The view through a window of the barn

By on August 19, 2019
Chris Wilson window with cross Julia

A homegrown musician’s dream of buying and renovating an old hay barn into a fully functioning production studio, concert house and home finally came true for Chris Wilson and his family. 

In 2013, this dream began to unfold into a beautiful journey of struggles and challenges leading to triumphs and, ultimately, a barn of blessings. The old hay barn located on Reed Road in Churchville was built in 1849 and after many trying years it is now the home, the studio and the house concert location for international musician and recording artist Chris Wilson.

Chris Wilson was born in Albion and spent most of his early years in Holley and Brockport with his mom, Mallie Goeller. Chris’ childhood was heavily influenced by music. His mom wrote songs, performed in folk groups and at her church. The first memory Chris has of performing was when he gave an impromptu performance singing “How Great Thou Art” when his mom’s folk group was performing at her Catholic church in Holley. Chris had unknowingly memorized the lyrics after hearing his mom practice it. One day at church when he was only four years old and the folk group was performing the song, Chris started singing along with them. Once everyone heard this young boy singing out, they began clapping and that moment was one of the first moments where Chris’ musical passion shined out from his soul. Through his younger years, Chris played several instruments including the violin and the trumpet. “I was terrible at the trumpet. I did not like playing instruments where I could not sing,” Chris said. His passion was to sing, and as a young boy he dreamed of playing the guitar, but was too small. 

During his freshman year at Brockport High School, he walked in the choir room after hearing one of the students playing guitar and singing a Paul Simon song. “I was so enamored,” he said. This student was BHS senior Chad Leverenz. Little did Chris know at that time that Chad was not only going to be a significant influence in Chris playing the guitar, but he would also one day become his brother-in-law. Later that year Chris met Carrie Leverenz, Chad’s younger sister. “I knew she was the one,” he said.  Chris and Carrie are now married almost 20 years and are blessed with two beautiful daughters, Gracie and Emilia.

After Chris graduated from Brockport High School in 1994, he went on for professional training at Long Island University. At the age of 19, he moved to Los Angeles, bringing only two duffel bags of belongings and a guitar case. He lived in a pool house of a friend who was a SONY engineer. While in L.A. his musical talents were getting noticed. He was on the MTV music show The Cut, won the viewers choice award and 2nd place overall in this pre-American Idol type contest. Chris’ genre was folky-pop. He performed a lot of his own original music. Record deals were offered to him early in his career. “I was naive and not sure who I really was yet,” Chris said. He and Carrie married in 2000 and she moved to L.A. to be with him. He performed extensively in California and went on to perform internationally in Hong Kong, Beijing and Croatia. He often played six nights a week.

He and Carrie made the decision to move back to Brockport in 2007 to begin a family. Carrie and Chris purchased a home on Centennial Avenue and had their first daughter, Gracie, in 2009. Chris continued performing and traveling but he began to dream about starting a place to host “house concerts” in the area where his roots began. 

House concerts are not new and are on the rise in popularity from their start in the late 20th Century. Folk, country and blues music have long histories of being performed in a house concert venue. In 2013 the dream started to become a reality when Chris and Carrie bought the original hay barn from the mid 1800s John Reed Farm. Their youngest daughter, Emilia, was also born that year as their vision for The Barn was also taking shape.

Chris visioned that The Barn would not only be their home and a creative space for writing and recording music, but to also host “house concerts” to be enjoyed by the community. The Barn was in much worse condition than Chris and Carrie expected. They did not have the resources to do all of the extensive renovations needed. Chris did much of the work himself. Beams were reduced to powder and virtually everything in the structure needed to be replaced. “We used all of our money from the sale of our house and were living in an old RV on the property by The Barn,” he said. Chris reflects on the challenging journey he underwent while trying to make this dream come true, “It seemed that every time we felt like we were standing on cracked and barren earth, a flood of blessing came through and literally renewed the ground beneath us.”  

In this journey Chris learned how to accept help from others. This was especially true when the RV he and his family were living in was struck by lightning and they were left with no home and no money. This was a pivotal moment. They had no choice but to accept the help and generosity of friends who provided their lake home to stay in until The Barn was livable. After four long years, The Barn was finished and Chris learned the value of perseverance. There were countless hours of working in the cold and heat, through tears and sadness, but he did not give up. “I went into this thinking it was only a transformation of a barn, not expecting that the process was analogous to the process that was going on inside of me. God sent angels to help in various ways, people showed up to help and dreams became reality,” Chris said. 

Chris’ first performance in The Barn was October 2017 with standing room only. Chris now hosts a house concert once a month. The event does require a RSVP and it is free with limited seating. He keeps the event free as an opportunity to reach people and give back. “I would be a fool to not acknowledge that God did this,” he said. 

The venue is intimate and provides a catalyst for connection of the souls. The stage has a living room setting to provide the comfortable nuances of a home feeling. To the left of the stage you will find a collection of vintage Samsonite hardshell suitcases. There are over 150 suitcases from the 1940s to 1960s that Chris collects from each town in which he performs. Directly across from the stage, in direct view of Chris while he is on stage, is a wall hanging that says “Grateful.” He said, “This is my reminder. I don’t take an ounce of this for granted.”

The Songs of Faith concerts are an evening of faith inspired music woven with stories of struggles, triumphs and miracles. Chris loves performing at his home concerts. “It is a captive audience, the type of audience all musicians want,” he said. The house concerts end with a warm reception and delicious desserts baked with love by Carrie and family.  

Chris Wilson has a new CD, One Hallelujah, which is rooted in his mom’s love of bluegrass and influence she had on his life. The song “Take Me Down the Highway” was the last song Mallie wrote before she retired from writing music 30 years ago. Chris recorded the song as a tribute to his mom. He sent the recording to some of his bluegrass recording artist contacts and the response was, “Let’s make an album.”

Chris will bring his intimate style of acoustic Americana to the eclectic Lyric Theatre, 440 East Avenue in Rochester, for a one night only release event on September 7 at 8 p.m. As on the CD, the concert pairs Chris with some of the finest bluegrass musicians in the world coming in from Nashville for this special performance. It includes Grammy winning artists Kate Lee O’Connor (vocals and fiddle), the album’s co-producer Forrest O’Connor (vocals, guitar and mandolin) and Eastman School of Music alum Geoff Saunders (upright bass). Tickets for this event are available at LyricTheatreRochester.org and at all area Wegmans.

For more information on upcoming events at The Barn, visit www.thebarnseries.com.

 

“We each have an ability to do something special and something unique…  Do that thing. What’s your hallelujah?”   

                    – Chris Wilson

The Barn; Chris Wilson in front of the original 1848 hay barn from the Reed Farm; transformed into his home, recording studio and “home concert” site. Photo by Julia Mungenast

The Barn; Chris Wilson in front of the original 1848 hay barn from the Reed Farm; transformed into his home, recording studio and “home concert” site. Photo by Julia Mungenast

Chris Wilson strumming his guitar in front of the print that provides a daily focal reminder of his gratitude. Photo by Julia Mungenast

Chris Wilson strumming his guitar in front of the print that provides a daily focal reminder of his gratitude. Photo by Julia Mungenast

Chris Wilson showcases his collection of antique luggage from the 1940s to 1960s that he found at flea markets and household sales while touring around the country. Photo by Karen Fien

Chris Wilson showcases his collection of antique luggage from the 1940s to 1960s that he found at flea markets and household sales while touring around the country. Photo by Karen Fien

 

Chris Wilson hosts a house concert at The Barn once a month. Photo by Karen Fien

Chris Wilson hosts a house concert at The Barn once a month. Photo by Karen Fien