Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bluegrass Jam at the Station Inn

A local college student approaches the circle of musicians, and for a long second lifts his eyes to the crowd with a look of both apprehension and excitement. His banjo hangs loosely from the strap around his neck. He pulls it in close to his body as he makes his way to an open chair.

There is another banjo player directly across from him, a man with smoked spectacles who has stopped playing to take a sip of soda with the help of the woman who sits by his side. The newcomer introduces himself. There is no need--his presence has already been announced as he tunes his instrument.

Shouting over a high-powered vocalist, the fellow banjo player is welcomed by the elder musician. His response is muted by dualing mandolins. The conversation ends, the cup is placed carefully on the floor, the college student with the Belmont sweatshirt begins plucking at the strings with fixed intent. There are only seven patrons in the bar. They are soon forgotten, becoming wallpaper to the music.

Next to the group the stage sits empty, with scattered microphones like decorations to fill the vacancy. It is only eight p.m., and even though the jam is not scheduled to begin until nine, the musicians play with full fervor. The youngest of the group fiddles behind the bassist, the dobro player sits with his back to the meager audience, an elderly man with a steel-string guitar is perched on a bar stool. The youngest comes forward with a suggestion for a song, not with a name, but with a verse and "do you know this?," and hums a line from the chorus. Instruments are adjusted, and the jam members stir up individual notes into another melody borne in the mountains.

These sounds--unrehearsed, raw, traditional bluegrass--are best sampled live on a Sunday night at the Station Inn. At the heart of this genre is unpretentiousness, humanity, clay and dirt. The daily life of the common man is what it celebrates.


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