Flat Iron Crossroads looks to become community music venue

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Aug 07, 2019 - 03:17 PM

Photo: Flat Iron Crossroads, a nonprofit organization, has revitalized a 100-year-old gas station into a modern performing arts center.

Flat Iron Crossroads, a nonprofit organization, has revitalized a 100-year-old gas station into a modern performing arts center.

Photo: An  interior shot of the performing area at Flat Iron Crossroads.

An interior shot of the performing area at Flat Iron Crossroads.

Photo: Ray Friend, right, owner of Flat Iron Crossroads, shares the stage with friend Don Dransfield.

Ray Friend, right, owner of Flat Iron Crossroads, shares the stage with friend Don Dransfield.

Photo: Flat Iron Crossroads logo

Flat Iron Crossroads logo

Flat Iron, a small area motorists travel through on their way to Ware Neck, is undergoing a transformation, back to a community of business, arts and services that it once was.

The latest addition comes with the opening of Flat Iron Crossroads, a nonprofit organization that has revitalized a 100-year-old gas station into a modern performing arts center.

Ware Neck resident Ray Friend, who is spearheading the effort, said the idea came after he started having a group of friends come to his house on Sundays to play music. Driving by the old Johnson’s Garage building each day and seeing it was for sale, the idea struck him to look into hosting the group there and making improvements so the community as a whole can enjoy it.

“With Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, the frame shop and a few other small businesses there, I thought what a beautiful setting,” Friend said. 

Once he purchased the building, he said one thing led to another and people started showing up on Sundays—people he didn’t even know.

At that time, the building was in such shape that you could see through the walls and the roof was bowed in. When he went to get a permit to build the new roof, he found out he was required to take the walls up from nine to 12 feet.

“The bottom line is that we pretty much ended up with a new building,” Friend said. “The only thing that’s original is the concrete floor.” Friend added a restroom and a separate area for bands to enter, shower and change their clothes before or after performances.

Instead of keeping the building to himself, Friend decided to start a nonprofit that would allow the community to enjoy his love for art and for music. “I’m not doing it for the money,” he said. “I’m doing it for the community.”

He hopes to work hand in hand and take a similar approach as Gloucester Arts on Main has taken in the community. “They do the visual arts,” he said. “I’m doing the performing arts.” 

Currently, the building has just been open for private gatherings, but once he receives his occupancy permit, he plans to host an open house in conjunction with the Gloucester Wine Festival on Sept. 21. 

He said he has traveled to a number of different venues in Nashville, Tennessee and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to get ideas for the design and acoustics of the building. “We want members of the public and performers to leave here saying, ‘Wow,’” Friend said. “We have the highest JBLs (speakers) money can buy—our sound system is on point.”

Popular local band Good Shot Judy has already planned a Christmas show at Flat Iron Crossroads. “When they looked in here, they went ‘wow’ and that’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Friend said.

He said he plans on starting out by hosting Sunday shows and then add Friday evening performances. He said ideally, Saturdays will be left open for members of the community to rent the space for private functions.

He said the idea for the Friday performances will be to have a cocktail party prior to the shows for people to meet with the performers and one another, have the show and then close up. On Sundays, he said there will be a little different format with a host interacting with the audience talking about the performer and the type of music they are performing. He also hopes to host music-related workshops at the venue from time to time.

“This is intended to be a community center,” Friend said. “It’s a gift to the community. It depends on how well the community receives it, if it makes it or not.”

Friend said there used to be small venues like Flat Iron Crossroads all across the county. “I think we’re seeing some resurgence of that and that’s what we want this to be about,” he said. 

Through word of mouth and doing the best job they can do, Friend hopes Flat Iron Crossroads will gain some notoriety so that perhaps some big name performers traveling through Washington, D.C., or other nearby cities will want to stop in and check things out.

Most of all, he is excited that the historic piece of property is coming alive again. When the main road to Mathews County ran through Flat Iron at the turn of the last century, he said there used to be a blacksmith and carriage shop, and a small grocery store.

“It’s always been a community for over 100 years,” Friend said. “The sense of community is already here. We’re just adding to it—hoping to enhance it.”

For more information, visit flatironcrossroads.com or the venue’s page on Facebook.