It took only three days to complete, but the raising of the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury in 1994 has been commemorated pretty much every year since folks first danced on its unfinished dirt floor.
Islanders have come to know this annual celebration as the Barn Raisers Ball, and after a brief hiatus because of COVID, it’s back — and the community is getting prepared.
The event is one of the most highly anticipated of any recurring local bash, and with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish performing at the Ag Hall almost every year since the building was constructed, it’s become a treasured Island tradition.
“We were there for the very first one, and it was a big dirt floor,” Johnny Hoy laughed. “They hadn’t built the wooden floor yet, and I just remember all the dust — I mean, we had dust everywhere.”
Even with gritty knobs and faders made chalky from sawdust, Hoy said, he will never forget the experience.
“It was awesome. I remember all the barn raisers just dancing in that big cloud of dust,” he said.
It took 300 volunteers to build the barn, and after the bulk of the job was accomplished, Hoy and his band rocked the house until the walls shook.
Although the popular group plays gigs for all sorts of causes, and in celebration of a variety of local milestones, Hoy said, the Barn Raisers Ball is one they look forward to each year. With hundreds of folks coming to enjoy music, dancing, and a dessert potluck, Hoy called the event “one big love fest in the community.”
“It’s a celebration of the people who live here. Everyone gets out of the house and gets together to appreciate the lives we are all living — that’s the gig, right there,” Hoy said.
Hoy cleared up the misconception he said some have that anyone who attends the party needs to be a barn raiser, or needs to be a member of the Ag Society. The event is open to the public, he said, and a large crowd of young and old show up to dance in front of the stage and let loose.
“It’s usually everything from little kids with their parents and grandparents and even a few great-grandparents. You just don’t see a whole lot of gigs like that. People here really like to let their hair down and just have fun,” Hoy said.
With COVID making the ball impossible last year, those who have attended (and performed) in the past are excited to make it happen again.
For Hoy, he is ready to get out on the Ag Hall floor and get some feet moving again, especially after making it through such a difficult period for musicians and performers. “This time around it feels extra-sweet, and it feels poignant that you find out how much you miss these kinds of things — the magic of having music in your life,” Hoy said.
Now that the Ag Society has planned out a COVID-friendly event, Hoy is confident that those who have been starved of live music will turn out in droves. “I suspect that we are going to see a lot of people at the Ag Hall that probably haven’t been to a bar and haven’t seen live music for a year and a half. I think there will be some jukes in the air, for sure,” he said.
According to Jeremy Berlin, who plays keyboard for Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, the band will be performing right where they usually do, near the barn doors at the back of the hall. But this time, the tunes will be radiating outside and into the backyard, where guests can dance, sit around some fire pits, and eat at picnic tables.
“Because it’s often such a big crowd, they don’t want anyone dancing or being in front of the stage inside, which makes it a much more weather-dependent thing,” Berlin explained.
Berlin was there playing with Hoy when the first Barn Raisers Ball marked the beginning of the tradition. He said he was always surprised with the turnout for the event, considering it was never highly publicized.
“There were never any posters or banners, but somehow, everyone knows to show up. A lot of people who don’t often go out show up — they bring their parents, their kids. It’s just about one of the most packed events we perform at,” Berlin said.
Berlin harkened back to the time when the inside of the Ag Hall was a veritable dust bowl, and marveled at how enjoyable it was to play and salute the barn raisers for a job well done. “That dust and dirt probably did more damage to our stuff than we know, but it was such an epic night,” he said.
Kristy Rose, the organizer for the event, said the Ag Society will be setting up strings of lights in the trees outside, with picnic tables and fire pits, to make for a pleasant and lively atmosphere.
The event will take place on Nov. 6, from 7:30 pm to around 10 pm. There will be an attendance limit, so the Ag Society has opted to sell tickets in order to keep track of the number of guests.
“Usually the whole Island shows up, and we are packed in there like sardines,” Rose laughed. “We can’t have everyone there this time, unfortunately.”
All 300 or so people who helped out with the barn raising will receive free admission, and do not need tickets.
The usual dessert potluck and beverages provided at the event are being nixed for this year, but folks are welcome to bring their own treats.
Tickets will cost $10 for Ag Society members and $15 for nonmembers, available on the Ag Society website: bit.ly/BRBall.