Suwanee’s Everett brothers began learning to play music in 1964, around the time that brother Jerry was killed in the line of duty while serving the Gwinnett County Police Department. The music comforted their grieving parents. As they continued to play, friends and neighbors started coming over to listen or join in.
From that humble, human beginning—borne from the simple need to console the grieving—came a musical institution that’s now closing in on 40 years and still going strong, every Saturday night. Despite this sleepy town gradually becoming an Atlanta suburb, with cul-de-sacs and strip malls to match, people still come to Everett’s Music Barn from far and wide to hear some of the best bands perform bluegrass and “old timey” Southern music. While one crowd fills the barn to hear the performance, another crowd gathers in the farmhouse with their own instruments to play and learn.
Roger Everett moved to Suwanee with his parents and siblings in 1956, when Main Street was still a dirt road. They farmed the land where the barn now sits and where their many guests park their cars. A decade later they built an addition to the house with a small stage, but the crowd outgrew it in only a few years. They built the barn to hold about 150 people when it opened in 1970. Most Saturday nights the barn is full.
The original Everett Brothers Band consisted of Roger Everett, Randall Everett, Leroy Everett, Pauline Everett Deaton and Pauline’s son, Ray Deaton. The Everett Brothers Band still plays, although Roger is the only remaining brother. They open for each guest band. On nights when there is no guest band, they give a concert themselves, playing in the traditional bluegrass style of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs.
Word about the venue has gotten around to touring bluegrass bands. Everett can count on one hand the major bluegrass musicians who haven’t played on his stage. National touring bands like Steep Canyon Rangers, The Grascals, Claire Lynch as well as David Davis and the Warrior River Boys all have played at the barn. All varieties of bluegrass music, from the most traditional to the most contemporary, have been represented there.
The word is out
It’s not the money that draws performers to the little red barn. Everett asks only for a $15 donation when a guest band is performing. It’s the atmosphere, the attentive listeners, and the friendly people that motivate even the most sought-after bands to make a stop. “It’s always been a real family-style atmosphere. It’s not the biggest place you’ll ever play but it’s an enthusiastic place. They have a faithful crowd here—a lot of faces I’ve seen for 15 years,” says David Davis.
Many of today’s acclaimed bluegrass musicians owe a debt of gratitude to the Everetts for helping them get their start. Roger’s nephew Ray Deaton, a well-known bluegrass bassist and vocalist, and Ray’s son Jeff of the band Honi Deaton and Dream both got their start at the barn. Russell Moore says the Everetts helped him when he was starting his band IIIrd Tyme Out, a bluegrass group that has won seven consecutive “Vocal Group of the Year” awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association. The band performed at the barn this March. “We like to stay close to where we came from because this place helped us out a lot early on in this band’s career,” Moore explains. The Everetts allowed Moore and his band to use their sound system, rehearse and work up new songs in the barn.
The farmhouse and barn continue to be a special place for budding bluegrass musicians. While experienced bluegrass musicians enjoy just “pickin’ and singing,” the Saturday night jam sessions also serve as lessons for those just beginning. “A lot of them hang in there with it and learn how to play,” Everett says. “It’s pretty neat to see all that coming back. There’s a lot of guys over there in the house that play pretty good, and they always take the time to show them stuff. Everyone gets along real well and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Everett is not too surprised that the barn has remained so popular even as the town has become more urban. “There’s so many people who are really hungry for having a good place to go and bring their family and kids, where you don’t have any drinking and that kind of stuff going on,” he adds. “There are not many places left to do that, and we’ve always had it that way.”
Despite all the changes, bluegrass still resonates in this community. Although they’re outnumbered by newcomers, some residents have lived there since they were born and remember the country town it was before the interstate brought suburban sprawl. Throughout the South, folks are looking for the authenticity of the old days in the midst of progress and change. At least here, they can find it in bluegrass music.
“It’s real,” Moore explains, pointing to the themes of simple living and heartfelt emotions set against an authentic sound. “I think it’s just the realness of the music. It’s not electrified and made to sound other than what it is. It’s all acoustic instruments and very earthy tones.”
A community asset
Denise Brinson, director of Economic and Community Development for the City of Suwanee, explains that Everett’s Music Barn is an invaluable part of the town’s culture. “It was here long before most of the people who now live here. When it started there were less than 2,000 people living here and now there are more than 16,000,” Brinson says. “When you go there, it’s kind of like stepping back in time. What’s cool about it is it’s not fabricated at all.”
Everett says the city has always been supportive. The two of them share a common goal: to encourage a family-friendly atmosphere that upholds the community’s old traditions. The city has worked hard to maintain Suwanee’s small town feel by preserving the Old Town area and 300 acres of green space, as well as creating parks and events to foster a strengthened sense of community.
A new pedestrian underpass connects Old Town Suwanee and the new Town Center, a gathering place that features an open, grassy park and amphitheater for outdoor concerts and a string of restaurants and shops. The PlayTown Suwanee children’s park on Main Street and the many beautiful parks and trails are meant to make the city both enjoyable for adults and memorable for children.“It’s not just music, it’s not just the historic old town, it’s not any one thing,” Brinson says, “but in total it creates a pretty neat fabric.”