If you’re a touring band playing a show in New York City, finding a quiet place to unwind and catch up on some alone time before your performance is not a simple task. Unless, of course, your show is at art space and residence Silent Barn. You see, Silent Barn has the Canned Ham, a 1972 Shasta “canned ham” style travel trailer that functions as part green room, part resident meeting spot and hangout.
“Especially when the curtains are closed, you don’t really feel like you’re in New York City,” Silent Barn resident Katie McVeay said. “Yes, Silent Barn is a huge space, but there’s [so much] going on everywhere, we just thought it would be nice for people to have a place to sit. And there’s Wi-Fi out here so you can get some work done or do whatever you need to do that’s not convenient to do in the back of a tour van!” McVeay added, boasting a proud smile.
The Canned Ham, like so many projects of its kind, came together by chance. McVeay and her partner Shane Suski, both 25, had been traveling across the countryin Suski’s car for almost a year straight, interviewing musicians for Music Without Labels and camping along the way, when their erratic living situation started to get old. “One day we were on the side of a mountain in Colorado and we were in our tent, and I was just so over it,” McVeay recalled. “It thunderstormed every day, and I was like, ‘We need a roof!”
After doing research online, they discovered “these little travel trailers” that were less than 1,000 lbs and could be pulled by car. They bought theirs in Greensboro, NC for only $650 from a guy named Paul whose wife was looking to get it out of their garage. It was December 2012, but the cold didn’t stop McVeay and Suski from beginning renovation on the Ham right away. “We were so eager!” McVeay remembered. One of the first things to go was the chemical toilet, which they were grossed out by, but they kept the oven and fridge. (The model they have is too small for a shower.) As they drove, they continued painting, wallpapering, and furnishing the Ham with retro tchotchkes.
They had only been living in the Canned Ham about a month when they found out they’d been selected for a residency at Silent Barn, where McVeay had been involved since college. They spent their last night on the road in a Walmart parking lot eating stove top mac and cheese and watching a movie on their computer before driving eight hours straight in a snowstorm to get to New York. “I remember saying to Shane, ‘We have to make this into some sort of community project. We can’t just store it there.’” So, they proposed the Canned Ham to the kitchen (Silent Barn refers to their volunteer community as “the kitchen,” and members of that community as “chefs”) and it was approved.
Though the Canned Ham, which gets its electricity through Silent Barn, primarily functions as a green room, it’s also used as a prep area for summer barbecues, and a place for residents to have meetings. Sometimes McVeay, press “chef” by night and casting manager by day, will open it up during shows for people to hang out in. “I’ve seen people make brownies, and have, like, a whole stir-fry going before,” said an amused looking Suski, who works as a freelance camera operator and is security “chef” at SB. The inside of the Canned Ham is stocked with zines, tarot cards, cassettes and a pink Sharp tape deck from the ’80s to play them on.
Suski shared a favorite memory from their early days at SB. “I guess it was the first big event that was open to the public . . . and I just remember going in and there were five people in here talking, and then going in twenty minutes later and there was a lady giving a bass guitar lesson to someone else in here!”
“She had her own amp!” McVeay added with equal enthusiasm.
The same spirit that brought McVeay and Suski to buy the Canned Ham in the first place will bring them to sell it at summer’s end after moving out of Silent Barn, to fund their next adventure. Though we’re sad to see it go, with the space freed up, we don’t doubt something else equally awesome will take its place. “The thing about Silent Barn,” McVeay said, is that it’s always fluctuating and changing. . . . You can’t really limit that kind of stuff.”