Jams are an integral part of the music scene on The Crooked Road. We are really enjoying stepping out in the evening to attend some of the local ones. Musicians, most of whom have no formal training, but rather learned at the knee of their parents and grandparents come out once a week to sit in a circle and “make music” together. The circles are all a bit different, but hey are all wonderful to attend. They have a common purpose of preserving mountain music and songs as it has traditionally been played.
We went to Independence last night to attend one at the 1809 Courthouse, a historical site on the Crooked Road. Driving there, we noticed that many of the farmhouses had wood smoke coming out of their chimneys. The nights are already chilly here, mostly in the 40’s. We pulled into the Courthouse which is across from Jessie’s Barbershop, a business that has been there since 1948. Hopefully, Jessie isn’t still wielding a razor? We went inside and took a seat right in front of a glass enclosed collection of antique moonshine jugs. Walls of memorabilia surrounded the space.
This circle is in the traditional style, playing and singing the old songs, many of which were familiar to us even though the style was new. Each person takes a turn calling out a song and the key. That person start the song off and everyone jumps in. The instruments represented included mandolin, bass fiddle, auto harp, dulcimer, banjo, violins, and acoustic guitar. None are miked, so the richness of the layers of instruments stays pure and clear and just the right level. Between songs, the musicians chat and joke with each other and the audience. Arnie was taking photos and one of the fellows, spoke out to him saying, “Sir, are you from Rolling Stone magazine?” It was not possible to sit still at this jam. You have to tap your toes and rock with the music. You also cannot help but smile with the sheer joy of it!
This is a velvet smooth front porch collaboration of talent used to playing together. They support one another. The circle leader makes sure that each instrument is featured equally. He calls out, “Okay, fiddles.” when their part comes up. The other instruments back off and allow the fiddles to shine, knowing that each will have a turn. Here the women played equally with the men and the respect for the women when they sang the old songs was touching and refreshing.. No pun intended, but the women are on an equal playing field here!
This music is made for the pure pleasure of making it and the sense of belonging that being a part of the group brings. Songs included Delaware Blues, Great Big Tator, Blue Ridge Trot, Cherokee shuffle. Together they are preserving something precious, music that has informed all music that has come after it. It moved Pete Seeger and the folk musicians of his era. They in turn inspired future generations. This is the sound of the origin of American music and it is deeply moving; pure water for the soul.
We arrived early and were greeted by a lady who winters in Melbourne, Florida, but comes here in the summer. She plays the dulcimer and asked for some help setting up the chairs for the circle jam. We were happy to oblige. The circle is held in an old movie theatre that resembles an old community hall that many New Englanders grew up with. The players sat int he middle of the room and the old wooden floor was soon to echo with the sound of taps as dancers began to two-step and flat foot. All were welcome to get up and dance and the locals were happy to instruct. Right after intermission, an 86-year-old gentleman came around with a coffee can collecting money for the Cake Walk. Arnie pulled out the $2.00 donation and we got up to participate. We soon learned where the saying, “It’s a Cake Walk” came from. Arnie was the first winner and we went home with a dozen homemade cookies that were most welcome in the camper! He said winning this is easy…….in fact, “It’s a Cake Walk!”
We hung around for a few minutes after the jam/dance talking with folks and enjoying the company and getting hints on where to go to hear more wonderful music like this. Folks here enjoy chatting and it is hard to part company after such an enjoyable evening.
We left saying that we had not had such a great time in a long time. Simple, no cost, good clean fun. It seems to be a rare commodity and we are grateful to have been included in this special evening.