Bach in the barn

Last year, the Allerton Barn Music Festival enjoyed its inaugural year, bringing the talents of some of the most respected composers, proficient musicians and leading music educators under the roof of what used to be a neglected storage barn unfit for the sounds it now showcases. The concerts in the barn were a huge success, selling out all five shows. Driven by the success of last year and a promising ambition for growth, the festival returns to Allerton this Labor Day weekend, adding two shows to Monday and featuring music from some of the most revered names in the world of jazz and Western classical.
Organized and supported by U of I’s very own music department, Allerton Barn Music Festival unexpectedly takes place off-campus — but it will be well worth it to make the 30-minute drive west on I-72 to the University’s expansive Allerton Park near Monticello, IL. Donated to the U of I in 1946 by Robert Allerton (a former trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago), the park of nearly six square kilometers has been a favorite destination for students and faculty alike and has been declared one of the seven wonders of Illinois by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism.
When U of I Music Director Karl Kramer was introduced to the barn at Allerton more than six years ago, a hidden potential was recognized in the space, and renovation plans went underway to transform the storage barn into a concert hall — the perfect home for an annual festival that would showcase the diversity and expanse of U of I’s rapidly growing music program. Emphasizing jazz, Western classical and world music, Kramer and the U of I music department hope to expand the festival in the upcoming years with this year’s program already proving more ambitious and varied than the first installment.
buzz interviewed Music Director Karl Kramer about this weekend’s gathering of music and nature.
buzz: What inspired you to start this festival?
Kramer: The space. In 2002, I took a tour, and we came to the south end by the big house and a barn. Originally, the barn was just junk storage — lawn ornaments, farm implements and 50 years of pigeon guano — but after five years of cleaning it up, the barn is beautiful and acoustically perfect.
buzz: What separates the room from others, acoustically?
Kramer: The wood gives the sound a very warm sound, and there’s a lot of air under the high ceiling, which generates a lot of volume.
buzz: Allerton is a bit of a drive. Why not have this in town, maybe at Krannert?
Kramer: It’s a different venue. Krannert is closed until mid-September when the music students have [material to perform]. It really filled a void where we can highlight our outstanding faculty in performance.
buzz: Ah yes, faculty. This reminds me that you are playing the very first night. Care to discuss?
Kramer: I will be playing tuba with Beyond Cool. We take our instrumentation and name in tribute of the Miles Davis and Gil Evans seminal recording Birth of the Cool, which made jazz a household name. Their nonet has nine pieces, two saxes, rhythm section, trumpet, trombone, horn and tuba, which pioneered ‘cool jazz’ with that smooth brass sound.
buzz: Finally, why is the schedule so spaced out across the weekend?
Kramer: Heat. The barn gets very hot during the day. We do have some new ceiling fans to get some air moving around, but the 10:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. shows get people out of the barn during the hottest part of the day.
For those with a gourmet palate and deep pockets, Montgomery’s, a classy restaurant in Monticello, is offering a prix fixe menu Friday and Saturday evenings with cuisine sharing a theme with the night’s musical offerings. Fortunately, those on a student’s budget have an option as well. Below the music barn, there is a bistro that will be open before each concert. Better still, bring a blanket and a big picnic to enjoy on the grounds of the expansive estate.
A single show will run $26 for adults and $20 for students. A weekend pass is $154 for adults and $105 for students. More information regarding performers and music selections can be found at Make sure to purchase tickets in advance through the Krannert Center Ticket Office as they will not be sold at the barn. Hopefully you’ll find a show that you just can’t pass up.

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