From Memphis to Route 49May 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Karin Knaus
If you’re traveling the Route 49 corridor between Knoxville and Osceola, and you keep your eyes open, you’re bound to spot a sign letting you know you’re passing through Academy Corners. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it map dot along a stretch of road lined with farmland, small businesses, and longstanding homes. The township building across from the sign paints a literal image of the rich history of this rural area. Residents John and Amy Doan are doing their part to contribute to that history by bringing music to this storied community.
John and Amy are founding members of the Academy Corners Blues Committee, and for more than twenty-five years they’ve been bringing national-touring rhythm and blues acts to the area. Its origins are simple. John grew up in a musical family, himself a saxophone player who, back in the day, played in a band with his sister Sherry and some friends. Amy and her brother Charlie had hosted a small musical festival, The Three Trees, on their 600-plus-acre farm just over the border in New York. Amy’s family, who ran Painter’s Meat Processing in Elkland, also catered all over New York and Pennsylvania, even operating the New York State Grange booth for the New York State Fair.
When the two met, their backgrounds made music and food “a natural fit...we like to entertain,” says John, and that gave rise to the ACBC. For their wedding, they opened up the barn on the Painter family farm, now operated by Amy and her sister, Dorotha, as The Barn at Hillsprings Farms in Addison, which hosts weddings and other events. ACBC’s first event was Blooz in the Barn, a music and food combo, and has since organized numerous Blooz at the Barn happenings, as well as bringing music to other local venues. In 2021, the group organized the Cowanesque Rock and Blues Festival, bringing eight bands to the stage at the Barn.
“I love music,” says John, who, with the committee, has brought in ninety bands since ACBC’s inception. “The ACBC is mostly a committee of two, but when it gets close to show time, I bring in people smarter than me, like Mike Watkins.” Having music on his mind is what also led him to create his own amphitheater on his farm just down the road from the Academy Corners sign.
“I was standing on my hill looking down one day and realized the bank was shaped like a ‘U.’” Recognizing it might lend itself to pleasant acoustics, he immediately got on his bulldozer and started carving out rows for seating. “I started at the top, carved out a row, and let the dirt roll down the hill, then moved down and did another,” says John. The terraced hill rises out of the field adjacent to the Knoxville/Deerfield airfield, and he’s added a few rock features for seating. With the amphitheater in place, he set to work building a space for bands.
That performance area holds some fascinating local history, as it was constructed from the remains of the old Academy Corners bridge. The pavilion John built is created with the recognizable green beams from the historic bridge, and repurposed pallet racks from the former Metamora manufacturing facility in Elkland form the trusses. On one side flies the American flag, and on another, a sculpture of a guitar, also repurposed from Metamora. When not hosting a band, the structure houses a friend’s 1950s-era Cessna.
After years of concerts, there are a few amusing stories. John recalls that the stage was originally built in between two ponds, but he thought it might be wise to fill them in after a relative fell into one when the dancing got boisterous. John laughs, too, about a time when they brought in someone to offer an opportunity to tandem skydive at a show, tying in to the amphitheater’s location along an airstrip. They don’t think they’d do it again, though, as one of the tandem teams came a little too close to the stage for dancers’ comfort.
This month, the amphitheater will be home to new stories with the latest festival, The Local. On May 27, for just twenty bucks, guests can enjoy music beginning at 1 p.m. Nine local acts will entertain from two stages.
“I won’t have anything you can’t dance to,” says John. If you get hungry or thirsty, and you probably will, local food, including chicken BBQ from the Knoxville Fire Company and Chef Reginald Hartmann, the man in charge of barbecuing the afore-mentioned chicken, as well as local craft beer from the committee’s friends at the Wellsboro House, will be available. Guests may also BYOB.
Expect the styles of music at The Local to suit sundry tastes. Performers include Galeton’s Tyler Ruef doing his brand of country, Tim Swan on bagpipes, Valley favorites Ryan Hoke and Brent Tracy, Billy Christ, Corning’s Blue-Eyed Soul, and the Houston Baker Band featuring musicians and voices from Blossburg and West Elmira.
Also performing are the talented students from the Uptown Music Collective, Williamsport’s music education and experience program for young people, and the Southern Tier’s own Celtic rock band, Kilrush, notorious for bringing crowds to their feet with their driving, high energy sound. Rounding out the performances is local “organic rock and roll straight from the soul” band Yetsu, fresh off the release of their album Forever Endeavor, which happens to be in heavy rotation on this writer’s Spotify.
With a storied history of skydivers, national blues legends, and creative endeavors like The Local, the ACBC continues to make Academy Corners more than just a map dot on your way through the Valley.