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April 15, 2014

From Tragedy to Tradition: Fifty Years of Bluegrass in Suwanee

BluegrassA mild mannered guy in his 40s with a guitar case in his hand pushed past me and through the door that led into the kitchen. As he opened it I could hear the sound of a spirited bluegrass jam coming from somewhere back in the house.

A typical scene on a typical Saturday at Everett’s Music Barn in Suwanee GA, a place that has hosted Bluegrass music and its passionate practitioners for some fifty years now. A typical scene, yes, but not a typical place, and definitely not a typical backstory.

Everett's Barn in LaceFifty years ago, on April 17th 1964, Jerry Everett, a 27-year-old Gwinnett County police officer, was handcuffed and shot with his own gun by a fellow officer. The traitorous deputy had been caught red-handed participating in a car theft ring, and killed Everett and two other policemen when they stumbled onto his illegal operation.

Jerry’s brothers Randall and Roger were bluegrass musicians, and as the murder investigation stretched from weeks into months they and their friends began gathering at the family home on Saturdays to play music and offer comfort and solace to the grieving family. This started a tradition of bluegrass musicians coming to the house on Saturday evenings to play music and enjoy each other’s company. That tradition continues to this day, as every Saturday evening people show up from miles around to listen, play, and enjoy the fellowship.

Raffle PlateSo it was that this past Friday and Saturday the Mixed Bag team trekked up to Suwanee to document the 50th anniversary of Everett’s Music Barn. The Barn is located behind the Everett’s old homestead on a corner lot not far from downtown Suwanee. Over the years the Saturday night jam sessions outgrew the house, and the Barn was constructed in the backyard in 1972 with salvaged material from a demolished apartment complex.

There was a bunch of great music being played all over the place. Not only were bands playing on the stage of the Barn itself, but constantly shifting groups of players gathered in various rooms of the house and in the yard as well, to play old favorites and learn new numbers.

BanjoWe filmed everything we could, and interviewed family and friends about the importance of the Barn, the music, and the Everett family in their lives. We also filmed the memorial service for Jerry Everett and the two other officers, which featured several hundred local law enforcement officers as well speeches by the mayor of Suwanee and the Public Safety Director of Gwinnett County. By the end of the service, after the playing of taps and the formal calling of the officers home over the police radio, there were few dry eyes to be seen (including ours!).

Over the next few months we’ll be producing several pieces that focus on different aspects of the Barn and the story behind it.

-Jim Threlkeld

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