McKenzies Mill: From West End to Music City

Justin and Ryan Harris

On Saturday, August 19th, the Lake House Bar & Grill hosted an outdoor concert featuring McKenzies Mill, a pair of brothers who grew up on McKenzies Mill Road in West End.

Justin and Ryan Harris were raised by music-loving parents.  Their mother sang in the church choir, and their father was part of a band in the 1970s.  However, each brother found his calling in his own unique way.

During his childhood, Ryan dreamed of being a performer.  He grew up singing in the church choir and performing in talent shows.  He soon found himself writing lyrics, playing the harmonica, and joining a band in college.

“Music inspired me,” Ryan said.

Unlike his younger brother, Justin discovered his talent in his early twenties when he, too, began writing lyrics and having jam sessions with friends and his guitar.

McKenzies Mill

Shortly after college that the two formed McKenzies Mill and produced music that can only be explained as “southern-fried rock and roll.”

At twenty-five and twenty-two years old, Justin and Ryan set out for Nashville, Tennessee – with no connections – in hopes of expending their music career.

“There’s a lot of talented people [there],” Ryan said.

In their careers, the brothers have succeeded at playing in more than thirty states in addition to the Bahamas.

“[It’s an] incredible opportunity,” Ryan said.

Now, finishing out their twelfth year in Music City, McKenzies Mill is spending less time on the road and more time building relationships with producers.  They strive to fulfill their dream of having a major label record deal.

“[We’ve got] songs that haven’t been recorded yet,” Justin said.  “We want to really put [our music] out there.”

Each song has its own importance, and choosing a favorite proves to be difficult.

“That’s like picking a favorite child,” Justin said.

“One that’s memorable is one of [our] first songs, ‘It’s All Gonna Turn Around’…,” Ryan said.  “Not every song is 100% true, but they’re inspired by real experiences and emotions.”

Justin explained that the best part of producing music is putting an idea on paper, setting it to a melody, and introducing it to fans.

McKenzies Mill

“Then we play, and people sing it back…,” he said.  “There’s no other experience [with] moments like that.”

“It’s surreal,” Ryan agreed.

McKenzie Mill tries to have a connection with each crowd they play for.  Once they start playing, they don’t hold back.

“What you see is what you get,” Justin said.  “For better or worse, [we don’t] hold back.”

The brothers played at the Lake House with a few friends of theirs from Tennessee.

Their opening act was their cousin, Reuben Kennedy, who began performing two years ago while stationed in Texas.  He was stationed from 2012 until 2016.

“It’s two different lifestyles [between] then and now,” he said.  “[Being stationed there – it’s] like a giant brotherhood.”

As a combat medic, Reuben would play music in his spare time.  He and an army friend even wrote a song together called “I’m Sure Glad I left.”  It can be found online performed by Korey Rose.

The song describes a man whose wife has left him.  He quits his job and catches a flight to Mexico to build a new life.

“A lot of my songs [are] fun, happy songs [about] enjoying life…,” he said.  “Why let a situation make the best of you when you can make the best of it?”

Justin Harris, Reuben Kennedy, and Ryan Harris

When performing, Reuben focuses on playing to the crowd and having a good time with the community.

“Whether you’re a DJ or an artist, you play to the crowd.  When you play to the crowd, you have a good time,” he said.  “I’m outgoing… I don’t hold anything back.”

Even though he hasn’t been performing for long, he is open to the opportunity of having a career in the field.

“Maybe one day I’ll go professional,” he said.  “It’s something I love.  I don’t do it for the money.  [My favorite part is] bringing people together to have a good time.”

Perhaps someday Seven Lakes will hear of Reuben writing a song with McKenzies Mill.

“We’ll probably do something in the future,” he said.

McKenzies Mill will return to North Carolina to play on September 9th.  They will perform at the Pours in the Pines Beer Festival at 2:00PM at 555 E. Connecticut Ave. in Southern Pines.  They will play that evening at 9:00PM at O’Donnell’s Pub at 133 E. New Hampshire Ave. in Southern Pines.  Be sure to check out their website at

Justin and Ryan Harris

Ryan Harris of McKenzies Mill