I have known Carol Noonan for decades now. It began with her first band, Knots and Crosses, and continued throughout her highly successful solo career culminating with the creation of the Stone Mountain Arts Center where she and her husband, Jeff Flagg, present some of music’s biggest stars who flock to the tiny town of Brownfield to perform in a centuries-old barn for folks from all around New England. As I alluded to earlier, she’s an old friend and with the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the concert scene currently, I called her at home to find out how the couple is faring nowadays with gatherings more than 50 people being curtailed. We chatted Jan. 8.

Q: How are you doing today, Carol?
Noonan: Good, it’s good to hear your voice, but it’s been a weird couple of days. We were watching the Georgia race on Monday night and I got up early to continue my glued-to-the-TV about that (chuckle), and then it just all unfolded. I never left the couch for 24 hours, so I’m sorry I was out of touch for a day.

Q: Oh, we’re talking now so don’t apologize for that!
Noonan: … My little business seemed like a small importance all of a sudden, but here we are today and life goes on.

Q: It’s about that “little business” that I am calling. And that’s what’s really weird, as well, because all the times in the past when we’ve chatted it’s been about your music. But old habits die hard so a quick, unrelated question: Are you working on a new album, per chance?
Noonan: Not really, not as far as writing anything new. I am working on a book that I had been working on the last few years. In fact, in March when we had to close I did take two months and I was writing these essays kind of every week about what I was listening to and any stories that related to that particular album, or where I was at the time when I loved that album. I’ve been hounded to do a cookbook of recipes from SMAC here, so what I’m working on now is just putting some kind of weird book together that combines them both (chuckle). Jeff said I should say, what I did during COVID: “COVID-19 and Other Recipes,” or something like that.

Q: (Laughter) Oh, I love that as a title!
Noonan: So, I am working on that, but music-wise, I haven’t had any time. Honestly my job has gotten so bizarre that that part of me just can’t be indulged right now. We’re really small-staffed, and everything I do is just to keep us going, you know? My efforts are constantly going into that, and that takes a lot of energy and creativity, too, but we’ll get back to it.

Q: Now during the quarantine some venues were allowed to do some low-attendance shows, and I heard somewhere that yours was one of them.
Noonan: We were doing 50-person shows up to just before Thanksgiving when we decided, even though we were (told) that we could do them, that the more people you have, the bigger the risk is there. So we decided not to do it, but we did do them throughout the summer. They were kind of weird but kind of great, too. People came out and it seemed like a very empty room but it was kind of intimate and sweet. The room at least had some music in it, and that was great, too.


Q: Well, with that thought in mind, do you have any plans for performances during this upcoming new year?
Noonan: We’re going to watch how things go in the next few months. We are rescheduling all of our regular-capacity shows through March, because most of the artists are doing that at this point. But if we feel like we can bring back the smaller shows I can book some more local artists. Or if the Boston folks can come up, I have a big pool there, too, that I can bring up. Then we can do shows more with less notice. We’ll just have to see, and that’s a phrase I’ve used the most since March: we’ll have to see, every week is different.

Q: I understand that there have been some changes at SMAC, of late.
Noonan: We turned our old horse barn into our big lobby where you check in, have a drink before the show, and then come over to the main hall to have dinner and see the show. We’ve transformed that into more of a restaurant kind of space since May. We’ve been doing take-out and doing dine-in. We’ve made individual dining spaces where you can come and have your own little area. If you go online it’s the “Treehouse Café” page and you’ll see pictures of it. So, we’ve kept our staff working and hanging in there, getting our bills paid. We’ve also been doing this Provide-A-Meal program for our local community. There’s a bunch of people that really need to be fed once a week, so we do that program. It keeps our staff working, and we give almost 100 meals away on Fridays to folks that need it. We give them entrees and little lunches and things they can take away for the week, hopefully it gets them through a few days. That’s on our website, too, if you want to check it out, so (sigh) that’s what we’re doing.

Q: Well, it sounds like a win for everyone involved.
Noonan: Yeah, I feel like we’re going to be in a better place when this is all over; we’ve made improvements that we can still implement. I think we need to keep doing this Provide-A-Meal program even when COVID’s over. There were people in our neck of the woods that have needed this that we didn’t know about. It’s funny, you think you know your neighbor, but maybe you really don’t. Poverty doesn’t look as obvious in rural areas as it does in urban areas. We’d like to continue this program, because I think there are people in need all the time. So there’s a lot of things we’re doing that we did to deal with not having shows, and not being able to have capacity shows, that will keep going. I think we’ll run the café all the time from now on as well as concerts. Maybe that’s something we could have done all along and just needed to get pushed to do it.

Q: One of the recurring themes that have come out of the interviews I’ve been doing since March deals with silver linings, and this sounds like one for you.
Noonan: Yeah, it is but it’s hard to look at silver linings when you’re still going through it. We’ve got a long winter ahead. Our place is really a destination venue and for us to be a year-round venue we’ve really had to depend on people coming from out of state like any of the tourist spots in Maine. That’s just not happening now, so we have to depend on locals coming to see us for dinner or for take-out. That’s been a different approach, how to get local business to come to a restaurant when we’ve never done that; we’ve only had shows. We had to see if people would haul up here to have dinner or to get take-out, and they have. We’ve been really lucky for that, a lot of our customers that have always come here drive really far to come up and support us. Our customer base is incredibly amazing; we wouldn’t have survived this without them. That’s a huge motivator to keep it going, and we will have music again — we will!!

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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