Long-time area musician Gary Barnes' career will come to a close Saturday evening at the Emma Kelly Theater.
Barnes will perform his final concert before a packed house as friends, family and followers gather to wish him well.
Barnes turned 70 on June 4 and decided it was time to hang up his guitars and concert gigs after more than 50 years of entertaining.
He has put together a 10-member band of friends and area musicians to help him say farewell. They have
practiced weekly at the home of Jimmy Spiers in Brooklet for the past four months, honing their skills and abilities just for Barnes’ final hurrah.
Barnes and the band will perform songs from various genres, including pop, rock and country.
“We’ll be doing the songs that have been most requested over the years,” he said. “I feel that people will be really blessed by the songs we’ve picked out to perform and will enjoy a great show. I wanted to go out in style, and the band is allowing me to do just that.”
Ray Miller, a backup singer in Barnes’ band, will be the master of ceremonies Saturday.
“As Gary has always said, ‘Let’s do this again, just for the fun of it! Let’s give it our best, guys,’” said Miller, as they started practice Sunday afternoon.
The room where they rehearsed was a walk back into musical history, including posters of such rock icons as Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
Many will remember the “Dream Team Band,” which backed Russ Lanier’s “Elvis” concert recently at the Emma Kelly Theater. They have reunited with Barnes for this concert to send him off in style.
Barnes’ life began in Bulloch County 70 years ago in the Bay Gall community. His family traces back five generations living in the county. Many of them were musicians and singers and played for all types of gatherings — from front-porch sing-a-longs to full-blown concerts at the American Legion and the Hilltop Club in Hopeulikit.
“That’s where my mom and dad actually met,” Barnes said. “I caught the music bug early on watching and listening to my family play and perform. I grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry, but it was Elvis Presley and rock ’n’ roll that really caught my attention.
“My dad taught me to play guitar and my mom taught me to sing,” he continued. “In the seventh grade, I entered a talent show sponsored by the Bulloch County Farm Bureau and won first prize ($5). That was in 1956. In 1957, our FFA instructor at Statesboro High recruited members for a band to compete nationally. Out of that experience, several of the band members created The Cyclones, which would play from 1957 to 1960. We were actually the first rock ’n’ roll band in Bulloch County.”
The Cyclones included Barnes, Clark Hodges, Ashley Boyd, Eddie Lane, Lewis Hendrix and Danny Tanner.
“Our first gig was at the Statesboro Recreation Center on Max Lockwood Drive,” Barnes said. “In 1958-59, we were selected as the Junior Fire Marshal States Band of Georgia and toured Georgia playing for conventions and meetings. Our adviser for that was Leroy ‘Shorty’ Shealy.
“We played the ‘Happy Dan’ TV show in Savannah on WSAV and Channel 6 in Augusta,” he continued. “Both stations had live TV dance parties. We played both shows on a number of occasions. We also backed up a lot of other bands and recording artists, including Conway Twitty in Albany, Ga.”
Spiers said: “Our history together in music runs deep and long. We love what we do and will be saddened to see old Gary go.”
“In Statesboro,” Barnes added, “we played the Shrine Club, the American Legion, the Moose Club, the Holiday Inn lounge, the Elks Lodge and the Country Club, just to name a few.”
Barnes and his bands have played for or rubbed shoulders with some of the best in music, including The Allman Brothers Band, Emma Kelly at her piano bar in Savannah and Gene Stuckey.
“I am celebrating 56 years as a musical performer in Bulloch County,” Barnes said. “My day job has been with the same company, now known as Brodie International, for the past 52 years.”
The Averitt Center for the Arts, the Emma Kelly Theater and friends and supporters of Barnes helped to bring this Saturday’s concert to fruition.
“It’ll be a great time in the ’Boro,” said Mike Crews, a member of the Dream Team Band. “I’ve been with Gary, playing bass guitar for a long time.”
Background singers include Hadley Campbell, Bonnie Clark, Jeanne Crews and Miller. Musicians include Barnes, Spiers, Jackie Skinner, Mike Crews, Rhett Mouchett and Casey Yarbrough.
“To be a professional musician and to also work full-time in a business career for over 50 years is quite a feat,” said Barnes’ wife, Julie. “He is a true Statesboro and Bulloch County treasure.”