July 19--PANA -- It was 16 years ago when Joanne Clark felt called by God to create The Barn, a renovated home for gospel music based on the outskirts of the small city of Pana. Along with her husband Bob and friends Judy and Joel Smith, Clark poured countless hours into transforming a formerly unused structure into one of the best little concert halls in Central Illinois. And now, she's felt another directive from her God -- that it's time to close up shop. Due to the health conditions of the structure's four co-owners, this will be likely be the final season for The Barn.
"We rather wish that someone would come along and show an interest in buying it to keep it running as a music venue, but we're not counting on it," said Clark, who will organize and perform in the 15th annual "Best of the Barn" concert tonight. "God is just telling me that it's time, after our final show in December. That's the way it has to be."
The "Best of the Barn" concert is traditionally the venue's largest show of the year, and this year, Clark will be joined by three other groups: One Voice Trio, Blend and Anticipation. Proceeds from each year's show were used in the past to refurbish various aspects of The Barn, adding comforts such as additional seating and air conditioning, among others. Unfortunately, those amenities will likely go to waste once the venue is closed.
Still, the groups performing tonight will take a moment to savor what may be their final trips to The Barn. Singer Bryan Cowling of One Voice Trio said his group had been to the venue five or six times over the years, and was distraught to learn that its lifespan was coming to an end.
"It's a really unique atmosphere that they have there, different from what most people are accustomed to," said the Carmi, Ill. resident. "I've always enjoyed it because the people who come there really desire to embrace the music. As a performer, it encourages you to put forth your best."
One Voice Trio could be described as a typical sort of group that The Barn hosted over the years, a Southern gospel group dedicated to their faith and their ministry.
"I've always loved the style of the music, but as I've grown older and matured in my faith, it's become more about the power of the message," Cowling said. "Our goal is always to uplift Jesus Christ first. We want people to be entertained, but at the end of the night they should leave having sensed God and have a renewed hope."
The other acts that have passed through The Barn's doors over the years would no doubt say the same thing. Joanne Clark will surely treasure the memories, while still holding out some hope that maybe one day, The Barn will return again in another form. Until then, she still has the rest of this season to run.
"The shows just got better and better over the years," she said. "The camaraderie between the audience members and the performers was truly something special."
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