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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Yellow Barn Brings Music On The Road To Ease COVID Stress

Two people wearing masks stand together outside a hospital and a truck with the words "Music Haul"
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Yellow Barn artistic director Seth Knopp, left, and executive director Catherine Stephan stand near the group's Music Haul in front of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Vermonters have been helping their communities get through this pandemic by sewing face masks, delivering food, and by donating their time and money. In Windham County, the Yellow Barn Music Festival has been doing its part by bringing music to the places that need it most.Editor's note: We highly recommend listening to this story, which is full of music!

The Yellow Barn Music Festival has this tricked-out U-Haul trailer they call the Music Haul. It’s got big speakers up top, and it’s all wired up with a good sound system.

And Yellow Barn executive director Catherine Stephan said when they don’t have to worry about social distancing, they can squeeze six musicians back there, with their cellos and violins, and put on a concert wherever they park the truck.

“We can take Yellow Barn, and take music anywhere, and transform a field, a sidewalk, a playground, the entrance to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, into a performance venue,” Stephan said.

She spoke to VPR standing next to the truck, which played a Beethoven piano concerto while parked in front of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

“And the idea is that maybe listening becomes more fundamental when you approach it that way," Stephan said. "When people come across it by accident and then they decide to stay and listen, there’s something in that process that’s really magical. And we see people come to life.”

"When people come across it by accident and then they decide to stay and listen, there's something in that process that's really magical. And we see people come to life." — Catherine Stephan, Yellow Barn Music Festival

They can’t tote live musicians around these days, so it’s all pre-recorded, but the Music Haul has been busy. They’ve been visiting assisted living homes and food drop-off sites, and recently, they were at the hospital playing music during the afternoon shift change, as doctors and nurses walked past.

Tony Blofson is a doctor at BMH, and he stopped, sat down on a bench and listened for a little while.

Blofson said just like the rest of Vermont’s hospitals, Brattleboro Memorial prepared for the worst and was ready to treat dozens and maybe even hundreds of COVID-19 patients. It’s starting to feel like Vermont might have avoided that scenario, even as major American cities have seen hundreds of deaths a day.

Blofson said he’s beginning to think about what a post-COVID-19 world will look like.

“We don’t know how we’ll look on the other end, but we’ll get through,” Blofson said. “And there’ll be change that will happen from it, and hopefully some good positive change that comes from what we’ve learned. And some people of course don’t get through. But as a society and a civilization we will. Once again, learning that we’re not really so much in control.”

A person in a doctor's jacket and a cloth mask with guitars on it.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Dr. Tony Blofson wears a special facemask with guitars one of his patients made for him. Blofson is a musician and took time out of his day to stop and listen to the music playing from the Yellow Barn Music Haul.

Seth Knopp is artistic director at Yellow Barn, and he’s the guy that programs the playlist. During the hour the Music Haul hung around the hospital, Bach and Beethoven played, and there was some Stevie Wonder and Louis Armstrong, too.

Knopp said as soon as it was clear the coronavirus was here to stay, he decided he needed to get the Music Haul on the road.

“Music is one of the reasons to regain our health, to regain our equilibrium as a culture,” he said. “Not to have health, but to have health so that we can bask in what's so beautiful about life. And I think that it gives us something to shoot for, and to remember, 'This is the goal. This is what we’re waiting for.'”

When the pandemic is over, the Yellow Barn Music Festival will cram the live musicians back in the truck. We’ll need them then, more than ever.


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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