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Jurassic Farms has become an unlikely getaway for live music in Rochester

Down on the farm

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Carlos Merriweather dances as keyboardist Avis Reese, vocalist Syliva MacCalla, and band perform as part of "SOULSCAPE II" at Jurassic Farms. - PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • Carlos Merriweather dances as keyboardist Avis Reese, vocalist Syliva MacCalla, and band perform as part of "SOULSCAPE II" at Jurassic Farms.
Just five miles from downtown Rochester near the airport is a bucolic oasis called Jurassic Farms that has emerged as an unlikely go-to destination for live music. It’s not hard to find if you know where to look, but it’s not exactly on the well-worn path, either.

Located at 50 Weidner Road on a stretch of street so desolate in parts that you’d swear a tumbleweed could roll past you at any moment, its nearest neighbors are a food service company and tire distributor. But well beyond those corporate signifiers is a gate resembling the entrance to a certain fictional dinosaur park, and beyond that is nearly eight acres of private property nestled along the Genesee River. If you don’t feel like driving, you can get there by bike or foot on the Genesee River Trail.
PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
Walking the grounds of Jurassic Farms on a pleasant summer evening, a handful of jazz musicians were playing a small stage on the bank above the river. A few fans had staked out seats on the porch of a tiny house emblazoned with a giant wooden fish sculpture, from which they took in an idyllic, wooded performance space.

As New York tip-toed toward a return to indoor shows from the throes of the pandemic, Jurassic Farms became an inconspicuous outpost for scores of musicians looking for an audience. With so few performance spaces located in the woods around Rochester, it is a wonder that audiences found the place. But they did.

“People were just absolutely dying to play music in front of any amount of people, anywhere,” says Jurassic Farms owner Aaron Rubin, a local businessman and real estate investor.

Local musician Siena Facciolo attended the first show there — a small, unpublicized gathering last October. Craving an opportunity to play live, she performed there soon afterward.

“It was outdoors, so it was really the only way that I could perform in front of people,” says Facciolo, who now co-runs Jurassic Farms with Rubin and books the concerts there. “And it was so nice. I was so relieved to be able to perform.”
Jurassic Farms concert booker Siena Facciolo and owner Aaron Rubin. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Jurassic Farms concert booker Siena Facciolo and owner Aaron Rubin.
In the beginning, the musicians who played Jurassic Farms performed on the grass. It wasn’t until Facciolo invited Alexa Silverman and her pop-jazz band The Recall to play that a stage was constructed and musicians from University of Rochester and Eastman School of Music began to show an interest in performing.



“It grew really organically,” Rubin says. “And I mean, I've never intended on trying to make it look refined, necessarily. I like the idea of keeping it looking like it's in the woods.”

Jurassic Farms doesn’t just look like it’s off-grid. It is off-grid.

The composting toilet on site was only just added. Before that, visitors for whom nature called simply made like a bear in the woods. Twenty-four solar panels power a large battery system underneath the tiny house, but the set up suffered a setback recently when a lightning strike damaged the wiring.

Rubin sometimes retires to the cozy house — equipped with two guitars on the wall and a mini-upright piano — as an escape from the noise of the city.
PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
“You have to be really mindful of how much power you’re using,” he says. “And are you going to have enough? We had one show run out of power because I was not mindful. And we had a backup generator. It was . . . okay.”

Jurassic Farms has presented shows this summer with a diverse array of artists and musical styles. Recent performances included singer-songwriter Sally Louise, dynamic soul musicians Zahyia and Avis Reese, pipa player Leah Ou and nyckelharpa player Alyssia Rodriguez, and the rock band Bellwether Breaks.

“My goal is to make people feel like they’re at home,” says Facciolo, who can usually be found on concert days greeting visitors and collecting door charges from a table near the front gate.
PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
The welcoming environment extends to the musicians. Bands determine their cover charge and all the money goes back to the artists. They’re not charged to rent the space or for the live sound engineer. The cost of running Jurassic Farms is covered entirely by Rubin, who says his computer refurbishment business grosses $5 million a year.

“It doesn’t have to be profitable, which is the single biggest thing,” Rubin says. When asked how long he could operate it at a loss, he quickly answers: “Forever.”

In addition to his computer business, Rubin owns several properties in the historic 19th Ward neighborhood, having bought all the vacant houses on two blocks, renovated them, and rented them out. A three-bedroom house of his goes for between $700 and $900 a month.

Rubin, who lives in the 19th Ward, says he wants to erase the stigma of the neighborhood as an impoverished section of the city that has kept investors at bay. He views Jurassic Farms and another venture of his, a small café on Arnett Boulevard called Bicycle Brothers, as levers to prop up the community and draw people there to see what it has to offer.

“There's a lot of nice people and a lot of families, but there are very few businesses,” he says.
Pop-folk band Head to the Roots performs as Casey Arthur paints live in the foreground at Jurassic Farms. - PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL J. KUSHNER
  • Pop-folk band Head to the Roots performs as Casey Arthur paints live in the foreground at Jurassic Farms.
Rubin hopes that Jurassic Farms will be a place that meets the creative needs and aspirations of artists, whatever they may be. How that happens is anyone’s guess. But that’s the way Rubin and Facciolo prefer it.

“We really like learning on the job,” Facciolo says. “We really like not knowing what we’re doing until we actually do it.”

Rubin chimes in: “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

He has visions for the place, though. In addition to keeping Jurassic Farms a destination for live music, Rubin imagines cultivating an artists’ retreat, building other tiny houses to be used as Airbnbs, and introducing sustainable farming.

Whatever becomes of Jurassic Farms, Facciolo knows what she wants to avoid.

“I really do not want it to become a conventional place,” she says. “Basically, I want to follow the needs of the musicians and the artists.”

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s arts editor. He can be reached at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.