Close your eyes and place your finger on a map of the Twin Cities -- chances are you’ve landed somewhere near one of the metro area’s numerous music venues. Get in your car and drive west, though, and you're not likely to happen upon Hutchinson’s York Farm unless you know just where you're going.
I made that trek because I hadn’t seen local favorites Bad Bad Hats in almost a year. Following Highway 7 through the exurban hills and never turning until I hit the Hutchinson Super America, I arrived at a treasure unlike any concert spot I’d ever visited -- a picturesque patch of land replete not with $30 parking, putrid port-a-potties, and passed-out teens, but free parking, a modern skylit outhouse, and inexhaustible eight-year-olds playing hide-and-seek.
That May 4 gig was the first edition of the three-date York Farm Concert Series, which is hosted inside a charming 90-year-old barn and runs sporadically throughout the spring and summer. Communist Daughter’s Johnny Solomon and Molly Moore will play an acoustic set May 25, and Ben Weaver is on the books for August 17.
After that, owners Andy Cotter and Irene Genelin expect to bow out of concert promotion for the time being. The couple has permission to host those next two events from the local government, but costly improvements would need to be made to the Depression-era barn to continue past that.
“It’s too bad we can’t keep it going, but these buildings were built so long ago that, just by definition, they’re not up to commercial standards” explains Cotter, whose family has run the 85-acre farm since 1971. Fortunately for the owners, all of their eggs aren’t in the proverbial concert biz basket.
Or all of their fruits, rather. The couple have grown organic fruit on their land since 2010, and even if you don’t journey out to York Farm for a show this summer, you could bite into one of their strawberries or apples while dining out one evening. The Bachelor Farmer, Surly and Birchwood Cafe, among others, all feature their crops, which also include pears, grapes, cherries, plums and apricots.
Even if concertgoers are unfamiliar with the music of York’s upcoming headliners, “it might be a good opportunity for people to learn about where their local fruit comes from, because most people don’t necessarily have access to that,” adds Genelin, while Cotter also stresses the communal aspect of each gathering, where you’ll find just as many families taking in the music together at picnic tables in the back as you will rapt fans camped out in the first row. The site also hosts a rustic Airbnb space.
“We want it to be fun,” Cotter says. “We’re actually going a little bit more for the community than we are the music.”
That vibe was certainly achieved at the Bad Bad Hats show earlier this month. I'd never stepped foot inside Hutchinson, but I felt like I was watching a friend’s band in my backyard. Upon seeing my Timberwolves shirt, opener Michael Shynes sat down and discussed the perennial cellar-dwellers' bright future with me. I drank ice-cold water from a Detroit Tigers souvenir cup, which reminded me of my own collection of those back home. Alexander held an impromptu question-and-answer session following her band’s excellent set, which featured songs from 2015’s Psychic Reader alongside a cover of jazz standard “Heart and Soul” and a new cut (“Dunno Why”) due for their in-progress second album.
The inaugural show attracted people from all over the area -- Cotter estimates that only about one-third of their guests came from within 20 miles of the farm. Only 60 tickets are being sold for each gig.
“Intimacy is what we’re after,” Cotter says. “We’re obviously not going to be able to compete with First Avenue or any place like that, so we want to keep it completely unique and small.”
Last time I checked, no venue this side of the State Fair Grandstand boasts pet pigs on site. Named for Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens, they patrol the York Farm grounds, keeping out pests but not local music enthusiasts.
With: Brice Dempcy
Where: Hutchinson's York Farm
When: 5 p.m. Thurs. May 25
Tickets: $20, free for children 12 and under; more info here