Barnwell Hosts Moonshiner’s Reunion – always the first weekend in October every year!!!
by Michael B. Smith
The Inman Times, Inman, SC
Thursday September 26, 1996
The Fourth Annual Moonshiner’s Reunion is slated for this Friday and Saturday at Woodstick Farms in New Prospect.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” says reunion coordinator Barney Barnwell. “It always is. Lots of good music, and we’ve invited country crafts people to come in and set up their wares. As always, there’s plenty of room for camping out overnight, too.”
Between the time Campobello native Barnwell tap-danced of TV with his little sister, and the time his band, Woodstick, recorded their CD “20 Years in the Making” in Nashville earlier this year, Barnwell led the life of a true southern road musician.
“Before Plum Hollow I was in a band in Columbia called The Capital City Cowboys,” says Barnwell. “That was with Woody Windham, who was the manager of a radio staion down there called WCOS. He had a band, and everybody in the band was a disc jockey. Then he opened up a supper club in West Columbia called The Windham Brothers Supper Club. It was kind of neat, because you could come out and see all the personalities of the radio staion every Saturday night.
“So, the band I was in at the time was called Sour Mash. I left that band in 1974, and Woody called me and asked if I’d be interested in playing at the supper club, and I said yeah. He said, ‘We’ll put you on the radio too.’ I told him I wasn’t no disc jockey, and he said, ‘You will be.
“So I started doing a weekly radio show called ‘Barney Barnwell’s Bluegrass Hour.’ We done that for about a year, until they caught Woody growing pot in his back yard and they fired him. The headline in the newspaper was ‘Beans, Corn and Marijuana.’
“The band broke up. There were twin brothers, Michael and Pat Seavers, Pat started playing steel guitar with Eddie Rabbit, and the guitar player, Mike, went to work with Dolly Parton. Recently, Pat had a band called The Pirates of the Mississippi. Woody went to playing with country star Narvel Felps.”
Barnwell was obsessed by music from the very beginning.
“All I studied was music when I was a kid,” he says. “We had a little band up in Landrum with Ricky McAlistar, and Larry Nodine and Gary Bridgeman was the drummer. Our band was called The Visions. We all wore these little dickies and turtlenecks. My dad told me I couldn’t be in that band ’cause my grades weren’t good enough, so I ran away from home. I lived in a pup-tent up there in the woods for about two or three weeks.
“When I was 16, I told my daddy that I was gonna be a country music singer and I was going to Nashville and talk to Johnny Cash. He said, ‘Here’s you twenty dollars, you just go.’ I didn’t pack no clothes or nothin’. I went out to the bus staion and bought me a one-way ticket to Nashville. It was about seventeen dollars, I think. I had enough left over to get me two hot dogs and a Coke, and four comic books to read on the bus.
“I met this guy on the way to Nashville and told him I was going up there to be a country music singer. He said that he was too. He looked at me and he probably thought, ‘This idiot just ain’t gonna make it.’ So he took me up under his wing and all. We got up to Nashville and he got a motel room for us, and he said, ‘Let’s go to the Grand Ol’ Opry.’ So we got up there and he took me backstage. Flatt & Scruggs were together then.
“My mom was in the hospital. She had had an operation that had gone bad, and she thought I was at home. I called her up and said, ‘Listen to this, Mama!’ She heard the music and she said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘Mama, I’m at the Grand Ol’ Opry!’ She yelled in the other room, ‘Robert, where is Barney?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. I gave him twenty bucks and he said he was going to Tennessee.’
“Then I found out where Johnny Cash lived, in Hendersonville, Tennessee. I went up to his door and rang the bell. This large black man came to the door and asked me what I wanted. I said, ‘I wanna see Mr. Cash.’ He said, ‘He’s not home. I don’t know when he’ll be back, he is on the road.’ I said, ‘Well’ I’ve done come this far. I’ll just sit out here and wait on him.’ I went out in the back yard and sat down, and about five minutes later the police pulled up and took me to jail. The judge asked me what I was up to, and I told him I was just up there to see the sites(sic). He told me I’d have to wait until I was 18, and they put me back on a bus back to Campobello.”
In 1975, Barnwell helped to form The Plum Hollow Band and started putting out records like “Camp’beller” and “Who in the World Wants to Be a Hippie.” The band went on the road with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and opened for everyone from Tammy Wynette to Muddy Waters, Country Joe and the Fish, Vasser Clements, Doc Watson, Minnie Pearl, Proter Wagoner, The Tams, The Drifters, and The Amazing Rhythm Aces.
“I left the band in 1985, and they played about six months after that.”
Today, Barney fronts the Plum Hollow band, which mixes all the best elements of bluegrass and rock and roll. The band has been on a continuous tour of college campuses, where they are always greeted with an overwhelming response.
“These college kids love all different types of music. There will be a reggae band playing one place, a blues band at another, and the us -‘Blue Ridge rock and roll’- at another. They like a variety. In the 70’s,
we tried taking acoustic bluegrass to college campuses, but they got to raising so much cane(sic), you couldn’t hear over the instruments, even when they were miked
“Then we moved up to using pickups, we made everything electrified. Then came the drums. Later we moved to electric guitar, and that’s when our sound started developing. It’s a lot different now than it was in the Plum Hollow days, in that it’s more acceptable. In those days, we would play six clubs to every one college date. Maybe one college date a month. Now we’re playing 14 college dates a month. The mix of music is more accepted
now. I don’t know if it was the Grateful Dead opening a lot of doors, or all the bands. What’s cool nowadays is anything goes.”
The Fourth Annual Moonshiner’s Reunion and Music Festival, which will feature the Woodstick band, will take place on Barnwell’s Woodstick Farm in New Prospect and will feature a wide variety of live music, including
Marshall Balklew and the Radiation Blues Banned, Broken Home, The Prograsstinators, Mountain Express, and Michael B Smith. Music will begin at 6:00 pm Friday evening and at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments and join in the “all night pickin'” as in years past.
A special guest for this year’s reunion will be Atlanta wroter Joe Dabney, author of ‘Mountain Spirits’ and ‘More Mountain Spirits’.
Barnwell grew up listening to the tales of moonshine makers of the ’30’s and ’40’s, some of them his relatives. Many of his original songs chronicle the legendary ‘shine runners and their exploits. His tales are that of legend,
and in 1995, South Carolina Educational Television came to New Prospect to film a documentary on moonshining, featuring none other than the Barnwell clan.
“This area is chock full of history. We were glad to have them ol’ PBS boys out here for a visit,” says Barnwell.
The Fourth Annual Moonshiner’s Reunion & Mountain Music Festival
October 3rd and 4th, 1997.
Woodstick Farm, New Prospect, one mile past Highway 11 on Highway 9 from Spartanburg, turn onto Rainbow Lake Road.