Behind the Venue: Weber’s Deck
Behind the Venue takes a closer look at the stories behind some of our favorite venues across the country.Posted by Chris Green
As you stroll up to the venue, the sight that greets you isn’t a mob of people navigating a ticket line and phalanx of security guards. Instead, you’re greeted as family by a bunch of smiling folk drinking beer in lawn chairs, while little kids dance and hula-hoop. The smell of roasting pig wafts over the scene as you come to terms with the locale; it isn’t a stadium, concert hall, or bar but a simple wooden deck which is the stage for a summer-long season of music that draws thousands of people to the small town (population 22) of French Lake, Minnesota.
Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Behind The Venue,” a series that takes a look at the stories and people behind some of the most loved, infamous and even overplayed venues across the globe.
Weber’s Deck came into being when music fan Casey Weber bought a house in the pleasant rural area of French Lake and decided to have a house-warming party to celebrate the move and meet his neighbors. His gregariousness and life-long love of live music had made him plenty of friends who were willing to play some tunes at the party, so he modified the deck he was building so that the front rails could be removed to form a small stage. His party was a success and everyone had a great time drinking beer in lawn chairs listening to music played up close by the likes of Charlie Parr and Drew Peterson.
If you’re starting to wonder why we’re writing about a simple backyard party that featured a band, it’s what has happened since that is of interest. The positive response from everyone who attended sparked Weber’s interest in a repeat, and since he knew a good number of musicians, it was easy to put together a lineup. So he did it again.. and again… As word spread among attendees and touring musicians, the gatherings grew bigger and bigger.
At this point, the Weber’s Deck concert schedule features outdoor concerts with full lineups on nine consecutive Sundays during the peak of summer. Now, audiences are drawn from a much larger area than the five houses that make up his local community – his Labor Day finale is attended by more than a 1200 people, many of whom drive (or fly) long distances to be there.
For Weber this is not a commercial venture. Expenses and labor come from Weber himself, combined with donations and volunteers. The “Sunday Services” at Weber’s Deck charge no admission – attendees are instead encouraged to make a small donation that goes directly to the performers. People’s simple generosity and enthusiasm for the music means that merch sales and a share of the tip jar can easily end up as a more lucrative midwest tour stop than a conventional big city venue would be. That, plus how much fun the bands have playing for a friendly and appreciative audience have led to the current situation where, instead of soliciting bands, Weber is forced to pick and choose from a long list of artists interested in gracing his stage.
Weber’s Deck books acts from a wide variety of genres including bluegrass, blues, country and rock. Each year’s sessions include artists performing at the deck for the first time plus some returning favorites (2012′s season opener included Charlie Parr and Drew Peterson from the original housewarming party).
Weber views his summer of micro-festivals as not just simple entertainment but as a way to build a sense of community and even bring a bit of economic development to his area (his shows are certainly a boon for the town’s small gas station). In one sense, the shows are a throwback – the all-ages crowd sharing an afternoon of music and barbeque brings to mind a simple, less crowded experience. On the other hand, the geographically diverse community that has formed around the events and the booking of musicians, from far flung places, would not be possible without the kinds of connectivity that the internet provides. The small town barn dances of old didn’t have facebook pages, youtube collections or theme songs.
With the summer season just passed, we talked briefly with owner Casey Weber via email:
SSG Music: So how did your 2012 season go?
Casey Weber: We had a great 2012 season. Only got rained out once, which was the first time in the 4 years that Weber’s Deck has been going. Always so very grateful for the musicians, fans, and volunteers that help keep this going each year.
SSG: What kinds of changes are you seeing with continuing growth?
CW: Naturally, there has been an evolution every year over our crowds. More word of mouth spreads each year, and our crowds grow each year. Which, isn’t necessarily a good thing. My property can only handle so many people, I can only get so many porta potties donated, and can only get so many dumpsters each week. And, we need these things. When I first started, it was no big deal to just have one porta potty. But, now, it seems like I need 2 or 3 each Sunday. This is an expense that doesn’t come cheap, and I hate to obligate the companies that help by donating, to doing more each time I talk to them.
SSG: What can people look forward to in 2013?
CW: Not sure what 2013 will bring yet, as I am still trying to relax after the 2012 season. I can’t say that there won’t be changes. But, no matter what, I will always try my darndest to put together some great shows!!
Experience a taste of the Deck
Charlie Parr working up the crowd (with a cameo from the proprietor)
A walk-though of the Labor day weekend crowd.
A little bit of fire-breathing lights up the Minnesota night.
The Internet Archive hosts a good-sized collection of live audio recordings from Weber’s Deck for download here.