Society of Universal Love (SOUL) – The Barefoot Birth of a Movement in Canton, OH
by Ryan Neeley – photos provided by Barefoot Ronnie
soul1In a world where some people in our scene feel like they don’t belong or feel uncomfortable being themselves and with the increasing importance of working collaboratively as a group, having a “home base” so to speak is very important.   A place where we can gather and listen to live music, gather for events and initiate the change we want to see in the world.   So when I spoke to Barefoot Ronnie, an incredibly kind and interesting grey-bearded member of our family that I always see at shows throughout our region, about a vision he had for some property in Canton, I was intrigued.  With so many venues turning their backs on live music in the area, he was embracing it along with art and spirituality in a beautiful way.  Ronnie’s vision was difficult to attain and I’m sure there were naysayers, but hi
s dream has become a reality and he is on the verge of the grand opening for his Canton venue.   I recently spoke with Barefoot Ronnie about the event, the venue and the story behind the Society of Universal Love.
Appalachian Jamwich (AJ):   What exactly is the Society of Universal Love?
Barefoot Ronnie (BR):  We are a non profit organization devoted to improving the environment. I would say more of a spiritual group than a religious one. While I am an ordained minister, I don’t fully subscribe to any single religion. I feel that they are different paths to the same goals. I have studied all scripture available to me and have chosen the path of spirituality. I include philosophies from all religions but argue over none! We are more of a gathering of kind souls from all walks of life, working together to try to make a difference. We don’t preach as much as teach, or talk as much as do. These people know right from wrong. They don’t need someone to tell them they are good or bad. They need direction. Most people want to help change the world for the better, they just don’t know what to do. That’s where we help. By joining these souls, we can grow off of each others inspiration, have more power as a group to make a difference, and actually be able to afford to make our ideas come to fruition.
AJ:   When did you come up with the idea for SOUL?
BR:  It actually stemmed from anther idea. Almost a year ago I watched a documentary “Water: the Great Mystery!” (there is a link to it on our website.) It explained the amazing properties of water. Like: water has memory, water teaches other water, the molecular structure of water is affected in many ways, and MUCH more. Three of the most remarkable methods of changing waters structure was “Hado”, (writing symbols on the container) “Spiritual blessings”, and “focused directed energy”. What I learned inspired me to make water using these techniques, and more, to structure the water for specific purposes that it might help people! When I realized the magnitude of what this could do I knew I had to start a nonprofit organization to do it under. This much potential money should not go to any one person, but best going to where it is needed most – “The Earth”. If we keep going as we are we wont long have a habitable earth to live on. We tried “Church of Love” but the name was already taken. Then I decided on “Society Of Universal Love” liking that the initials spelled SOUL, and helped denote what were about.
AJ:  Why put money into creating a place for live music/friends to congregate?
BR:   I started looking for an appropriate place to bless the water and house our organization. When i found the “Mission”    I realized the powers that be had more in mind than JUST Spirit Water! This place has 2 large stage areas, each holding over 500 people, a bar on one side, a large basement – Lots of land around it!. It screamed music venue! With all that room, I thought, ‘We no longer need to wait all winter to gather together in the festival manner with a place like this!’ We would also have an appropriate place and opportunity to start making changes from. Used correctly this can be a place to teach others environmentally friendly practices while earning the funds to institute needed programs and changes. We hope to book bands who try to help and teach people with their music.  Attract people who want to help others and the world.
AJ:  What’s special about SOUL and the property? 
BR:  What is special about SOUL is the people involved with it. Good people trying to make a difference. The property  has a lot to recommend itself to what we are using it for. 5 minutes from the highway, Technically it is in town but it’s surprisingly secluded. It’s on a dead end street. bordering an industrial area on one side, and a large creek on the other. It has several acres adjoining it, that if we are successful we will purchase and throw outdoor shows in the summer as well.
AJ:  What is your vision for SOUL in 2014 and beyond?
BR:   We hope to be able to put on at least one festival-like show every month during the winter. (multiple days, indoor camping, members only) When we can afford bigger acts we will put on one big public show a month. (big name national acts) A few hours of music and send the public home. Members can stay the night. The other two weekends out of the month we will let bands play for the door. (A band and maybe an opener) Again few hours and public goes home. sou
AJ:  How did you acquire the property, and what were the challenges getting it ready?
BR:  I couldn’t afford it when I first found it. I watched it online and the price dropped some, but it went under contract to another buyer. The other buyer backed out and I made an offer. But the homeowner didn’t want to come down any further and he decided to sell it at absolute auction to the highest bidder. Ed (owner of Gilligan’s) and I went to the auction and won it for the unbelievable price of $10,000! I knew then I was getting help from above and this was more than just my idea. But there was, and still is a lot of work that needs to happen to make this a reality. The place has been unoccupied for seven years. It needs remodeling and renovating. we have made changes to the stage, are in the midst of painting, cleaning, and setting up for the first show. There will be much more to do before we can use the second room for shows. It is in worse shape but has the most potential. Four large pillars holding up a 28 foot arched ceiling with a 42;0″ dome in the middle of that. A Balcony, a place for the stained glass windows that were removed. A magnificent room! Or it would be if we help it.
What’s the history of the church?
It was originally a Greek church called the Holy Trinity Church, Since then it has been warehouse storage, a wood shop, and a nightclub called the “Thunderdome”.
AJ:  How do you go about inviting people?
BR:  In order to have an indoor location and still preserve the festival atmosphere (party all weekend) we needed to make it a private affair. But a church should be open to everyone, So, we started a private club as a subsidiary to our public church. It is called the “Knights of the SOUL”. A select group of kind souls working in union for good purposes. Being a member says your family, that you care about more than yourself. You are part of the solution…
DSC08979 (1)  Members are chosen from the kindest souls I have known over the years. Anyone who I have known well, I will give a “Golden Ticket”, this is not a free ticket! It only gets you around the normal application process. If you do not know me personally, don’t be discouraged. As long as you have been on the Ohio music/festival scene for any length of time, or know someone who has, you will be able to find the people to vouch for you, required for membership. Unless you are not a kind person who cares about others, or a thief, or death dealer. or one who’s occupation includes destroying other peoples lives. 6 up! then you may have trouble finding others to risk their membership to vouch for you… These first couple of shows will be easiest because I will grant unknown people temporary access to find members who they know well enough to vouch for them. Once we have our base membership established, full application requirements will be followed. 1) fill application 2) get 2 existing members to vouch for you 3) undergo scrutiny and NOT have good reasons to be excluded 4) get voted in by the senior members 5) pay annual dues and receive provisional membership 6) pass provisional period and be sworn in as full member with rights to vouch for others. WARNING: membership can be revoked for improper conduct! ONLY vouch for someone you know as righteous. Bad choices can endanger your membership.
 We have an excellent opportunity to make something awesome! But it’s US who can screw it all up too. This is a place to bring out the best in us all. It is not mine. I put it in the name of the church. It is ours! If we work together and put our hearts in it, we will make something bigger than all of us. We will make changes… First among  our Society, then it will spread. And we can change the world for the better.
AJ:  When is your first event?


BR:  My first show is on Nov. 8&9th. It features Rumpke Mountain Boys Friday for 2 sets. One as headliner, then another late night till whenever they want to stop. The way we learned to love them. Also Friday night will be Dead Ahead Ohio, Cosmic Circle, and Tommy Garcia/Daniel Morningstar to start the weekend off. Saturday is Blue Moon Soup, Aliver Hall, Chrome Moses, MoShambo, Family Oulaws, and more!
AJ:  And do you have any other events planned?
BR:  Our next event will be “A Family New Year Celebration”  An evening with Adam’s Ale featuring Cliff Starbuck From Ekoostik Hookah and John Welton of the Waterband. And their guests Terrapin Moon, Dead Ahead Ohio, Syrup, and Smilin Joe. Stay all night, don’t drive home.
AJ:  Is there anyone you want to thank for helping you?
BR:  I want to thank everyone who has helped make this real. All of the musicians for entertaining us for a family rate, that we don’t have to go broke to have a good weekend. All of those involved with sound and lights without whom this couldn’t happen. And everyone who has helped in obtaining, repairing, cleaning, and preparing this huge place for what is to come. I also want to thank you and all of the people that help spread the word, that this not only becomes a reality, but rocks our faces and binds our hearts. Because, we all, working as one, can do anything! and quite probably will…
For additional information regarding SOUL, please go to their web page here