Once a year, our 150-year-old barn, the “Odditorium”, located in the Sanctuary comes to life with friends, locals and music lovers at Barnstorm. Five to six live bands of various genres, along with a DJ in the “Chill Zone” spinning tunes, make Barnstorm an event you won’t want to miss. But Barnstorm history involves more than entertain.
Barnstorm allows young local performers feel like stars for an evening. “Every band has told us how much fun it was to play here and how great the atmosphere is,” tic adds. “We have a good sound system and lots of lighting to make it a really professional show.”
Since 1992, the Odditorium has been in an almost constant state of evolution. With his own hands, tic has converted this 150-year-old barn with the idea of creating a rustic, rejuvenating environment in which to work or party.
The barn’s back area is converted into a “green room” for musicians. In the past years, new walking paths have been added, extra camping areas and outdoor fire pits.
“Musically speaking, this year’s Barnstorm is shaping up to be a showcase of Ottawa’s thriving alt-country/roots scene. Performers include the banjo-wielding garage folk outfit Capital Grass and the No Men, Chelsea roots-rockers St. Stephens (formerly The Flats), Shawville-bred country gentleman Ray Harris and the BSOBs, Ottawa Valley troubadour Brock Zeman, surf-happy fusionists Randy Shenanigans and backwoods balladeer Jimmy Tri-Tone.
The programming is handled by a committee of one: Houston, who invites the bands he likes. Many are discovered through his long-time volunteer gig as the Wednesday-morning host of CKCU-FM’s Special Blend radio program. “I pick the bands I know will fit,” says the 57-year-old, a former imaging specialist for the Ottawa Police Service. “I’m trying for a variety of music. It’s not a country festival or a punk festival or a rock fest. It’s a variety of genres, and I try to get bands that have a wide appeal, which doesn’t mean they won’t offend anyone.”
No matter who’s playing, the centrepiece of the event is the Odditorium, the 150-year-old barn that accommodates the main stage. When Houston bought the property more than 20 years ago, it had been a working dairy farm, and the well-used barn was still filled with hay. Over time, Houston got rid of the hay, tore up the floor and rebuilt the interior to hold a stage, production gear and backstage area. Once a year, the barn is transformed into a magical venue: It glows with light, fills with people and vibrates to the sound of live music, often by bands thrilled to get away from the bar scene for a night.
The whole project has been a labour of love for Houston, who does not receive government grants for his efforts and usually ends up spending at least $2,000 of his own money every year to put on Barnstorm. In addition to the Odditorium performances, the event features a DJ chill zone, as well as camping, fire pits, a swimming pool and 20 acres of nature for roaming.
To cap off the night, a fireworks display will light up the sky. “I’m trying to bring a little of the city to the country people, and of course, I’m bringing the country to the city people, if that makes any sense,” Houston says. “People from the city come here, they think they’re at the cottage. They camp, they swim, they sit around the fire. It’s a highlight of people’s lives. Once they come, they tend to come back.” -Ottawa Citizen