Just up the road “a piece” in the town of New Prospect, a new recording studio has opened its 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 (formerly Woodstick).
Groundbreaking of the new studio took place in May 1998. Barnwell says, “we talked to a lot of engineers and studio owners about how to go about everything. We learned what did and didn’t work well from them, and we took the best ideas from here and there and put them all together to create a great working environment.” A ramp outside loads right into the studio so bands can bring their equipment in without having to haul everything up any stairs or through the control room. Barnwell also had two separate vocal booths and a separate drum booth installed; all of which have windows, so band members can see one another and the engineer. The studio also has a lounge for the bands’ guests where they can see through the control room and into the studio without disrupting the engineer. The lounge allows guests to get a feel for everything that is going on but still allows the engineer to do his job without distraction.
Another plus at Overall Studios is its location. “Out here, you’re in the country. The band can come and stay all weekend if they want to.” The beautiful mountain countryside provides a place of relaxation and allows for a more peaceful working environment. “When you’re cooped up in a small studio in a metropolitan area with five or six people, you can begin to feel claustrophobic. It gets to the point where everyone just wants to get through and get the sessions over with; then the music suffers. Here, we want the artists to feel at home, and we want to make their stay as comfortable for them as we can.”
Overall Studios now has its own Indi label but also has had other record labels express interest in working with them after they’ve seen the growth of Barnwell’s festivals. “Our new label will be working with a couple of bands who do something along the same lines that the Plum Hollow Band does, which is blend bluegrass and rock. The label is also preparing to launch its first releases very soon. “We have two projects we are working on now for the new label, and we will be releasing them in the next six to eight weeks.”
The festivals at Plum Hollow Farm have become the stuff legends are made of in the Upstate, dating as far back as 1976. “We’ve been doing festivals here for the past eight years,” says Barnwell. “We started the old Plum Hollow Festivals back in 1976, and we had them at the farm in New Prospect for six years. The festival has only continued to grow year after year. Last year, we had approximately one thousand people for the Moonshiner’s Reunion, and this year we are expecting even more!”
The Plum Hollow Farm has its own campground area, which was modeled after a lot of what the Plum Hollow band had seen at other festivals and concerts designed to not only work for the attending bands, but also for the concert audiences. Barnwell even built a “shed” near the sound board that is capable of keeping a good size crowd out of the rain if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
The farm is not only for public festivals. “We started renting the festival facilities out for private parties a few years ago. We have enough showers and facilities on the farm to handle a crowd of five thousand people. We thought it a shame just to use it twice a year for our own festivals because of the years of hard work and tremendous expense of clearing land and campsites, building a covered stage, and running permanent power and another million things. We also rent to other promoters of bands and for various types of shows and festivals.”
One of Barnwell’s primary goals is to make the studio, the management company-Overall Music Management, and the farm work as a unit to promote a select group of musicians. “A few years back, with the growing success of the Plum Hollow band, we would get a lot of calls for our band to perform. But we were already booked, so we started booking other bands for those events. We now have a database of about fifty bands listed that we are able to book.” Barnwell says, “the bands we sign to the record label will be the ones we feature at the festivals. We are also going to provide production for other festivals like the one the Plum Hollow Band is doing in Lyman the weekend after the Moonshiner’s Reunion; it’s called ‘Messers on the Hillbilly Jam.’ ”
Overall Studios is only one division of Barnwell’s Overall Music Management. Within the management group is a merchandising company that handles t-shirts, hats, posters, banners, etc., at the Plum Hollow Farm. Barnwell’s Overall Music Management has its own art and graphics department capable of designing CD covers, t-shirt designs and whatever else the bands may need. “We have to have our own graphics setup because of what all we offer. We have a festival mailing list of about two thousand people, which must be updated regularly. We also send out newsletters, programs, flyers, band posters, etc. to everyone on the mailing list, and we have other graphics which require work on the computer nearly every day.”
The name and idea of the Moonshiner’s Reunion has been trademarked and copyrighted. Barnwell is also working hard to get a “Reunion” established in each of the Southern states. “This year, we were able to have our first out-of-state Moonshiner’s Reunion in Virginia. We’d like to have one in Tennessee soon!” Next year, Barnwell is planning on having one in Georgia where they will feature everything from traditional bluegrass to the new wave of jam-grass. “We are dealing with bluegrass and different, innovative approaches to bluegrass.”
Debbie Hunter has taken over the duties of coordinating the festivals and the twenty-five employees who will work the Moonshiner’s Reunion this year on October 1 and 2. “From production, to security, to food, it all has to be coordinated, and she does an excellent job.”
Barnwell says that one of the main reasons he decided to build the studio and begin working from the management side of things was his numerous years of travel and performing. “We stay out playing colleges; we play every major university from Princeton down to Old Miss, but I really enjoy working with these new bands that are out there. I love what they’re doing, and I want to work in the management and recording end of it instead of traveling up and down the road so much. Twenty-five years is a lot; it’s time to start slowing down on that end.”