Austin Chronicle: SXSW Interviews

After decades of mining the underground, banjo master Danny Barnes – who here hosts the Billions Corporation's high-watt Americana showcase – has made the record of his career with the help of Mr. Stadium Tour, Dave Matthews. Pizza Box, on Matthews' homespun ATO label, also features the well-known singer-songwriter occasionally offering backup vocals.

"Typically when I play, there could be a hundred people, and half of them are in bands," relates Barnes, a lanky Texan and onetime Austinite via punkgrass pioneers the Bad Livers who's called Seattle home for the last decade. "Some of them are in huge bands. We had some mutual friends, and Matthews came to a couple of my shows. After, he'd come to me and say: 'I love your songs. I just appreciate what you're doing.'"

The two ran into each other again when Robert Earl Keen's band, which features Barnes, opened some shows for Matthews. A friendship developed to the point that Barnes and his banjo were part of the last DMB album, Big Whiskey & the Groogrux King. In typical, organic fashion, Pizza Box was delivered next.

"I didn't have a record or a deal or anything," Barnes adds. "I was just writing a bunch of songs. I'd get around my friends, like Robert, Bill Frisell, or Dave or guys in his band and play these songs. I started realizing through their response that I really had something that was pretty cool. So at some point Dave said: 'We want to help you make this record. We got a lot of resources, and I want to help you.'"

Continuing his tendency to play with an unusual array of musicians, Barnes will be backed at SXSW by Butthole Surfer bassist Jeff Pinkus and members of his Southern blues-rock outfit Honky. "I'm fortunate," Barnes humbly claims. "I am so blessed because I can do whatever the hell it is I want to do. I don't have this giant machine that I have to keep running, and I take full advantage of that." – Jim Caliguiri

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