Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan A group of men gather in a bedroom of the home beside the Everett's Music Barn established in 1964 "pick" bluegrass music together in a jam session at the historic Old Towne in Suwanee on March 10, 2012. The home served and serves as a place for people of all ages and talent levels to "pick" and play music together.
Everett's Music Barn
Everett's Music Barn was established in 1964 and hosts live bluegrass music every Saturday night.
SUWANEE -- A saved voicemail Tommy Everett has on his cell phone is the easiest way to convey the impact Everett's Music Barn has on visitors and regulars alike.
On a recent Saturday night. Everett, the long-time sound technician and curator of the historic bluegrass music venue, told a story about one of the barn's regulars, who had just passed away.
Helen Daniel's son called Everett within 15 minutes of Daniel passing and said as the family prepared for the funeral, four newspaper articles about the barn fell out of Daniel's Bible.
When Daniel's health began to diminish, she had one request for one of her last nights out: visit the barn.
Daniel then saved the CD Everett gave her on the night she visted, which was dedicated in her honor.
"To me, that's what makes her an Everett family member. That's what this place is," said Everett, who has run sound there since 1978. "Of all the places in the world this poor woman could go, she wanted to come up here and hear a show."
When he relayed the story to the crowd that night, Everett fought back tears.
"It touched her in the last 10 days of her life," he said, and noted that Daniel's story is common. "I could name hundreds."
About a year and a half since the barn temporarily closed, which nearly every regular described as like losing a member of the family, the historic bluegrass venue will celebrate the year anniversary of reopening under new ownership. On April 14, an all-day event will start at 2 p.m. and include a potluck dinner and about a dozen bands.
The reason the barn opened at all was a way to console family members following the death of Jerry Everett, who who was a police officer and kille din the line of duty in 1964. The Everett Brothers Band, or Everett Family Band, started in their house, then spilled out on the porch. Then in 1971, the barn was opened after material to build it was donated from a Norcross apartment complex.
"Literally people just showing up to help," Tommy Everett said. "They wanted to see it happen."
"As the years go by, you make so many friends, then it becomes a habit," said Diane Dunaway, Tommy Everett's sister, who has booked bands for the bulk of the barn's existence. "
The welcoming atmosphere flows from nearly everyone in the building; from Tommy Everett, the longtime sound technician and son of one of the original founders, to sisters Dunaway and Rena McDaniel. McDaniel said the barn welcomes people from all walks of life, and is run like a church.
"It's a lot more than music," McDaniel said.
Before they accepted the property, one of the new owners' conditions was that the Everett family continue to be involved each Saturday. Now owners Jennifer Falk, John Garrett and Kathleen Webb are glad they resuscitated the historic venue that was at one time rumored to be replaced by commercial property or townhomes.
"The people that come, they love the camaraderie, the friendship," Dunaway said. "The night we closed, people were running around getting everyone's phone number so they could call each other, because they didn't have any way else to talk to them, except here."
If the current ownership group didn't work out, a group of musicians, led by Brian Stephens, looked into forming an LLC and pooling money to buy the barn.
Webb, one of the owners, said she didn't remember any of them coming on a Saturday night concert, but couldn't find time with kids growing up. The ownership initially hesitated at the amount of work to be done on the property.
But they couldn't pass up the opportunity because, Webb said, "we got tired of seeing the cool old stuff go away."
"As soon as we started hearing the stories, it was one of those things that we couldn't not do it," Webb said. "We were just so afraid of somebody buying the property, not caring about the history and tearing it down. Or doing something with it that doesn't stick to its purpose."
It's embarrassing, Webb said, to be introduced as an owner, because no one in the ownership group is an Everett, and they had nothing to do with the success or traditions.
"It's just money for us, and really wasn't that much of it to tell you the truth," she said. "If we hadn't snapped it up, somebody else would have. This place has got so much history, and it's important to so many people."
Hardly anything has changed about the iconic building, which welcomes national recording artists and family bands alike. It is unofficially a nonprofit, continues to have free admission and accept donations, and serves sweet tea, coffee and heaping slices of desserts like coconut cake. The secret to its success is family rules such as no alcohol, no rude behavior and be reasonably dressed.
There are similar, yet smaller, versions of Everett's in Dacula and Jefferson, but nothing else compares to the tradition and heritage.
"They'll drive, because they know when their aunt or uncle, or sister or mother is in town from Kentucky or New Zealand, I don't care," Tommy Everett said. "When you drive up here to Everett's Barn, you're going to get entertainment, some killer homemade refreshments, and you don't have to worry about a bunch of fools."
The barn has been around long enough to see youngsters play on stage, then return as national recording artists. Two examples are Alan Bibey and Brian Stephens.
Bibey is a three-time Mandolin Player of the Year by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America. He's also the frontman for the band Grasstowne.
"It gives me chills just coming in this place," said Bibey, who first played with the band Quicksilver in the 1980s.
Stephens has played with the Donna Hughes Band and J.D. Crowe and the New South.
"I've played lots of places around the country, but never been any place like this," Stephens said. "I grew up coming here. It's hard to describe in words."
The barn closed in November 2010 following the passing of Roger Everett, Tommy's father. Tommy's uncle George, through the family sorrow, wasn't interested in keeping the barn going.
It only took a week before the family decided it needed to bring everyone together again, somewhere.Tommy Everett reserved a Saturday night at a community center in Sugar Hill, and assembled the usual refreshments. He called former band members and "family" members, as in anyone who has stepped in the barn is part of the family.
"There are people that are 80 and 90 years old that had nowhere to go," he said. "There's people that didn't go anywhere else, but here on Saturday night. This was their life. Now they couldn't go here."
Seven bands played, and the response was overwhelming.
"This was going to be a get-together to shake hands," Tommy Everett said. "It was the biggest reunion in my life."
It was that night that the Everett family met the eventual new owners. Soon after, in late 2010, as Tommy Everett and the family tried to figure out how to reopen, repairs needed to be done and equipment needed to be found. Soon, an audio company donated speakers from the Gwinnett Center and control panels from Philips Arena. A district attorney donated microphones. A dentist gave $3,000 to purchase coffee makers, a refrigerator and cabinets. That all but answered the new owners' question of whether fans would return.
Like the new owners, the dentist had never been to the venue.
"But thought enough about what this place was that she wanted to help," Tommy Everett said. "She wanted to help preserve it."
The last year and a half has added a significant chapter to the iconic venue, but it's still the same old barn.
"We're doing the same thing we were doing when the (original family members) were alive," Dunaway said. "That's what we want, and that's what the (new) owners want. We want people to be comfortable."