Experience Wisconsin

Rocking Out at the Sh*tty Barn

Though tiny Spring Green, Wis., isn’t far from several major cities, it feels like a world away. If you’re coming from Chicago, you’ll know you’re almost there when you spot rolling hills dotted with grazing cows, golden bales of hay and quaint red barns. The most charming barn of the bunch may be the one affectionately known as the Shitty Barn. Though it looks like a relic of the past, it sounds modern inside, drawing live music acts from across the country while serving locally sourced drinks, including craft brews from Wisconsin’s Furthermore Beer.

Without Furthermore, the Barn would probably be history. Shortly before the 2008 economic downturn, the company, which leases brewing facilities from other beer makers, was looking for a place to build a brewery of its own. Chris Staples, who worked for Furthermore at the time, purchased a property near its offices with his then-wife, Martha McCamy. But soon the stock market crashed.

If You Go

The Shitty Barn is a 45-minute drive west of Madison. The 2014 season runs Wednesdays through Oct. 8 with music beginning at 7 p.m. Events do sell out ahead of time, and tickets can be purchased at shittybarnsessions.com. If you go, bring a chair and warmer clothing, as the barn is not heated. Grills are available onsite; bring your own food to grill and ar rive early. (Alcohol available onsite, no carry-ins allowed.)

“The lending markets we needed to build the brewery dried up,” Staples recalls. “There was a building on the property, this old, beaten-up agricultural space. Our original intent was to tear it down so a semi truck could turn around there. Then we realized we could use it for something.”

Staples and McCamy got creative. Like many entrepreneurs, they saw the community’s lack of live music as an opportunity.

“When you have kids and live in Spring Green, it can be hard go to a concert in Madison that ends at 1:30 a.m. So we decided to have our own shows at the Barn. We could invite our favorite bands and start the shows early.”

At first, events at the 110-person venue were mainly a Furthermore family affair. But before long, word about the intimate venue spread, and Staples decided to open its doors to a larger crowd.

The Barn is clean and modern enough for the village to label it an outdoor music pavilion but rustic enough that it’s appropriate to wear mud-caked motorcycle boots or beer-stained Doc Martens. Cowboy boots are also a good choice, considering the Americana influences many bands bring to the space. Recently the Barn has hosted shows by Pokey LaFarge, Charlie Parr and Spirit Family Reunion, as well as local and regional folk and country acts like Madison’s Count This Penny and Milwaukee’s Hugh Bob & the Hustle.

The 2014 season even featured a “mystery” show whose headliner, Heartless Bastards, was revealed a few hours before sound check. It sold out without the band’s star power, in part because visitors love exploring Spring Green for the day.

“We try to make the Barn a reflection of what people want out of a trip outside the city. We want it to be a laid-back place for drinking and socializing and listening to music, something that feels homegrown and ‘real.’”


This article originally appeared in the 2014 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article. 

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