Open Old-Time Jam
First Wednesday of every month,
7 pm – Free
405 1/2 W Rosemary St
Let’s start with asking an age-old music question. No, not “when will <insert-name-here-of-your-favorite-band-who-broke-up> get back together?” You were really going to ask the “what exactly is old-time music and why should I listen?” question, right? In the encyclopedia that is my imagination, old-time music is what folks listened to before there was radio. It was the nightly after-supper, before-bedtime entertainment. Typically played on stringed instruments, a fiddle and/or a banjo, it’s a folk genre steeped in tradition, to be sure, but whose tradition? There are too many to count. Regional styles, from Appalachia to Texas, are as varied as the songs and players themselves. Whatever you do, don’t confuse it with bluegrass. It’s not the same thing AT ALL!
Just ask the banjo. In old-time, the instrument is open-backed. In bluegrass, there’s a resonator on the back. And let’s get picky. Old-time picking is clawhammer style. Bluegrass is finger-picking in a three-fingered style. Old-time music was going on before bluegrass and is often fiddle dominant. In bluegrass, vocals more often take the lead. And that’s a way over-simplified answer if I ever gave one.
Emily Hilliard had a fiddle when she came to Chapel Hill from Vermont. She didn’t have to look much further than her own folklore graduate program at UNC to connect with the cream of the traditional musical crop, Steve Kruger and Joseph Decosimo, two banjo/fiddle players also in search of a venue. Hilliard approached Nightlight to gauge interest in hosting, they said “yes,” and there began the old-time monthly jam.
I asked Emily to go back to the very first jam back in Feb. 2010 … what was that night like? How many people showed up?
“The first jam in 2010 had a great turn-out,” said Emily, “with a fairly diverse crowd, from older musicians to Nightlight regulars who maybe had never really heard or played old-time before. There was also a pretty good range of skill levels–some seasoned musicians who knew a lot of tunes and could keep things going to folks who maybe played guitar or banjo or fiddle, but weren’t as familiar with the old-time canon of tunes to beginners. There were also a significant group of people who just came to listen and drink a beer and socialize, which I was hoping for–at its core, old-time is a social and community-based musical form, and you can participate by playing, dancing, or just being present, enjoying the tunes.”
“Overall I was excited and encouraged by the response and am glad it’s still happening, particularly in the Triangle, an area that played an important role in the history of American traditional (and independent) music,” she added. “I still maintain many of the musical connections I made there–I always love running into some of the regular jam attendees like Dwight Rogers and Gail Gillespie, Mike Sollins, etc. at fiddler’s conventions in the summertime.”
Hilliard passed the jam on to Zeke Graves and Steve Kruger when she moved to DC in June of 2011, and Steve then handed down his role to James Finnegan. Zeke and James keep the circle unbroken, even as it keeps changing.
Read the rest of my conversation with Emily Hilliard, James Finnegan and Zeke Graves for Chapel Hill Magazine’s The WEEKLY online here.
Since we’re talking music, it just wouldn’t do to bypass a chance to Pete Seeger. I’ve ready many columns and tributes over the last couple of days, but none more moving than the one by Arlo Guthrie. When he was a teenage, Seeger first heard Bascom Lamar Lunsford play banjo at the Mountain Dance & Folk Festival held in 1936 near Asheville, NC. Lunsford taught him the basics and the rest is folk music history.
Shufflin’ and jammin’ the old time way:
Polly Put the Kettle On
Cripple CreekWildwood Flower
Will the Circle be Unbroken