Thursday, September 3, 2009

Good ol' hootin' & hollerin' at the Bluegrass Jamboree

James Reams and the Barnstormers

By Joe Maniscalco

Park Slope is a long way from the hills and hollers of Appalachia, but you would never know it at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture where for two days in September the fiddlin’ is furious and the harmonies are definitely down home.

James Reams started the Park Slope Bluegrass & Old-Time Jamboree 12 years ago and ever since then devotees of these quintessential forms of American music have flocked to the friendly confines of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture at 53 Prospect Park West to celebrate the faithful fusion of African-American slaves and Scotch-Irish settlers.

“I think there’s just a craving for this type of roots music,” Reams explains. “People don’t get to see the real thing in New York City.”

This year’s festival will span two days – September 11 and 12 – and feature live performances, all-day jam sessions, workshops and good eats courtesy of Dizzy’s Diner over on 9th Street.

Musical guests include James Reams and The Barnstormers, Hells Kitchen Country, the A-Kays, Lightning in the East, David Laibman and many more.It’s probably the only time of the year when the sound of foot stomping clogging rivals the rumble of the subway.

And don’t worry if you don’t own a string tie or know that Old-Time musicians play Gibsons guitars and Bluegrass pickers use Martins, the Park Slope Bluegrass & Old -Time Jamboree has always been about inclusion.

“It’s an opportunity to hear people you don’t hear all the time,” says Steve Arkin of Lightening in the East. “It’s antiquity. It’s spooky, ancient, authentic sounding music.”

Arkin, former Blue Grass Boy and Troublesome Creek banjoist, knows something about old-time authenticity and has played the Park Slope Bluegrass & Old-Time Jamboree from the very beginning.

This year, Alan Jabbour, former director of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, will also be on hand to push the Jamboree’s Bluegrass cred even higher than it already is.

The celebrated fiddle player, credited with helping to revive old-time Southern string band music starting in the 1960s will not only perform, he’ll also conduct a fiddle-playing workshop on the second day of the Jamboree and invite anyone who’s of a mind to fiddle to learn straight from the master himself.

Other hands-on workshops include guitar, banjo and mandolin.

The fun kicks off with a Friday night concert by the critically acclaimed James Reams & The Barnstormers at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children. Saturday’s events start at 12:30 p.m. and go all the way to 10:30 p.m. Jam sessions and instrumental workshops take place throughout the day, followed by more concerts at night.

The whole shebang will only cost you $4.“Folk music used to be truckers and farmers,” Reams says. “This is the music of the people - the story of America melting and fusing into a different style.”

Reams’ band plays all over the United States and everywhere they go they’ll invariably run into someone who finds it hard to believe that Old-Time and Bluegrass music not only exists on the streets of Brooklyn, but actually thrives here.

But Reams isn’t surprised at all, pointing out that the kind of diverse melding and molding that gave birth to Old-Time and Bluegrass music is part and parcel of what the borough of Brooklyn is really all about.

“There’s a little bit of bluegrass poking up through the cracks of the sidewalk,” Reams says.

Somewhere, Bill Monroe is smiling.

For more information about the Park Slope Bluegrass & Old-Time Jamboree call the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture at 718-768-2972 or the Jamboree staff at 718-965-8490.


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