LACONIA — One of the original owners of the Whiskey Barrel has come back into town and, as part of four-person ownership team, is purchasing the venue, converting it into the Granite State Music Hall.
Bernie Goulet, a concert promoter, had previously opened a bar — also called the Whiskey Barrel — in Haverhill, Massachusetts, to cater to country music crowds. That bar was so successful that he sought to open a second venue, with a larger capacity. That’s how he and then-business partner Matt Menengas opened Laconia’s Whiskey Barrel at 546 Main St. in February 2017.
The Menengas-Goulet partnership didn’t last long. By May, Menengas bought out Goulet and has been operating the venue on his own since then.
Yesterday, Goulet issued a press release announcing that he would be taking over the venue, changing its name, and renovating it to appeal to a broad diversity of music fans.
Goulet, who also operates the promotion company New England Concerts, is the majority owner and he will operate the business. His three partners will be silent, preferring to go unnamed.
As of April, the venue on Main Street that previously housed Goodfella’s, then the Funky Monkey, before it became the Whiskey Barrel, will be known as the Granite State Music Hall.
“The plan is to bring in top-quality acts, not just country artists, and to appeal to a broader demographic,” Goulet said in his press release. “We want to bring in everything, from blues to classic rock to comedy shows at a higher level than previously done at this venue.”
The new ownership group plans to remodel the venue to increase space and improve its equipment. On the to-do list are an updated sound system and light show to accommodate nationally known touring artists. Goulet said they also plan to replace the flooring, change the decor, and add table seating and theater-style seating. Depending on the floor set-up, the Whiskey Barrel could hold as many as 500 people.
“Some shows require it to be seated, and we want to host as many events as possible. We also want to make the venue available for functions and corporate events. Our goal is to make this a true music hall with events, versus a bar with a large stage,” Goulet said.
In keeping with that plan, the Whiskey Barrel’s mechanical bull will be put out to pasture.
Goulet said he thinks the Lakes Region has potential for well-known acts that play at other venues, such as the Flying Monkey in Plymouth and Tupelo Music Hall in Derry.
“Based on previous shows and history, I feel there is a demand for this type of venue in this area. However, the lineup or schedule needs to be diversified and can’t be solely focused on country music or country rap, which is what is primarily being booked since I sold.… I think there will be a more diversified clientele and I believe this will help drive people to downtown and create foot traffic that it sorely needs.”
The Granite State Music Hall also will be partnering with the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion to book the acts for the Gilford venue’s Magic Hat stage.
Goulet said, “This will allow us to continue our commitment to the local music scene and reward local emerging artists a chance to showcase their talent in front of a larger audience. This will also help us cross-promote our events between the two venues.”
Illustrating the new owners’ desire to broaden the appeal of the venue, Goulet announced that the Original Wailers, playing songs they recorded with Bob Marley, will be performing on Wednesday, May 19. Multi-platinum-selling rock band Candlebox will visit on Sept. 28.