Rural NB Halls Give Music A Home

Shepody House Interior Photo by Patti Steele

Just like the music business has weathered unprecedented changes over the last 20 years, so have the venues in which people seek out live music performances.

For the longest time, those wishing to experience live music were, depending on the popularity of the artist, thrust into the smoky, often noisy confines of the province’s various nightclubs where musicians are merely just an incidental part of an evening out for many patrons.

For those music fans whose favourite artist managed to escape the club circuit, they were often put into considerably more cavernous spaces like Saint John’s Harbour Station or the Moncton Coliseum, where it takes a specific kind of entertainer to build a level of intimacy with an audience of thousands.

But over the last number of years, the tide has begun to turn.

Not only is it becoming more commonplace for residents to welcome performers into their homes for the ultimate in an intimate concert, a number of public performance spaces like Parkindale Hall and the newly-opened Shepody House in Dorchester are begin to attract a faithful clientele, as well as an impressive performer list.

It was approximately nine years ago that Riverview native Derrick Beardsworth moved from Moncton to the rural beauty of Parkindale. The year following his arrival in the community, he took the plunge and began promoting shows at Parkindale Hall, a former church in its namesake community nestled among the quiet backroads of Albert County.

“Not long after I moved to Parkindale, I met Gary Leaman, who was serving as the caretaker of the hall, and would organize music events every few months,” Beardsworth says. “I had been involved in the music scene in Moncton for a long time and one day realized there was no reason why I couldn’t use my contacts to start bringing bands out to play the hall.”

Built in 1902 by local farmers and community members who envisioned the venue serving as a community meeting place, Beardsworth saw the hall as filling a specific need in the region’s music community.

Not only could local residents have the experience of seeing bands from all corners of Canada, the venue helped cement a greater sense of community among its citizens.

“The success of Parkindale Hall couldn’t have happened without the community’s support. They’ve played a huge role in helping the hall secure the outstanding reputation it has now,” Beardsworth says.

Asked what he feels has helped sustain Parkindale Hall’s popularity these last eight years, Beardsworth says a performance at the venue is unique for both the artist as well as the audience.

“These old halls were built for their acoustic prowess, which is something that everyone values. But I feel another key aspect of what has made the hall so successful has been the sense of community people get from attending a show. The public is face-to-face with the performers, which helps put a human element on every aspect of the show. We don’t have a ‘backstage’ area; everyone hangs out with everyone, which in turn lends itself to a friendlier, warm atmosphere.”

This past October, Parkindale Hall was awarded the Music New Brunswick Venue of the Year Award, an accomplishment of which Beardsworth is immensely proud.

He isn’t content to rest on his laurels, however. He and his wife Ashton recently became owners of Shepody House in Dorchester, a sister property that embodies virtually all of the traits that has made Parkindale Hall such a success.

Until approximately 2014, Shepody House had served as one of the churches in the Dorchester community. After the church shuttered its operations, area resident Randy Geddes purchased the 135 year-old building and undertook a series of renovations to transform it into the music hall it is today.

“We had been looking at a number of different opportunities to expand our operations, and were really quite fortunate that the immense groundwork laid by Randy and his wife Anne set us up for success,” Beardsworth says. “As soon as I set foot in Shepody House, I knew it would be the perfect complement to what we’ve achieved with Parkindale Hall.”

Moncton resident Trevor Goodwin has been attending shows of all sizes throughout the Maritimes and beyond for well more than a decade. He believes the experiences offered by listening rooms like Parkindale Hall and Shepody House add an immeasurable level of quality to the performances.

“I’ve spent a large portion of my life performing and attending shows at venues from bars, nightclubs, restaurants, house parties, legions and everywhere in between,” he begins. “There is no better experience than when you see a show at a place like Parkindale Hall because you’re treated to such an intimate experience, as a performer or as an attendee. There isn’t the clamour of rowdy bar hoppers, clanking drinks, but arguably more importantly, the artists aren’t subjected to trying to play over peoples conversations or vie for their attention.”

While Goodwin initially believed his gravitation towards quieter, more intimate venues, he says he quickly realized his changing preferences for live music weren’t necessarily all to do with age.

“I initially thought that the gravitation towards more quiet and intimate venues and performances was just an extension of my aging self and unwillingness to stand for hours in a crowded bar having drinks spilled on me just to hear half a set. But the reality is I’ve always preferred a more intimate or honest musical experience. Music is all about connection and emotions; what better way to achieve that than in an intimate kind of setting?”

Internationally acclaimed songwriter Megan Bonnell has performed at Parkindale Hall twice in the last 12 months. She claims the experiences are significantly more transformational than in big cities, where audiences often take artists for granted.

“In a big city, you have everything you want passing through at some point,” she says. “The wonderful thing about smaller towns and communities like Parkindale is that the community’s appreciation is so genuine and enthusiastic, it makes you want to return as soon as you can.”

Former Great Big Sea member Sean McCann performed at Shepody House for the first time this past August. He believes the future of live music throughout Canada will, for some artists, hinge on the success of venues like Shepody House and Parkindale Hall.

“Venues like Shepody House have a lot of heart and punches above its weight in what has become the losing battle known as the Canadian music industry,” he says. “In our current state of digital distraction, venues like these continue to focus on what is most important about a live performance, which is the music. It’s a battle worth fighting. Artists and musicians should be clamouring for more of these venues throughout the country.”

For further information on Parkindale Hall or Shepody House, email Derrick Beardsworth at parkindalehall@gmail.com. A list of upcoming performances can be found on the venues’ respective Facebook pages, www.facebook.com/parkindalehall and www.facebook.com/shepodyhouse.