A five-alarm fire that destroyed an apartment building in Sunapee, N.H. came dangerously close to a barn that has an important place in American rock history.
The Barn on Prospect Hill Road is where Aerosmith got its start before heading south to Massachusetts, where they became the legendary “The Bad Boys from Boston.”
Aerosmith fans felt a sigh of relief that the venue they consider “ground zero” for the band survived the fire that burned for 20 hours on Jan. 19 and 20.
“It is absolutely, entirely accepted as ground zero for the start of the band,” said Jonathan Robinson, 64, of New London, a self proclaimed “Aerosmithsonian.” “It’s sacred ground.”
Robinson, like many others, rushed to the area on Saturday after hearing about the fire. Even 69-year-old David “Pudge” Scott, Aerosmith’s original drummer, headed to the scene on the Monday after the fire.
“It’s a little eerie,” Scott said of the fire. “The main house goes down towards the barn and you see some weird stuff starting to happen. I have no idea whether it’s just sopping wet inside the place or what.”
The fire broke out on the end of the building opposite of The Barn, according to Sunapee town manager Shannon Martinez. The blaze displaced 18 residents, most of whom have been placed in new housing, she said.
Martinez said the investigation into the cause of the fire is complete, but no formal report is available to the public. The building has been “released back to the insurance company and the owner,” Martinez said Tuesday.
The Barn’s connection to the band goes back to the summer of 1967, when Scott said he and future Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and bassist Tom Hamilton founded a group called The Pipe Dream. The next summer, the three played as Plastic Glass, before forming as the Jam Band in 1969, he said.
Some shows at The Barn drew 200 to 300 people who paid about $2 per ticket. “It was a place to go for teenagers and people of all ages. Kids would hang over the balcony and look down at us playing,” said Scott, who grew up in Weston but spent summers in Sunapee.
It was August of ‘69 when a longtime summer resident named Steven Tallarico caught a show. Tallarico -- better known as Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler - had a band in New York City opening for The Byrds and The Beach Boys.
“We were doing our thing, playing our tunes, and Steven rolls up,” said Scott, who was playing drums in a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Rattlesnake Shake. “[Tyler] liked my backbeat, my sort-of raw drumming style. I remember him coming up afterwards and saying ‘Hey man, I really loved the way you played that song.’”
The encounter led to the formation of a legendary band that toured the world for decades and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In September, Hamilton and Perry moved to a small apartment in Allston to work on what would soon be Aerosmith. And in the summer of 1971, fans and former band-members remember Aerosmith, complete with Perry, Tyler, and Hamilton, returning to The Barn to play a few shows.
“Steven played there, Joe played there. I played there with Aerosmith. Tom Hamilton played there,” said 77-year-old Ray Tabano, or “Crazy Raymond,” Aerosmith’s original guitarist. “We would all go there and hang out and play. We were young and we were trying to make it. "
In 1978, The Barn was officially shut down due to safety concerns. In 2011, Tyler drove Oprah Winfrey to The Barn in an antique car for a television special. And in 2017, Robinson helped to organize the first “Aerosmith History Day” at The Barn.
“People were sobbing to be inside, it was unbelievable,” said Robinson, who was able to lead a small group of the events’ hundreds of attendees into the space. “They knew the history and people were just amazingly emotionally moved. It was really something.”
In August of 2019 Scott and Robinson hosted a small, private gathering in The Barn to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Jam Band. Fewer than 40 people were invited to witness the unadvertised event, and although Perry and Tyler couldn’t make it, Robinson said the show was life-changing.
“It was the first time that Tom [Hamilton] and Pudge had been on that stage, playing together, since 1970,” said Robinson. “It was beyond special.”
Which is why, on a frigid January afternoon, Scott and Robinson made separate drives out to Prospect Hill Road to check on The Barn.
Robinson looked at the site in amazement. The apartment building, he said, was destroyed.
But The Barn was still there.
“The barn itself, amazingly, because it [could] go up like a tinderbox, was left unscathed.”