The famous John Denver song goes “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” but for lifelong Oregon and Brooklyn resident Andy Meyer, it’s not the roads to West Virginia that inspired his love of country — it was visits to Nashville, Tennessee and Sturgis, South Dakota.
In July 2017, Meyer and his ex-wife, Tara, opened Meyer Barn Found Treasures at 125 N. Main St. in Oregon and in 2016 had opened a similar antique shop at 102 Main St. in Brooklyn.
At the latter location, Meyer has also run Meyer Masonry for over 20 years, dealing in brick, block and stone. He still has three employees there.
But when Meyer’s son died of a heroin overdose in January 2018, his marriage and his antique business fell apart.
Meyer began doing some soul-searching in the wake of his losses and traveled to Nashville 30 times over three years, particularly to Puckett’s Leiper’s Fork – a live music venue also known for its barbecue.
It was there that he began to formulate a vision for a new business at 102 Main St. and began forming the music industry connections to help manifest his dream.
In February of 2020, Meyer opened Main Street Music and More, which a month ago changed its name to Main Street Music and Event Venue to better clarify what the “and more” was.
The venue provides live music across genres like Americana, bluegrass, blues, rock and roll, country, heavy metal, and even polka – and Meyer particularly likes booking singer-songwriters. Next he’d like to expand into the genres of funk and jazz music.
During the first two years, a “simple” food menu with items like burgers and soft pretzels was offered, but last week was the venue’s first week of offering a daily lunch menu. There will be rotating specials like pork roast with baby red potatoes and spaghetti pie with garlic bread, as well themed days like Fiesta Friday with taco pizza and loaded nachos.
The menu is being curated by general manager May Alta Schulz Lemke, a longtime friend of Meyer’s who has lived in Brooklyn all 59 years of her life. She oversees the six staff members in the bar and kitchen. She’s known Meyer since he was a kid and said she became his GM simply because she wants to see him succeed.
“There’s so much to do, one man cannot do it alone. May does an amazing job,” Meyer said. “Today I spent five hours just booking bands.”
A local favorite foodtuff from a village commandment also appears on the Main Street menu – Maria’s Pizza, from Oregon, is served-up during music events. That arrangement was the result of Lemke and Maria’s owner John Indelicato – friends for 40 years – reconnecting last autumn at a funeral.
“It was a really big honor for us, we couldn’t believe it,” Lemke said.
“We appreciate it, it’s been a big help for us to get our name out there,” Meyer said.
The menu change and the name change hopefully will help people understand there’s more being offered by the business than just music, Meyer said. They have already hosted around 25 private events in the first two years including birthday parties, baby showers, and celebrations of life, he said, while only really just starting to advertise that they are open to hosting such events.
“I think we want to be a traditional kind of bar, but not focus on being a bar,” Lemke said.
Other than Main Street Music, a Brooklynite has few places to host an event like a birthday, she said. The Community Building or Town Hall are about it, Lemke said, which are a “blah space.”
Meanwhile, this business in the heart of Brooklyn aims to offer a sort of old honky-tonk atmosphere, Meyer said. The walls are covered in images of some of his favorite musicians like Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, as well as assorted knick-knacks leftover from his antiquing days. But also features traditional bar staples such as a jukebox and a pool table.
With several more businesses set to come to the Brooklyn Business Complex in the next few years, Brooklyn needs a place for people to eat, Lemke said.
Meyer sees Main Street Music as being part of an opportunity to spark a revitalization of Brooklyn, particularly since the very same week they began offering lunch, Cantering Cafe opened across the village in the space occupied for two and a half years by Down Home Cookhouse before it shuttered in July last year.
Main Street Music is filling a need and a niche in the village, Lemke and Meyer said.
“I want to work with other businesses to put Brooklyn on the map and get Brooklyn back going like it used to be,” he said. “We and Cantering Cafe can feed off each other to get Brooklyn going again.”
“Brooklyn needed something, the workers needed somewhere to go,” Lemke added.
They have hosted two brainstorming sessions at the venue to gather ideas for what local residents would like to see happen in Brooklyn. Each had around 20 to 30 people in attendance, including Brooklyn Village Board members.
It’s only been in recent months the pair finally feel like they’re hitting their stride, Meyer said. With the COVID-19 pandemic first hitting Wisconsin only one month after first opening, it felt hard to find their footing for a while, he said.
“We fought through a lot, but I feel like we’re finally getting some good traction,” he said. “I don’t want to act like we were not busy. But before COVID, this place was rocking, then it felt like the carpet got ripped out from under me. Now we are coming back out of the gate stronger.”
Despite the rocky start, he said his vision hasn’t changed. He still wants to provide a “great place for live music, helping the village expand with a place for locals to enjoy music and lunch.”
Returning to roots
Meyer grew up just outside of Brooklyn off of Highway 14, on a farm on Alpine Road and wants to see his hometown thrive.
Even before his many reconnaissance missions to Tennessee and South Dakota, Meyer had experience in this line of business.
He opened the “sister” business Meyer Barn at 5452 Alpine Road in 2012 where he has held music festivals and weddings.
The Main Street business offers music events of some kind around three nights a week right now, including open mics, karaoke, and a vintage country jam. Some events will return once a month such as Bingo nights and the Back40 Band playing during a monthly meat raffle. New events are also being added into the mix in the coming weeks such as Euchre and Poker. A paint & sip night could come down the line, as well.
The music lineup includes both local and national acts. Mickey Magnum of Lodi and RailHopper of Madison have graced the same stage as three-time Grammy-winner Native American recording artist Bill Miller and Whey Jennings, grandson of the legendary country music artist Waylon.
“A lot of national acts are calling us wanting to play here,” Meyer said.
Shows have attracted everyone from ages 21 to 80, Lemke said, drawing visitors from Brodhead, Mount Horeb, Barneveld, Waunakee and Oregon.
“Once people drive out here, they say it’s not really that far,” she said.
“They walk in and are blown away, they think it’s Nashville,” Meyer added. “It’s a little taste of the south, it’s laid back.”
He’s seen as many as 50 to 80 to 110 people at the venue at one time, he said. Among those crowds, he even met his girlfriend.
“Everything that has happened, it has all been this whole amazing journey,” Meyer said. “My son died of a heroin overdose”. That’s the reason we are here. I know it sounds depressing, but that’s how I got here and why I did this. I feel like that’s what he did for me. Everything brought me here. This feels like my purpose. It ain’t about money. It feels like I’m meant to do this.”
Before his son’s death, Meyer had never played guitar nor composed a song. But after visiting Sturgis, Meyer returned home and wrote “The Ultimate Tragedy / Danny’s Song” about the loss of his child. Grammy-winner Bill Miller heard the song and was “blown away,” Meyer said.
It was after the pair learned about two connections between each other that Miller got more excited about Meyer’s career. Miller had also lost his son to suicide. And Miller’s birthday is the same day as Meyer’s son Danny’s.
After they met in Janesville, Miller invited Meyer to Nashville. Soon Meyer went from having just learned a few chords on the guitar, to sitting in a recording studio with John Carter Cash, the only child of Johnny Cash and June Carter.
And now he even has his own band, Andy Meyer and The Stolen Thunder Band – which performs outlaw country mixed with a rock and blues sound. Their first album is set for release this summer.
But despite playing “outlaw country,” Meyer said the vibe of his venue is not a “gun smoke saloon.” He and Lemke do not tolerate any roughhousing or rough and tumble types. They recently hung a sign at the door that says “drama-free zone.”
“This place is more than a business,” Lemke said. “It’s got a thing that everyone feels. We want everyone to feel comfortable here. Something about this place makes you feel good. After all the hurdles we faced fighting COVID-19, me watching 40 people out there dancing brings tears to my eyes.”
The pair both have ideas for things to expand on next. Lemke said now that she’s gotten lunch going, she wants to start working towards serving breakfast.
For his part, Meyer is planning Brooklyn’s first annual car and bike show to be held at Legion Park in June with around 150 cars. He also hopes to someday help host a fireworks display in Brooklyn.
“I want to work on different events to make people more aware of Brooklyn,” Meyer said. “I’m not only trying to bring up Main Street Music, but also bring up the whole Village of Brooklyn. I feel like we are sparking a lot. Sparking things in other people who wanna do things in this town.”
“Brooklyn had been in a downward spiral since the Union Co-Op moved out of town in the ’80s, that’s when everything here died out,” Lemke said. “But it really feels like it’s coming back.”
Meyer inherited Lemke’s late husband’s meat roaster when he passed away three years ago and he hopes to use it to start offering barbecue and burgers in the future.
But expansion has been a deliberately slow process, he said.
“Everything here has been done at my pace because I have never borrowed any money, it’s all out of pocket,” he said. “But I’m a dreamer, so I don’t think we’ll ever be done growing here.”