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Mar 14, 2014
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Ames, Iowa
I played ukulele for seven or eight years before going back to guitar, which I hadn't played for decades. Early on with ukulele I started attending a couple of local ukulele groups that held weekly "jams." I also attended some ukulele festivals where we "jammed." I learned that at a ukulele jam, everyone gets together and sits in a circle, usually with the yellow book on a stand in front of them and take turns calling out songs and page numbers. Then everyone plays in unison and sings together. Some jams played out of the blue book and the yellow book. Some, people brought tab sheets and distributed them. But the underlying formula was to sit in a circle with music on a music stand and play songs together. I became addicted to it. I love playing with other people.

Some time just before the covid I started playing guitar again. I took some lessons, played a wide variety of genres and eventually found a couple books on flatpicking and worked my way through them. I started attending some bluegrass festivals and taking some workshops. Last winter I met a fellow who was a guitar player as well. We had coffee and talked about playing guitar. He mentioned that he was part of a country/bluegrass jam and asked me if I would like to come jam with them. I was pretty excited and took him up on it, as the one thing I was really missing was playing with other people. As he was leaving, I asked him what I needed to bring, what books they were playing out of, what to expect. He said to just bring a guitar and a capo. The following Sunday I did just that.

So I arrived at this shed on a farm and heard people talking. I went inside and people were just sitting randomly around on chairs about the room, a woodstove was burning and it was quite comfortable. First thing I took note of was there was a banjo player, a guy with a dobro, two fiddle players, a bass player, and three or four guitar players. One guitar player had a mandolin next to him on a stand, everyone in pretty close quarters. I got introduced, found a seat, and got tuned up. Everyone was just chatting while I did all that. All of a sudden someone called out Old Home Place, key of G, and off they went. I had no idea. I looked at the fellow who invited me, started watching his hands, and tried to play the same chords he was. Between verses different people would take turns going off on some instrumental break and then the next verse would commence. Two and a half hours we played. I was lost most of the time but it was great.

It was fun and they invited me back. Since then, I've been going most every Sunday and playing. I'm getting a lot better at just picking it up as we go. I've also attended three or four other country/bluegrass jams that are much the same. And a blues jam that was much the same. The thing I guess I'm trying to illustrate is that there a jams, and then there are jams. These guitar jams can get very exciting when they get going.
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I agree -- jamming can be a lot of fun. I attend two weekly jams; one is made up of mostly members of a jam band i've been part of for perhaps 10 years. We play and sing selections from a repertoire that we all have chords and words for. I mostly play an amplified bass uke there (rather poorly) to give us some bottom, since the others are playing guitars and a banjo.

The other session is a song circle jam in which typically only the person whose turn it is has a copy of the words and chords (or they're playing and singing from memory). The instrumentation there is more mixed -- guitars, a uke, one or two autoharps, a couple of banjos, a bass uke (played by a real bass player, not me), a cajon, a concertina, 1-2 mandolins. Although i play guitar when it's my turn to sing, i play a Hayden concertina when i'm accompanying others because it's much easier for me to play by ear.
What you described going on in the shed around the wood stove brought back a flood of memories. While I was in high school, a number of local mom & pop grocery/ convenience stores would host a bluegrass jam on alternating Saturday nights. Everyone was like an extended family, and that was literally the extent of my musical education.

Usually, someone brought along a crock pot of either chili or Brunswick stew & sold bowls for a buck. In the summer, the jams would extend into plastic lattice folding chairs all over the parking lots. What a wonderful world it was!
A lot of the fun is trying to keep up and play songs you have never heard before. It keeps you on your toes and makes it exciting. I have been "jamming" with a group for a few months with my uke but recently picked the guitar up again and hoping I can jam along with it.
My “bandfam” had a jam last night. I brought my “Irish” bouzouki, but mostly played harmonica. Lotsa fun, as we take the summer off for vacation time…
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