Farm subsidies 

A FOR SALE sign sits out front. Men carrying cardboard boxes walk down the drive. The massive Five Points yard that until late last year served as San Antonio’s most laid-back music venue is empty except for scattered unsold garage-sale items. Proprietor Matt Ahern, we’re told after we’ve barged into the nearly empty house and wandered to the kitchen in search of anyone at all, is somewhere out back.

“We had a rush earlier,” Ahern says, contemplating the vacant yard. “People kept making offers on shit I didn’t want to sell, but then I’d start to reconsider. … Helps you reevaluate what you really need.”

The stuff that’s actually for sale — gardening implements, recording equipment, glassware, back issues of Whole Earth Catalog, Happy Meal toys — stretches out across several folding tables. A rack of men’s clothing in Ahern’s size sways with the breeze.

“The building is for sale,” Ahern says, “but I’m the only one who’s made an offer. The price is probably too high.”

One reason the current owners are reluctant to sell to Ahern: He’s behind several months on rent. Ever since last October, when an anonymous caller reported the Farm for its code-violating “parties” and the City forced Ahern to stop hosting concerts, he’s had trouble paying the bills.

“The studio makes money, but not enough,” he says. “We do yoga classes and we sell a few things through Echotown, but we could throw two parties and pay the rent. … We’d have a night where 1,500 people showed up and it’d take care of the next two months.”

As a music venue, Ahern says, the Farm became too popular.

“It actually got to the point where it started scaring me,” Ahern says. “I remember seeing a girl throw up, and I was like, ‘Holy shit. It’s to that level now.’ The cops showed up a few times. … It’s really a good thing we got shut down when we did. It forced us to grow up a little. Now we’ve got a chance to lock it down and organize a little better.”

The first step after raising money, Ahern says, is to get the building zoned as a small retail space, a designation that requires a few code-compliance adjustments (hanging exit signs seems to be the biggest) and an official inspection.

“We don’t want to seem like a music venue,” Ahern says. “We’re more like an art space — music, healing arts — that gives us room to do a lot of things.”

Technically, the space shouldn’t be used for any of those things right now, but the recording studio seems to be less of a concern to the city than live music. Ahern sits on one of the couches in the recording studio’s control room, eying the analog mixing board. It’s a modern replica of a classic Trident model, he says, for whatever that’s worth.

“Over 100 artists have recorded here now,” Ahern says. “I probably couldn’t figure it out exactly. … The equipment’s cool, but the real reason people like to record here is the room back there. Something about the acoustics — it’s got this cool old sound to it.”

Zane Doe from Colt of Us mixed a three-track EP at the studio recently and recorded a banjo track.

“We tend to like places that are like old houses … just for the ambience and whatnot,” Doe says. “It’s OK. We haven’t found the perfect place yet, all around, but I do like the sound of `the Farm`.”

Quilts and comforters hang down from the ceiling and drape across the sofa backs, makeshift sound mufflers. A bass-and-drum jam session reverberates down the hallway. Vegetarian burgers sizzle in the kitchen. Ahern intended to sell plates for $5 apiece, but they couldn’t get the grill lit. Now he’s talking about returning the uneaten food to the grocery store.

Despite this, Ahern says it’s been a good day. He’s raised about $500 so far, including donations from a few people who dropped by just long enough to write $50 checks. Moving forward, Ahern wants to have a “lesser role” in the Farm’s day-to-day operations while he focuses on his own music career, but he’s optimistic that the recording studio/once-and-future music venue will soon be open, legally, for business.

“We’re testing to see if there’s enough community support to keep going,” he says, “and so far, the support’s been overwhelming.” •

A benefit is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, August 14. Watch for more information.

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