DOTY — Like all farms, the daylight hours at the Willapa Hills Farm are primarily reserved for everyday toils and chores. After all, there are cows to feed and there’s cheese to make. Stop by the old farmstead on the second Thursday of each month, though, after the sun goes down of course, and you’ll find the historic barn overflowing with the rich intonations of old time music.
Since last November, the owners of Willapa Hills Farm, Stephen and Amy Hueffed, have hosted a monthly acoustic roots music concert series at their property located about 20 miles west of Chehalis on state Route 6. The concerts are hosted in the cathedral-like hayloft of the couple’s refurbished gambrel-style barn. With the wooden whale bone interior of the barn awash in golden light and traditional American music bouncing off of the beams, the resulting ambiance is like the Beverly Hillbillies crashed the Grand Ole Opry — in a good way.
In addition to the roots music concert series, the Hueffeds also host weddings and other events in the revitalized barn, originally built in 1936.
“They built it on a foundation, painted it and kept a good roof on it. Plus, most importantly, they didn’t dairy in it, which is why it’s in such nice shape,” explained Stephen Hueffed.
Hueffed noted that the loft is set on posts and beams that were recycled from a previous structure, possibly a local mill, dating back to Lewis County’s pioneer days. In 2007, the Chehalis River flood brought water right up to, and then around, the barn, which not only saved the farmers costly repairs but also allowed them to go forward with their grand plans for converting the old owl hangout into a thriving event center in the sticks of Southwest Washington.
“The goal is, the barn’s here, we’ve put in a lot of money, and I’d love for it to be a place where West Lewis County and beyond can gather,” explained Hueffed.
While the Hueffeds work to make ends meet by raising beef cattle and crafting cheese from cow and sheep milk, they are always looking to the future for the next opportunity to help keep the wheels on the farm going round and round.
“The property is an old farm with historic roots but we don’t have water rights and no matter how nice your ground is, there’s only so much you can do without water rights,” said Hueffed. “Cheese is the main economic engine, but my goal is to make the farm sustainable even without the cheese.”
In order to keep the farm paying for itself, the Hueffeds began thinking outside the box, and that meant working inside the barn. Today the old barn is show-ready, outfitted with power, heated on concert nights, and seats 175 people upstairs. In the future, the couple would like to expand their dairy operation on the ground floor to include a cheese tasting room. There’s also talk of building a commercial kitchen space for use in teaching workshops and developing their property across the river from the barn into a small eco-friendly village of sorts so that visitors can stay at the farm for a few days at a time. Eventually, Stephen would even like to host regular contra dances and poetry readings at the barn. It’s all part of their vision to turn a sleepy old farm into an essential community destination.
“Culture and arts tie us to our history. Most of us are three or four generations off the farm at this point, but through this effort there should be some connectedness to that,” explained Hueffed.
He says that the decision to cast the barn concerts as a roots music series was a conscious effort to expose people to an experience from our collective past.
”The term ‘roots music’ is kind of one of those broad catch-alls if you will. I say anything in the style of, or inspired by, American roots music, country, religious, or bluegrass. It’s kind of all over the place in that regard, but I’m trying to anchor it in that regard as having some connection to American cultural music,” said Hueffed. ‘I’m no expert, but I know what I like.”
He noted that many of the musical acts on the Willapa Hills Farm calendar so far are up and coming acts who are toiling away to get a foothold in the industry. It’s a work ethic and circumstance that the Hueffeds have a deep well of empathy to draw from.
“They’re just working their tails off. Young people going out and trying to animate the musical traditions of their ancestors,” said Hueffed. “We put them up for a night. They get a fee, but it’s not a whole lot. We’re all just trying to figure out where we fit in.”
Alex VanTuyl, an Adna native who performs under the name “An American Forrest”, made the trek to Doty for January’s barn concert and managed to pack the house with the largest attendance to date. Midway through his band’s set, he stopped and sheepishly noted how great the barn acoustics are, and how well behaved the crowd was in the country chic setting.
“I think it was Forrest who coined the phrase … It’s kind of a ‘listening room,’” said Hueffed of his barn’s merits as a musical venue. “My sense is they get a little weary of playing bars with drunk people.”
VanTuyl’s on-again-off-again roommate and musical collaborator, Bart Budwig, was the inaugural act for the barn concert series and has now taken over booking duties for the farm. Hueffed says the goal is to keep the concerts going year round.
“It’s been an interesting process to get to the point where we could essentially engage the public on our farm. We broke even on Forest because he brought family and friends. We’re not making any money on this yet, but it does bring some brand recognition to the farm,” said Hueffed. “It’s a chicken and egg thing. The more artists that want to play here the more it will build on itself.”
Additional information on the Willapa Hills Farm roots music concert series, wedding services, or other events can be found online at willapahillsfarm.com/. Telephone calls can be placed to 360-291-3937, and email can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.