Hometown Music: Everett Bros. Music Barn celebrates 40 years as Suwanee fixture, bluegrass venue

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

SUWANEE -- Roger Everett stands inside the Everett Brothers Music Barn pointing out photos, many autographed, of famous bands that have played at the Suwanee bluegrass venue throughout its 40-year history.

Countless musicians have graced the stage at Everetts, but none have left such a lasting legacy as the Everett brothers themselves.

Roger is the only brother of the original Everett Brothers Band still living. Brother Randall passed away two years ago in May. Leroy Everett died in 1971 just after the Everett Brothers Music Barn was first built.

But don't expect Roger to see himself as the local legend he is. When asked about his thoughts on helping build such a historic place, his response is quite humble.

"I haven't given it really much thought," he says. "It's just really something that came about. But it makes you feel pretty proud that you had a hand in getting so many people interested in this type of music."

Some of those people, like Roger's nephew Ray Deaton, have even gone on to play professionally.

The barn

Off the beaten path, down a side road in Suwanee, the Everett Brothers Music Barn and the family homestead remain untouched by the development creeping into the area known as historic Old Town. Many of the surrounding houses were built in the early 1900s -- the Everetts home is likely at least 100 years old, predating the barn 60 years or more.

The Everett brothers started playing together in 1965 after their brother, Jerry, a Gwinnett County police officer, was killed in the line of duty.

"We just kept up really learning how to play to entertain our mom and dad and ourselves, too," Roger says. "To keep our mind on something else."

The brothers -- Leroy on the bass fiddle, Randall on guitar singing lead vocals and Roger on the banjo -- began playing for small groups in a large room that was added on to the back of their family's house.

"It got too small real quick and that's when we decided to build the barn," Roger remembered.

Someone the brothers knew had a duplex apartment in Norcross he wanted torn down, and he offered to give them the wood if they did the work. After hauling the lumber back to Suwanee, the Everetts recut the wood to build the barn. Richard McKinley, who owned a lumber company at the time, donated the remaining plywood for the ceiling panels and the floor, and the barn opened right there in the Everetts' backyard in 1970.

Those who came to the barn could hear the Everett Brothers Band play every Saturday night. Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver was the first professional group to play there in the late '70s or early '80s. That band has been followed by The Osborne Brothers, Larry Sparks, The Grascals and other famous bluegrass groups throughout the years.

While the barn served primarily as a bluegrass venue, it has been the site of at least three weddings -- Randall Everett and his wife Evelyn were married there, as well as Ray and Elaine Deaton.

Today, Everett Brothers Music Barn is a little world unto itself, a place where traditional values still hold sway -- alcohol isn't permitted anywhere on the property and disrespectful behavior will quickly get you thrown out -- where a simple love of music brings people together. The community knitted together by that love of music expands whenever someone new walks through the doors.

The barn isn't a ritzy venue. Far from it, with its rows of mismatched chairs and wooden benches, some outfitted with individual, mismatched cushions. One long aisle up the center leads to the stage, where various microphones are lined up resting on numbered stands so the person working the sound system in the back can adjust each one's volume, depending on the voice or instrument taking the lead.

The stage inside the barn is set in stone, quite literally. About eight years ago a friend of Randall's and Roger's donated the gray and light brown stones to rebuild what was a smaller plain, wooden stage at the time.

On Saturday nights, the gathering crowd breathes renewed life into the rustic venue, filling the space with the anticipation of good music. Their respect and appreciation is almost tangible. You can see it on their faces as they follow the melody woven from one instrument to another, from mandolin to banjo to fiddle and back, in the traditional way of bluegrass music. You can hear it in the enthusiasm they bring when clapping their hands together along to an upbeat tune.

"I don't know any better place to be than Everetts Barn on Saturday nights," says McKinley, who has been coming there for the past 40 years.

Nothing much has changed, he says, except the faces in the crowd, some absent and some just older.

"A lot of the people who was here 40 years ago are gone. They've already gone on to be with the Lord," McKinley says. "We're the old folks now."

The crowd at Everetts is mostly older, but as the evening draws on, younger faces come through the doors, many asking for a slice of the homemade cakes or pies at the entrance before they stake out a floor seat, typically the only space left, in the center aisle.

Admission to the barn is by donation -- $15 is the suggested amount these days. Those who can contribute do and those who can't come anyway. No one really seems to pay attention to who's putting money into the donation box and who isn't.

"What makes me proud as much as anything," Roger says, "is we've always run the place just like we are now, operating off donations. We just barely take in enough in to pay for the operation of it and we try to provide a good, clean atmosphere where people can bring their wife and kids."

Every other day of the week save Saturdays, the Everett Brothers Music Barn stands empty, a wooden frame steeped with the sounds of music and conversations that have soaked into the structure and sustained it throughout the years, a historic place even if history takes no note of it in its pages. Historic in its own right. Historic to those who have come through its doors. Historic, certainly, for those who built it both physically and with their continued presence. History still in the making even after 40 years.

"I can't believe we've been doing it that long," Roger says. "It doesn't really seem like we have. I guess time, as the old saying goes, time passes by quickly when you're having fun."

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