Kentuckian James Reams proves that you can take the boy out of bluegrass country, but you can't take the bluegrass out of the boy. Even after he'd moved north to Brooklyn, he continued to pursue his love of traditional bluegrass and old-time music. In his adopted state of New York, where he has lived for more than a dozen years, Reams spearheaded a yearly festival for lovers of old-time and bluegrass music. The event, dubbed the Park Slope Bluegrass/Old-Time Jamboree, is unique in the Big Apple and draws approximately 500 musical artists. Thanks to his music, as well as his efforts to bring bluegrass to a wider audience, over the years Reams has picked up nicknames that reflect both his native state and his adopted one: "The Kentucky Songbird" and "The Father of Brooklyn Bluegrass."
Raised on a Kentucky farm, Reams was surrounded by music and music lovers. In a cabin with a dirt floor, he was an enthusiastic audience for his dad and his dad's pals when they got together to play guitar, banjo, and fiddle. His father also performed in a band at regional get-togethers, including square dances. The men in the family weren't the only ones who knew how to have fun while making music. Reams' mom and aunts contributed their vocal performances to family musical events. Reams' father was his first music teacher when the aspiring musician was 12 and learning how to play the guitar. Members of a church congregation made up the younger Reams' first public audience, when he accompanied a gospel trio.
In 1993, he established a group called the Barnstormers that is still going strong. Reams is lead singer and guitarist. The remainder of the group consists of Mark Farrell, who contributes harmony vocals and plays the fiddle and mandolin; banjo player Mickey Maguire; and Carl Hayano, who also sings harmony and plays stand-up bass.