By Will Yannacoulias
Tucked on the edge of the Nesbit Provincial Forest, among the poplar bluffs and small farms between the communities of MacDowall and Lily Plain, is a live music venue unlike any other in Saskatchewan. The Hillbilly Homestead is the passion project of local entertainer Audrey Neubuhr, whose desire to share live old fashioned country music saw her build an open air, 100 person site to host entertainers every summer since 2014. Neubuhr spoke with NSMZ from The Homestead about her reasons for starting the venue and her goals for the site.
Neubuhr has always performed and entertained around the Prince Albert area. In 2001 she joined up with a Classic Country show, which she described as “the best experience of my life”. The variety show was largely inspired by televised music, skit and comedy shows of the 1960s and 1970s such as The Grand Ol’ Opry, Hee Haw, the Tommy Hunter Show and Gordie Tripp’s Country Hoedown. The six members of the show focused on the classic country songs of 1927-1969 and performed while costumed as figures from the era. Neubuhr adopted a Minnie Pearl persona which has since become woven into her image as an entertainer. “I can claim Minnie Pearl ruined my life” Neubuhr jokes. “Anyone who knows me knows full well she intoxicated my entertainment desire.”
Neubuhr’s life took a dramatic turn when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. In an effort to reorder her life she returned to the family farm. “I was so horrified with the uncertainties of the future,” Neubuhr explained, “I thought if I could just live here the good memories could help me fight anything.” That time gave her an opportunity to reflect on her mother and father’s relationship with the public. “My Mom & Dad had a petting zoo for school kids, barn dances, sleigh rides, always busy with the public,” she recalled. “I saw how much people enjoyed and appreciated it and I thought, what a wonderful legacy to leave.”
The idea formed to host barn dances at the site of Neubuhr’s family farm, as her mother and father had done before. Originally Neubuhr and her partner built a 32’ X 32’ structure to host barn dances, but insurance red tape saw the project evolve into a live music venue. The stage was officially opened in 2014, with Neubuhr’s experiences as a country entertainer and memories of her parents with the public shaping what would become The Hillbilly Homestead. “We didn’t plan it,” Neubuhr reflected, “It seems when you’re destined to do something in life, it just comes.”
The unique setting is an attractive draw for a variety of artists from all over Canada. In addition to the wealth of local talent that graces the stage, the Hillbilly Homestead has also brought a far-flung roster of performers from all over Canada. The Homestead has hosted artists such as Washboard Hank & Sweet Muriel of Peterborough, Ontario, Mike Lynch of St. Catherine’s Ontario, Randy & Rai Smith of Devon, Alberta, Saskia & Darrel DelaRonde of Comox, BC, and Carolyn Mark, ‘The Queen of Vancouver Island’. Shayne Lazarowich, a Saskatoon singer-songwriter and event producer, chose the Homestead for the filming of “Celebrate Canada Prince Albert”, a live performance and film project which was produced for the Prince Albert Multicultural Council’s 2020 virtual celebration of Canada Day. Performances included The Northern Air, Freddie and Sheila Pelletier, and the Dean Smith Band. “The Homestead was an ideal location for the project,” offered Lazarowich. “Our hosts were extremely welcoming and accommodating.”
Neubuhr’s vision extends beyond the Homestead. Annually she will fill the stage at Prince Albert’s E.A. Rawlinson Center with friends and family, breaking up the long winter to reconnect with her audience for one fun filled night. The January 2021 show was unfortunately canceled due to COVID attendance limits but Neubuhr is determined to host her midwinter Rawlinson show as soon as restrictions allow for a larger audience. She’s also volunteered her time bringing the Classic Country show to care homes for the last five years, performing at the Herb Basset, Pineview Terrace, Goodwill Manor and River Breeze homes. With her usual grace, Neubuhr sidesteps any effort at complimenting her charity work with a quick joke, “I hope someone does it for me when I get there!”
Like many venue operators, Neubuhr is optimistically focused on the future. The Homestead has already booked all of the June and July 2021 slots and, if allowed, Neubuhr intends to operate with a reduced capacity but a full schedule the entire 2021 season, from the last Sunday in May to the last Sunday in September. “We will definitely abide by whatever restrictions there are at that time” she stated. Standing apart as one of the most unique venues in Saskatchewan, it will be a welcome sight to see the Hillbilly Homestead survive the struggles of the last year and support local music in 2021.
Audrey Neubuhr’s recommended artists:
The Barrelmen: “Jodi Gesbrecht is just a phenomenal talent, amazing.”