Here’s your chance to help out a deserving couple, music fans
As far as I can tell from our digital records, the first in-depth interview with Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle was in the May 22, 1998 edition of The Daily Times.
It was for a story about the old French Holler Fest. At the time, the couple worked as the proprietors of the Appalachian Music Exchange on East Broadway Avenue and were just getting involved with “the fairly new radio station located in a 24-foot camper at the Fox Inn Campground in Norris,” WDVX-FM.
Fifteen years later, Barbra and Pirkle still serve as musical ambassadors for East Tennessee, calling Walland home and playing everywhere from churches to taverns to campgrounds to barn dances, all in the name of making hands clap, feet dance and folks smile. They’re some of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve met in the local music scene, and I’m honored to have filled the pages of this section over the years with tales of their adventures and accomplishments.
They opened their lives to me, and when I was crawling back up out of the gutter more than a decade ago, they never judged where I’d come from or what I was going through. The first time they invited me out to their Barb Hollow home, we talked for a couple of hours about life and music and what it means to be a decent human being trying to make our little corner of the world a better place.
Over the past several years, they’ve worked hard to do just that. If there’s a benefit taking place around town, chances are their names have been attached to it at one time or another. If a friend or neighbor falls upon hard times, they’ve been the first to send up the flag, to rally the community to pitch in and do whatever can be done to make things better. They have good hearts and souls, and I’m blessed to call them friends.
At the end of January, however, they found themselves in the unenviable position of being the ones in need. Shortly after 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 30, a massive red oak tree on the hillside above their home succumbed to heavy soaking rains. The ground gave way, the roots lifted up without so much as a groan of warning and the house exploded around them.
If they’d been anywhere else in the house besides the living room, chances are they wouldn’t be alive. At the very least, one or both would have been hospitalized. I went out there the next day, and the destruction, simply put, was mind-boggling.
The bedroom ceiling fan — and much of the ceiling itself — was on top of their bed. A branch speared through the kitchen ceiling and stabbed the refrigerator. The bathroom wall was pushed inward by a good six inches. The electric box was ripped from the side of the house. The heating and air conditioning unit was knocked off its pad like a child’s toy.
Both were still in shock, splitting their time between phone calls to the insurance company and picking through what belongings they could salvage. But already, friends were by their side: Scott Bell (of Scrappy and Pappy’s Erector Service) and Eric Keeble, Barbra’s old bandmate in the Drunk Uncles and a Barb Hollow neighbor, offered support both moral and physical. Meanwhile on the Internet, friends were already kicking around ways to help them out.
Carie Ofori set up a donation website (the link is above), and fellow singer-songwriter Scott McMahan was already on the ball organizing a benefit concert in Knoxville. But a few of us couldn’t let calamity befall a Blount County couple without putting together a Blount County relief effort.
And so, Friday night at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson, some friends both local and nearby will rock the house to help with the rebuilding fund. The house has been totaled, and fortunately Barbra and Pirkle own property on top of the hillside from which that old tree toppled. They plan to rebuild there, but they’re both working-class musicians on limited income, and as anyone who writes a mortgage check every month knows, getting a home built from the ground up is an expensive process.
Already, the rebuilding fund is doing well, but more needs to be done — which is where you come in. Friday night’s concert is only $10, and the entertainment is top-notch: Knoxville rock band the Tim Lee 3, which was the focus of last week’s Weekend cover story ... The Drunk Uncles, the band Barbra co-founded with singer-songwriter Mike McGill (who, coincidentally, is on the cover this week with his other project, The Barstool Romeos) ... and the Cathouse Prophets, the unofficial “house” band at “The Shed” that features owner/proprietor Scott Maddux.
It’s a great cause for a great couple. And being the entertainment guru that I am, I promise you that you’ll get your money’s worth in terms of entertainment. And you’ll come away from the show feeling good about what you’ve done to help out two good people. After all, going back to that 1998 story, it was Pirkle who pointed out, “This is a beautiful town.”
Yes it is, and it’s filled with beautiful people. Two of them need your help on Friday night. Please consider showing up.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.