4/4/2013 - The members of Tom Dixon’s band knew he often dreamed of moving to Nashville to make his mark as a songwriter. But when Dixon announced in December he would leave the Granite State for Music City, it took Dave Wilson by surprise.
“My first thought was, good luck,” recalled the Tom Dixon Band guitarist. “My next was, uh-oh — what am I doing next?”
Fueled by a quartet that called itself the “Van Halen of country,” the Manchester band enjoyed a solid seven-year run, playing shows throughout New England and across the Eastern seaboard. But with their front man’s departure, the band — Wilson, multi-instrumentalist Leo Melanson, bass player John Crawford and drummer Bill Ferraro — decided against reproducing the old formula.
“I immediately started thinking, how do we continue hard rock country, but do it completely different?” said Wilson. “After a couple of days, the first person I thought of was Dave Clark.”
Wilson and Clark are good friends who’ve written and performed together over the years. Though best known as a rocker, with cover band The Hitmen and a solo resume that includes the 2004 CD Changes, Clark welcomed the new horizons offered by Barnfire.
“Adding country music to my repertoire opens up all kinds of possibilities,” said Clark.
Still, the band posted a Craigslist ad and held a few perfunctory auditions.
“Some were very good,” said Wilson, “but we were going through the motions.”
On a recent Friday, Barn Fire debuted at a crowded Mad Bob’s Saloon in Manchester. Staying in the wheelhouse of contemporary country rock, their set ranged through solid versions of Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country,” the obligatory “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” and a rousing finale of Rascal Flatts big hit, “Where The Blacktop Ends.”
Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight” contained a nod to Clark’s roots; however, preceded by the five-part a capella “Seven Bridges Road,” it also demonstrated the difference between the old and new projects.
“The premise of the band is I’m singing lead instead of just being the lead singer,” Clark said. “It will showcase more vocal ability than the Tom Dixon Band.”
“That’s one of the reasons we thought of Dave. … He’s almost like an orchestra leader — he enjoys that challenge,” agreed Wilson, calling his old group “a great country rock band with great backing vocals. I think one of the differences with Barn Fire is the harmony.”
At the sneak peek show, the area in front of the stage was packed with dancers and fans singing along and shouting out requests.
“Everything you yelled, we will be playing,” responded Wilson at one point. “But not necessarily tonight.”
The first full-length gig happens April 12 at Manchester’s City Sports Grill, with future shows set for Stumble Inn in Londonderry, Lakes Region Casino in Belmont and a Laconia show during Bike Week in June. The full schedule is on the Barn Fire website.
The new band hopes to maintain a less frenetic pace and spend more time on getting tighter. The Tom Dixon Band often worked seven nights a week.
“The one thing we didn’t do was practice,” observed Wilson. “We were a phenomenal band that could have been even better.”
Barn Fire’s evinced onstage chemistry at Mad Bob’s; Clark and Wilson leaned into each other mid-song while Ferraro spun his drumsticks, Crawford (a/k/a “Crawdaddy”) stayed deep in the pocket and Melanson switched between steel guitar, fiddle and banjo. The obvious exuberance underscored the reasoning behind the band’s name, as articulated by Wilson.
“It is,” he said, “the only fire you’d want to run in to.”