreams,” said Owen on the barns origin. “It started with a dream of opening up a brewery but through an organic process, we ended up using the space as a music venue – a venue that has now operated for more than 10 years.”
As we noted above, Spring Green, WI has a vibrant community of artists, creative minds and entrepreneurs which also attracts many visitors to the barn. Owen went on about what makes the barn so special, “the thing that makes the Shitty Barn special is the community in Spring Green, the people who run it and our patrons. Our patrons are supportive of the arts community and of all the artists we bring in. We are here as a fixture of our community, it is a project of love and that shows in everything that we do.”
The intimacy, the service, and the conversations are as enjoyable as the music. It feels like a backyard barbecue with 120 friends, all taking in the music, breaking to enjoy a brew and the bonfire (and those Enos Farms tacos). Whether you are a regular or a first-time visitor, you are part of the family as Owen says… “We pride ourselves on service, not pretending that we care, but showing that we genuinely care that everyone has a good time. Everyone becomes a part of the family and we will look out for you.”
The Sh*tty Barn and Spring Green, WI was one of those experiences that takes a little extra effort in seeking out but what makes the Midwest such an incredible place. The hospitality is second to none, the venue is well maintained and a truly intimate space with wonderful music and people. We can’t encourage you enough to take the trip, make a weekend out of it! Explore the area, enjoy the beauty of the Wisconsin River, check out a show at the barn, relax, take in the history of the area and make new friends.
For more information, follow @BarnSessions on Instagram and check out their website for upcoming shows. But be quick, they are bound to sell out.