the best laid plans
We ended up in North Bennington at Joe and Alisa's house, local artists who work in metal and moved up here from Jersey. Inside their warm woodstove-heated home about twenty random musicians, kids, food lovers, and a black dog named Scruffy were enjoying a potluck meal and carrying cases into the music room. When stomachs were full, we all got together to play some tunes. From Cash to Dylan, to songs so old Cash and Dylan never heard them*, we were holding our own.
By the height of the jam there were four guitars, a banjo, two mandolins, two fiddles, drums, an electric bass, and a harmonica. It was a lot of people. I tend to like smaller groups where everyone gets their chance to show off a little, try a new thing, really get put on the spot. Mostly because if you pull it off (I pull it off one in five times or so) and get that smile and nod from the other pickers - you know you've really done something right. It feels good. But in a large group it's hard to even hear a soloist, much less get a chance for that humble nod.
But there was this point when just myself, Dave, and Justin (a Bennington College grad-student banjo player) got together for a few chords, and I must say that was a fine time. In smaller groups you can focus on the little parts of old-time songs that have preserved them. The parts where the mandolin rings out and the fiddle cries and the banjo grabs a slide and we all sink into this place with an address like DAG, CGC, or EBD. It also helped that Justin sounded like he was born in the wrong century and wanted us all to know about it. And he did, and I loved him for it.
I'm glad I went out, as a homebody (a very unfashionable thing for a younger person to be today) I rarely just venture out like this on whim. But the farm was already bedded down for the night. Animals were penned, cooped and fed, and firewood was stocked by the firepace for when I came home to it. And I was already dressed for a night on the town, so I felt like I had some stolen freedom, and it came out in some tunes like Wagon Wheel and Old Joe Clark.
Anyway, I'm telling you all this because at this random session there was a guy in his mid-forties with a brand new gorgeous Guild guitar who had never played with people before. He was a grown man but as nervous as a freshman frat guy during rush week. To his credit, he was there. He knew a few chords and really held his own. I love, LOVE, going to jams with new people. I feel like I'm an old Mason or Elk shaking the new pledge's hand and welcoming him into this secret society of old songs and coffee and music festivals and firesides. To see someone brave a jam like that, and go home standing a little taller is truly rewarding for me. To witness this subtle transformation of a new musician holding his case like it's the reins of a trusted horse and not a ticking time bomb, is a little whimsical snack the world throws up in the air for this sheepdog. And I will leap in the air to catch it, and chomp down on it with all I've got.
Music like this knows no class or priveledge. It doesn't matter if you're a plumber, a prostitute, or a doctor when you're in that circle. What matters is how hard you practice and what you earned on your own time. This equality rarely seems to thrive in the modern world, and I long for it after a week in a desk chair where I am constantly reminded of my place in the world. But when you leave a good jam, bonefide from it, you sleep better at night.
As I get older, and become more and more of a citizen in this world of 401k plans and dinner parties, I am noticing all those little rights of passage fading from adult life. There are no more ceremonies, caps and gowns, or anything remotely like that. But playing music like this, brings some of those old rights back. It gives us a place in the world where you need to work hard and earn those nods, and each one is a little black cap and gown. "Conratulations Jenna, you just graduated from Dorian University -you may turn your tassle to the other side". Maybe I just see this because I want too. But I doubt that matters.
So, point is, pick up that guitar you always wanted to play son, even if you're sixty-five and never took a lesson. Get some beginner books and CDs, give yourself 15 minutes a night, and if you want to play, you will. This isn't like watching the Olympics and wanting to be a speed skater in six months. This is possible, practical really, because for such a small intial investment you have this tool that is your social network, best friend, and boredom remover all in one. Maybe in few months you'll be at your own first jam? But even if you're not, being able to pick up a fiddle and play Blackest Crow just for yourself beats most scenes. Or so I say, but I can't get a date, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
*they probably heard them