Jamming is when folks come together with their instruments to play the classics, to try out new material, to meet new friends, and to participate in the joy of making music as a group. The jamming experience is at the very core of bluegrass, and to truly participate in bluegrass, one must experience jamming.
At every bluegrass festival you’ll find jamming in the parking lots, in the corners and alcoves. All of the Tuesday evening bluegrass events in San Diego feature jamming as a prominent part of the evening activities. Let’s take a look at two of the very best jamming opportunities in the county so that you can consider participating.
Thursday Night Jam at Today’s Pizza in Encinitas. There is a great Jam every Thursday night 6:30-9pm at Today’s Pizza, located at 481 Santa Fe Drive in encinitas. The session is led by banjo player Jason Weiss who is very welcoming and makes it fun for all. A typical Thursday sees 20-40 musicians and a handful of listeners. Jason leads the group through a series of classic tunes, calling on individuals to solo who wish to do so.
Typically, about half choose to solo, while the other half hang in the background playing simple rhythm. You’ll find a collection of guitar players, mandolin players, fiddle players, banjo players, and a smattering of accordions, dobros, and other specialty instruments. There’s only one bass player, however, as more than one bass can kill a jam in a hurry. The bass player usually joins Jason up front and helps hold the group rhythm together.
The tunes are pulled from a small book (copies are available to borrow at the session), which contains the words and chords. Most of the tunes are in the key of G. You will hear classics like “Truck Drivin’ Man,” “Faded Love,” “Nine Pound Hammer,” and other core tunes and instrumentals.
The group breaks about halfway through the session, asking each participant to contribute $5. These funds are used to pay for pizza and salad for everyone in the group and to pay a small stipend to Jason. If you are a beginner or intermediate player and can play a bit, but are not used to playing with others, this is a great jam for you. Participants have the choice – they can hang in the back where no one can hear them, or they can step forward and take a solo for the group.
The group is friendly, the setting is cordial, and Jason makes it a great experience for everyone. Try it out one of these Thursdays. Even if you’re not a player, stop by for pizza or spaghetti and listen in. You will be welcome. There is plenty of parking at Today’s Pizza and the food is excellent, as is the tap beer.
Fuddruckers second Tuesday of Every Month. The non-profit San Diego Bluegrass Society sponsors an open mic and jamming session every second Tuesday of the month 6:30-9pm. The session is held at the Fuddruckers Restaurant in the Grossmont Shopping Center in La Mesa (5500 Grossmont Center Drive). SDBS sets up a small inside stage with a sound system and lighting.
Those wishing to perform on stage as part of the open mic can sign up in advance or, space permitting, onsite. To sign up in advance send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
SDBS also cobbles together informal pickup bands to perform on the stage. A typical evening will have three or four bands performing on stage and perhaps one or two open mic participants.
The real action, however, is outside on the patio. It is here that the jamming is in full swing. You will find guitar players, mandolin players, fiddle players, banjo players, bass players, harmonica players, and a smattering of dobro and other specialty instruments. The level is generally intermediate or higher, meaning that someone calls a tune and key and the group then plays it around, taking turns soloing among those who wish to solo. Beginners, while welcome, might find it difficult to keep up, but this is paradise for intermediate and better players. The repertoire is typically solid bluegrass, although other tunes are welcome as well.
Why not consider dusting off that instrument, tuning up, and participating in one of these wonderful jam sessions? If you’re not sure, stop by and listen in for a bit and see what you think. I predict you’ll be eager to join in. I recommend you bring your instrument and at least leave it in the car as there is a pretty good chance after listening in that you will want to retrieve it and join in. I’ll look for you there!