2013 was the last year of the creative Drive
Sat & Sun: The weekend after Mother's Day

Brian Barnes: Founding Member

April 1st, 2013 by

Brian BarnesI interviewed Sheralyn Barnes last month, this time I get to talk with musician Brian Barnes, also one of the four founding members of the Creative Drive. We spoke at Brian and Sheralyn’s home in St Paul, where they have many musical instruments resting like dominos near the back wall.

Jenelle Ludwig Krause: When did you really start liking music and wanting to play it?

Brian Barnes: I loved music as a kid. I remember being in 4th grade, over at a friend’s house, listening to the radio and, of all things, I was into Motown. There was a band – The Temptations – I thought they were great. And then I thought, that would be the most fun thing in the entire world… to play music for people.

In 4th or 5th grade, I was already thinking that I wanted to be in a band. This was back when there were variety shows on TV. I remember watching the Smothers Brothers and they had Glen Campbell on. I watched this guy sing and play the guitar and I knew I wanted to do that too. So I signed up for after school guitar lessons and a kid, a high school student I believe, was the teacher. They were terrible classes. I kept asking for guitar lessons and my mom gave my brother and me classical guitar lessons. At the time, I didn’t even know what classical guitar was! I really wanted to play rock and roll.

When I was probably 14, I went to see John Denver in concert. I thought the concert was great and I’m looking at John Denver and looking at all these girls and I thought, “there is something to this; there’s a whole other reason to play music – girls like it!”

The next year, I got more guitar lessons and my brother started playing banjo. Then we both started playing Bluegrass music together – I still remember the book we used. This was a big thing for us.

I played my first bar gig when I was 15. It was a place called the Shoe String Pub on Bards Town Road in Louisville and I really was not supposed to be there because of my age. We had four guys in the band and, as we walked in, I was wearing my parka and hat down low, sandwiched between my brother and the other guy who were kind of big. We set up and started playing. The bartender was looking at me with big eyes and came up and, pointing at me said, “he has to go outside on breaks, he can’t be in here on break because if a cop walks in, we are toast.” So I had to go stand outside in the cold on breaks and then I’d come back in and play. It felt so great to play in front of people who loved it.

Of all your instruments here, is there one you’ve especially enjoyed playing recently?

I’ve been playing ukulele a lot. This one is new. It’s called a KoAloha and it’s made by a family business in Hawaii. Here’s a little tune.

When you were still very young do you remember thinking, “Wow, I’m a full-time musician!”

I got really lucky, we were in the right place at the right time. I moved to Minnesota to join a band called Stony Lonesome with my brother. We had a great mandolin player, a great fiddle player and a fantastic vocalist. We started to gig but it was a little bleak and we were broke. Then, one day we got a call from Peter Ostroushko asking us if we wanted to be on Prairie Home Companion. We thought that was cool! We got to the show and they said that we were going to kick it off. I was 21 years old. We were on stage and my brother leaned over to me and whispers, “G to C and G to B to G and don’t f~*% up” because this is what someone we played with in Louisville used to say, and we always thought it was funny. I was shaking. I was so nervous because on stage you watch the lights go from red to yellow to green and then “On Air.” We kicked it off and then played 2 or 3 songs and the audience loved it.

We had a regular gig at Delano’s Pizza and we had just had a show there the Friday before the Prairie Home Companion show. The next time we played at Delano’s, there’s was a line out the door! Garrison Keillor came to the show. It was unbelievable. People were crazy about the band. We felt great.

Stoney Lonesome ended up being the secondary house band. We were on every other week and that ran for 4 years. It was fun. We’d hang out and get to know everyone on the show. I was still petrified because I knew how many people were listening and knew that if I screwed up 2.5 million people would hear it.

We were talented but luck was part of it. It kept us on our toes and we were able to pull stuff off as the show required.

What are you working on these days?

Oh my! Lots and lots of stuff. A while ago, when Sheralyn was in Los Angeles, she called me up and said, “I met your tribe – it’s the mid-grade non-fiction writers.” When I was at the U of M getting a degree in Cultural Musicology, I realized I enjoyed writing and I was ready to try something new. This type of writing requires the unending curiosity of an 8th grader and the desire to learn and research. Perfect for me! So I’m doing some writing and it seems that my first submission to a publication will be picked up by Cricket magazine.

Brian BarnesI also have some musical projects going. Sheralyn and I have been going to book fairs and so we’ve been hearing a lot of music for kids. Some of it is cool, and some of it is not so great. So we decided to start a kids band and we created Fillibert Binkleby and the Travelers. It’s music about travel and history. I wrote about going to London and all the weird things you see there and another song about the Eiffel Tower and yet another one about how to ask for the bathroom in different countries.

Through writing and music, I’ve also found out that there’s a market for music for book trailers. So I’m working with someone who wants a trailer for a book of poetry. I’ve been lucky to stumble upon great opportunities.

So, to answer your question, there’s all this stuff coming together with writing and music and it’s been keeping me busy.

Where would you like to see your work going in the future?

Sheralyn and I would like to work more together – some kind of a family business that would include our music, my writing, Sherilyn’s illustration.

For so long, our goal was to go out and play gigs. This is now getting de-emphasized and being replaced by creating content. I like it because I’m writing the music and I’m writing the stories. I’m learning a lot and working with other people who know other stuff. We collaborate and it’s fun.

Come talk with Brian and enjoy his music on Saturday at 4 pm at Onkka Pottery.
He is full of stories and beautiful tunes to transport you to other worlds.

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