Virginia native Janie Barnett cut her teeth on bluegrass festivals, church coffeehouses, and the American Folklife Festival. When she met iconic Americana barnstormer and Newgrass pioneer John Hartford at Folklife, so began her love affair with the alternate roots movement. “I couldn’t commit to being a 100mph flat-picker. But I fell in love with those sounds. And behind every great song was a renegade twist to be had. That renegade twist is really part of my DNA.” The seeds were planted for a lifelong quest for a hybrid style that favored roots-music instruments, the whimsical storytelling of her favorite author John Steinbeck, and the social passions of one who grew up in the backyard of Washington D.C.
One can see the roots of this renegade impulse throughout Barnett’s growing up. Socialist grandparents on one side, a newsman father, and a labor advocate mother. Barnett defected from the local high school for boarding school, where, ironically, she found her tribe of outside-the-box musicians. She then defected from the Ivy League to play in a roots and reggae band in New Hampshire and Cambridge, then ultimately defecting from the New England music scene to New York City.
Barnett rose to become one of the top 20 session singer calls, while continuing her search for her own essential expression. The essential songs, the essential timbre, the core family of musicians. “I was also going through the long process of my marriage ending. My partner and I needed to set each other free in order to be ourselves. I recognized I had to own that process in the music.” Several collections of music were released through those years, but none Barnett felt had fully captured her authentic voice as a writer or musician.