If music is the lifeblood of the world, then a man like Bobby Barnard stands at its heart. For 37 years, Barnard infused San Marcos with good music through Sundance Records, serving the community as a thriving cultural hub for generations.
Even after retiring Sundance in 2012, Barnard’s work continued through two of his former employees/proteges who opened stores of their own: Tomas Escalante, with Sig’s Lagoon in Houston, and Greg Ellis, with Groover’s Paradise in Austin. Both men, lifelong friends of Barnard’s, followed in his footsteps to provide heartfelt music recommendations to their patrons.
So, even as San Marcos comes together to grieve for Bobby Barnard, who passed away from a stroke on Aug. 6, they celebrate the lasting impression he left upon the town with his eclectic record store that meant so much to everyone who stepped through its doors.
“I don’t think he ever fully realized just how special Sundace was to small town kids,’” said Nancy Barnard, Bobby’s wife of 42 years. “He was amazed when people would come up to us and say, ‘I miss your store, I loved your store. It’s so nice to hear now,” she went on. “He did exactly what he wanted to do, and he did it well. I’m so proud of him.”
Nancy first met Bobby Barnard when they were living in side-by-side rent houses in Houston. “I married the boy next door,” she said. “From our first date, it was love at first sight. We were inseparable since then.”
Before that meeting, Barnard visited the Hill Country for the first time in 1969. By then, he was fully immersed in the music business, working at Record Town in Fort Worth and Budget Tapes and Records in Houston. When he came to San Marcos, he ear-marked it as a potentially perfect spot for his own store.
“He wanted to open it here because it was such a great little town,” Nancy said. “It still is.”
Sundance Records officially opened on Sept. 1, 1977. With it, Bobby Barnard began his tenure as San Marcos’s beloved music aficionado. Before long, the shop grew into the creative extension of Bobby’s life in the music scene as he arranged brightly-colored multimedia collages upon the walls, prompting Greg Ellis to bestow Barnard with the title, “the Michaelangelo of the staple gun.”
“Everything on the wall is connected,” said Tomas Escalante of Sig’s Lagoon. “It’s pop culture, music experiences, and pieces of history. It’s all connected. It’s kind of like life. (Barnard) had a talent for that.”
“That was his art,” Nancy explained. “Making shrines. It was up for people to ooh and ah over.”
The collages — crafted from the treasured memorabilia of Barnard’s life, featured album sleeves, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, show programs, and photos — soon became as much a reason to visit Sundance as the music itself.
“I didn’t have a record player as a kid,” said Kylie Harpool, who fondly recalls Sundance from her San Marcos childhood. “I always made an effort to buy something there because I loved the nostalgic atmosphere it had. I have a lot of good memories there.”
Robin Blackburn, who also grew up with Sundance, said, “It was a formative part of my life from about 1983, when I bought my first album, until 2012, when I bought my last albums the day before it closed. Bobby and the staff could answer any question about music, and if there was something you wanted that wasn’t in stock, they could find it. It was just perfect. If you were a little music geek like me, it was the best place you could possibly be.”
Harpool’s and Blackburn’s experiences are echoed frequently in town and in online community forums when people reminisce about how much San Marcos has changed over the years. Visiting Sundance was an integral rite of passage, largely because of the way Bobby Barnard talked with people, especially young children, about music.
This was specifically by Bobby Barnard’s design. It’s what set Sundance — and now Sig’s Lagoon and Groover’s Paradise — apart from the average record store. This began with Barnard’s chance meeting of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix at the age of 14. The meeting was commemorated on the walls of Sundance with the mesh covering from Hendrix’s amp, which he tore off and shared with Barnard and a friend. After the show, Barnard managed to track Hendrix down in his hotel room.
“He invited them in,” said Ellis of Groover’s Paradise. “He signed things. He talked to them. That was transformative. He was hooked.”
Hendrix’s treatment of a teenage Barnard would set the tone for how he treated the San Marcos teens who visited Sundance. According to Ellis, this was as much Barnard’s design as the collages upon the walls.
“We made a special effort to do that,” Ellis explained. “We had smart, passionate kids. We treated them like adults. Both Bobby and I knew what it was like to be that kid in the record store.”
“He would never put someone down,” Nancy said. “He had an appreciation of any genre. He wanted to help all of the young kids. So many of them told me they talked to them like they were an equal, recommending things, asking ‘what did they like? Why did they like it?’ He would say, ‘okay, you like this, so I want you to listen to this. If you don’t like it, you can bring it back.’ That was a way to expand their horizons.”
It was also the way to affect an entire town for generations. In fact, Barnard’s influence didn’t stop with San Marcos, spilling over into surrounding communities as well. For cities like New Braunfels, Seguin, and Lockhart, Barnard secured extra status by being the quintessential college town record store.
“Kids in San Marcos were just a little bit hipper because they had a store like Sundance,” Ellis said.
Barnard also excelled in cultivating connections between people. He actively fostered the music tastes of many young musicians in the Austin music scene, including Texas musician Todd Snider, who frequented Sundance while attending then-Southwest Texas State.
Ellis and Escalante both point to Barnard as a significant influence on their major life milestones, too. Escalante, originally from Corpus Christi, met his future wife at Sundance when they were both Barnard’s employees.
Ellis attributes Barnard for saving him from the traditional corporate grind. “I was going to work in an ad agency and they offered me a full time position,” he said. “It changed the course of my life. Thanks to Bobby and Nancy, I never had to set a foot in the (expletive) real world.”
When Barnard retired Sundance in 2012, he shared his inventory and his art between Ellis and Escalante, so that they could continue to grow the music community with their own stores.
“He moved every single piece off the walls from Sundance and put it back up at Sig’s and Groover’s, painstakingly pulling out every staple and pushpin,” Nancy said. “He moved every single piece so that when he put it back up, it made more sense. He was very pleased to put it back up.”
In this way, Barnard’s legacy continues. With every teenager who visits their stores, looking for something cutting-edged and new, they will find Barnard’s life and passions memorialized upon the walls. Barnard was the heart of San Marcos’ music community. Through Sig’s Lagoon and Groover’s Paradise, as well as everyone who loved Sundance, that heart beats steadily on.