An Upper Jay Tradition Returns
by Lisa Bramen
Nearly two years since Tropical Storm Irene rampaged through the Ausable River Valley, Upper Jay still bears signs of the disaster: Vacant homes line Route 9N. Islands of silt and rubble have reshaped the river bottom. A small camp that the flood swept a few dozen yards sits in the middle of a field.
But bakery owner Paul Johnson’s barn, which was inundated with waist-high water on August 28, 2011, has been fully renovated—and tonight (May 23) it’s ready to host its first post-Irene hootenanny. The annual community potluck and barn bash is a decade-long tradition, bringing together neighbors for food, music and fun. Johnson says the event grew out of a community Oklahoma! sing-along that was held at the Jay village green. He offered his property and barn for rehearsal space, and everyone brought a dish. Later, Julie Robards set up an antiques store in the barn, and the spring shindig became a way to celebrate its opening for the season.
Robards closed the store after much of her merchandise got ruined in the flood, but she’s still in charge of organizing the evening’s musical entertainment. Johnson calls it an “enchanting and eclectic” mix of everything from Beatles to blues to bluegrass—even opera, performed by the host himself.
Everyone’s invited, whether they live in town or not. All that’s requested is that you bring a dish to share and your own plate and utensils (Johnson proudly notes that past events have generated very little garbage). But leave your wallets at home. Johnson says, “We wanted to make sure no one ever felt like they couldn’t come because of money.”
Until Johnson finds another business tenant, the cavernous barn is empty—which may turn out to be a good thing tonight. With heavy rain in the forecast and a flash-flood warning in effect (words bound to jangle a few nerves in these parts), this year’s event looks set to be an indoor affair. “This is either going to be the 2013 Big Barn Bash or the Big Barn Splash,” quips Johnson.
The barn, behind Paul’s Bakery on Route 9N in Upper Jay, opens at 5 p.m., with music beginning at 6 p.m. Can’t make it? You can still visit the bakery, which opens for the season June 1.