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Bluegrass Music Reviews
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Bluegrass News
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Dr. Ralph StanleyNashville -- Trailblazing musician Ralph Stanley has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in a class that also includes actor and director Al Pacino, novelists John Irving and Annie Proulx, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and oceanographer and discoverer of the Titanic, Robert Ballard, among others.

In May, Stanley was awarded an honorary doctor of music degree from Yale University. It was his second such distinction, the first having been conferred in 1976 by Lincoln Memorial University.

Stanley will be inducted formally into the Academy at its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Oct. 11. The Academy was founded in 1780 to recognize America’s foremost “thinkers and doers.” Among its past members are George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Martin Luther King Jr. Current members include more than 250 Nobel laureates and 60 Pulitzer Prize-winners.

Recognized as the leading exponent of traditional Appalachian music and a founding father of bluegrass, Stanley has spread his sound around the world during his 68 years of touring and recording. He began his career in 1946 as the younger half of the Stanley Brothers, a group then headed by singer-songwriter Carter Stanley. The Stanley Brothers performed, recorded and appeared on television together until Carter’s death in 1966.

In the years following, Stanley built and led a band that at various times featured such rising talents as Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks and Charlie Sizemore. So significant was the Stanley sound in the 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? that Ralph rocketed from icon to superstar. He was profiled by novelist David Gates in The New Yorker and went on to earn a Grammy as top male country music vocalist, edging out Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw and Lyle Lovett. To date, he has won three Grammys.

Stanley’s high, forlorn vocals are featured in the seven-million-selling O Brother soundtrack album. In addition, he was the first performer to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in the 21st Century. He is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts.

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IBMA Awards LogoNashville, TN -- Bluegrass fans all over the globe can watch live as the final nominees for the 25th Annual International Bluegrass Music Awards are announced on Wednesday, August 13 at 4:45 pm Central/5:45 pm Eastern; for the fourth year in a row, Music City Roots (MCR) will broadcast the nomination press conference live at www.MusicCityRoots.com, from Liberty Hall in The Factory at Franklin (230 Franklin Road) in Franklin, Tennessee.

Celebrated bluegrass artists/songwriters Sam Bush and Jim Lauderdale will host the Aug. 13 nominations press conference, which is free and open to the public. Separate admission is required for Music City Roots’ Wednesday show, which will feature Sam Bush, Balsam Range, Detour, and Becky Buller. The regularly scheduled Music City Roots show will take place after the press conference at 7:00 pm Central. For ticket information, visit the MCR’s website.

Like last year, bluegrass supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina – host city for IBMA’s World of Bluegrass, Sept. 30 – October 4 – have the opportunity to watch the live August 13 nominations broadcast with fellow music fans at a “viewing party” at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (11 West Jones Street) in downtown Raleigh. The viewing party is free and open to the public, but free tickets are required – visit pinecone.org for details. North Carolina bluegrass band Diamond Creek will perform in the Daily Planet Café after the final nominees are announced.

Subscribers to SiriusXM can also listen to the August 13 press conference live on the Bluegrass Junction channel, with coverage starting at 4:45 pm Central/5:45 pm Eastern.

The International Bluegrass Music Awards will take place in Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium (in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts) at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, October 2. Grammy-winning country vocalistLee Ann Womack and Grammy-winning musician Jerry Douglas have been tapped to host the Awards show.

The IBMA Awards is part of IBMA’s World of Bluegrass event, an annual bluegrass music homecoming. The event consists of four parts: the IBMA Business Conference, September 30 – October 2; the 25th Annual International Bluegrass Music Awards, scheduled for Thursday evening, October 2; Wide Open Bluegrass, October 3-4 (which includes both free stages and ticketed festival performances) and the Bluegrass Ramble, an innovative series of showcases, taking place September 30 – October 2 in downtown Raleigh and at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Tickets for the Award Show, as well as for the ticketed portion of Wide Open Bluegrass (which takes place at Red Hat Amphitheater and Raleigh Convention Center Ballroom Stages), Bluegrass Ramble Showcase passes, IBMA Business Conference registration and hotel reservations – along with additional details and pricing information – are available through IBMA’s website, ibma.org.

IBMA – the International Bluegrass Music Association – is the professional trade organization for the global bluegrass music community. The organization’s six-year stay in Raleigh is the result of a partnership with The Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau, PineCone—The Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, the City of Raleigh and a local organizing committee.

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James Reams & The BarnstormersJames Reams & The Barnstormers just released their first full length music video featuring the song “Almost Hear the Blues” which charted nationally. The video is a collaborative effort between James Reams and filmmaker, Rick Bowman of Backyard Green Films. According to James, “Stonewall Jackson wrote this song and sang it to me over the telephone. It conjured up such vivid pictures in my head that I knew one day I’d have to make it into a video.”

The video tells the story of a man who sought perfection in love and ended up alone. As James plaintively sings this emotional song, we see him remembering happier times dancing with his sweetheart to this same tune as kids. He returns to the holler where they once lived and finds their cabin locked up, just like his heart. It isn’t until she’s actually gone that he’s able to let go of the idea of the perfect woman and go after her.

“Almost Hear the Blues” is included on James Reams & The Barnstormers’ 8th CD entitled One Foot in the Honky Tonk released in 2011. This CD made two Top Ten CDs of 2011 lists. Here’s what one reviewer had to say: “A wonderful bluegrass album that is just waiting for more of us to discover. As he has consistently done, within this new volume James Reams’ life experiences and those of his ancestors permeate the songs — whether he wrote them or not — not just lending them authenticity but ensuring they are authentic.

There are few bluegrass singers who match the lithe and masculine timbre Reams brings to the songs he is called to perform. With One Foot in the Honky Tonk, James Reams further defines his bluegrass, blending the varied elements of the roadhouse with sounds from the hills of Kentucky and her neighbors. One foot in the honky-tonk indeed, but the rest of the Barnstormers’ bodies and their souls are deep in the bluegrass.”

James Reams & The Barnstormers is abluegrass band that was nominated by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2002 as Emerging Artist of the Year, James Reams & The Barnstormers provide a contemporary take on traditional bluegrass; blending it with innovation and vitality to create their own branch on the “roots” tree. In a review of an early album by James Reams, fRoots (an international magazine that specializes in world music) declared, “Traditional music kept alive by a stylish performer… Powerful, emotional music that needs to be heard.”

Raised in eastern Kentucky but now living in Phoenix, James Reams puts a layer of desert grit over a solid base of traditional bluegrass music. His band treads the terrain where bluegrass, old-time, classic country and rockabilly meet in the night to swap stories. These are the sounds of the hills and hollers combined with the sounds of factories, railroad yards and honky tonks.

The band celebrated 20 years of playing bluegrass music in 2013 with a coast-to-coast tour from New York to California. The much anticipated DVD documentary Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass Music hosted by James Reams was released in July of 2013. Known as an unofficial “Ambassador of Bluegrass,” James is devoted to promoting bluegrass music worldwide.

For further information about James Reams & The Barnstormers visit their website. Additional videos are available on YouTube.

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Town MountainAsheville, NC -- Town Mountain’s hard drivin’ bluegrass sound, tight harmonies, and stellar in-house songwriting have become the band’s trademark. They light up the stage with their honky tonk edge and barroom swagger, featuring a Jimmy Martin-style bounce and confidence that is countered at times by a laid-back John Hartford-esque groove. Town Mountain includes Robert Greer on vocals and guitar, Jesse Langlais on banjo and vocals, Bobby Britt on fiddle, Phil Barker on mandolin and vocals, and Nick DiSebastian on bass.

They are set to release their first official live album, Town Mountain: Live At The Isis, on August 19th, 2014.The concert was recorded in their hometown of Asheville, NC at Isis Music Hall. The album features live versions of previously released studio material including crowd favorites “Lawdog,” “Tarheel Boys” and the fiddle tune “Four Miles.” Amidst the original songs are a couple of lively Town Mountain-tweaked covers such as “The Race Is On” and “Orange Blossom Special.” The audio was mixed by Scott Vestal, acclaimed banjoist with the Sam Bush Band, who also mixed their 2012 release, Leave The Bottle. As for the future, stay tuned for a new upcoming studio album due next spring filled with more original Town Mountain songs.

Town Mountain was honored to learn that they made the 2nd ballot for the IBMA Awards in the categories of Entertainer of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year, Instrumental Group of the Year, and Emerging Artist of the Year. Lead singer Robert Greer also made the 2nd ballot for Male Vocalist of the Year and Bobby Britt is staking a well-deserved claim for Fiddle Player of the Year! After this 2nd voting period is over, the final ballot will be announced in mid-August, which the IBMA voters will send in by early September.

Riding on the momentum of Leave the Bottle, Town Mountain came away from the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) World of Bluegrass convention with a couple of IBMA Momentum Awards in hand for “Band of the Year” and lead singer Robert Greer for “Vocalist of the Year.”

“Phil Barker’s ‘Lawdog’ sounds like an unearthed classic, and the group’s tight harmonies alone make this record a treat for any bluegrass fan,” said Juli Thanki of Engine 145. David Morris of Bluegrass Today adds, “The songs [on Leave The Bottle] are new and mostly written by band members, but they sound like they could have come from the exciting early days of bluegrass…..The band sounds the part – tight picking and comfortable harmonies that aren’t overdubbed to soulless perfection. And the songs sound the part, too – murder ballads, endless highways, a nod to bluegrass’ Celtic roots and even a tip of the hat to a moonshiner.”

This summer they perform at Rockygrass and Targhee Bluegrass Festival, along with several shows in the Northwest before a plethora of dates in northeast, the southern appalachian region, and the midwest. In the fall the band will be appearing at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, Watermelon Park Festival, IBMA’s World of Bluegrass Festival, 34th Annual Georgia MarbleFest and a host of other shows.

The band has been having an exciting year so far and have traveled far and wide including some notable appearances in 2014 at Wintergrass, Suwannee Springfest, Durango Bluegrass MeltDown, Music City Roots, MerleFest, Lake Eden Arts Festival, Graves Mountain Festival, Best of Bluegrass, California Bluegrass Association Father's Day Festival, Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, The Grey Fox Music Festival as well as a recent show at City Winery in Chicago supporting Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys.

Town Mountain is in it for the long haul... check out out where they’ll be travelin’ to this year and keep an eye on TownMountain.net for further dates and updates from the road at facebook.com/TownMountain and twitter.com/TownMountain.

Town Mountain on Tour 2014:
7/25 Fri - The Walnut Room - Denver, CO *w/ Whetherman
7/26 Sat - 42nd RockyGrass Festival - Lyons, CO
8/01 Fri - Pickin' In Parsons Bluegrass Festival - Parsons, WV
8/02 Sat - Mt Vernon Nights- Workhouse Arts Center at Lorton - Lorton, VA
8/08 Fri - The 27th Annual Targhee Bluegrass Festival - Alta, WY
8/09-10 Sat-Sun - Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival - Spokane, WA
8/12 Tue - Republic Brewing Company - Republic, WA
8/13 Wed - Tractor Tavern - Seattle, WA
8/15 Fri - The Nelson Odeon - Cazenovia, NY
8/16 Sat - Riverlink Park Summer Concert Series 2014- Amsterdam, NY
8/17 Sun - Club Passim - Cambridge, MA
8/21 Thu - Cosmic Charlie’s - Lexington, KY
8/22 Fri - Isis Music Hall - Asheville, NC
8/29 Fri - Zanzabar - Louisville, KY
8/30 Sat - Red, White and Bluegrass At Holiday World - Santa Claus, IN
9/04 Thu - 8 x 10 - Baltimore, MD
9/05 Fri - Historic Blairstown Theater - Blairstown, NJ
9/12-13 Fri-Sat - Pickin' in the Pines Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival - Flagstaff, AZ
9/20 Sat - Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion Bristol, TN
9/26 Fri - Watermelon Park Festival- Berryville, VA
9/27 Sat - Music Box Supper Club - Cleveland, OH
9/28 Sun - Rinky Dinks Roadhouse - Amity, PA
10/03 Fri - IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass - Raleigh, NC
10/04 Sat - 34th Annual Georgia MarbleFest - Marble, CO
10/15 Wed - Station Inn- Nashville, TN
10/16 Thu - The Southgate House Revival - Revival Room - Newport KY
10/17 Fri - Stoney Point Jamboree - Paris, KY
10/18 Sat - Historic Cowee School Concert Series - Franklin NC
10/23 Thu - Ashland Coffee and Tea - Ashland, VA
10/24 Fri - Gypsy Sally's - Washington DC
11/6-7 Thu-Fri - Riverhawk Music Festival - Brooksville, FL
11/14 Fri - Randy Wood Guitars - Bloomingdale, GA

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James ReamsBy Guest Columnist James Reams
It’s hard to watch the Country Music Awards and not wonder why the IBMA Awards are largely ignored by the music industry. What has country got that we haven’t? Our songs feature longing, lost love, hard work, history, and yes, even crying in your beer. Our musicians are just as talented, perhaps more so as I think of the lightning speed associated with fiddle, mandolin and banjo picking. I dare any country band to keep up with us! Our voices pitch into that high lonesome sound made popular by Bill Monroe, but that’s not all we can do. Bluegrass music is just as well rounded as country. So why aren’t we as popular?

I bet I can count on two hands the number of bluegrass bands that are full-time. Even with a record deal, our artists are struggling as the recording industry isn’t funding artist development and promotion for bluegrassers. Most of us have to have a “real” job to pay the bills or at least a retirement income that helps plug the gaps between music gigs, festivals and album sales. While the top names in bluegrass travel around in beat up station wagons, converted school buses, and fly coach class; top artists in rock, country and rap are traveling in style in private jets and Provost buses.

There’s just such a small slice of the bluegrass pie available, that it’s not enough to feed more than a few bands on a full-time basis. Those of us scratching and clawing to get bookings can sometimes contribute to the perception that bluegrass music is cheap and inexpensive as we agree to perform for next to nothing, even showcase events, just so we can play this music we love. My friend and colleague Walter Hensley used to say, “The less meat on the bone, the harder the dogs fight.” By undercutting each other, we’re undermining the entire bluegrass music industry.

Today’s economic crisis doesn’t help either but folks still mob Country Thunder and other predominantly country music outdoor concerts. With 80,000 to 100,000 fans from all over the US in attendance, Country Thunder makes the top bluegrass festivals look withered in comparison. I recently had a promoter in Texas tell me that he had to drop his bluegrass festival because people were complaining about the cost of tickets. Without ticket sales to encourage sponsorships, he was unable to bring in the bigger names in bluegrass and it was just a slippery slide downhill from there. Now he promotes a country swing festival that folks flock to in droves and he hasn’t had a single complaint about the ticket prices. What’s up with that?!?

I believe bluegrass music is at a crossroads. We can continue on as we have since we got started and ride off into the sunset or we can deviate just a bit and take directions from other successful music genres. Change doesn’t mean that we forget where we came from, our bluegrass roots will continue to be the foundation that gives our music its’ identity. But, it’s my contention that we need to change the misconception that bluegrass is just for old-timers on pensions and bring our music into the 21st century. So how do we do that without losing our “bluegrassiness”?

A major factor is embracing technology. If you look at the music styles that are hugely successful these days, it’s easy to see what sets them apart — the MEDIA. Radio channels are clogged 24/7 with stations devoted to rock, rap/hip hop, country, Christian and even classical music. Yet live bluegrass radio programs are largely relegated to Sundays. Except for DC-based WAMU 105.5FM, I can’t turn my radio dial and find one single station devoted solely to bluegrass music. But I can listen to bluegrass music online or even create my own digital bluegrass station using apps like Pandora. And adding your own music is simple enough that even I could figure it out. Yeah, it’s not the same as radio plays and I miss all the depth and news that DJs provide, but it does reach those listeners that have earbuds permanently embedded in their heads.

I don’t think anyone will argue with me when I say that the current generation is on visual overload. Let’s face it, MTV and CMTV are here to stay. You just can’t deny that this is the age of the music video. So where are all the bluegrass videos? I firmly believe that TV/Internet speaks to the masses, bluegrass radio preaches to the choir. We’ve got to get more professional looking bluegrass videos in front of folks.

“Quality” is the keyword when it comes to videos. YouTube is clogged with unedited videos of dubious sound quality featuring bands at bluegrass festivals shot using Uncle Billy’s iPhone (I’ve certainly contributed my fair share!). But a static shot of your favorite band performing on a festival stage is not the kind of music video that’s going to grab the attention of the music world. As performers there’s a limit to the emotion we can incorporate into a song while we’re on stage. Most bluegrass songs tell a story, creating a video takes it a step further by providing images that convey the feeling behind the words and actually complement the singing. If we’re going to claw our way out of the poverty class of music, we have to find a way to emotionally connect viewers of all ages to our music. I think feeding the visual addiction of today’s music lovers is critical.

I can just hear you saying, “Hold on there, James! Where are we going to get the money to make these videos? We’re barely making ends meet now!” And you’re right, making a video can drain a bank account faster than an ex-wife. But thanks to the Internet, there are numerous crowd funding sources available. I used Kickstarter to help fund the final production push for my film documentary, “Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass.” Other popular options for funding creative projects include Indiegogo and RocketHub. And don’t forget that making music videos is how many well-known film directors got their start. Collaborate with a talented film student at a local university or purchase film editing software for your computer whiz kid for Christmas. Who knows, you may discover a future Stephen Spielberg!

What I’m saying is, there are options out there to fit most budgets. Once you have a couple of videos going viral, you can start approaching sponsors to help fund the next one. Country music moved into the spotlight, literally, when they embraced music videos. Bluegrass can do the same. It’s a sleeping giant just waiting to be awakened. BGTV anyone?

I’d like to hear what you have to say. Send your email to james@jamesreams.com and let your voice be heard!

James Reams is an international bluegrass touring and recording artist coming from a family of traditional singers in southeastern Kentucky, James has played both old-time and bluegrass music since he was just a little sprout. James is known as an “Ambassador of Bluegrass” for his dedication to and deep involvement in the thriving bluegrass and Americana music community. To date, he has released 8 CDs including a special DVD documentary of his band: James Reams & The Barnstormers. Celebrating 20 years as a bandleader in 2013, he released the DVD documentary Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass, the culmination of over 10 years of filming and interviews. James is also the organizer of the Park Slope Bluegrass Oldtime Music Jamboree, an annual music festival he started in 1998 that attracts musicians and fans of traditional music to its workshops, jamming and concerts — the only event of its kind in or around New York City. Read More About James!

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