Public Jam Sessions, Human Jukebox, Coal Miner's Daughter, and More

This column briefly reviews the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter," and provides some advice on establishing public jam sessions and performing as a human jukebox.

| July/August 1980

Even homesteaders need to relax and enjoy themselves from time to time, right? And almost everybody these days wants to cut his or her cost of living. So how about a little do-it-yourself entertainment?

That's what this column is about. Homegrown music... and sometimes homemade musical instruments to play it on.

Share Some Down-Home Music

As you know, music is one of those activities that are a lot more fun when they're shared with good friends ... but it's often difficult (especially for anyone who lives in a remote, rural area) to find people to get together and jam with. In fact, I receive quite a few letters from folks who want to know how to locate other homegrown musicians.

Maybe you've been faced with this same problem ... or maybe you're just yearning to meet someone who can teach you a few new tunes to work on. In either case, here are a few suggestions on how to deal with a musical "dry spell"... and bring a little culture to your community at the same time.

Public Jam Sessions

First of all, pick up your guitar (or mandolin, or fiddle, or whatever instrument you play) and head on down to a local club or tavern that sponsors jam sessions. Also called "open mike" nights, such get-togethers usually feature a mixture of professional and amateur talent ... so everyone that drops by can have a chance to join in the action. In most cases the band—or the solo performer—who's hired by the club will sing a set of songs (to put everyone in the right mood) ... and then the management will turn the stage over to anyone else who might want to play. Each player is normally allotted a fixed time slot ... which should be at least 30 minutes long, since a picker needs time to get warmed up to his instrument and to the crowd.

In a looser variation of the standard arrangement, the band—following its own set—invites musicians in the audience to join in as it continues to play. This kind of jam may become a little confusing (and noisy!), but it's also a lot of fun for the entire house. The open mike events I've participated in were most often a combination of the two types: Some people played with the band, while others took the stage alone.

Whichever way it's organized, an open mike program seems to benefit everyone involved. The club's management has an opportunity to audition new talent (and provide a lot of no cost entertainment in the process!) ... the band usually is guaranteed a large, enthusiastic audience (even on traditionally slack week nights) ... and local pickers have a chance to try out their licks, while meeting new friends and fellow musicians.

Do-It-Yourself Gatherings

Open mikes are great opportunities, but what can you do if there simply aren't any taverns or coffeehouses in your area where such events are routinely held? Well, if that's the case, it's really not as difficult as you might think to organize your own gathering even if you don't have access to sound amplification equipment.

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