Who wouldn’t want their own recording studio, concert venue, historic building, and rural church house if they could? That’s the dream that has become a reality for singer and songwriter Conrad Fisher, who is the new owner and proprietor of Ragamuffin Hall in tiny McCoysville, Pennsylvania—an unincorporated community in rural Appalachia.
When Fisher first announced the purchase and his plan to put national touring acts in the venue, it was hard to not be skeptical. Harrisburg is the nearest big town, and it’s about an hour away, and the surrounding area has a population of about 800 at best. But when Fisher put tickets on sale for the first public performance headlined by The Malpass Brothers on July 28th, he sold out the 180-capacity venue in less than 48 hours. Folks are coming from eight different states, and as far away as Florida for the first major Ragamuffin Hall show.
“This church had been up for sale for about two months, and nobody was biting. It’s about 10 minutes from my house, built in 1871, and the congregation started it in the late 1773 with a circuit-riding preacher,” Conrad Fisher explains. “It’s on 1.4 acres and it’s all flat so I can park people. There was only eight people left meeting here, and so they just couldn’t bear the weight of the building. Just the heating and maintenance was getting too much.”
Soon after acquiring the building, Fisher started hosting hymn sings. The first time, 70 people showed up. Then next time, there was 100. It’s not just Fisher’s vision for Ragamuffin Hall, it’s how the surrounding community—however small—shares the vision of making it a thriving space for the local community. It probably also helps that Ragamuffin Hall is the only game in town when it comes to local entertainment, but without buy-in from the local residents, it would only go so far. “The people trust me in this community,” Fisher says.
The basement of the building is also of good use, with 10 foots ceilings, a common area, and a full kitchen. Fisher put in a shower and is installing a bedroom for folks to stay in as well. Ragamuffin Hall is not just a concert venue. Whether someone is looking for the acoustics or the ambience of a church, Ragamuffin fits the bill as a recording space as well. In fact for Fisher, that’s the primary function at the moment.
Songwriter Dickey Lee wanted to record a demo of a song he co-wrote with Keith Whitley before he died. So he traveled to Ragamuffin Hall to record it. “Whoever wants to work with me, I just do my thing. I’m not like Sound Emporium or whatever. The studio is what pays the bills, and the venue is my hobbyhorse, and a way to bring culture and life back into my community. My goal is to be able to book Marty Stuart here, book Dailey & Vincent for a Sunday morning Gospel hour, or Alison Krauss, and have a YouTube channel to do interviews, livestreams and videos, and make it work.”
It’s Conrad’s role as a country music songwriter that has allowed him access to artists who may otherwise not call him back. Fisher wrote “That’ll Be The Day” with Dickey Lee for the new Malpass Brothers album Lonely Street, which gave him a connection with the brothers and arranged the July 28th show.
“I’m making a living. I have a 25-acre farm, and and 1871 church house. So I’m happy.”