When Dave Brouillette moved from Massachusetts to Petaluma in 2010, he had no intention of forming a music group, even though he had written songs and played in a cover band in his hometown north of Boston.
The formation of Dirty Red Barn was pure serendipity.
Brouillette, facility manager for the National Park Service at Point Reyes National Seashore, became friends with two co-workers, Ben Becker and Scott Pardue.
“The three of us enjoyed each other’s company,” Brouillette said. “And we were all musicians. The band just occurred naturally.”
The name of the band comes from a real barn located near the Bear Valley Visitors Center.
“We have a big old red barn out there,” said Brouillette. “One of the projects we were working on was cleaning up the barn. It was kind of a mess. So we were talking about what to call our group and Ben said, ‘How about Dirty Red Barn?’”
Pardue, a harmonica player, eventually moved away, but guitarist Brouillette and bassist Becker kept the group together, eventually adding Malcolm Johnson on drums and Sean Parnell on harmonica.
The quartet has been together for two years and recently released their eponymously titled debut album. The CD consists of 10 original songs that blend blues, folk, rock and bluegrass into a sound best described as Americana.
“We spent the last couple of years writing material and the last eight months recording and mixing the CD,” Brouillette said.
Johnson first met Brouillette through Little League baseball, where both of their sons played. “I didn’t know Dave was a musician, but we really got to know each other through our boys who were in the Petaluma High School music program,” he said. Both men are active in the school’s music boosters program.
“When Dave found out that I played drums, he told me he wanted me to play in his group,” said Johnson. “I went to hear them play at Brixx and then he invited me to come over and jam. I must have passed the audition.”
“I kind of twisted his arm,” Brouillette said.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Johnson added. “I tell my wife it’s my book club. It’s a chance for me to get out once a week and play a little bit.” Johnson and his wife own Washington Square Veterinary Clinic. “She is the veterinarian,” he said. “She does all the hard work.”
Parnell joined the group after Pardue left in 2014. A friend told Parnell that Dirty Red Barn might be looking for a new harmonica player. Eventually, Brouillette called Parnell and said, “We hear you play a mean harmonica. Why don’t you come over and let’s see what we can do?
“We started jamming and it all fit together,” he added.
Parnell, a salesman in the wine industry, had previously been a member of the Highway Poets, Biting the Dog and other groups.
“I had been a straight blues player,” he said. “When you’re playing blues, you wait for your turn to take a solo. With Dirty Red Barn, I get to play the harmonica as a lead instrument. It lets me stretch my legs in a different way than when playing blues.”
All four musicians contribute to the songwriting process.
“Someone will take the lead on writing a song, then we’ll all chip in and polish it,” Brouillette said. “The harmonies are the real strength in our band. We try and pay attention to harmonies and emphasize them.”
Brouillette and Parnell share the lead on most of the songs, while Johnson joins in on harmonies.
When the band started first started, it played all cover songs.
“The longer we’ve been together, we’ve been playing fewer covers and more originals,” Brouillette said. “As we go forward, we’ll be doing almost all originals and a few covers.” They have already written enough new songs for a whole new album, he said.
The band plays regularly at local venues such as Twin Oaks Roadhouse, Brixx, the Big Easy, Brewster’s Garden and Lagunitas. They have three gigs scheduled in November (See sidebar). [youtube: UxZDdeV0sWs]
“Now that the album is finished, things have started to snowball,” Brouillette said. “We’re starting to line up some things in San Francisco and other places outside of Sonoma County.”
Brouillette, who also books music for the Aqus Café, said the local music scene is “very vibrant.” When he was living in Lowell, Mass., 30 miles north of Boston, there weren’t as many bands or places to play. “Out here there are a lot more venues, and quality of the bands is very high,” he said. “There are so many opportunities here.”
Parnell, who hosts a blues jam the first Monday of every month at the Aqus Café, appreciates that the local music scene is so strong and well supported. “A lot of the artists come out to support each other,” he said. “When we play somewhere, sometimes five or six musicians from other bands come to hear us.”
Asked about the band’s musical goals, Parnell said he wants to continue to make music that people enjoy. Brouillette added that he would like the band to get out beyond the Bay Area and do a tour of the Northwest. Johnson said that it would be nice to hear some of their songs get radio airplay.
“The thing that really makes us who we are is that we really enjoy hanging out together,” said Johnson. “We don’t disagree very much. If we do, we just kick things around and come to an agreement.”
(Chris Samson is the former editor of the Argus-Courier. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)