This was not the way they would have liked it to end.
On March 31, Donna and Ed Land said goodbye to Landhaven Bed & Breakfast, the country inn/music venue in the heart of Huff's Church, a village in far eastern Berks County, that they've been operating for the past 21 years.
After reaching a deal to sell their establishment, the Lands had things all lined up for a proper farewell, with four acts scheduled to play their listening room in March.
But then the coronavirus struck. Social distancing took hold, and as fate would have it, the Lands had the place all to themselves those last few weeks. No friends or neighbors, no house concerts, no fond farewell party, as they would have liked.
Even though the end came and went quietly, the couple departed for their retirement home in Easton with their hearts filled with loving memories.
It was 1999 when Donna and Ed — she a test-kitchen operator and he a network news video editor — left Chicago and moved east after falling in love with the building that once housed the general store that served the citizens of Huff's Church. The Hereford Township village maxes out at approximately 400 citizens, depending upon whom you ask and whether you count the farmers on the outskirts of "town," but to Donna, who grew up in Melvin Ill., population 450, it felt just like home.
By then, the general store had been converted into an antiques shop, and the Lands gave that a go at first, while also operating a bed and breakfast out of the residential part of the building.
But after they met local singer Bonnie Wren at a dinner party, things changed.
"She told me she was a singer-songwriter," Donna said, "and I said, 'Oh my God, I never met a singer-songwriter before.' She said, 'If you're interested in music, there's a bunch of us who have a jam over at the Barto Hotel.' So the next Thursday we went. Jack (Murray) was running it. Great musicians. We started going every week."
Before long, Donna's wheels got to turning about whether live music would go over at their place. After consulting with Wren, she invited Kutztown musician Dean Smith to put on a concert in the antiques shop. To their delight, the acoustics were amazing. So she invited the local jazz duo of Charlie Schaffer and Carl Zeplin to perform — twice.
The second time was the charm. The Lands' neighbor Harriet Kyriakos attended with her teenage grandson, a talented jazz pianist in his own right. It turned out Kyriakos was a retired booking agent who represented touring singer-songwriters David Olney and Chris Smither, among others. She offered to lend a hand. Little did Donna know just how instrumental Kryiakos would be.
"She knew everybody," Donna said.
And just like that, Landhaven house concerts were off and running. They installed a sound system, which Ed learned to operate, and formed a committee, holding "Burger Summits" at the Dryville Hotel with Kyriakos, Murray and Ramona LaBarre, the booker for Godfrey Daniels folk club in Bethlehem. (Murray and LaBarre would soon fall in love and marry.) With their various connections, they were landing top-notch talent on a regular basis.
"I remember Harriet said one time, 'Would you like to have Woody Mann here?'" Donna recalled. "And I looked at Ed and we shook our heads, and Jack and Ramona said, 'Do you even know who that is?' I said, 'What difference does that make? If Harriet knows him ...'"
So it went, with Donna always willing to take chances on talent to build the Landhaven brand. Sometimes her risks paid off, sometimes they didn't, but either way, she always wore a smile.
Mann, who happened to represent Martin Guitars as an ambassador, proved to be a chance worth taking.
"The night he was here," Donna said, "a guy from the audience said, "Can I sit in with you, Woody?' And it was Chris Martin from Martin Guitar with his $3,500 guitar. So that was pretty spectacular."
Word began to spread that something special was going down at Landhaven. Spectacular moments became the norm. Attendance blossomed from 40 people to 70 or 80, many of whom became return customers.
"Many people told us: 'We don't really care if we know the artist. We know if we come to Landhaven it's going to be really great music,'" Donna said. "So we were very happy to hear that, because that's what we aimed for: excellent musicians, good performers, and they had to have some kind of rapport with the audience."
A two-way street
The musicians loved it, too, because the room was intimate and the audiences were attentive.
As an added bonus, touring artists got plush accommodations for an overnight stay, a home-cooked dinner, a hot breakfast and great camaraderie. Everybody was happy.
"It became the Saturday night go-to place, just as the general store had been back in the '20s," Donna said.
The caliber of talent Landhaven was able to attract was mind-blowing. Singer-songwriters included Olney, Kevin Gordon, David Jacobs-Strain, Craig Bickhardt and Mary Gauthier. From the jazz world came world-class acts like Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo, Gonzalo Bergara, and the virtuosic John Jorgenson, who once likened the acoustics at Landhaven to performing inside a guitar.
Donna had a front-row seat to watch Jorgenson's young violinist, Jason Anick, grow and eventually branch off on his own with Rhythm Future Quartet, which she invited back often.
"Then Jason's guitar player, Max O'Rourke, started his own group, so I feel like a grandma in the music world," she quipped.
Not bad for someone who never really attended concerts prior to hosting them.
Sadly, it all came to a halt prematurely. The final month at Landhaven was supposed to feature performances by Rhythm Road, Serene Green and Wayne Johnston, but all three were scrapped due to the pandemic, as were the World Famous Barto Jams that Murray had been holding at Landhaven every Wednesday over the last few months.
As a result, the performance March 7 by Murray and his band, the Blue Tarp Wranglers, ended up being the last show. In a way, it was fitting given the Lands' friendship with Murray, and his ongoing involvement at Landhaven as a committee member, sign maker, performer and spectator.
Murray, who regarded Landhaven as the cultural and spiritual epicenter of the community, said: "I'm glad I didn't know it was the last show that night. I would've gotten too emotional and tried too hard to think of something profound to say instead of making every note count like we always do."
"We got a little bit weepy toward the end," Donna said, recalling that night, "but we thought it wasn't over yet. We thought we had four more jams to come. I think we were all sort of holding off the hysterics and the tears because we thought we had time, you know?"
Donna said it's her understanding that Landhaven's new owners don't intend to continue the concert series. She calls the end of the era "bittersweet."
"While I'm relishing the thought of being retired with no job, I do find myself wandering off and thinking, 'Maybe we could do something over at the State Theatre (in Boyertown),'" she said. "Somebody said to me, 'We're going to miss you at the concerts.' I said, 'What do you mean? We're going to be over at Godfrey Daniels and you'll look up and I'm going to be sitting right next to you.'
"But I had planned to do an open house and a party to say goodbye to everybody and let everybody listen one more time to the music. But that didn't happen."
As unfortunate as that is, though, it doesn't steal away the times the Lands have had, nor the friendships they've made.
"First of all, we've come to the realization nothing lasts forever," Donna said, "and second of all, whatever we do, we always have these memories of these fabulous times we've spent here. And besides the musicians, all the guests we've had for the bed and breakfast have just been spectacular.
"So you just put all those experiences together and you say you can't hold on to them tangibly forever, but we'll always have them with us. They're in our hearts; they're part of our beings. We can still bring up the memories and enjoy it all over again."