'Twang Town Throw Down': Sunrise Theater Hosts Country/Rock Musicians
Nashville meets West End once again Saturday night, Sept. 13, when McKenzie's Mill, a Southern rock/country group, returns to the Sandhills for a Twang Town Throw Down at the Sunrise Theater. The show, which carries the nickname used by country musicians for Nashville, also features Kalamity Jane, another Southern rock/country group.
Brothers Justin and Ryan Harris, and Tony Barnes, who grew up in West End, are the original members of McKenzie's Mill, and since moving to Nashville in 2006, have added three more players to the band. The group regularly travels throughout the Southeast, as well as performing in Nashville, and among its over 100 appearances last year, played at Mint Juleps in Southern Pines.
McKenzie's Mill had also been scheduled to appear at a fundraiser put on by a local group known as MacPac (Moore Advocates for Compassion) for Hugs Across America about a year ago. Unfortunately, the outdoor event was rained out.
Justin Harris felt so badly that the MacPac'ers had worked so hard to put the event together and didn't have anything to show for it, that he and the others in McKenzie's Mill decided to devote a portion of the proceeds from this year's Twang Town Throw Down to Hugs Across America -- a national organization that provides teddy bears to comfort children in crisis.
"I've wanted to perform at the Sunrise for awhile," says Harris, "and this is going to be a family-friendly, family-oriented show. It will give people who don't ordinarily have a chance to hear us an opportunity to enjoy a performance that starts at 7 p.m. and will last until around 10. And I am bringing in professional sound and lighting technicians to help us produce some really great entertainment."
Justin Harris got his first guitar when he was 19 because he wanted to write a song for his girl friend.
"It came out a lot better than what I expected, and that was the beginning of McKenzie's Mill," he says. "My brother was a singer, and he was a terrific addition to my songwriting efforts, and then we asked Tony to join us. Ryan and I do a lot of harmony, and we base our show on singing together."
The other group that is appearing at the Twang Town Throw Down is led by John Karl, who was the fifth person Justin, Ryan and Tony had met upon arriving in Nashville. They were Invited to a birthday party for Bob Hicks, an older songwriter who had had a couple of hits with Loretta Lynn. There they met John.
"We were some of the younger crowd at the party, and we just sat around for a couple of hours passing the guitar back and forth," says Harris.
Justin Harris plays acoustic guitar with McKenzie's Mill, backed up by drums, bass, two electric guitars -- one played by Tony Barnes -- and his brother Ryan on harmonica. John Karl, who was originally from upstate New York, has a band comprised of drums, bass, an electric guitar, and keyboard. He plays acoustic guitar and does vocals.
Earlier this year the two bands partnered at Nashville's Cadillac Ranch and appeared weekly with the Twang Town Throw Down, hosting guest bands and guest songwriters. Harris says that contrary to what the public thinks, it isn't the singers and other stars, but rather the songwriters that are the fuel that makes the engine run in Nashville.
Writing all their own material and their own songs, the Harris brothers tend to include lyrics that are about their hometown of West End and growing up.
The band's name comes from the road on which their parents live and where they grew up. There are a lot of references to Moore County and home.
Some of the more popular McKenzie's Mill numbers are "Runaway Train," "It's all Going to Turn Around," a ballad written by Ryan, and "God Bless the Southern Man."
"That one is a song about being proud of where you come from," Harris says.
CDs of their albums, T-shirts, license plates and other McKenzie's Mill memorabilia will be on sale during intermission, and after the show at the Sunrise, there will be still more entertainment by McKenzie's Mill and Kalamity Jane to come.
Pat O'Donnell, the owner of O'Donnell's Pub on New Hampshire Avenue, not far from the theater, is hosting an "After-Theater Acoustic party."
According to Harris, O'Donnell was a great help in pulling together all the details to make the bands' appearances at the Sunrise happen, and so they are more than happy to do an extra show at O'Donnell's.
Justin Harris and John Karl will be featured playing together with their acoustic guitars unplugged, and all that's needed for admission to the event is the ticket stub for the Twang Town Throw Down.
Tickets for the show at the Sunrise are $20, and can be obtained at the theater box office the day of the show, or in advance at Billy's Music World in Aberdeen, O'Donnell's Pub in Southern Pines, or at Harris Printing in West End.
Show-goers are reminded that since the show is a fundraiser for Hugs Across America, there will be a collection station set up to receive donations of new (not used) teddy bears that are 8 to 14 inches tall (the perfect huggable size).
Contact Mary Elle Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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