Bluegrass Corner

Ramona Bluegrass Festival

by Dwight WordenMay 2014

The Ramona Bluegrass Festival takes off this weekend, Saturday and Sunday May 3-4. It has a great line up of 25 bands on 3 stages. The action takes place at the beautiful park and rodeo grounds at 421 Aqua Lane in Ramona. Bluegrass Etc., Hot Club of Cowtown, James Reams and the Barnstormers, and a host of local bands will be there. Read all about it and get your tickets at:

Alison Brown, Grammy winner and IBMA Banjo player of the Year, will be appearing at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad on Saturday, May 3, with her band. The appearance is part of the Museum’s Exhibition on the banjo titled A New Day for an Old Instrument. Banjo master Bill Evans will be there the following weekend on May 10 for a presentation on the history of the banjo in America. And, mark your calendars for the Lonesome River Band on Friday June 13. To learn more about the Museum and its banjo exhibition, visit:

Jamming Etiquette. As we enter the prime summer bluegrass season, opportunities for jamming will be plentiful. Let’s take a quick look at some of the basic rules of etiquette to ensure your jamming experiences are positive and will earn you new friends, not enemies.

1. Watch and listen before joining a jam. Are there already too many of the instrument you play? If you play bass, one is the limit! Is what looks like a jam actually a band rehearsing? Are they playing material at a speed and ability level that fits you? Only after digesting these questions should you decide if you want to join and can fit in.

2. Tune your instrument before joining.

3. Ask — between songs — if you may join. If you just want to lurk in the back and play along this may not be necessary, but if you want to solo, take a turn in the rotation, etc., ask. I have yet to have anyone tell me “no” but asking is a polite and effective way to join in. Plus, that’s how you find out if what you thought was a jam is actually a band rehearsing.

4. Tune selection goes around the circle. Jammers take turns in a circle selecting a tune and key. Figure out when your turn is coming and have a tune and key ready in mind. If you do not want to call a tune, when your turn comes say “pass.” The tune should be one most people will know with a relatively simple chord progression so the group can play it. Calling a jam buster — a tune no one knows — is very poor form.

5. Solos go around the circle. Be ready before the tune gets to you. If you do not want to solo, tell the person next to you that you are passing BEFORE it gets to you so they can be prepared to start on the one-beat. Pay attention to the timing and be sure to start and end your solo on time — what you do in between should reflect to some degree the melody but can also reflect your style and interpretation of the tune.

6. When to sing. If you call the tune you can sing, lead. If you want harmony singers ask them to join in before you start. If someone else has called the tune and you want to sing, ask. Some people welcome other singers and some don’t, and some have specific people they want to sing, which may not be you. If you do sing harmony, do it only on the choruses. Listen to what others are singing. Add a singing line that is not already covered.

7. If you can’t hear the other instruments you are too loud. Volume is a real issue in jams. Quiet down for guitar solos and quiet singers. Play gently, especially on banjo, except when it is your turn to solo. Listen, and if you can’t hear each of the others, you are too loud.

8. Additional tips. If you can read guitar chords, stand where you can see the guitar. That way you can follow the chord progression of tunes you may not know. Don’t stand next to someone with the same instrument you play to avoid two solos on the same instrument in a row. Pay attention to the person who called the tune, sometimes they will call out the solos rather than go around the circle.
Follow these basic guidelines and you will always be welcome at a jam, you will meet new people, and you will have a great time. Jamming is a central part of bluegrass music and you definitely want to participate and have a good time. Want to know where to jam? Here are some suggestions:

1st Tuesday: Round Table Pizza at the corner of Ash and Washington in Escondido, 6:30-9pm; sponsored by the North County Bluegrass and Folk Club

2nd Tuesday: Fuddruckers Restaurant in Grossmont Center, La Mesa 6:30-9pm; sponsored by the SDBS

4th Tuesday: Boll Weevil Restaurant, corner of Clairemont Mesa Blvd. and Ruffin Road 6:30-8pm; sponsored by the SDBS

Every Thursday: 6:30-9 pm Today’s Pizza on Santa Fe in Encinitas, just west of I-5

Get out and enjoy some great bluergass as a jammer—you won’t regret it!

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