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Barney Barnwell

Barney Barnwell and The Plum Hollow Band
Open New Recording Studio
Upstate South Carolina

by Michael B. Smith
Fall, 1999

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.

Barney Barnwell at the console.
(Photo by Michael B. Smith)

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 bandmembers 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 equipmentup 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 downhere 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 startedbooking 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 alot 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 themthere 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 workingtogether 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 toother 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.

Visit The Plum Hollow Band and Overall Management on the web at: www.moonshiners.com

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