Drive past the modern-looking Suwanee city hall building, past the always-bustling town green, and head toward the older, historic part of the city. There’s a treasure nestled in on Stonecypher Road, and inside lives rich history and some of the best bluegrass music found this side of Nashville.
The Barn, as the venue has come to be called, is a favorite destination for both locals and out-of-towners. One visit to the 50-plus-year-old venue and the reasons are obvious.
“Music hath charms...”
A healing place
True music lovers know that the best live venues are often the local, grassroots, talent-attracting spots. There’s no glitzy, fancy lighting, no smoke-and-mirrors special effects, no high-priced tickets. “In 1964, our grandmother opened up her home to people – pickers, players, people who just wanted to come there and jam,” said Rena Everett McDaniel. The family was grieving the devastating loss of Gwinnett County police Officer Jerry Everett, killed in the line of duty during one of Gwinnett County’s most infamous crimes. Having the people and the music around eased that process a bit for the family. In 1971, The Barn was built.
“There are no beds in the family house, just separate rooms that musicians can set up in and play all night,” Rena said. Back when the home first opened its doors to the public and folks would flock to listen to some sizzling bluegrass music, they’d literally pass their grandfather’s hat to collect whatever donations they could. Once the hat had been passed, someone would take the proceeds to the store to buy food to eat, something to accompany the coffee they had perked in their 10-cup percolator. When the Everett family opened the doors in 1964, they likely had no idea what The Barn would come to mean to thousands of bluegrass music lovers and the bands who have taken the stage.
The coffee pot’s bigger now, the desserts are more plentiful now, and that’s because the Barn has not only endured 53+ years of economic and demographic change; it has grown more popular and well-known than the family back in ‘64 could likely have ever imagined. Still, the coffee can is a fixture.
The Coffee Can
Ever since the days of passing grandpa’s hat, the Music Barn has survived strictly because both musicians and bluegrass fans love the place so much. The coffee can is simply a place for patrons to make donations when they come out to enjoy the music on Saturday nights. “Some people leave as much as fifty dollars, some leave five. It’s just whatever you feel like giving. All of that money goes right back into the upkeep of the place, utilities, things like that,” said Rena. A new outdoor pavilion was built just this year, and when the weather permits, bands play there.
The property was sold, and ownership changed in 2011. The people who bought the place - John Garrett, Kathleen Webb and Jennifer Falk – are all Gwinnett locals who didn’t want to see The Barn and its legacy disappear from the Gwinnett landscape. “When the place was sold, my brother Tommy invited people and bands to the Sugar Hill Community Center. The place was packed! People brought food; really, it was a mourning,” said Rena. Webb attended the gathering. “We didn’t know her from a sack of salt,” Rena said, and the rest is history. “It’s turned out to be a great thing all around. I think everybody wanted to see a solution that kept the Barn and the tradition alive.”
Big name bands, passionate fans
It’s impressive to see national bands call The Barn to book appearances, even when they might have to book their show a year out because of other shows they’ve committed to playing. “They’ll tell you, it’s just very different to play such an intimate venue (the Barn seats about 140 people),” said Rena. And it’s just as impressive to talk to fans of the place, the ones who keep coming back for more bluegrass music and the friendly greeting they’re sure to get when they arrive. Frances Bowers and her husband Steve have enjoyed many Saturday nights at The Barn. “It’s a great place you can go for good, clean, family entertainment. The place is always welcoming. Whether you’re listening to the House Band (the Everett Family Band), a guest band, or just the picking and practicing going on in the house, the music there rivals what you’d hear in Nashville.”
No drinking, and no foolishness
Yes, it’s a well-known rule that no drinking is allowed at The Barn. “That was grandmother’s one rule back when they opened the place in 1964. She said if she was going to have strangers in and around her house every Saturday night, she was going to make it clear that everyone knew there would be no drinking,” Rena said. And still today, the Everetts believe that’s one of the reasons they’re still welcome in the city of Suwanee, and that in all the years they’ve been open, there haven’t been any major incidents that often happen when large crowds and alcohol mix.
Many nationally-famous musicians got their start at this beloved, historic venue in Suwanee, including Russell Moore, Jeff Autry, Scott Vestal and others. The Barn is more than just a place to play and listen to music; it’s a culture, and those who have sampled it, love it. “Even if you aren’t a fan of bluegrass music before you come here, you will be when you leave!” said Rena.
On Saturday, July 1, the Barn hosted the CD release party for the band BlueRoad. According to Rena, she and her family have watched this band get its start there and grow to the level of fame and popularity they have recently achieved. “We’re so happy to see them succeed,” she remarked.
The Barn opens its doors every Saturday night at 6 p.m., and the show starts promptly at 8 p.m. The Everett Family Band plays from 8 – 9 p.m., and the feature band starts playing at 9:00. For more information about The Barn, its rich history and a list of upcoming shows, visit www.everettsmusicbarn.net.