The most unique music venue on Whidbey Island is probably one you’ve never heard of.
Located in Clinton, the Chicken Barn Concert Hall is an art-studio-turned-stage that has been hosting musicians for about a dozen years. The tradition of performances at the backyard venue all started simply as a favor to a neighbor.
Carol Flax and Ed Fickbohm were asked by their next door neighbor and musician Randy Hudson to use their home for a house concert when he ran out of space. The couple, who are both artists, agreed and quickly rearranged one of their studios to accommodate a band.
To set up for a show, they simply hang a cloth backdrop in front of some tool storage carts, set up speakers and turn on a couple of spotlights.
“Suddenly, it looks like a concert hall,” Flax said.
The room can fit about 60 people for intimate and frequently folk-centric shows. It is customary for audience members to bring a dessert dish for a potluck.
While the stage isn’t actually in a chicken barn, the couple does keep chickens – as well as Highland cattle – on the property. The studio, though not built for music, turned out to have amazing acoustics.
“We had no idea until we had the first concert,” Flax said.
Now, roughly 12 years later, they have several shows every year and have earned a reputation for being a fantastic place to perform – not only for Whidbey musicians but for artists from Seattle to Portland and beyond. They’ve had musicians come from as far away as the Netherlands.
When Flax and Fickbohm, who are big live music fans, hear an artist they like, they’ll simply ask him or her to come play at their home. The musicians usually say yes. Others hear about the Chicken Barn through word of mouth and reach out to ask for a spot.
“A lot of musicians say that this is the best space they’ve ever played in,” Flax said.
Beside the acoustics, shows at the Chicken Barn have a warm and friendly environment with great audiences, frequently full of other musicians.
The most recent shows have featured Fellow Pynins, a folk duo from Ashland, and bluegrass guitarist Eli West with mandolin player, Andrew Marlin. Marlin stopped in the middle of his performance to declare how much he loved the sound in the room.
The barn has its regulars, such as Whidbey Island musician Nathaniel Talbot who performs there once a year. He played the third concert the Chicken Barn ever had.
Upcoming shows in 2023 include Seattle singer-songwriter Nick Drummond on Jan. 28 and Gideon Freudmann, a South Whidbey cellist and composer, on Feb. 3.
“We’ve had some really amazing musicians play here,” Fickbohm said.
For two years, there were no indoor shows due to COVID-19. Around that time, someone suggested the the shows move outdoors in the summer months. Fickbohm has a large trailer for transporting mowing equipment which makes a perfect makeshift stage. People have plenty of room to dance and socialize on the couple’s six acres. Last summer, their largest concert had about 150 people in attendance. Flax said it was just like a mini-music festival.
Still, the couple is careful about keeping things low-key. All concerts are invite-only and require a reservation. For more information, contact email@example.com.
The live shows are such a positive thing Flax and Fickbohm said they feel they have to continue, even if the set up can be a lot of work. If the musicians aren’t local, the couple feeds and hosts them in their home.
“People are constantly thanking us,” Flack said. “It’s nice. It feels like a contribution.”
Fickbohm is inspired by a small venue he grew up going to in Los Angeles where he saw some amazing musicians. He wants to recreate that with the Chicken Barn, as well as create a gathering space for the community.
The next show takes place on Jan. 13 and features the Faux Paws, a trio that has a fiddler, guitarist and saxophone player.