Barry Muehe plays at the Steakout Restaurant with Jody and Friends. Photo by Bob Brandt

Musicians of Note recognizes individuals and groups who have crafted the rich and vibrant musical tapestry of Eastern Santa Cruz County.

Although playing music has always taken a back seat to running a successful business, Barry Muehe has earned a special place among area musicians since arriving in Patagonia in the early 1980s. According to Jim Koweek, his longtime musical pal, Muehe “has done more to promote local music and keep a local music scene going than anyone around.” His easy-going style, versatility and mastery of the acoustic guitar afford him frequent opportunities to perform at a variety of local music venues. 

Muehe’s recognition as a stalwart of the Eastern Santa Cruz County music scene reflects his love of the music, a dedication to tradition and a desire to help other musicians reach their potential. However, it’s not a status he attained through a steady course of improvement. There were fits and starts including a long stretch when he didn’t even own a guitar. (He now owns five.)

His musical journey began as an 18-year-old kid growing up in a “challenging environment” near Newark, New Jersey. With tips from his cousin, he learned the basics of guitar well enough to jam and just have fun. 

After finishing high school, Muehe wandered through the next several years tasting food, freedom and fun in such diverse places as New Orleans and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District where he played for tips (often in the form of beer, he says) and finally Tempe where his life took a major turn toward stability. 

He began a volunteer stint with a Tempe food co-op, soon became its assistant manager and there met his romantic match in Annie Sager. On their way to Bisbee in search of small-town living, the couple visited friends in Patagonia, fell in love with it, bought a small building for $2000 and started Red Mountain Foods, the organic and locally-grown produce market that is closing in on forty years of operation.

After opening Red Mountain Foods at age 27, Muehe hardly touched the guitar for about ten years, partly because the store was so demanding, but largely because he simply lacked the motivation to play. 

His musical reawakening occurred when his friend John Spitler encouraged him to pick up the guitar again. He hooked up with the local jam band the Stringbenders and eventually started an open mic at the Gathering Grounds. 

The open mic folded after a couple years, but Muehe found other outlets for expression of his musical talents. He began playing ranch gigs with Andy Hersey before putting together his own band known as Bigfoot and later another band called Barry and Friends. Muehe draws inspiration from an eclectic array of artists, from progressive bluegrass notables like David Grisman and Sam Bush to the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. 

Although influenced by many rock artists, Muehe has always connected most intimately with the traditional country roots music that many of his favorite rock groups have given homage to over the years. Although he never met the man in person, he credits the Dead’s Jerry Garcia with helping him mature as a guitarist.

Today, Muehe is a sought-after musician who is often invited to join others in live performances throughout the area. Surprisingly, he has never released a commercial recording, but music lovers have lots of opportunities to enjoy Muehe’s instrumentals and vocals as he plays a regular twice-a-month gig with Jodie and Friends at the Steakout in Sonoita, with the Hog Canyon Band and occasionally with Koweek at the Sonoita Cafe.