Folk music drifts down the hall. A vibrant and mellow voice accompanies an acoustic guitar and twangy harmonica. The atmosphere is lighthearted and full of excitement as the singer performs a medley of his songs. Applause and chants for an encore erupt from the crowd when the concert comes to an end.
The concert venue, room 136, is lined with countless posters of all sorts. A bookshelf sits in the back of the classroom next to a muted green sofa. Nestled in the opposite corner are two desks cluttered with odd figurines and a bold handmade name plate. It’s a rough but oddly cozy sight, and it perfectly captures the man of this classroom: English teacher and singer-songwriter Joseph “Joey” Barro.
One glance at Barro stirs a first impression along the lines of an easygoing surfer dude. His messy light brown hair and ragged beard give him that casual look. He has a tendency to rest his hands on his knees and slouch forward when he sits on stools. His speech is calm and conversational, articulated and confident, though he is not a man of many words.
Barro’s wife, Fountain Valley High School biology teacher Emily Barro, described him as playful and mild-mannered with a dash of rebelliousness and loads of intelligence. Beneath the unassuming surface lies an incredibly gifted writer and an incredibly creative person. There are times when inspiration strikes him in the middle of the night, and he’s up pouring his thoughts out in the “Notes” app on his phone, she recounted.
The talent and creativity that ooze out of Barro don’t stay in his phone. He channels them in his music, which he says is an important, almost innate, part of his life.
“I typically play folk rock,” Barro said. “So, sometimes folk, sometimes rock, sometimes both. I’ve played other genres, but that is the only one that truly fits my personality. I’m not too big on defining genres in music, but if I had to classify it, that would be it.”
Barro’s stage name, The Traditionist, was originally a song name, but eventually stuck with him as a moniker. It’s a fitting name for him since he steers his music towards the traditional side of things.
Being an English teacher, Barro has a deep appreciation for language, literature and poetry.
“I think I gravitated toward the folk music side of things because I like lyrics more than anything,” he said.
Barro’s favorite part of songwriting is the lyrics, and he’s especially drawn to songs with meaningful lyrics that he can emotionally connect to.
His love for folk-rock music comes not only from an appreciation for lyrics but also from his dad. Growing up, Barro often listened to bluegrass music and classic rock bands such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan and The Band. Barro began playing music at a young age, picking up the violin at age three before moving onto the piano. Neither instrument resonated with him until he found the guitar, which he’s been playing for 24 years.
“I think I took to the guitar because my dad played the guitar. He was able to play and sing at family gatherings and parties. I was always impressed by that and wanted to be able to that for as long as I can remember,” he said. “We still play together sometimes; it’s fun.”
Throughout his life, Barro has explored music from artists of all genres. His favorites are endless, but timeless folk and rock musicians like The Beatles are constants in his varied tastes, and they inspire his music. Another one of Barro’s primary influences is his friend Tim Bluhm, the forefront of a band called The Mother Hips.
In addition to establishing many connections and friendships, music has led to many adventures and experiences for Barro. The beauty of music is creating countless memories, he said. Barro remembers his first time playing in public at a college party.
“I was so nervous that I couldn’t keep my hands still, which wasn’t good because I had to play the guitar. I had played for friends in high school and at little parties, but that was the first real big [performance],” Barro said.
Barro doesn’t have a particular achievement that he’s most proud of. Being able to play music and having the desire to write songs is what matters to him and makes him happy. But Barro’s journey as a musician is not one without challenges.
When he was first getting acquainted with the music world, Barro didn’t like “navigating through a lot of the people in music” because he found that the music industry was judgmental and discouraging at times. With time, however, Barro’s viewpoint of the industry changed.
“The people can sometimes be a challenge, but music is only what I want it to be now,” Barro said. “I’m lucky, in a sense. It’s not my career, so no record company or bandmates are really depending on me or anything. It’s whatever I want it to be.”
Although music was initially a hobby and social activity for Barro, it continues to play a big role in his growth and taught him about life and art, about being free and focused.
“[Music] became something that unknowingly taught me many lessons,” Barro said. “It helps me stay present, try to be in the moment and focus on the song.”
Aside from The Traditionist, Barro also plays with his friends in a band called Fiction Non Fiction. As of now, his band is not actively playing shows but they plan to in the future. His hobbies include surfing, writing, reading and watching baseball. Barro is currently listening to Marvin Gaye’s album “You’re the Man” and Tim Bluhm’s album “Sorta Surviving.” He’s also a huge family man and loves spending time and traveling with his wife and sons.
“Music full-time is a lot of pressure,” Barro said. “If someone wanted to consistently pay me to write some songs, I’d definitely consider it. But touring and all that is really tough. I have a family that I love; I wouldn’t want to be apart from them. And my current job is pretty sweet, too.”
In July 2018, The Traditionist released “Narratives”, his second full-length work since 2008. He also recorded a dozen songs with musicians from the band Dawes and a video with his band that are scheduled to be released this year. These releases and more can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and The Traditionist’s website anescapetoholdonto.com.
“I’m proud of the recordings; I think they sound really good,” Barro said. “I just like sharing my art with people.”