Barry Penny was one of those musicians that you couldn’t get to stop playing. You could tell he loved to play his guitar. I have never seen anyone play the guitar like he did.
I met Barry at Elkton valley where we used to have our trailer through my good friend Wayne. I was a little intimidated by him. He played so well and didn’t say all that much. The first time we played together he invited me to a pub in Airdrie to play in a jam he hosted every Wednesday night. I was reluctant to go because musically I didn’t match up to these guys. I showed up but left my guitar in my truck. I was just going to listen for awhile. Barry asked me where my guitar was and when I told him he handed me his guitar and said “you’re up”. He didn’t leave me much choice. He knew I wanted to play and he knew I needed a little push.
He invited me to a jam in Airdrie the following Saturday night and I showed up not knowing anyone. We played for a bit and then went downstairs to take a break. We were standing together when a lady walked up to us and asked Barry if we were brothers. He promptly said yes, introduced us and gave me a big kiss on my cheek. I will never forget that night.
Although I didn’t know much about his personal life I saw the way he was around kids. What a gentle man he was.
There is a song that Barry used to sing and every time we got together I would ask him to play it for me. I have never heard the song done by the original artist. I only know Barry’s version. He played that song with so much feeling it mesmerized me when he did it.
This last September I was alone playing my guitar up at my trailer. It was late and I had quite a few drinks in me. I said out loud “Barry, I am going to play Something’s Broken in My heart. It’s not going to be done the way you do it but I know you’ll be ok with it”. When I was done I sat back and thought that there’s not too many people that come into your life that touch you the way Barry did me. He was a great guy and I am proud to name this foundation after him. I will always miss him dearly.
~Gary Freeman (Founder) Barry Penny Foundation
When asked to write this, I hesitated, as how can one put into words a friendship that had no boundaries. Some people come into our lives for reasons we cannot define. They become a part of who we are and who we will be. Through my life I have had a great many acquaintances and fewer friends. I connected with Barry on a level that rarely would one, in a lifetime, have the opportunity to experience.
I have loved music all my life and have had the pleasure of meeting and playing with many beginner, wonderful and or exceptional musicians, musical lovers and vocalists of all gendre. I spent many an evening, sitting in my family room, garage or on the deck, de-stressing with a guitar in my hand and a melody in my mind. I instilled the love of music in my four children while they were young. When my daughter Courtney was in high school she made a new friend, Sarah. Sarah was often at the house, and would come upon my melodic attempts. “You need to meet my mom and her friends” she would say. “Like you, they play music all the time. You have so much in common”. Little could I know of the wonders she spoke of. Finally, I kicked up the gumption and met Heather and Barry at one of their Friday night Jams.
That first night, I knew, I had met that rare individual, that person that you search for, for all your life. They read you, they know you, they think and breathe like you. That friend, that knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. Barry inspired, he supported, he praised, he shared, he loved and he lived! Barry was open, honest, respectful and dedicated. His love of family, Heather, laughter, music and life was always front and centre in how Barry lived day to day. Barry was my friend, my brother, my family.
For a couple of years we were so blessed to experience the joy of getting together, at times just Barry, Heather and I, and then the weekends with fellow friends and musicians. It was the highlight of the week. The Wednesday nights at Grumpy’s in Airdrie, the summer weekends at Elkton Valley, the winter Friday nights at Heather’s. The circle got bigger, and the music got better, and friendships were made. Music was the common denominator – there were no strangers, no age difference, no skill level – Barry welcomed all into the circle. The night never ended with that last song, no it was “Just five more songs Buddy”. Some of those nights we never slept and our fingers bled the next day. What I wouldn’t give today, for that pain!
Living takes us in directions that are hard on friendships. For Diane and I, life took us to Camrose, Barry and Heather to Pincher Creek. From living just blocks apart, we were now several hours apart. I was acutely aware of what I was missing, who I was missing and jealous of those who could still experience the music and Barry. Those opportunities to get together were painfully further and further between. The beauty was that when we did get together, it was not just one night, it would be a weekend, days running into nights, nights into days, song after song, story after story. There was always a great sadness when the time ended, but an appreciation for the depth of the friendship and the knowledge we would meet again!
Taking some of the words from the Guy Clark Song “Stuff”:
“Stuff that’s real. Stuff you feel. The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall. I had a pretty good friend who seen me at my worst. He couldn’t tell if I’m a blessing or a curse. But he always showed up when the chips were down. That’s the kind of stuff I like to be around”.
The Barry Penny Foundation stands for everything Barry was. A few years back we were all at a Kimmapii Kids fundraiser, and the event was closing. There was a group of musicians up and they started singing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”. This song stretched for an incredibly long time as Barry kept welcoming more and more musicians, vocalists and kids up to join. Another verse, another chorus, another instrument, another voice, 9 or 10 guitars, the banjo, a violin, the mandolin, the stand-up bass, a fiddle, the drums, and the yodeler. There had to be 30 people gathered for this moment. Then the audience was singing, the room standing. Time stood still as every one came together in harmony! This was Barry. This is the grass roots of what the Barry Penny Foundation is about – music – friendship – harmony. It starts with kids! I ask you all – “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”?
Barrys’ memories fill the holes in our hearts, his legacy in his family, Heather, the music and friendships he developed. Barry, you were one of kind. I will always, always miss you. Barry, if I could have just one more song!