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The Firehouse and Jabin Burnworth: No Amount of Water Can Put Out Their Fire

By Sean Smith

Fort Wayne Reader


For the better part of a decade, the Firehouse in North Manchester has been hosting indie rock bands and re-writing the book on all-age venues. Since opening in 2000, the people behind the scenes have proven that hard work, respect and a genuine love for good music can make anything possible. One of those people is Manchester High School Biology teacher Jabin Burnworth, a frontrunner for world's friendliest person and one of the biggest supporters of music, local and national, this planet has ever seen. Burnworth started booking shows for the Firehouse early on and soon found himself hosting bands that were indie rock legends in the making. Things were good and those attending the shows, in particular the youth of North Manchester, were developing new friendships and new tastes in music.

That is why July 25 was such a heartbreaker. That was the day that the roof of the Firehouse collapsed and in the process crushed the possibility of future shows. But it turns out that all hope is not lost and there are plans to rebuild. I recently spoke with Jabin about those plans and we also took a stroll down memory lane to recall all of the good music and moments that took place at the Firehouse over the years.

Fort Wayne Reader: So, tell me what happened over the summer?

Jabin Burnworth: The roof caved in on July 25th. The flat roof, which was redone about three years ago, was not drained properly or got clogged. Nobody knows for sure. I was going into an event and we had had an extremely hard rain. I went to unlock the door and I see all of this water pouring from underneath the big garage doors. In my head I thought someone was pulling a joke on me. I looked and there it was. From behind the soundstage to where we served drinks, that entire roof caved in. It looked like a bomb went off in there. I went in and panicked and called the cops and fire department. We quickly mobilized a bunch of kids who got all of our equipment out of there. Most of the equipment was not damaged, but we did lose all of the couches and all of the carpet. Anything that was on the floor is done. We had to cancel all of our shows. We had amazing shows coming up. Final Fantasy and Old Time Relijun were both coming.

FWR: What needs to happen in order to restore it?

JB: We got the insurance money taken care of but they would only give us enough to put the roof back to the way it was. So, I think what we are going to do is rip off the entire back half of the building. Build two new bathrooms and a green room. Then have that empty space as parking. It will be smaller. Just for the common person coming in they would see the Firehouse from the soundstage to the stage. Which I think might be better anyways. I didn't like all that room. It was great to have it but I think if we have an office, green room and two bathrooms we'll be good to go. We're raising money for it right now. We've got some ideas coming up, also. If it all works out the earliest would be next summer. But, that's wishful thinking for sure. It's been hard not having it. It was my outlet and I loved it. I loved hanging with those bands and getting to know new people and hearing new music. In a town where a lot of people don't know much about indie rock, it was great to meet these people traveling through and hearing their stories. It's weird not having that anymore.

FWR: How can people help out with the restoration?

JB: On our website, www.thefirehouse.net we have a PayPal account that they can contribute to. All of that will go straight to bringing it back.

FWR: Let's talk for a minute about how the Firehouse got started. Who was instrumental in getting it up and running?

JB: It was actually started by two high school students, Zach Hawkins and Josh White. Zach was a senior and Josh was a freshman at IU and they wrote this $35,000 grant, got it, used most of the money to convert the old firehouse into what was the Firehouse venue and bought all of the equipment. Andrea Shoemaker did all of the design work inside the building. It was only supposed to last a summer and they did shows on Friday and Saturday nights. They booked mostly local bands and then after that summer was over they were going to empty the place out, but it went so well we formed committees after that summer and decided to keep it open. They asked me at that time if I would like to help book for shows. I booked this old Tooth and Nail band called Puller. Then I got a break from a guy in California with the KORK agency. This guy named Eric Carter, who to this day I give so much credit for really opening up the door. I had called into KORK before and never gotten any answer. I just happened to get this guy and told him our story about the venue and that all the shows are free and we raise money. I said do you have anything for us and he said he had this package with I Am the World Trade Center, The Busy Signals and Triangle. He said the show was in May and this was December at the time. He said he would call in April to make sure everything was set and I thought “this guy is never going to call.” I had just seen The Busy Signals open for The Shins at Schubas in Chicago. He called me in April and that's when I started to crap my pants because I realized were putting on a real, live, rock 'n' roll show. So, we did a lot of flyering and we gave away a car. At that time we had good attendance but it wasn't great. It really hadn't caught on. So, that band showed up and we got them food and we bought them a room and they just couldn't believe how nice we were. That band told their friends and their friends told their friends and the e-mails that were coming from all over was unbelievable to me. So, that really opened up the door and then as we started booking more bands with KORK, more connections were being made and we got some pretty great shows there.

FWR: What have been some personal highlights?

JB: Well, I've made good friends with people in the community, both in the North Manchester and the Fort Wayne community. I think about you coming to the shows or [John] Commorato or Corey Rader, who I'd never met before in my life. That's a guy that I consider a friend and would not have met if it weren't for the Firehouse. I've become good friends with Jason Anderson (of Wolf Colonel) and we talk regularly. Chopper from Kissinger. Its fun when you meet people and make those connections and you can form lifelong friendships. Cursive was unbelievable. I've always wanted at the Firehouse for people to line up and wait for the doors to open and that's just not the way it works. But, when I came there that day and it was 3 o'clock and there were already twenty people standing outside and to see it go down the block and around the corner was pretty amazing. Of Montreal was amazing. Mates of State. Who would think that we'd have a band that would then go on to play SXSW, Austin City Limits Festival and Lollapalooza? Unbelievable. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, that show was unbelievable. When Magnolia Electric Co. played, Molina said to me 'If you ever need anything, just let me know.' I'll tell you one of the greatest rewards, as a teacher, when I come in the next day after a show and see kids wearing the concert t-shirt of the band they saw the night before. That's rock 'n' roll right there. That's a pretty good feeling to know that the kids would buy a t-shirt and wear it to school because they had so much fun the night before.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.