Midway through the Freak Out Festival on Friday, September 25 at the Silent Barn, the music came to a halt due to reports of a fire breaking out in the apartments upstairs. Patrons piled onto the street and watched as smoke crept out of a bedroom window on the third floor above the Bushwick venue and art space. Within minutes, the New York City Fire Department had arrived and quickly extinguished the fire, which is believed to have been sparked by an electrical malfunction. But the subsequent water damage would prove problematic, displacing the fourteen Silent Barn residents and temporarily closing the venue’s main performance space.
The next morning, members of the Silent Barn cooperative gathered to assess the damage, which would require repairs to the ceiling and a complete replacement of the electrical setup. Just as they began grappling with despair, they were immediately met with aid and comfort from various corners of the community. Nearby Norbert’s Pizza dropped off pies and trash bags with the attached note “Sorry about the fire!” and help continued to snowball. The coffee shop around the corner, Little Skips, began supplying members with free coffee and put up donation jars in the store, and Fitzcarraldo is hosting a Pop-Up Bar Benefit until October 8.
“We’ve received so much support that it seems insulting to say we’re struggling,” says Stephanie Griffin, spokesperson for the Silent Barn. New York’s music community has banded together to revive the Silent Barn, a venue known for booking emerging indie acts as well as providing a
recording studio and art gallery. Multiple benefit concerts have been scheduled and reach as far as Boston where a show is planned for October 7 at the Middle East.
Eli Dvorkin, a long-time Silent Barn volunteer organizer who curates music performances as Black Plastic Bag, had previously booked a September 29 concert for O+O+ at the Bohemian Grove and was humbled by the artist’s decision to repurpose the show.
“After plowing through the wreckage of the fire all weekend, it was incredibly heartening to receive requests from all the artists on the bill to turn the show into a Silent Barn benefit,” he writes in an email to the Voice. “We [at Silent Barn] are driven by our mission to support artists in every way possible – artistically, financially, socially, and politically – so it was rewarding to feel that same support emanating back from the artists we serve.”
Two bands have offered music as a way to raise money, including the Californian duo, Girlpool, who released a demo of their song “Chinatown” on September 28 and will kick proceeds to Silent Barn. Local post-punk band Big Ups put their 2014 album Eighteen Hours of Static on a pay-what-you-want scale from September 26 to October 1, and band member Carlos Salguero says it was their way of returning gratitude to a space that’s provided for his band.
“When tragedy like that happens and you have an asset, you just want to help out. We kind of just went up and did it and just hoped for the best and the outcome was good. For an album that was a little old, people did come out and we received some generous stuff,” he says. “It felt good to send that on to Silent Barn because it’s really important that places like that exist, safer spaces for the community where anyone can go and feel welcomed no matter who they are.”
Silent Barn was committed to upholding each scheduled concert even though the main stage would be out of commission for a few weeks. Local venues Aviv, Shea Stadium, AdHoc, Secret Project Robot, and more have stepped up to provide their space and so far no show has been cancelled.
The diversity in methods for raising funds perfectly reflects the various expressions produced by Silent Barn’s community. “It’s really exciting to see people of all forms of art working together to pull in money however they can,” says Griffin. Local photographer Walter Wlodarczyk began selling prints of photos he took at Silent Barn and has teamed up with record store Deep Cuts (itself once a part of the Silent Barn collective) to produce the “Shot in the Barn” benefit photography show on October 24.
Using the Internet for an even greater reach, longtime Silent Barn member Kunal Gupta helped create the website Helptagon – an online volunteer bulletin board – which Griffin notes has been a major help in organizing assistance.
“That went up pretty much overnight and we’ve found a lot of people we’ve never met through it,” she says. “We weren’t really sure how to organize internally and externally. We have a very particular communication structure as a collective and that doesn’t really work for people who want to just jump in and help us for the weekend.”
Founded in 2004, Silent Barn is no stranger to unforeseen complications and setbacks. In July 2011, the original location in Ridgewood was forced to move due to complications with the Department of Buildings, and that same year they fell victim to burglary and vandalism. Although Griffin wasn’t associated with the original Silent Barn, she can see the residual effects.
“I think that incident is still heavily on everyone’s mind,” she says of Silent Barn’s complicated history. “After the fire, it was really hard to figure out how long it would be until we were able to reopen or if we could reopen, if something could happen that would maybe negate our ten-year lease. There were a lot of legal issues we were unable to answer the first few days so it was scary that people would just immediately think that we were closed.”
In remaining consistent with its legacy, Silent Barn is on the rebound after difficult circumstances and set a goal to begin offering shows in the main space during the weekend of October 16.
“This joke was started that Silent Barn is a phoenix: Constantly rising from the ashes and coming back whether you like it or not,” laughs Griffin. “I don’t know, maybe we’re cursed or maybe we’re blessed.”