Music Musings: Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes

Hundreds of years ago, as European society awoke from the Dark Ages and launched into a period of unprecedented creativity, they formulated an ideal that we carry strongly with us today.  A Renaissance Man was someone who could seemingly do and exceed at anything they tried.  In the style of scientist, painter, sculptor and philosopher Leonardo da Vinci, it was a person that society held up as a supreme achiever in several fields.  Even today, so many of our music and movie stars strive for this legacy, but only a precious few actually reach it to become Renaissance Men and Women.

And then there are those that have been on that path for their whole life.  As this incredible feature article by Dave Ramsey of the Arkansas Times notes, if there was ever a candidate for that title in the 21st Century, it would be musician, park ranger, former NFL player, alligator wrestler, and actor Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes (full disclosure… he’s also my uncle) .  Here’s a snippet from the feature, but it’s definitely worth a read of the whole thing…

When Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes arrived in New Orleans almost 20 years ago, he felt an uncanny recognition when he heard people speaking Creole French.

“I picked it up right away,” Barnes said. “When I was a kid I used to have all these dreams in Creole. I didn’t know what it was, I just knew it was some kind of different language. When I moved to Louisiana, I knew.”

Barnes has always been attuned to dreams. He was born in Benton in 1963 under a prophet sign, according to his grandmother, a Louisiana-born “fix-it lady” who did traditional healings and read stars for people in their community. “She told me I would have dreams and visions, and she taught me how to interpret them,” Barnes said. Laughing, he added, “and she told me not everyone would believe me, or understand.”

Whatever the cause, it’s hard to deny that Barnes has found his path. Nowadays the boy who used to dream in Creole in Benton sings in Creole in New Orleans as one of the most prominent musicians in zydeco, a traditional music form originating in southwest Louisiana. Barnes — a multi-instrumentalist who plays accordion, harmonica, rub board, piano, talking drum and more — fronts Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots. Though Sunpie is a popular mainstay on the zydeco circuit, Barnes’ music isn’t contained by a single genre — he mixes in Delta blues, gospel, boogie woogie, R&B, and West African and Caribbean influences. He calls it “Afro-Louisiana.”

Barnes, in addition to being a musician and composer, is a naturalist, a full-time National Park ranger, a black-and-white portrait photographer, a television and film actor and a former professional football player with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I’m not interested in being restricted,” Barnes said. “I’m interested in life.”

Interested in life isn’t even the half of it with Barnes.  He’s living life as full and great as possibly anyone on the planet.  After just completing a national tour with musical legends Sting and Paul Simon, Barnes is back home playing capacity crowds in and around the Crescent City.  You also may have caught him on HBO’s tv series Treme.  But wherever the wind takes him, Sunpie definitely knows how to bring the house down.  Be on the lookout for him!!

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