Old-School Bluegrass

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.

  James Reams - Kentucky River - Full Band
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 with plans in the works to release a CD in 2015 that will feature legendary fiddler, Blaine Sprouse. His original songs (alone and co-written with Tina Aridas) are important additions to the bluegrass repertoire. 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.

In 2013, James released the documentary film, “Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass: Tales of the Early Days in Their Own Words”, in which he interviewed over 20 first generation bluegrass musicians about their life as a musician when bluegrass was just getting started. This full-length feature film is available from CD Baby and from the James Reams website.