- Jordan Adams
- Andy Bouchard in front of the Barrage
Depending on where you're coming from, you're likely to spend a good while in the car to get to the Barrage in Holland, Vt. But for those whose greatest prize at the end of a journey is a memorable concert experience, the off-the-grid concert venue in the Northeast Kingdom is a worthy road trip.
Along the way, plenty of Vermont's wonders await: fields of wildflowers, winding rivers, derelict buildings, cows parading from barn to pasture, dense stretches of forest. At the last leg of the trek, a small sign reading "rock and roll" points travelers in the right direction along a dirt road toward a modest house, next to which is an unassuming outbuilding: the Barrage. The makeshift venue has become a hub for the close-knit scene and community that owner Andy Bouchard is fostering in an effort to fill a musical void in the NEK.
On a recent summer evening in late June, a crowd gathered to see a trio of acts: NEK singer-songwriter Kyle Woolard (of the Charlottesville, Va., group the Anatomy of Frank), Denver-based pop-punk band the Windermeres, and Burlington rockers Clever Girls.
As bands and guests arrived in dribs and drabs, a sense of familiarity set in. Some folks pitched in to help set up chairs and get things ready. Bouchard's girlfriend, Maire Folan, laid out a complimentary taco buffet. A chubby orange-and-white cat named Milky greeted visitors at a nearby picnic table. The vibe was like that of a family reunion or neighborhood cookout — that is, if your family or neighbors happened to include the hip local and touring bands that typically play the Barrage.
Bouchard, 35, is a South Burlington native who purchased his current home in 2007, when he started teaching special education at North Country Union High School. But he's only been running the Barrage, a portmanteau of "barn" and "garage," since August 2017. Earlier that year, he'd returned to booking shows after years of inactivity — the Castleton University alum was a talent booker at his alma mater.
Now, Bouchard books shows at various locations under the name Borderline Entertainment, a reference to the fact that his land sits literally at the edge of the country. From his house, you can walk through the woods to the Canadian border.
Feeling inspired by some off-the-grid shows in Burlington — not to mention his slight frustration with the sparse and disparate scene in his neck of the woods — Bouchard decided to take matters into his own hands.
"I realized I've got this place right here," he said, gesturing at the wooden outbuilding-cum-rock-club.
By no means is the NEK a musical desert. Between Greensboro's Highland Center for the Arts, Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury and year-round concerts at Jay Peak Resort — not to mention smaller shops such as Parker Pie Co. in West Glover and Newport's Jasper's Tavern — area residents have access to quite a bit of entertainment. But those places are far flung, and their lineups generally don't hit Bouchard's strike zone in terms of the types of entertainment he's most interested in seeing.
"I try to [put together] a diverse bill," he said, noting his desire to book "really modern music that you would not see or hear" outside of bigger regional markets.
In 2017, Bouchard overhauled the outbuilding, which had been used as an auto garage decades before he acquired the property. Its interior balances grit with hominess. Visitors find a collection of books, bric-a-brac, Bouchard's family's athletic equipment, and signatures from the artists who've played there — these scrawled across a staircase leading up to a loft. On the building's façade, a cattle skull affixed below a red floodlight adds a quirky, David Lynchian atmosphere.
"You should've seen the place before he renovated it," said neighbor Mitch Wonson. The Holland resident attends every Barrage show and showed pride in the work Bouchard has put into making it a usable space.
"It's a great thing for the community — and for an old fart like me," said Wonson, who turns 70 later this year. "[If] you hang around with the young kids, you stay young."
Another guest, music therapist RoseAnna Cyr, said she's been coming to the Barrage since it started up last year. She recalled a show last summer with spoken-word artist Chris Bernstorf.
"He started doing his performance just with the light of [a single] light bulb," she explained. "It was such a surreal, engaging and artistic experience. It's not something you'd ever expect: to come to Holland, Vt., [to] hang out in someone's garage and [see] that type of performance."
By the time Woolard opened the show with his solo acoustic set, about 30 people had arrived. That number climbed to 40-ish before a cotton-candy-pink and orange-sherbet sunset exploded on the horizon.
Bouchard said his neighbors and the town have been supportive of his concert endeavors. Barrage shows are BYOB and usually end around 10 p.m. Admission is by donation, and all money collected goes to the performing artists.
"There have been some bands that made more money here [selling] merch than any other show," Bouchard claimed.
The Windermeres were thrilled to squeeze in the Barrage show between slots in Montréal and New York City. In part, suggested drummer Jeremy Van Zandt, that's because attendees at unconventional venues tend to be more rabid fans.
"I think the people actually care about the music a lot more," he said. "Stuff like [the Barrage], you have to know about it. You have to be into music and know how to go out of your way to get to places like this."
Clever Girls front woman Diane Jean echoed that sentiment. Prior to playing the Barrage, the group had recently returned from its biggest tour to date.
"We'd never done a tour where we were played every day of the week," said Jean. "We tried to fill the early days of the week with DIY shows. Those are the communities that turn up. They come out and they donate because they want bands to come back."
After playing a full set of selections from their recent releases Luck and Loose Tooth, Clever Girls closed the night with a rousing cover of the Cranberries' "Dreams." The crowd shouted the lyrics right along with them and danced up a storm.
Even Bouchard's kids were in on the action.
"I think it's pretty cool," said Harvest, Bouchard's son. However, the 11-year-old added that he was initially skeptical about the idea of hosting rock concerts in the family garage: "I thought it was kind of crazy when [my dad] first mentioned it."
Bouchard is careful not to overdo Barrage concerts, citing fear of oversaturation.
"Timing is a big thing," he said. "This area, the market can't sustain constant shows. And I don't want to do constant shows."
But, judging by the crowd's obvious enjoyment, it's likely that those in the know would come back as often as Bouchard would have them.
"Just to be able to come to a place like this and listen to really, really good music in a really comfortable atmosphere — it's a treasure," said Cyr.