West End's Tony Barnes Brings His Sound to Farmers Day
By Katherine Smith
Special to The Pilot
Tony Barnes staples into country music, but his small-town humility and located faith in God give him humble rarity.
"When I'm not playing music, I'm fishing," he says on his way home from a Wilmington fishing trip. Songs on his solo album, "Tony Barnes," contrast between Mexican beach music and tributes to his late cousin and dear friend.
Barnes will be performing Saturday, Aug. 4, from noon to 12:30 p.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. on the Railroad Stage at Robbins Farmers Day.
West End was the backyard for Barnes and his 6-month-elder cousin, Matt Barnes. The two began playing guitar when they were 14, Tony -following Matt's lead before taking private lessons and teaching himself.
"I remember going to Matt's garage, and he would be playing this Lynard Skynard "'Free Bird' documentary," Barnes says. "We'd sit around and play music, and then watch the documentary. We did that so many times, because we wanted to figure out how they did it; how this works."
In 2002, Tony Barnes and family friends Jeff and Ryan Harris moved to Nashville to deal their new band, McKenzies Mill. Matt Barnes could not complete the group that had played in a four-piece band for years. He was in the Marine Reserves and had to be in Raleigh for one weekend a month.
"For two years, we didn't talk at all," Barnes says. "Then we had this show, opening for Diamond Rio in Charlotte, and Matt showed up, grinning from ear to ear."
Matt Barnes filmed much of the sunny raucous weekend that he spent with the band. He came to another opening in Charlotte the next weekend.
"He called me in the middle of the next week," Barnes says. "We talked on the phone for 25 minutes, the longest ever. Right before we got off the phone, he said 'I love you,' and I said 'I love you.' That was the first time we had ever said that to each other. He died in a traffic accident the next night."
Death's weight clung heavy to Barnes. It jostled him to write "Houston," a tribute song to Matt Houston Barnes. The song thunders with the loathing of shock, until the staggering lines "But often times I lie and dream. And you're lost when you ought not be.
But then I feel you shining down on me and I know that we must roll." It closes with the unremitting but accepting sadness - "The songs were never written, the stories never told, you left it up to me to tell it all alone. I hope I did you justice. I hope I made you proud."
Barnes pulled together a tribute album for his friends and family a year after his cousin's death.
"They said 'You know, you sort of sound like him,'" he says. "That was the inspiration for me to start singing. I just wish he was here to see all of this."
Since then, Nashville's luster became pallid to Barnes.
"I feel like, in one way, that 'wanting to be famous thing' was fulfilled," he says. "I lived broke for five years and loved it. But now there's no more aspiration to be famous. I just want to make a living."
Barnes is now one of many middle-class middle-road musicians who can probably be grouped in America's largest industry of service.
"I get to travel and do what I love," he says. "It's stressful, but it's an honest living, and it's the best job I've ever had."
He has foot-slogged through 10 Southern states on his guitar.
He settled in his own direction after a salty -summer of playing music full-time at the Isla Grand Beach Resort in 2010 in South Padre Island, Texas. He packed up his Mitsubishi for what he calls his "Jimmy Buffett experience," and mentions it in his song "So What, I'm Drunk."
"I play fun songs, funny songs, you know. They're not going to change the world, but you'll dig them," he says. "I play songs the way they feel good to me."
This doesn't imply a lack of depth as seen in songs like "Houston," "Life" and "Ride on Brother." It does tint his multiple cover songs with what he calls "folky pop," like his cover of "Wagon Wheel." He's won contests, like by his "Push and Pull" instrumental in honor of Stevie Ray Vaughan's birthday, a tribute that won him Broadjam.com's guitar solo contest.
"My ultimate dream is to write music and sell it to other musicians," he says. "I write for myself and I enjoy playing, but I don't really consider myself a front man."
At Robbins Farmers Day, Barnes will be accompanied by his harmonica player, Charles "Truck Sugar" Starcher.
"My biggest inspirations and support are my parents, Lloyd and Barbara Barnes," he says. "I'd also like to thank my friend Daniel Wescott for helping me out so much on the website and with the T-shirts.
"I'm not trying to sell my persona when I play a show," he says. "I'm just looking forward to being so close to my hometown to play for everybody. I just hope everybody who comes out has a good time."
For more information, visit www.tonybarnesmusic.com.
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