Guest Contributor Exclusive: Mike Powell & Chris Merkley Take it to the Barn in Pompey

Editor’s Note:

Mike Powell is a singer-songwriter from Central New York. In addition to his work as a solo artist, he also leads the soulful rock band The Black River. Powell and fellow CNY singer-songwriter Chris Merkley are embarking on a four-show mini-tour of microbreweries across the state searching for the connection between songwriting and brewing.

This is the third of a four-part NYS Music series documenting the Original Gravity Tour and contributed by Powell. The first installment of Powell’s tour diary can be found here. Day two can be found here.


Music is a traditional art form that’s continually evolving, adapting and building with each generation. No matter how progressive or unique the sound, if you listen close enough you will hear the influence of a predecessor. I really think that’s the beauty of it all, it’s the connection. It was this emotion that led the Original Gravity MicroTour to a third-generation beef and crop farm in the rolling hills of Central New York. Family farms are steeped in rich history and are forced to evolve alongside the ever-changing economic landscape. 

Brothers Nick and Dan Palladino of Heritage Hill Brewhouse took the wheel of their expansive family farm in 2011 with a rough idea of what they wanted to do with it.  The one thing they knew for certain was that it had to stay in the family and the tradition needed to carry on. The farm has seen many changes over the years and has countless stories to tell. One conversation with co-owner Dan Palladino and you will feel his strong passion for bearing the torch.

When Chris and I booked this MicroTour we were well aware that we might run into some fall time weather issues. Heritage Hill Brewery, like most microbreweries, highly values live music and has built infrastructure that supports this mission. Besides their large rustic tasting room and restaurant, they built a large outdoor stage complete with seating and fire pits. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t really cooperate and we decided to move the show inside their massive old hay barn. As a kid that grew up on a dairy farm, I was pumped about this idea. This decision turned out to work in our favor and we found the sound to be really magical in this big space. 

Five minutes before our show was slated to start there were only three people in the barn including Chris, myself and Dan. I was seriously worried that we were about to play a show for absolutely no one. I said to Dan, “Do you think anyone is going to come to this thing?” He laughed and replied, “Oh, they will be here.” And just as he said that he pulled open the big garage door and people started flooding in and by the time Chris hit his first chord there were well over 100 people. That number just grew and grew as the day went along. So I felt much better, filled a glass with their number one seller, 20 East, a hazy New England style IPA and watched Chris kill it as only he can.  

You could hear the goats calling out in the distance and the birds singing along in the rafters. Just like every craft beer and every song, each stop on the Original Gravity MicroTour has been unique and quite different. This was a magical day and everyone in the barn was smiling and having a great time. To make it even more special, we learned that this particular day marked the one year anniversary of the brewery.

I would like to thank Len Widdekind, the entertainment director, for allowing us to play. Len is a fellow musician with great taste so we were honored that he fit us into the schedule. After the show, Dan invited us into the tasting room and laid out a spread of delicious farm-raised food that Chris and I devoured while he told us passionate stories of the family’s origin. You could feel his sincerity and pride with each story he told. 

Many thanks to the Palladino family and all of those involved at Heritage Hill for carrying on a tradition and creating such a wonderful space for the community to enjoy.  The only thing more abundant than the beer were the smiles. Happy anniversary Heritage Hill Brewhouse and here’s to many more years of music, beer, crops & beef.

Two things that I have come to realize during this short run:

1. Playing the shows, contributing the written pieces, filming and editing the videos, writing poetry on demand and taking the photographs all while drinking craft beer is exhausting. So when I pulled into the parking lot and saw Brian Cornish with his camera it really helped take the pressure off. Thank you to Brian for capturing these wonderful photos.

2. I’ve have discovered a common thread throughout this tour. I understand that this is a general statement but from my experience, brewmasters don’t like to be recognized. They like to just do their thing and make their beer. I’ve had a really hard time getting these guys to open up and take credit for the amazing brews they are making but they are too humble. It almost adds more mystic to the art of brewing.


Below is fan-recorded audio of Powell’s Saturday set courtesy of Chris Fisher.

The Original Gravity Tour concluded Sunday with an outdoor performance at Local 315 Brewing Company in Warners. Powell’s thoughts on the final day of the tour will publish here on Tuesday.