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Barnstorm returns after dozen-year absence

Steve Petrovich of Rochester, NY sings original songs of praise while Monte Leister plays bass and Tim Warner plays drums during Barnstorm, a Christian music concert held at Baugher's Orchard Sept. 20. To the far left, Monte Leister plays bass while Tim Warner plays the drums.
Steve Petrovich of Rochester, NY sings original songs of praise while Monte Leister plays bass and Tim Warner plays drums during Barnstorm, a Christian music concert held at Baugher's Orchard Sept. 20. To the far left, Monte Leister plays bass while Tim Warner plays the drums. (Photo by Lois Szymanski)

Westminster resident Monte Leister said he was surprised when he got a call from musician friend Mike Strine in late spring. Strine wanted Leister to help him bring back Barnstorm.

It had been 12 years since the last Barnstorm Christian music concert, but Leister knew they had to do it. The memories flooded back.

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And so, after months of planning, 11 bands came together Sept. 20 at Baugher's Orchard in Westminster to celebrate music and praise God.

It was 1998 when Jim and Nora Willet held the first unnamed Christian concert, a Christmas event inside their barn, according to Strine.

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"Shortly thereafter a tornado took the roof off the barn," Leister said.

The Willets rebuilt the barn and the first event after the repair was called Barnstorm. Christian worship teams and bands gathered to praise God through music.

Barnstorm became a yearly event from 1999 to 2002. During that time, Jim was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.

"When [he] passed away it fizzled out," Strine said of the concerts. "But it was an honor to have been involved with it."

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After that call from Strine, Leister set to work tracking down those who had played original Barnstorm events. He soon had 11 acts lined up for the 12-hour event.

Strine manages the bakery at Baugher's Orchard and Restaurant, so he went to the owners to see if they would consider holding Barnstorm in the orchards. The story of Barnstorm was a convincing one and they agreed.

When the event finally came a few weeks ago, it was Jim Willet's brother, Glen Willet, who led the Barnstorm Worship Band to kick off the event.

Strine said Baugher's Orchard had over 1,000 people come through to pick apples and spend the day in the orchard. As they picked apples they heard the word of God in music.

The crowd started slow but ended strong.

"As the sun went down the crowd grew," Strine said. "It was a great experience, the biggest show I've been involved with."

"It was important to bring this back because there's not — that I'm aware of — a [day-long] Christian music festival going on in Carroll County," he said. "When the original Barnstorm was happening there were several things, including Prayer in the Park. Over the past several years nothing like this has happened."

Steve Petrovich was part of the original Barnstorm events, but moved to Rochester, New York, nearly nine years ago. He felt it was important to return.

"I'm here to share the praise of God," he said.

Cheri and Karry Ebaugh rode their bikes to the event.

"I've known Matthew Thrift since he was little and we came to see him sing," she said of one of the early performers. "It's such a nice day in a beautiful place."

"The main thing is reaching people with a positive message, the word of God," Strine said. "Letting them know God loves them."

Leister said three things about the event impressed him.

"Everyone was excited to play and to hear each other play. There was a mutual respect. And we stayed on time, mostly because of our stage manager, Chuck Bednar, who worked hard all day long behind the scenes," he said.

Leister also spoke of how there was an overlap of musicians, with those who were in one band filling in for others.

"When you are used to being in the spotlight it's not always easy to step back and watch someone else shine," he said. "But they did it."

Leister applauded the family aspect, too.

"There were three husband and wife bands. The band Willet is three brothers — Jim Willet's nephews — and Crossway is headed by Jesse Willet, Jim Willet's son," he said.

"We're all just here to support the other musicians and bring glory to God," Jordan Willet, drummer in the band Willet, said. "Barnstorm is a big part of our family history. My uncle Jim and his wife did the first Barnstorm events and we are closing out the event tonight."

Leister's own sons Miles and Zion played bass and drums with their dad on stage.

Strine said he wants to make this an annual event and he wants to see it grow.

"It's about reaching people and sending a positive message, letting people know there's hope," he said.

"If it grows to be huge that will be awesome, but if it is just about today that is awesome as well," Jesse Willet said.

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