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Anni Beach Honored for Dedication to Students of Bluegrass

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Anni Beach, James Reams, AlanBarnstormer Boost Award for Dedicated Music Teacher -- As the Grand Finale to the James Reams & The Barnstormers’ 20th anniversary coast-to-coast celebration tour, the band performed to a packed house at the Fiddler’s Dream concert hall in Phoenix, AZ on Saturday, November 2nd. The standing room only event brought together this nationally-known bluegrass band, a Grammy-nominated fiddler, a 70-year-old music teacher, and an 11-year-old Hispanic guitar player for an evening of great music and good times.

Since James Reams moved to the Phoenix area 3 years ago, he’s been looking for a way to give back to the bluegrass community in the Southwest. Over 14 years ago, he established the Brown Jug Award which honors people in the Northeast whose impact on bluegrass music deserves recognition but have been overlooked by national organizations as their impact may have been regional in nature. Past recipients have included Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders and this year Carol Beaugard, host of the syndicated Lonesome Pine RFD radio show.

So to cap off his 20th anniversary celebration, James decided to give out a Barnstormer Boost Award to honor someone in the Southwest. And the first recipient is…Anni Beach, founder of the Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass Neighborhood Band! The original band started when 2 little second graders knocked on her door after she had just finished substitute teaching at their school. They wanted her to sing and play more music with them. In her words, “That was in April, 1994 and life at the Beach House was never the same again!” Now at 25 members ranging in ages from 5 to 90, this ethnically diverse neighborhood band performs at bluegrass festivals and events across Arizona every year.

“Every person, big or little, has a story,” remembers Anni. “Most of our members are immigrants or are born of those who came to America to seek better opportunities for their children. Some of the stories are heartbreakers, but our strong music family of Jam Pak provides a secure social network and the chance to succeed. Music, and especially bluegrass music, is so social, just like the old days. We can take it anywhere and at any time. Everyone helps each other learn. That is expected and a ‘must’ because no one gets paid to teach.”

Starting out with just six children playing harmonicas, they then moved “up” to a handmade instrument called the canjo. When Anni called the inventor, Herschel Brown in North Carolina, and told him what she was doing, he sent her a bunch of kits for free and encouraged the little group to get out there and share the music. They played their first bluegrass festival in 1998 with canjos and a washtub bass. Since then donated instruments have made their way to the Beach House, thanks to the generosity of the bluegrass community in Arizona, and now all the band members perform with professional-quality instruments.

A featured performer at the concert Saturday night was one of Anni’s students, 11 year old Alan. Alan was only 7 when he followed his older brother to Anni’s house. He picked up the guitar and has been playing and singing ever since. Now he performs in 3 bands, teaches guitar playing, and, according to Anni, “is a delight!” He brought down the house when he performed his renditions of “Two Dollar Bill” and “Clinch Mountain Backstep” with James Reams & The Barnstormers. Lookout Sleepy Man Banjo Boys!

When asked how she did it, Anni commented, “Although I was a teacher and counselor by trade, I hadn’t done anything like this. I had to learn how to lead, how to teach musical instruments, [and] how to organize practices. Our goal for Jam Pak has always been to make ourselves and others happy with our music.”

And that should be the goal of any musician! James Reams is proud to recognize Anni Beach for her tireless efforts to promote bluegrass music across generations and cultures. So here’s to Anni Beach and the Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass Neighborhood Band may their story encourage others worldwide to take up the challenge!

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