It is one of North Alabama’s hidden treasures. Located only a short distance from the intersection of Highway 36 and Highway 67 heading toward Brewer High School in Morgan County, Joel Gurley and his friends have created a venue for good food, good music and a way to help folks in need.
When Joel was asked about his motivation for building his barn, he quickly said, “It was for the veterans on Memorial Day.” He and his son had the land, and a large group of their friends donated labor to get the structure ready for use. First priority has always gone to the veterans, but after that cause was underway, various music groups were invited to come and play. Things took a downward turn in 2008, when the whole country had a financial crash of sorts. At that point, Joel realized that just having a band to come out and play wasn’t cost effective, so he began to look for worthy causes to support. He understood that having benefits at the barn could do a lot to help a family, so during the last 5 or 6 years, his efforts have been concentrated on veterans, raising money for families, helping the Civitan Club and utilizing different organizations for the cooking.
Music still happens at the barn. Pretty much every time a benefit is held, music groups such as Jeff Whitlow, the Trinity Mountain Boys, Stan Nelson and Hurricane Creek, Fellowship Quartet, and/or Poorhouse Band donate their talents to bring people in to buy the barbecue which in turn provides funds for the families with needs. Joel remembers proudly: “The most that was ever raised in one night was $17,000 to help a family, and we’ve gotten close to that many other times.” He added with a grin, “The highest cake we ever sold brought $440!” In those cases, ladies bake the cakes and then donate them to the cause. When a benefit is held, Joel and his volunteers buy the meat and take only those expenses out of the proceeds. Nothing is taken out for labor. All of that is donated. Every penny of the rest goes to the family being helped.
Other organizations benefiting from Gurley’s Barn include the Brewer football team, the cheerleaders, the Gun Club and the Brewer High Chorus comes in once a year to present their concert. A church in Hartselle offers a tutoring program near the school, and the Barn has helped them raise $9000 a year for the past three years.
On the day Steve and I visited, volunteers were cooking over 70 Boston butts pre-sold by members of the Civitan Club. It was a real pleasure to speak with Civitan members, Cathy Muir and Ed and Merle Higdon. The Somerville Civitan Club stays very busy building wheelchair ramps — sometimes as many as 4 per week — and often their fundraising events are designated to provide resources for those ramps. Ms. Muir stated that there are many veterans living in the Somerville area, which explained the need for so many ramps. Plus, they also join forces with Civitans in Priceville and Hartselle when the need arises for ramps in those towns. However, on this particular day, the sale of Boston butts was specified for the 100th Anniversary of Civitans in Birmingham, representing the Alabama North district. Any money leftover was earmarked to go directly to the Civitan Research Center at U.A.B. (University of Alabama in Birmingham). Its main objective is to find the cause of mental and physical disabilities. I must say here that the two Boston butts we bought were scrumptious. The meat was well-seasoned and smoked to perfection. Ms. Muir also shared a recipe for her version of Brunswick stew using meat from a Boston butt. I hope to try it very soon. If you’re interested, see the recipe at the end of this article. It looks wonderful!
Generally speaking, more money is made when the meat is cooked, portioned out and sold in individual plates, rather than just sold as individual Boston butts. And, with the individual plates, more people can get involved in the projects. Mothers of the students in the school organizations can come in with their potato salads, baked beans and cakes, etc. and help make up the plates. And, according to Joel, “The more people involved in something, the better it is.” Knowing that so many different people come in to help, I was particularly impressed with the high health rating displayed on the wall in the barn’s kitchen.
Joel quickly pointed out the people cooking on the day we were there and reminded us that these projects are very dependent on volunteers. Most at Soggy Bottom are neighbors and friends from the area.
Gurley’s Soggy Bottom Music Barn is available to rent out for events of all kinds, even weddings. Joel says that renters are welcome to bring in whatever they’d like in the way of decorations, etc. He just requires that everything be put back the way it was when the event is over. Joel’s number is (256) 606-7083 to make a reservation. He welcomes your inquires.
His next big event on the calendar will be held the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, probably the one he looks forward to more than any of the others. In addition to the great food and music, there will be a program honoring area veterans. He said anyone who loves America is welcome to come. Who could resist an invitation like that?
This one man with his desire to help people reminds me so much of the illustration of tossing a pebble into a pond creating continual ripple effects. Thank you, Joel, for inspiring me. I thank you for your generosity to the people of Morgan County, and I wish you much success in the days ahead.
Cathy Muir’s Stew:
2 lbs Hamburger meat, browned and drained
1 lb BBQ pork, cooked and pulled
1/2 lb boned chicken, cooked and pulled
2 lg onions
2 cans cream corn
2 cans white corn whole
1 can tomato sauce lg
1 lg bottle of good ketchup (I bet that means Heinz)
Tabasco to taste
salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients and cook in slow cooker for 4 hours on high or on stove top for 2 hours at med heat stirring often.