Nearly There - Joel Barnett
From Upstate to down South.
29 Oct 2014
Interview, Intro and photos by Andrew White
I hadn't met Joel till he showed up in Nashville a few years ago. He was passing through town with his fellow FBM riders Kenny Horton, Evan Venditti, and Tom Blythe. Having never met any of them, and had no real interaction with FBM, I don't know how we crossed paths. But regardless they showed up to my house after riding needing a place to crash and a good bar recommendation. They were all nice- no surprise. I guess I generalize anyone associated with FBM as a tallboy chugging trucker hat type of guys, which says nothing about temperament I know. They were all just that, minus Joel (I can't say what his chosen hat was at the time, it very well could have been a trucker, but I'm referring to the PBR guzzling).
Joel was the smiley Christian kid who was part of the FBM crew. It's really not a character trait that catches my attention for the most part. But I thought the dichotomy of this kid being part of one of the historically wildest team in BMX, and remaining sober, intriguing. This kid has to be super cool to hang with that crew. I learned very quickly that he was, in fact, super cool. Wholly positive, dedicated to his bike, and down for whatever comes, Joel rolled with it. I was impressed. They all left the next day after a night at my favorite bar. The bar actually resonated so much with those dudes that Joel drank a beer. A Guinness of course; a testament to his fledgling beer experience at the time.
I still hadn't even really watched Joel's riding at the time outside of a few Props clips here and there. But I knew he was a solid rider. Fast forward a year, and I hear Joel is moving to Nashville. When I met up with him for the first couple times as cohabitants of the town, it was quickly apparent that Joel had evolved. He had quit FBM and was now riding for Fit, and had shed his religion-as-a-trait. He was quickly adopted by our riding crew, hung out with us in the evenings regularly, and started doing his own thing outside of BMX. Throwing house shows, making artwork, furniture, etc. He was no longer the token straight laced kid from upstate, though his underlying positivity and religious views hadn't changed. He was still as genuine as ever.
I had now seen him ride in person plenty, hung out with him lots, and figured it would be a good idea to put two and two together.
Tell me the basics.
Joel Barnett, 26 years old, originally from West Auburn, Pennsylvania.
How long have you been riding?
Oh man, gotta be about 18 years now.
What got you into BMX?
Really it was just getting yard sale bikes and we had this hill in the front yard going off the driveway. I'd pedal at the hill and launch into the driveway. Over time just started building little ramps and see how far we could launch them. It just unraveled from there.
Did you discover it organically? Or had you seen any footage photos of real BMXers at the time?
At first I hadn't seen anything really substantial at all. I remember once I started getting into it a bit more my dad picked up an old Ride BMX on one of his trips to Texas. That was the first time I'd actually seen it in a magazine.
Were your parents always supportive of you riding BMX?
Yeah, they 100% got my back all the way. They'd push me. They've always been supportive.
In what ways would they push you?
They'd take me to all the contests I wanted to. Like all the La Revolutions in the area. Always driving to the skateparks on all our vacations. We'd plan out skatepark stops.
So you had the stereotypical minivan mom dropping you and your buddies off at the park?
Yeah all the time. I would actually go to school and my mom would pick me up and we'd head straight to East Coast Terminal before anyone else got there. I'd change out of my school clothes in the really ratty bathroom and go ride for six hours.
Who were the people you looked up to?
Growing up, I think Seth Kimbrough was my first real influence and someone I looked up to. Bruce Crisman, Corey Martinez, Gary Young were all first ones I liked. But the one that started it all was Mat Hoffman. He was the man from the start.
It was all the Christian dudes?
Yeah, yeah. It was definitely a big part in my life. Their riding style was so unique to me.
Was it more appealing knowing they were Christian dudes championing the cause?
Yeah. I mean in a sport like BMX it wasn't something that you saw a lot of. So having dudes like that that weren't really ashamed of it was awesome to me as a young kid. Something I really looked up to.
How many years passed until you start getting noticed?
I think I was around 13 or 14 when I started kind of bouncing around places. I went to Woodward and started entering the La Revolution contests in the 16 and under class. I remember the first one I entered Scotty Cranmer was in too. It as all those riders from the East Coast who made their way through.
Was Crandall the first person to hook you up?
Sort of. I actually got hooked up through Last Call Distro by Jeff Harrington and Kerry Sayre. they put me on the Last Call grassroots team. Dave Harrison and John Corts were really adamant getting me parts as well. It just developed into a really organic transfer onto the FBM team.
Were you on the Pro team?
It was back around the time that, I'd been getting flowed stuff on the team, and it was around the time that everyone kind of left. LIke Tony Cardona and Tony Hamlin and Aaron Ross and Cam had just left. The pro team kind of got flipped upside down. It was around that time that me and Garrett Guilliams and Mickey Marshall and Kenny had just got put on the team. We kind of got the chance to fill in the blanks and started going on trips and became the pro team.
It just fell into place?
Yeah it was pretty much overnight. I think a big one was when Aaron left and went to Sunday, there was a big switch so FBM kind of re-assessed some things. All of us young guys just hopped on the road.
What are some good stories from the FBM days?
There are too many good stories. The first one that really stood out was the Beecher kids trip. Garrett Guilliams has the craziest lingo ever. We were having so much fun. We went down to Atlanta with Tag and the Corts brothers. It was one of the most memorable trips.
What's an example or anecdote?
Through all the drives we'd be betting money and throwing dice and getting riled up. Garrett would be singing Meatloaf at the top of his lungs until he couldn't talk the next day. So much positivity on that trip. Met all the dudes on Richmond on that one. Those dudes because lifelong friends.
Crandall was on that trip?
Yeah. I could be wrong, but I went on a Last Call trip to Pittsburgh for the Potoczny trip. I think that was the first legit FBM trip where the team kind of all rounded up.
Tell me about the first time you met him...
Oh man. I don't know the first instance I met Crandall, but it was back when I was a 12 year old kid at East Coast Terminal, and I think he said something super weird to me. Just typical Crandall introduction, say the most obscure thing and just leave you wondering what all he was talking about. Those were the early FBM days. I remember it was always the FBM dudes coming to ECT late on a Friday night. Crandall and Kelly Baker and Tag and Fischer. I don't remember the first moment but it left an impression for sure.
So then you left FBM. What happened there?
We were going in different directions with what we wanted out of things. It was a little bit of a bummer because at first it was a rough split. But we still maintained a good friendship with Crandall. He just hit me up the other day when he's coming through town. Everything's good there. We were just going different directions and kind of chose to step away from that.
In what ways were you going different directions?
It's really hard to travel and work a part or full time job. I would work as much as possible and save up for a trip and in ten days be completely back to square one as far as finances. It was a time when FBM couldn't offer the amenities to make it sustainable. After a while you get a little bit older and need more cause that's what responsibilities are.
So how'd you get on Fit?
A month or two after I left FBM I tore my ACL and was out for four months. Around that time I started to heal back up Stew Johnson hit me up. We'd gone on Mega Tour 6, so we'd been friends for a while. He hit me up and asked if I needed any help getting a bike together cause he knew I'd left FBM. So he kind of threw it out there that he could get stuff through Fit and S&M. I said I'd love that and he said Van would probably give you a call in a few days. Sure enough several days later i have a voicemail from Van Homan asking if I'd like to run some Fit parts.
Had you met Van before?
Not formally. We rode the little Devil warehouse on an FBM trip. I think we ran into him in passing. But no we weren't friends at that point.
Were you buzzin when he gave you that call?
Oh, I still have the voicemail saved to this day. It's funny, cause I was at work and saw I had a voicemail and looked up the area code and it was southern New Jersey. I was like oh man, I wonder if that was him, and sure enough it was Van Homan. Who wouldn't want to get that call? It's pretty gnarly.
Did you get a chance to film for the new Fit DVD?
I was able to film a little bit for the DVD. I went on one trip to actually film for it, but broke my thumb day zero. So that was a pretty big bummer. I was still able to get a handful of clips for it. I was really stoked on how that came out.
[Going back], why'd you move up to Syracuse?
I lived just outside of Binghamton New York for a while and everything was small town. Not a lot to do, and Syracuse had a bit more to offer. It had more touring shows coming through as far as music. They had some good things up there as far as riding. Riding up there was awesome, I was blown away by how many spots are up there. My friend who doesn't even ride and I rolled the dice and moved up there together.
Why were you in Binghamton? Was it just for school or to ride?
I grew up thirty minutes from Binghamton so I was always up there. And I lived at the infamous 31 Ely street house with, I don't know, 14 other people? Big Dave, Mike Corts and John Corts, Dylan Cole, and a bunch of other FBM associates. I lived there for a while. I built a room in the basement one day and just kind of moved in.
You just built a room and stuck around?
Yeah, pretty much. John Corts and I had been good friends, and he said I should move in cause I spent all my time there. There was this little corner in the basement and I asked Dave if I could make a room down there and pay rent. He's like 'sure,' and thought I was just gonna put up sheets to make a divider. But my dad came up and framed a wall, put up drywall, and put up a door and made a room out of this dank corner in an upstate New York basement.
What was the wildest thing that happened in that house.
Oh man. There were so many times. Any time the Ohio kids came to town, like Justin Simpson and Jordan Stewart and Dustin Bauer, there were some sort of antics going on. I remember one time I came downstairs and there were people getting tattooed on the stairway. I had to step around them. Then another time one of my friends threw up and it puddled in the corner and went downstairs. It seeped through the hardwood floor and was a vomit waterfall onto my bed. That was a pretty good one. [Laughs].
You weren't drinking at the time?
No. It was a while before I started drinking. It was definitely a hard scene seeing all the partying firsthand and not begin a part of it.
Being stone sober and seeing the FBM crew?
Oh yeah. Full throttle.
Crazy. So why'd you move to Nashville then?
I got to the point in Syracuse where there was a lot going on, but Nashville had always been a place that I had in the back of my mind where I wanted to live. Every time I visited I'd have a great time. We'd take trips to Texas and ride Rocketown way back in the day. There was something about Nashville that always appealed to me, whether the BMX scene I heard about or music scene. It was just really sweet. So kind of through a random series of events and opportunity to move to Nashville came and I just pulled the trigger and quit my job and packed up a minivan and moved down.
How's it been going?
It's been a trip and a half. But it's probably the best decision of my life.
What do you do in Nashville?
Right now as far as work, I'm at a custom woodworking shop. We do a lot of commissioned furniture and cabinetry. It's seriously the best job I've ever had. It's incredible.
So what's your relationship with BMX now? You're on Fit but you're not on the pro team. How are you taking BMX as compared to five years ago, or even two years ago?
Yeah, that's something I think about a lot because you want to be relevant. I ride as much as possible around here, but some things have changed as far as the amount of exposure you initially get. When I was younger I was always filming stuff or hitting people up to shoot photos. And at least with FBM I was trying to give them content all the time. I guess as you get older or once reality settles in you don't take those chances to kind of just go out and spend all your life savings on some trips. Or to try to make a name in BMX. I've, man, I can't even describe how many incredible opportunities I've had through riding that haven't even come through being on a pro team and traveling [on a pro trip] or anything like that. I'm really content with what has happened in BMX. Right now it's a bit more low key, just kind of the priorities of life have shifted. I'm working a full time job that I've been investing in and just learning a trade that I didn't have before. BMX is always the forefront. It's my life. There's nothing else that compares to it, but it definitely has taken a shift in how much effort I put into getting exposure. It's just for myself at this point. Just a sanity situation.
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