Rennick dreams of recording studio on the prairie
By Jim Nowlan
WYOMING – “My dream is to build a recording studio right here in these woods, next to this prairie grass, for musicians from Nashville to Chicago.”
That statement is not so crazy as readers might think, coming as it does from Mark Rennick, Wyoming native and founder of Prairie Sun Recording, north of San Francisco.
Mark flew in from California this past weekend to organize a burn of 10 acres of prairie grass he and others lovingly planted in 1972 on 10 acres within 100 acres of mostly wooded land the Rennick Family owns just south of the Osceola Grove Cemetery, roughly between Wyoming and Bradford.
“Out here in the quiet you can really get in touch with yourself, and that’s what musicians want,” says Mark, who has been stuck with the nickname Mooka since grade school (Wyoming Class of 1970).
Mark should know. In 1980, he created Prairie Sun Recording (the name a testament to his love of the mostly vanished Illinois prairie) on 10 acres in Sonoma County, 35 miles north of the Bay, in buildings that had been chicken coops! True.
Since then, Mark has worked with and recorded many of the “biggies,” including Van Morrison, Greg Allman, the Grateful Dead, Tom Waits, Huey Lewis and more, as well as with local bands from North California.
In recent years, Mark added Prairie Sun Live to his operation, which produces live concerts across the country.
“Last year, we did 25 concerts in venues of up to 25,000,” notes Mark, who is full of energy, enthusiasm, and stories of the music business.
“I knew from grade school just what I wanted to do – be a record producer for groups like the Grateful Dead.
“In junior high, friends (Ron Arganbright, Steve Dawson, Kent Stafford, and his brother John D. Jr.) and I started a garage band – The Lapse of Thyme.
“In high school, we collaborated with the Wyoming High band, with our rock band behind the school band at concerts. The band master (Eugene Leetch) was terrific.”
After high school, Mark followed the music scene from college to college, rarely attending class. He did stints at area colleges as well as at Santa Fe Junior College in Florida, the University of Colorado in Boulder, and others, ending up studying East Indian classical music in Marin County (San Francisco) and finally at Sonoma State College (now university) in Cotati Calif., where Prairie Sun is located.
“I was blessed,” observes Mark, looking back. “Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records Group was starting his record empire and he and I did over 100 albums together. We would bring in new bands – lodge’m, rehearse’m, and produce’m. Many went on to big success. This period established me in the business.”
Mark has gone through all the music generations – rock, progressive, heavy metal, indie, and more, and now Americana.
“I have done the Turnpike Troubadours from Oklahoma (‘They’re big’), for example, and Whitney of Chicago, and Bruce Cockburn from Alberta (CN).”
Prairie Sun is noted for recording in both analog and digital.
“We like doing analog, which has better sound than digital,” says Mark.
He has three recording studios at his former chicken hatchery, and band members can stay on the ranch while recording.
But, this interview had to stop for a while. The prairie burn beckoned, and prairie grass expert and burn supervisor John Allen of West Jersey didn’t want the afternoon “window” for burning to close.
Yet Mark can’t stop talking. He says it’s a trait he inherited from his beloved father, the late John Donald Rennick.
Mark explains that in 1972, he and his dear friends, the Clinebell boys – Gary, Richard and Jim – gathered close to 300 pounds of prairie grass seed and replanted the 10 acres – hallowed now to Mark’s mind – to prairie grasses, just like on the land the pioneers settled.
So, every few years Mark returns to burn the prairie, to kill of invasive plants and give his prairie grasses room to flourish.
Mark and John Allen are joined for the burn by Mary Breese, a childhood friend of Mark’s, now of Washington, Ill.
The News had to leave not long after the burn commenced, yet all was secure in the hands of Allen, Rennick and “Mary B.”
See you in another year or so, Mark, and don’t forget about the idea of the recording studio on the prairie!