The Friday Night Jam

This entry was posted by on Wednesday, 29 June, 2005 at

For the last year or two, I’ve been attending a folk-jam every other Friday night. They’re a great bunch of folks, a rotating group of about 20 people, and each week a different assortment of about twelve people show up. It’s an interesting mixture of two generations — a bunch of 50-something year-olds (people who actually lived through the 1960’s), and a bunch of 30-somethings like me. The older generation has been playing together every friday night for about 25 years now.

Their repetoire is an interesting mixture of folk, protest, and bluegrass tunes, and they’ve been playing for so long, everyone has everything memorized. I was introduced to the group by my uncle Mark, and they’re really friendly to visitors… though the “all music memorized” thing is a bit intimidating to newcomers. Someone starts playing a song, and everyone automatically joins in in harmony, with N guitars playing, bongos, mandolin, fiddle, keyboards, etc. Luckily, they have a songbook they hand out to guests.

At this point, I guess I’m no longer a visitor, I’ve been “adopted” more or less. I have all the songs memorized too, now! For the first six months, I showed up to play guitar. But it’s really not so much fun to play a guitar when there are six others doing so. So I switched to banjo, and I absolutely love it. My playing was horribly shaky at first, but over the course of a year I’ve stabilized. These people have been incredibly patient with me, giving me tons of room to screw up. I used to loathe it when they called on me to play solos. But last week I actually played a few, and I’m starting to lose my fear. As the electric guitar player put it:

When it comes to solos, half the battle is losing your fear. The rest is learning some licks.

Last weekend was a milestone of sorts, in that I finally brought a song in to the group, one which I taught and led. It went over fine, though it will take the group a few more weeks to get used to it and make it sound good, I think. What I like best about it isn’t so much the fact that I lead the singing, but that it starts with a neat banjo solo, one that I’ve been studying in my lessons (a transcription of a fantastic solo by J.D. Crowe.)

Last winter we even played in a tiny bar for some benefit:

3 Comments to The Friday Night Jam

  1. iBanjo » Blog Archive » More, MOAR Bluegrass! says:

    November 1st, 2007 at 10:38 am

    […] One of my earliest posts on this blog was about my regular Friday Night Jam group, and then I recently posted about another monthly jam I discovered here in Chicago. However, now that I’ve got my folding banjo that I can stuff into my backpack, I’ve discovered that the real fun is to hunt for open jam sessions when I travel around the country! […]

  2. Suzie Simoneit says:

    November 22nd, 2007 at 5:36 pm


    We just saw this! What a great write up! We will put it on the new website.

    Hey, would you link to us?

    Hope you have a nice Thanksgiving


  3. heidi Beilstein says:

    December 3rd, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Hey ben! I looked at the red-bean site. Boy am I confused….way over my head. As you know I helped V&S get the Jam site going and am working on my own. Would you make a link to me as well? I’ll put you in my links.