by Michael Buffalo Smith
I just got the sad news. Another good friend is gone. A great musician and an even greater human being, Barney Barnwell passed away at 1:30 PM today (March 29).
I had not seen Barney in a few years, and I had heard that he had cancer a couple of years ago, but it seemed he was whipping it’s butt pretty good. From what I understand, it wasn’t even the cancer that took him, it was a stroke. He had been in the hospital for several days.
We had been friends for many a year, and I had been out to his home place in New prospect, near Fingerville, just this side of Campobello, S.C. more times than I can count. There was a period of time when was doing a little computer design work for him, helping lay out his website when he was first getting it up and running, and creating a mail out newsletter and data base for The Moonshiner’s Reunion that was held yearly on the farm as well as for the Plum Hollow Festival, his other yearly wing ding.
I wrote a chapter about him in my first book, Carolina Dreams: The Musical Legacy of Upstate South Carolina (Marshall Tucker Entertainment Publishing) back in 1996. He was one of my special guests at the book signing party Mrs. Jane Hughes held at the old Pic-a-Book down in Spartanburg.
I have so many great memories of Barney, they all seem to run together at this moment. He always had me to play at his Festival, and that was great fun. Mostly I would play solo, but one year I took a whole band and had a ball. As much as I enjoyed playing myself, I was much more excited to hear the star of the show when he came on with his Plum Hollow Band. All them great songs like “Camp’beller.” “The Hippie Song” and the “mash ups” he did before anybody else, like the medley of “Folsom Prison Blues” and Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.” I wrote a song about him once called “Psychedelic Hillbilly” which he loved, and I still play on recording it one day.
I loved when you’d call his house and he’d always answer real loud like, BARNEY! Straight and to the point. One of my favorite memories is of the animals. Pet snakes, possums, deer, all
sorts of woodland creatures and they all loved Barney,
He called lunch “dinner” and dinner “supper” like many a good Southern fella, and one day while we were working on the website he said “You want some dinner?” He called a local meat and three place that he frequented and made an order, then went and brought it back. All I remember is he got salmon patties, greens and corn bread. I loved watching him eat. He really enjoyed good Southern cooking.
I learned a lot from Barney about his old days of moonshining, mushrooms and pot, and listened attentively to his home spun stories. He could really write great stories too. (I re-posted one below.)
Barney built the perfect venue for his music festivals on his own land, a stage, a grand shed to cover a large amount of people if it rained, a sound booth. Then he constructed on site shower houses and built The Plum Hollow Hotel, with rooms each based on a theme of a certain Southern state. I never saw a harder worker or a more cretive mind. And when he built his Overall Recording Studios in 1999, I was there to write a big article for GRITZ Magazine.
I still recall when he first started dating Debbie and they got married, and how happy he was to have her. They made a great team all the way around.
I am sure I will never forget Barney, his music, or our friendship. As a tribute, I am reprinting our 1999 interview, along with a piece he wrote for me about possums. Godspeed Barney. See you in the light brother. •
Here is the interview I conducted with Barney in 1999 for GRITZ Magazine.
Barney Barnwell and The Plum Hollow Band
Open New Recording Studio
Upstate South Carolina
by Michael B. Smith
Just up the road "a piece" in the town of New Prospect, a new recording studio has opened it's doors. But this is not "your father's recording studio." It's more like a musician's dream. The studio, called Overall Studios, is owned and operated by Barney Barnwell, a man known to many as the highly-animated lead singer and fiddle player of The Plum Hollow Band.
When did you begin work on the studio?
We broke ground for the studio in May, 1998. Then we dug the foundation. I talked to a lot of engineers about how to go about it. I've been in a lot of studios over the past twenty years, and I didn't want to make the same mistakes I'd seen in some of them. I wanted band members to be able to see one another. I always hated to go into a studio to record and not be able to see the other guys. I didn't want it in a basement or an attic, because it makes it so hard hauling equipment up the stairs. I wanted to have a lounge for the band's guests, where they could see through the control room and into the studio. That way, they are out of the way, but they can see everything. I wanted access to unloading straight into the studio, so we have that. The ramp outside loads right into the actual studio.
Do you think the location will make the studio more appealing to the prospective musician?
One thing that I always hated was that the studios were located in the city, like in Nashville. Out here you're on the farm, we have a shower house. The band can come and stay all weekend if they want to. We had a band last week that did that. They came from Columbia, and camped down here after the session. The next morning, we all got back together and mixed their stuff down. In Nashville, we pulled the bus up in front of the studio and parked,
and we had to stay on the bus. When your cooped up somewhere it gets to the point where you just want to get through it and get it over with. Then the music suffers. Here, it's relaxed. We put the artist at ease, to make it more comfortable for them.
It seems to be just the right size too.
We didn't want it so big that they felt lost, but we didn't want it so small that they felt claustrophobic.
What are some of the features of this studio?
It's a fully-digital studio which houses a thirty-two channel mixing board, as well as two separate vocal booths, and a drum booth, all of which have windows, so band members are always able to see one another. We also offer an individual head mix. That's something you don't often find in a studio. There is a small box for each player, and he can mix all of the incoming sounds any way he wants into his headphones.
And the studio is just one facet of your larger company, right?
Overall Studios is only one division of Barnwell's Overall Music Management, which also offers a merchandising company that handles-shirts, hats, banners and such, and outdoor festivals at Plum Hollow Farms. (formerly Woodstick) We have our own record label here, but with the growth of our festivals, I have had other record labels take notice. This past week I had three record companies call me, wanting to put their acts at our festivals. They sent me material. They are offering us networking and distribution, so we are talking to some of them. Some are well known independent labels. So we have a lot of contacts. Plus, we get a lot of calls for our group from people who don't have the budget to pay for us, so what we did was, we started booking bands. We've done that over the past two years.
Tell us about the campground.
The campground was also modeled after a lot of things we've seen at other festivals, and designed to work for the bands as well as the attendees. There's even a "shed" we built near the sound board, capable of keeping 1,000 people out of the rain, if the weather takes a turn.
Are you in the market for demos from unsigned bands?
With our new record label, and we're looking for a couple of bands that do something along the lines of what we do. We want people who are blending bluegrass and rock. One of the main things is they have to have at least two bluegrass instruments, either a fiddle and a banjo, or a mandolin and a fiddle. We've had people call up who have five guitars .You can't play bluegrass with no banjo, fiddle or mandolin.
When can we expect to see the first releases from your label?
We have two products we are working on now for the new label, and we will be putting out product in the next six to eight weeks. We will also be offering distribution, as well as a line on publicity. I work with a lot of booking agents as well, East Coast Entertainment, Cellar Door Entertainment, Crescent Moon out of Nashville, Music Garden out of Montgomery, Alabama, so we have those connections available. And we have our own publishing company on site, Fingerville Publishing.
Tell us a little about your two annual festivals here at the farm.
We've been doing the festivals here for the past eight years. But we started the old Plum Hollow Festival's back in 1976, and we had them there for eight years. We started doing them here about eight years ago,and we've been doing two a year. So we ourselves have put on about sixteen festivals. It has continued to grow. Last year, we had right at a thousand people for the Moonshiner's Reunion, and this year, we are expecting more than that. It all works in together. Bands that play here, we try and get them some other work. Same with people who come here to record their cd's. We also have our own arts and graphics department here. We can design their cd cover, their t-shirts, pretty much put a whole package together right here.
Do you see the management company, label and venue all working together to promote certain bands?
We're hoping that the bands that we sign to the label will be the ones we feature at the festivals. We are also providing production for other festivals. Like the one we are doing in Lyman right after we do ours. It's called Messer's on the Hill Jam, the weekend following ours. We're furnishing the production and the bands for that one, it's a one day festival. But everything here works together real well. We have colleges come out and have parties. We have enough showers and facilities on the camp ground to handle five-thousand people. We've also rented it out to their promoters for shows. The name and idea of Moonshiner's Reunion has been trademarked and copyrighted, and we are trying to get a Reunion established in each of the Southern states. This year, we put one in Virginia, and we'd like to have one in Tennessee. Next year we're putting one in Georgia. We're featuring everything from traditional bluegrass to the new wave of jam-grass. There's a lot of that coming onto the scene. That's what we are dealing with is bluegrass, and different, innovative approaches to bluegrass.
What made you decide to move into more production work than performing?
We stay out playing colleges. We play every major university from Princeton down to Old Miss. 'But I don't want to be on the road as much as I used to be. I want to work with these young bands, in the management end of it, and the recording end, instead of traveling up and down the road. Twenty-five years of that is a lot. It's time to start slowing up on that end.
If you had to name one primary purpose for all of this, what would it be?
My dream is to pass along the knowledge I have accumulated from years of experience, so that upcoming bands might be able to have a little bit of an easier road ahead of them. A lot of the bands are great, but they just don't have any direction. You can go out here and play a beer joint for fifty dollars a night for the rest of your life ,but that doesn't get you anywhere. They just need some advice from people like us who have learned it all the hard way.
And here is a story he wrote for GRITZ a little later...
Barney Barnwell, A Possum's Tale
What follows is a true-to-life tale told by a genuine mountain man, my friend Barney Barnwell of Campobello, S.C. (Camp'beller, that is.) Barney has lead The Plum Hollow Band as singer and fiddle player for more than 30 years, playing a unique mix of bluegrass and rock and roll that has recently become a trend, but Barney was doing it FIRST. Take my good word for it. Barney is a multi-talented song writer, player, sculptor, visual artist, writer and actor. Please visit him at www.moonshiners.com.
A POSSUM TALE PART- 1
(THE ON GOING SAGA)
by Barney Barnwell
I have raised three hawks, two owls, one crow, four foxes, two coons, two pole cats, two monkeys, eighteen wild turkeys, a ground hog, six lizard’s, two alligators, twenty two snakes and a wolf spider. But I ain’t never had a possum. All my life I have wanted a possum. This past spring I was over at my cousins house. We were sitting at the kitchen table when I seen something run across the kitchen floor. I didn’t pay it much attention until a few minutes later my eye caught something else running out from under the kitchen cabinets. His old lady was fixin' supper when all of a sudden she went to raisin hell. “Get these damn possums out of this house”. A mother had given birth to eight baby possums underneath his house. Around ten o'clock every night they would come up through a hole in the floor beneath the kitchen sink. When the next one came running by I reached down and grabbed him up. My cousin told me I could have him but not to tell my old lady where I got it from.
I am amazed at what all that possum has taught me. The first lesson was - I need to listen to my cousin more. I just thought his old lady was raisin hell. When I brought that possum home. my ol lady run me and the possum out of the house and told me if I came back with it she was leaving.
I knew then, I had stumbled on to something big. I have a small wood shop down in the woods. I found a holler gum stump and laid it in an old aquarium I dug out of the barn. Then me and the possum moved into the wood shop. Right off , that possum seem to like his new home. Then again it don’t take much to please a possum. If they don’t like something you never know it because they don’t bark, cry, holler, moan, bitch, or make any kind of sound far as I can tell. When it comes to feeding one, they will eat anything. Their favorite dish is poisonous snakes. Not to worry. There immune to snake venom . They love eating mice and rats too. As far as health care is concerned, they pose less health problem’s to humans than dogs and cats do. Unlike foxes, coons or other wild animals, they're less susceptible to contracting rabies than any mammal on earth and are immune to most diseases. It’s not only the very first mammal to arrive on earth, it’s the only mammal living today that roamed the earth with the dinosaurs. Unlike most rednecks, evolution has also left them alone . The possum today looks just about like it did when he first appeared on earth seventy million years ago. I told this to one of my buddies down at the local beer joint. As I was showing him my new possum he looked at it and said. “Well, he sure looks good for his age.”
They are one tough animal to say the least. When someone asks me if that possum was still alive, I tell them . “A man that cant raise a possum can't raise nothing.”
Most of the things I know about a possum I just learned recently. I’ve always been the kind of feller to take up for the under dog . They seem to have gotten a bad rap. I guess it’s because they look so much like a rat. And most folk’s think it is. Including my old lady. She thinks there the nastiest creatures on earth. I tried to tell her. They wash them selves after they finish eating. Hell, I don’t even do that. She told me she didn’t care if it took a shower every day. I told her I didn’t do that either. That nasty thang still wasn’t coming in the house.
About a month ago me and her had gotten into it about something. I don’t remember exactly what it was. Anyhow she told me I had drove her so crazy she was going to admit her self into a mental institution. Since that time I have been walking on egg shells. I felt so guilty, I've been staying away from beer joints when I can, and I even quit drinking for four hours one day. That one all most killed me. Well me and the possum had not even gotten settled into the wood shop good when she appears in the door way. I come to tell you I was leaving and I ain’t sure when I'll be back. I ask her what mental house she was going to and she said. “What are you talking about.” I told her what she had said to me about driving her crazy and going off to the funny farm. She burst into laughter and said, "you idiot I was only teasing you. I'm going to Hollywood, California on vacation with some friends." Then she pointed at my possum and said. “and that nasty thing best be gone before I get back.” With that she left. Leaving me with my mouth hanging open looking and feeling like a idiot.
The next day I was still madder ‘n hell when the phone rang. It was my cousin wanting to know if I wanted another possum. The sister to the one he had given me. I said hell yea. I will be right over to get it. My old lady just thought she was mad when she left. If he had said he had twenty possums I would have took them all. And when she came back home she would find them all sleeping with me in her bed when she arrived. It would have served her right. Making me suffer like she did. But that was not to be. As it were she would find only two. So I thought. When I went to get the new possum, to my surprise it was twice the size as mine. It was also much gentler and tamer than my possum was. It never occurred to me that possums had different personalities. Or it could be this new possum was raised up by a seven year old girl who spent every waking moment pampering it, whereas me and my possum would go to the beer joint ever night. Never the less. I was so excited because my possum would be reunited with his long lost sister, and have a playmate to boot. The second lesson I was taught by my possum was. Never assume anything about them. When I put that new possum in the box, my possum came out of that gum stump faster than a slug out of a shot gun barrel, he jumped on his sister who was trying to get away from him by running into a box I had put in the pen for her. He shot in after her. You would have thought that box was some sort of wind up toy the way it was a flopping around that possum pen. It liked to have scared me to death. Lesson number three. Never put your hand into a box when two possums are a fightin.' This was not only a easy lesson to learn, it was also one of the faster ones.
When I finally got the possums separated and gave them there own separate box, I took off for the house just as fast as I could go. All them possum facts I spoke of earlier, about rabies and such, I learned that night. Thank God my ol lady wasn’t home. I never would have heard the end to that one. Another lesson I learned that night was possums are loners. I should have known that. There's no such thing as a pack of possums. They ain't got no friends and don’t want any. That’s probably the reason they have been around for seventy million years. •
In Loving Memory of Barney Barnwell
March 29, 2011
Photos are © Copyright owned by individual photographers. Barney at console photo by Buffalo.