Uma’s Ultimate Kona Konnection: Neil Barnett

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Uma’s Ultimate Kona Konnection is a weekly column covering the music scene of Kailua Kona. This week she spotlights Neil Barnett, lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Johnny Shot. You can catch him in Kona Wednesdays at Foster’s Kitchen, Monday nights at Sunset Terrace in Keauhou, doing his solo thing and with his 4-piece rock band at Laverne’s 7-10pm on Friday or Saturday nights. Check his calendar below and online for specific dates.  

 Catching Neil Barnett is no easy feat. He plays music 29 days this month; which could make him the Big Island’s busiest musician! Working three to five hours a day seems like a good gig, and probably what any music loving musician might aim for and feel blessed to create. It’s taken him just seven years to get to this point – doing music for a living. Granted, the band, Johnny Shot has been together since 2002, so really it’s been more like 17 years in the making! But it wasn’t until his Waikoloa restaurant was about to close in 2012 that he decided to have a goal of playing more than 14 days a month.

When asked how he keeps it interesting, he said, “With two different guitarists and configurations, the venue dictates whether it’s rock, heavy rock or even Sinatra at Gertrude’s Jazz Club.” Neil also shares that he could play 9 days a week if he chose to go solo but he enjoys his 4-piece rock band, which often plays parties and conventions and the duo options. Currently he is mostly single with a long-distance relationship, so working a few hours a day seems ideal.

Neil hails from Wales; he makes the journey home to visit his Mum annually. When he was 11, he saw Glenville Speary sing ‘Teddy Bear’ in a contest, who lost to another bloke with an a cappela version of ‘Streets of London,’ a local folk song. This broke Neil’s heart. At 14, after seeing Tony Sheridan in Kaerphilly and singing with him onstage, Neil wanted to be Elvis. He went on to play a part in West Side Story. Perhaps the performing bug hit him then. The long story which brought him to the Big Island may have to be covered in Part 2 down the road!

Before Neil began Johnny Shot, he’d been performing as the Neil Barnett band at conventions and hotels. That moniker was a bit pretentious for his tastes, so after a few shots of tequila, his band mates proposed group names which included Johnny (like Nash and Cash!) and the Shot Brothers. Johnny Shot was born, with the original group composed of Neil, Matt Brown, Scott North and John Mitchell. Two months later, Dave Ojeda joined the band, who became the de facto band leader while Neil ran his Waikoloa restaurant. The line-up changed again once Dave went traveling abroad in 2013.

Neil has a wealth of information for musicians aiming at playing more in Kona. He suggests:

  • Be Patient. You want to establish yourself, keep any regular Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays when at all possible.
  • Build your business one day at a time. Going full-time can be difficult. Read the audience, whether they are 22 or 82, give ‘em what they know and may like.
  • Learn the venues and what owners want. Some may want straight up background music, others want audience engagement.
  • Be Humble. You can’t say “we’re so great;” instead read the audience, venue and owner. Try to please all three while playing music you enjoy and avoiding selling out.

The challenges Neil points out can be when owners won’t let the performers read the audience, and that musicians are paid less than they were in years past. He states that eventually live music may die out. Some of the joys include weddings where people are super happy to have his band play and that many people genuinely respect live music over a ‘band in a box.’

You can find Neil at Kona Brew Pub or Sam Choy’s on Sundays, Sunset Terrace happy hour on Mondays, Foster’s Grill on Tuesdays, Foster’s in Kona on Wednesdays, ABay’s in Waikoloa on Thursdays, and Laverne’s or Hilton Tap Room on Fridays & Saturdays. To find the specifics of his performance calendar, check out http://johnnyshot.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/johnnyshotband on Facebook.


Love Guru Uma sings in the Uma Zuma Band, duo and solo ukulele. She is a teacher, Uber driver, Tour guide and author. She just completed Book 2 in a series of adventure love story and self-help reads entitled Love is Crazy – Lessons in Love: Creating your own Happy Ever After and Love is Crazy Satisfying. More at umaojeda.weebly.com

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