Rolling over the wide sweep of the York River and up into the wildwoods of the Middle Peninsula to visit FlatIron Crossroads, I don’t know what I was expecting. Certainly not a church of music that shimmies with holiness or permission to shred on a ‘78 Telecaster that Ray Friend, owner and operator of the burgeoning music venue in Gloucester, calls one of his “junk guitars.” I didn’t expect to see the 20 feet of concrete “where the town 100 years ago buried the Devil after he met with Robert Johnson at the crossroads.”
While that last yarn may be a slight fabrication, Friend is one of those guys who makes you want to believe. When he tells me he’s going to build a three-bedroom house with a recording studio so traveling musicians can stay a couple weeks, lay down some tracks and then play a few nights at the venue, I not only believe him, I want to do everything I can to make it happen. When he tells me he plans to sell out every show even though tonight’s performance is the fourth ever here, I don’t believe him until the crowd arrives an hour before set time.
“Part of what started this whole dream of mine was Live from Daryl's House,” he croons while tilting his bowtie and jutting his cap. “Well heck, I thought, I could build something like that. I’m a firm believer in what one can do, another can do. It’s just a matter of you do your research, you keep your eyes open, you keep your ears to the ground, you network, make as many friends as you can—and share. This is not about me, it’s about the community and sharing and trying to do something special.”
Halfway into Williamsburg-based guitarist Tony Mata’s soundcheck, I feel the building, an abandoned gas station Ray bought a few years ago, start to levitate. And even though there’s only the sound guy, lighting guy and a photographer in the room, we have a spiritual experience. This is communion. This is poetry. This is why the fires were lit and the temples were built.
When Travis Colby takes the stage and begins to tickle the ivories, something happens that cannot happen in a for-profit music venue. It happens at places like North Shore Point House concerts in Norfolk and Harris Creek Acoustic and Big Pink in Phoebus. It happens on porches and in kitchens and before hearths everywhere. Free from the bouncers and metal detectors and surly bartenders, the music fills up with the Holy Spirit. Free from the cold-blooded spreadsheets of commercialism, beautiful sounds abound.
Friend is modest, but he isn’t unaware: “I’m thinking about getting a steeple,” he says with a sly smile. Miles Davis, Keith Richards and Johnny Cash look down upon us from his cleverly fashioned acoustic panels, which are “designed to catch the bass waves that crawl up the wall.” It’s finally showtime, so Friend thanks the assembled and introduces trumpeter Victor Haskins. Then there is a dazzling silence and the music spirals on in.
“I’m a noisemaker,” Friend tells me. “I’m a passionate lover of all things that are emotional, such as music and art.” Indeed, he is making some beautiful noise up here in Gloucester—enough to make Cornwallis blush, that’s for sure. Just down the road is the Gloucester Brewing Company, a newish ale slinger not rushing into distribution just quite yet. Perhaps that’s the secret: a well-played game of Keep Away. Away from the maddening crowds a house of music blooms, where the reverend waltzes among the gathered with a glass of wine, a bowtie and his bride. Way up here on the periphery, music can become itself. A sight to see, a sound to behold and an experience to have.
For more information and a full schedule of events at FlatIron Crossroads, visit FlatIronCrossroads.com.