Author: Campbell, Bruce

Jam? Jam? Who's Gotta Jam?

Saw a notice in the Message Board about someone trying to find a jam in Contra Costa County. As Regional VP for the CBA in that county, I am embarrassed that I donít know of many regular jams around here. Thereís one in Dublin, but thatís actually Alameda County.

I host a Bluegrass Open Mic every month in Martinez, but itís not really a jam (although folks sometimes will jam in the backyard at the venue (Armandoís). When I want to go to a jam, I usually head out to Alameda County where there are several.

Itís hard to find a public venue for bluegrass jams. Many establishments donít see them as much of draw, and donít want to risk alienating clients who donít like bluegrass music. To be fair, the quality of the music in a jam can be wildly variable, so the best venue would be a quiet place where selling drinks and food to just the musicians would guarantee a successful night.

That last part is important - to curry the favor of a proprietor who agrees to host a jam, everybody playing needs to be a terrific guest - respect the room, donít strew instrument cases everywhere and make sure to buy food and drink while youíre there. The owners wonít feel invaded, and they may be surprised how many DO like to listen to bluegrass!

The alternative to having a jam at a restaurant or cafe or coffee house is one at a rec
center, or a church. In a lot of cases, you wonít need their biggest room so be sure and inquire if there is an outbuilding or classroom on the premises that would accommodate your jam - it may be easier to book than their main space, which tends to be busy.

ďScoopĒ NIsker used to say, ďIf you donít like the news, go out and make some of your own!Ē. The same applies to jams. If you canít find one, make one. Pick a weekend day out a few weeks and offer to host a jam and see if you can attract at least 3 or 4 other pickers to join in. Itís a little like dating - not everybody is going to hit it off, but you can generally find someone of the same musical tastes, temperament and skill level, and build a core from there. Maybe your group can rotate the location as the jam picks up some momentum.

I used to play in a weekly jam at the Clayton home of my friends Tom and Sharon Bailey, and I think that jam went on for about 5 straight years and we had the best darn time, Ended up with about 8 or 9 regulars and any given week, you could expect at least 6 to show up. I remain close friends with nearly everyone in that group, and have many fond memories of hanging out with those folks. Amazing that such lasting friendships can spring from an investment of about 3 hours a week!

All jams have a lifespan. Just as impromptu jams at festivals blossom, then collapse, a similar thing tends to happen to regular jams too. Peopleís lives change, the venue becomes unavailable, someone turns pro and tours the world - what are you going to do? Start over - thatís what. Itís worth the effort, and modern social media make it pretty easy to find folks to pick with. Donít give up!

Posted:  5/7/2014

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