Long-Running Bluegrass Jam still delights Richmond Beach

Friday, January 27, 2012

The signboard
Photo by Marc Weinberg
The first Sunday of every month, from noon to 5pm, Bluegrass jam at The Little Store, 2002 NW 196th St, Shoreline 98177 (Richmond Beach Road and 20th NE). Next date Sunday, February 5.

By Tom Petersen

It’s said the Bluegrass is the happiest, most joyful, energetic, uplifting music there is . . . except for all the Mother-is-dead songs! That must be what has kept pickers of all ages, their fans, neighbors, and the curious coming back every first Sunday of the month to The Little Store at Richmond Beach for twelve years now. Between noon and 5 o’clock, between the ice cream freezer cases and the office supply and cereal shelves, a dozen or more musicians play that high, lonesome sound, take audience requests, catch up on neighborhood news, pass along greetings from the far-flung Bluegrass community, and teach each other new and old songs.

Mandolin, fiddle, and dobro
Photo by Marc Weinberg
All Are Welcome

The true spirit of Bluegrass is found in jamming. The Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, whose centenary is being celebrated this year, would jump off his tour bus and play with anybody who was around, right there in the parking lot. Though it is big business, with millions of fans attending hundreds of festivals all year round, Bluegrass is a “folk” music and a family experience. There is practically no distance between the biggest stars and the rank beginners, and everyone helps everyone else learn the music.

Harmonica man
Photo by Marc Weinberg
While nominally a Bluegrass jam, the Richmond Beach bunch has fun playing related genres, too: Classic Country, Blues, some Jazz and Swing, Rags, Reels, and Folk Scare favorites all come up. While the jam generally sticks to Bluegrass instrumentation – Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Banjo, Fiddle, and Dobro – exceptions for the “cousins,” harmonica, autoharp, and dulcimer are cheerfully made.

Education and Community

The Richmond Beach jam is particularly welcoming of the young or beginning pickers. While the jam founders, Doug Chandler and Jack Boyer, are expert pickers with decades of experience, and the jam is regularly attended by some of the area’s star performers and music professionals, they sit right beside adults holding their first guitars, kids eager to play something besides “school music,” and retirees dusting off old skills now that they have time again for a hobby.

Many brought more than one instrument
Photo by Marc Weinberg
Many of the “regulars” are tutors or teachers for this or that instrument, or are workshop leaders at festivals in the Northwest, such as the Washington Old-Time Fiddlers’ camp, the programs at Centrum, or the workshops at February’s Wintergrass Music Festival in Bellevue. In fact, jammer Tom Petersen conducts a workshop at Wintergrass for school teachers on how to use music to pep up any subject.

Happy Audience
Photo by Marc Weinberg
Many Other Opportunities to Play or Listen

The jam in Richmond Beach is just one of many such events held regularly in Shoreline and nearby. Also in Richmond Beach, the venerable Cabin tavern has for years welcomed pickers every Tuesday night. Just north of the city limits, at the Aurora Antique Mall, they’re jamming on the second Sunday of every month (and the fifth, if there is one). Other jams in Seattle, farther north, and on the Eastside can be found listed on the Washington Bluegrass Association website.

Regulars Joanne and Tom
Photo by Marc Weinberg
Shoreline Community College has a popular evening class for beginning and intermediate Bluegrass musicians, aged 16 and up. The Wintergrass festival offers a two- day Youth Academy for beginning to intermediate players, ages 6 to 14, and conducts the Wintergrass Youth Orchestra for intermediate-to-accomplished Middle School aged students. Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop, in Fremont, has regular kids-only jams that are helping keep alive the spirit and traditions started by Bill Monroe so many years ago.


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