Profile: Neil Greenhaw

Profile: Neil Greenhaw

Business, arts come together on Haxton Road


“Where art and business collide.”

So reads the tag line of a sign on SE Second Street in Bentonville, on a block just off the Bentonville square, that now contains a mix of new, sleek and chic commercial and residential buildings. The sign declares this area the “Haxton Road District,” a collaboration between Lamplighter Restoration LLC and Neil Greenhaw, the founder and owner of Haxton Road Studios. HRS can be found at No. 222 and is the home of a state-of-the-art recording studio, as well as the newly minted Haxton Road Publishing Company.

That tag line is, in fact, a perfect fit for the man himself. Greenhaw once toured the world as a guitarist for popular inspirational music artists like Joel Engle and The Katinas and worked regularly as a studio musician. Today, he runs a professional music studio that counts corporations and artists, in equal measure, as its clients.

The tag line is also Greenhaw’s dream for the city and the Northwest Arkansas area, distilled into a few simple words.

“I felt like that was Bentonville,” he says. “We do business so well, with the world’s largest retailer and Tyson and J.B. Hunt and all these other great companies. And we have these amazing families, just very generous organizations, generous families in our town that make so much of what we do possible.

“A while back, I met a guy from Texas who had moved here, and I said, ‘Man, what brought you here?’ And he said, ‘I heard there was a renaissance happening here.’ That has stuck in my head ever since, because it’s so true. There is a renaissance here, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what true music comes out of Bentonville. … I think that we’re just on the cusp — I think we’re going to be in the history books for the arts. And so one of the major reasons I decided to do this with this facility was — I decided I wasn’t just going to talk about it: I’m going to do it. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. I’m going to bet on what’s going to happen and then say, “Right!’”

“Neil is a tremendous advocate for the arts, business and their intersection, which I think demonstrates a smart and forward thinking approach,” says Walton Family Foundation senior program officer Joe Randel. “The arts can be all of the above: good for business, a good business in and of themselves and something complementary but distinct from business. Neil’s network is diverse, and I’m always impressed by his engagement with artists, business owners and community members. I think Neil’s vision is indicative of his inclusive mindset.”

“Neil was ahead of the curve — well ahead of the curve,” says Bentonville commercial real estate broker Ramsay Ball. “I don’t know if you would call it luck or vision, but he’s got it. He was out there doing things when it wasn’t so easy to see. Everyone can see things now, how booming the area is, all of the different things that are going on, but he was ahead of the curve and that shows a unique insider vision.”

The right note

Music has always been a part of that vision. Greenhaw had a brief, unsuccessful foray in piano playing when he was in elementary school, and though he didn’t feel an affinity for the instrument, it was clear right away he had a talent for music. He could learn a new piece just by listening to the student scheduled before him play during lessons. That skill would lie dormant until he was consumed by the passion he would feel when he held his first guitar, somewhere between eighth and ninth grade.

“That first year, I started practicing, on average, four hours a day,” says the Harrison native. “I quit all sports. I quit basketball, football, and just went home after school and locked myself in my room. I recorded every Letterman or Leno or Saturday Night Live show, any show where there were any kinds of artists I might be interested in. I was motivated by soul music, blues music, a little bit of rock music, as well. I would play anything I could get my hands on. This was pre-YouTube, pre-Internet, so I wore out my VHS tapes, learning guitar.”

Greenhaw says he would jump at every possible chance to perform in front of people. He played at church, youth ministry meetings at KLIFE and formed a casual band with like-minded musician friends from high school. His parents, he says, were a perfect blend of supportive and pragmatic when it came to his musical pursuits. As the end of high school grew closer, the conversations about music as a career grew more serious.

“My dad had grown up owning his own business,” says Greenhaw. “So we had a lot of those conversations — and I think every artist and parent will be able to relate to this — that went, ‘Son, how are you going to make a living playing music? We’re in Harrison, Arkansas.’ … My deal with him was that ‘Hey, this is great, and I’ll keep pursuing it as far as I can go, but I do want to go to college, and I do want to get an education, and I do want to grow into a person who can contribute.’ And, you know, to be honest, so that I could have something I could fall back on if [music] didn’t work for me.”

College for the faith-minded Greenhaw meant Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where he met his soon-to-be-wife, Lauren, in the first class either had taken on campus. The brainy beauty — she is now a popular physician’s assistant in Bentonville — won the Miss Arkansas Pageant in 2002 and toured the state for a year, speaking in front of large audiences and working with nonprofit organizations. Greenhaw, in the meantime, received a job offer from a Northwest Arkansas-area church and transferred his credits to John Brown University to finish his degree. Both were nearing graduation, with Lauren shopping for medical programs, when Greenhaw felt his next tug of intuition.

In the spotlight

“This is the story we love to talk about with our friends,” Greenhaw says with a laugh. “Typically, [in a relationship,] one person is the dreamer, and the other one is the realist. You can probably guess which one I am, being an artist. Lauren is so supportive, she’s always been so supportive of whatever I’ve done. And I said to her, ‘I think I really want to try and tour full time and play music on the road.’ And she leans back, and she’s trying to reason and get her head around this. And she says, ‘Well, right now, you’re in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, at John Brown University. How are you going to meet people in order to do this?’ And I said, ‘I just feel like it’s supposed to happen.’ I had no contacts at that point to do this. I was a small town boy. And this is what we laugh about today — she said, ‘No one is ever just going to pick up the phone and call you. You’re going to have to get out and rub elbows. You need to meet people and show them your talent.’ And I said, ‘I just feel like if it’s supposed to happen, it will.’”

A week or two later, Greenhaw was home on a lunch break when his cell phone rang. Not recognizing the number, he let it go to voice mail, and when he listened, he was shocked to hear an offer to audition for Christian performer Joel Engle.

“He said, ‘I got your name from so-and-so, who knew so-and-so who went to college with you, and y’all played music together,’” Greenhaw remembers. “It was like two layers of people deep. He said, ‘They told me you were the right guitar player for what we’re wanting to do.’”

He couldn’t wait to tell Lauren about the phone call.

“She asked, ‘How was your day?’” he remembers. “I said, ‘Well, are you ready? Do you remember your statement? Do you care to eat those words?’ It wasn’t a tense conversation at all — we were laughing. And she said, ‘OK, well, I guess someone did just pick up the phone and call you.’”

Greenhaw drove to Dallas to audition in between final exams and won the spot in the band and on the tour. Shortly after that, in a stroke of kismet, Lauren was accepted at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tenn. In a flash, Greenhaw found himself living a musician’s dream. The dream continued when he started touring internationally with The Katinas, where he would spend, on average, 240 days on the road.

“To be 22 years old and all of a sudden to get a job touring the world — I was so fortunate to get to tour and see places that I dreamed of going,” Greenhaw says. “Coming from being a small town kid to all of a sudden seeing the world — it changes you. Within a matter of a year, I was changed, because I had hung out with people [of different] races, religions, you name it. I was with so many different types of people all over the world that it blew this little brain out of my head: ‘Here’s what you thought you knew, and here’s your little world you’ve grown up in, and then here’s you seeing how some of the rest of the world works.’ It changes you, there are no ifs, ands or buts about that. I was super, super fortunate.”

Coming home

You might expect a small-town boy from Harrison to have a period of adjustment when he starts performing in front of arenas full of tens of thousands of people, but Greenhaw says he took to it — and loved it — immediately.

“Walking on stage when there’s that big of a crowd, they’ve paid a ticket price to come see you perform, be entertained, whatever you want to call it — they’re ready to sing along, dance — the moments leading up to that, when you’re walking on stage, and you strap your guitar on, and you’re coming up the steps to the stage: It’s just a rush unlike anything else. And then when you walk off stage, there’s this tiredness that you can’t even explain. I’ve done manual labor before. I’ve worked in factories, I’ve sacked groceries, I’ve had tons of jobs since I was 16. But there is a mentally tired factor when you walk off of that stage. If you’re doing it right, you’re not leaving anything on the stage.”

Lauren’s master’s program was grueling, and, while she was studying, it was easy for Greenhaw to be away for weeks at a time. But as she came closer to graduation, the couple realized they wanted to start a family, which would be difficult if he was touring regularly. When Lauren was offered a position back in the Northwest Arkansas area, she accepted it.

“Looking back, there have been multiple things that have taken me away from Northwest Arkansas, but I keep always finding a way back,” muses Greenhaw. “It’s not even that I’m homesick. It’s just there’s something about this place that is so magnetic. There’s so much opportunity. It’s almost like I had these experiences where I was able to go away and [learn new things] and then come back and contribute to what’s going on here — and be able to add something, hopefully.”

But Greenhaw knew he didn’t want to leave music behind in Nashville. Through his experience as a studio musician, he had learned a thing or two about studio recording and production, and an over-the-garage studio in the Greenhaws’ current home turned into a carefully designed three-room recording studio when they built their new house on Haxton Road. Word of mouth was spreading: Greenhaw was very good at his work, and he and colleague Ryan Ceola — who has been with the studio since the beginning — traveled to Dallas to gain certification on AVID, the recording software the studio would use. By this time, Haxton Studios was attracting high-powered clientele from both the corporate and musical worlds.

“In about year two, we started getting phone calls and website submissions from people outside of Arkansas,” says Greenhaw. “The first year was really a lot of artists that we knew, friends of friends, but in year two, we started getting Joplin, Tulsa — surrounding area artists. And then we had an artist from Chicago fly to Northwest Arkansas, and artists from Nashville fly here to record. Every year, our influence kept expanding. You never reach a level of perfection, but, obviously, we had something interesting that was working for us.

“And then I got a call from the Discovery Channel saying there was a celebrity in town, and they needed a place to do a voice-over recording for a television show. This big narrative starts to take place in my mind. I’m over this garage in my house, and there are cows across the street, and we’re on a dirt road, and all of a sudden, this vision flies in pretty fast: ‘We’re busy, the studio is profitable, but we can’t go to the next level on a dirt road.’ So that’s when, again, as I always do with my wife, I say, ‘Hey, let’s sit down and talk.’”

In 2016, the Greenhaws broke ground on Haxton Road Studios. Greenhaw had expanded his business holdings to real estate, and he had a clear vision of where he wanted the studio to be located.

“[My wife asked,] ‘If you didn’t have anything holding you back, what would you want?’” Greenhaw remembers. “I said, ‘I’d want to be able to see and smell the square.’ I wanted to be by the restaurants. I wanted to be by the activity. ‘I want to look out the windows and see life happening — see kids outside.’ And so we found this location downtown, right across the street from Dave Peel Park.”

Living the dream

In fact, Lamplighter Restoration LLC. co-owners Patrick Sbarra and Todd Renfrow had already made an offer on the parcel of land, but they had worked with Greenhaw in the past and were excited about the prospect of collaborating with him. Greenhaw was delighted when the walls of Haxton Road Studios started going up in the exact environment he had seen so clearly in his vision.

Today, Haxton Road Studios is Greenhaw’s fully realized dream, come to life. It is chic, stylish and of-the-moment, yet somehow timeless and classic, as though it has been in place for decades. Deeply hued, patterned rugs compliment the dark floors of the recording studio; a custom-made display case showcases Greenhaw’s collection of over two dozen vintage guitars, including instruments once owned by David Bowie and Eric Johnson; a huge, plush leather chesterfield sofa that could easily seat a half-dozen band members is in the control studio. The business remains consistent and steady, and, notes Randel, remarkably diverse. But despite staying busy, Greenhaw never loses his inclination to support the region as a whole in addition to his own business.

“I think it’s Neil’s commitment to inclusivity that is one of the keys to his success,” says Randel. “Whether it’s the diversity of musical artists that record in his studio (from hip hop to classical to country to religious) to the various community groups he engages with, Neil seems to recognize that more voices and perspectives are better, and he’s willing to dedicate the time to cultivating those relationships. While Neil has a tremendous vision for Bentonville and the region, he’s also remarkably collaborative and is constantly supporting and championing the projects of others. When you run a recording studio, a big part of your job is supporting others in realizing their own vision. If it’s good for the region, Neil’s usually on board, no matter who is leading.”

It’s not all about business, though: In 2011, the Greenhaws helped form Grace Hills Church in Bentonville, and both are still heavily involved with it. The couple have two children, London and Brooklyn, so family remains a priority, no matter how hectic business gets. Greenhaw says some of his fondest childhood memories are of the long drives and conversations that came about when his father would take along on business trips. That intent to shower a child with attention despite a busy work schedule made an impression on him.

“In my family, we talk about the word ‘influence’ a lot,” he says. “Whether we know it or not, we’re creating some kind of a culture around us, and we’re creating and influencing people around us with what we do, with what we say, what we don’t do and what we don’t say. So we decided early on that we wanted to have a positive impact on our friends, the generations to come, and that we wanted to make — I’ll use the word ‘strategic’ or ‘very pointed’ — decisions that would lead us down that road and that would hopefully give our kids an even better life than we had. [We wanted to] raise them in a great place where they learned to be responsible, where they learned to contribute and work hard.

“My heart’s full, is what I’m trying to say, all the time,” says Greenhaw with a smile. “I really am living my dream, here with my wife and kids. This is such a great place to live, play, work, own a business.”

Having heard him talk about his community vision, his art, his family and his faith, it’s clear that Greenhaw is not just talking about his business when he says:

“I just want to be better tomorrow than I was today.”


Through Others’ Eyes

“Haxton Road Studios is a world-class recording facility, complementing the growing arts ecosystem in downtown Bentonville and beyond. The studio attracts talent from around the country and provides them with a first-class artistic experience at the studio. In addition, literally a few steps away, artists visiting the studios can experience some of the great amenities that contribute to the region’s high quality of life: the trails, Crystal Bridges, burgeoning culinary scene, you name it.” — Joe Randel

“I do a lot of work with start-ups and more mature companies. He understands what he’s doing and does a good job of it. I admire that — to do all that he does and to be so good at so many things. He’s a great business man, a great musician and has a really good family life. When you see someone who is successful not in just one thing but in many different areas that all contribute back — in my mind, he’s a very important part of our community. He gives back so much, and that’s on top of everything else he does.” — Ramsay Ball

Categories: Music