House With No Nails: Wardville’s Intimate Music Venue
2 August 2021
Most people, if given the opportunity, would see a barn on their property as an extra storage place, or perhaps a place to bunk the kids giving you extra room in the house, but what about a place where you can attend live intimate concerts?
In the outskirts of Matamata in a little town called Wardville, ‘in a field, under the Kaimai Ranges’ lies House With No Nails. Owners Jen and Dewi Roberts call the hand-hewn three story wooden barn part of their family home. Jen says her husband fashioned it after an ancient building method, much like what he grew up with in his country of origin – Welsh. He used local trees that he milled into beams and using traditional joinery, he connected the beam work with treenails – hence the name ‘House With No Nails’.
It was their kids who suggested that they stop being gypsies and put the barn on booking.com as an accommodation option. They called most of their guests ‘one nighters going to the Hobbiton Movie Set’. But like most tourism outlets, when Covid hit, they all stopped coming. But Jen and Dewi refused to hibernate.
It wasn’t until a guest said to Jen one day that she should consider turning it into a house concert venue, that she got to thinking.
“She gave me one name, Andre Manella, a swiss guy heading up gigs all around New Zealand, his own bands having funny names like ‘Turkey the Bird’ and he knew ‘Albi and the Wolves’, who knew ‘Good Habits Band’, and before I knew it, we were hosting our first gig.
You’ve now hosted five gigs in the barn, what have those gigs been like? Any learning curves along the way?
Jen Roberts: Our very first gig was in a storm. I was convinced no one would brave the weather and come, but as daylight became twilight became candlelight to starlight and the spotlights came out, people filled the barn. We were so surprised by their faithfulness to turn up. The last gig was a sell out. I was so surprised. It featured ‘Turkey the Bird’ and 50 plus people came. They were even in the loft in the third story. Holding the event in the winter is awesome because we light the solid fuel cooker and blow warm air through the space so everyone is cosy. We also had a rather old fashioned gesture of a homemade cake, at half time.
How would you describe the vibe of the venue, and what feedback have you received from members of the public so far?
JR: The vibe is intimate, up close and engaging. People have no problem getting up on tippee toes and dancing, even reaching out to involve others. It’s a fun, small pop up of random people, music lovers in common, and they are not just local. We are getting people from all the provincial towns, Tauranga, Hamilton, Raglan and Auckland features in that guests come down regularly now to attend the gig and stay a night at the barn for the whole experience.
Do you have any dreams or goals for the venue?
JR: I have some awesome dreams for House with No Nails as a pop up gig space. I guess I’ve always asked myself questions and because I’m not trained in events, perhaps I think something is possible when others would not dare. I asked, could I add a foodie experience where we engage our music lover in cooking on fire. We have an asador, that is a hand built Argentinian grill. Food is simply cooked over wood fired. It tastes amazing.
You mentioned that you are now booked out for the next 12 months – can you name drop any artists that will be performing at your venue?
JR: Well, it’s always a secret we like to tell just after the last gig held. But yes, a few beautiful names go like this: Shimna and David, ‘He Wai’, bilingual stories inspired by stories of our NZ waters, by Aro. Miho and her five piece Jazz Orchestra. There is lots more to come.
What has this experience been like for you so far?
JR: I was told by a gig host down country ‘you’ve started a journey of a lifetime!’. I was full of anticipation to discover what she meant. And you know what, she’s right. The musicians come into your home with all their love and creative talents, engaging our audience and we are left feeling like we have made new friends. It’s an absolutely stunning experience of privilege and small event creativity. You are crafting a hub for facilitating a beautiful synergy. When I see people come in expectant and leave super satisfied and groaning with delight saying ‘we will be back’, you know you’re onto a really good thing.
House With No Nails
80 Waghorn Road, Wardville
Words: Caitlin Houghton