James Reams & The Barnstormers Play Old-School Bluegrass Music

What do they teach you in the Old-School? The Three E’s, of course: Keep it edgy, emotional and exciting.

Listen to James Reams & The Barnstormers LIVE Performance at WAMU for a demonstration!

Stephanie P. Ledgin wrote in her book Homegrown Music: Discovering Bluegrass (Praeger Publishers, 2004): “James Reams & The Barnstormers rely on early country material and originals written in authentic style. The results are a virtual history of the music and its roots, played in a clean, heartfelt manner that is somewhere between Monroe’s and the Stanleys’.” And Richard D. Smith wrote in Bluegrass Unlimited: “There are few vocalists as natural as Reams. He doesn’t have to try to sound down-home, he’s there at each turn in the song.”

James Reams formed James Reams & The Barnstormers in 1993 and celebrated 20 years as a bandleader in 2013 with a Coast-to-Coast Celebration tour. James and the band play traditional bluegrass music with an old-time country edge and a sound that’s very much his own. They feature driving rhythm and hard-edged harmonies that take you back to a time before bluegrass was smoothed out for the uninitiated, the ill-prepared or the faint of heart.

There were traditional singers on both sides of James’ family and his father played in a string band. Taking to music like a fish to water, James has played both old-time and bluegrass music since he was a child. Originally from southeastern Kentucky, the Reams family migrated north to Appleton, WI when James was in his mid-teens. He stayed in the midwest until he moved to Brooklyn, NY in the early 1980s and then headed west to a suburb of Phoenix, AZ in 2011.

James is deeply involved in the bluegrass and old-time music community both in Arizona and NYC. He has made several old-time and bluegrass recordings with such noted artists as Tom Paley and Walter Hensley.  His original songs are important additions to the bluegrass repertoire and his guitar playing was highlighted in Flatpicking Guitar Magazine’s Masters of Rhythm Guitar column. In addition to leading James Reams & The Barnstormers, he is the organizer of the Park Slope Bluegrass/Old-Time Jamboree, an annual music festival he started in 1998 that attracts 700+ musicians and fans of traditional music to its workshops, jamming and concerts. It’s the only event of its kind in or around New York City and was nominated as IBMA Event of the Year in 2014.

In 2013, James released a documentary film, “Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass: Tales of the Early Days in Their Own Words”, in which he interviewed over 40 first generation bluegrass musicians about their life as a musician when bluegrass was just getting started. This full-length feature film is available on CD Baby and through the James Reams website.

Coast-to-Coast Barnstormin’

James Reams & The Barnstormers are based in the Phoenix, AZ area and perform all over the west coast. In order to bring his style of bluegrass to the widest audience possible, James has retained his connection with his east coast band members based in New York City. With well-rehearsed band members located on both coasts, James is able to make appearances at even more bluegrass festivals and still bring the tight instrumentals and exceptional vocals that fans everywhere have come to expect at his performances.


James Reams & The Barnstormers – West Coast

Billy Parker is a whirlwind on the mandolin bringing passion and style to every set. He was heavily influenced by, and has even played with, bluegrass legends and mandolin masters Bill Monroe and David Grisman! Fast, clean and unflappable, Billy has developed a confident and spirited approach to seamlessly move between the rapid-fire bluegrass tunes and more soulful melodies. His sense of band dynamics helps propel the music to a higher sound to the delight of audiences everywhere he plays. Evan Ward’s masterful and fluid style of banjo playing and soft baritone vocals add depth and vigor to the Barnstormer mix. His ceaselessly rolling banjo sprinkled with licks reminiscent of banjo masters like Earl Scruggs and Jim Mills takes bluegrass to a whole new level. Evan also performs with Audie Blaylock and Redline. Dan Meyer holds down the bottom for the Barnstormers with his rock steady and intuitive bass stylings. He really lights up the place with his ready smile while laying down a smoooooooth rhythm. Michael Rolland is one of the hottest pickers to ever grace Arizona’s acoustic music scene and is an accomplished contest and bluegrass fiddler, mandolinist and flat pick guitarist. Mike is the 3-time Arizona State Fiddle Champion, Four Corners Mandolin and Guitar champion, and has three times placed in the top 5 of the National Fiddle Contest. He has performed onstage with Doug Kershaw the renowned “Ragin’ Cajun”, 111 Generation, Ray Price, and many others.

Much in demand as a performer and session player, legendary fiddler Blaine Sprouse performed on the Grand Ole Opry for over 15 years. Blaine has toured nationally and internationally and recorded with a stunning array of legendary bluegrass and country artists, among them, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, Charlie Louvin, Alabama, Randy Travis, Glen Campbell, and the Osborne Brothers. His solo recordings are available on the Rounder and Cumberland Record labels. Blaine is a featured performer with James Reams & The Barnstormers at selected west coast venues.

James Reams & The Barnstormers – East Coast

Mark Farrell, like James, is no stranger to bluegrass and old-time country music, having played and recorded for many years with a number of bluegrass and old-time string bands, including Major Contay & The Canebrake Rattlers. He also contributes his great arranging talent to many of the band’s recordings. His great hoedown fiddling and edgy mandolin playing (as well as his sometimes unpredictable humor) earns him friends wherever he goes. Doug Nicolaisen has been playing banjo with bluegrass bands in the NY tri-state area for over 17 years. His music incorporates many of the best elements of all the major banjo players yet his style reflects an individuality of its own and adds to the hard-driving energy of the band. Carl Hayano, has been a mainstay with the Barnstormers since they started over 20 years ago. He adds a rock-solid feel when it comes to singing and playing the bass. His generosity and creativity show in everything he does.

Performance Highlights

James Reams & The Barnstormers are well-known in bluegrass circles and have performed from Maine to South Carolina, Kentucky to Wisconsin, and New York to California at such prestigious venues as the Lincoln Center’s Roots of American Music Festival (NYC), Musical Instrument Museum Theater (AZ), Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, Salt Lake City’s Gallivan Center, Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival (Bluegrass in the Catskills), and Legends of Bluegrass Concert. They have also performed on the TV show “Song of the Mountain” and such well-known radio programs as “Woodsongs”, “Merry Go-Round”, WDBX’s “Blue Plate Special” and most recently, at the legendary WAMU studio on the Lee Michael Dempsey Show.


James runs a signature event in September called the Park Slope Bluegrass Oldtime Music Jamboree, a weekend event that includes bands as well as workshops. The 2014 event was nominated for IBMA Event of the Year. For more information, check out the Jamboree page on our website.