Jamming the Night Away

Groups gather for Monday night musical interaction
The sun gleams into the pavilion as Monday nights jam session commences.
The sun gleams into the pavilion as Monday night’s jam session commences.
Grace Weaver

It’s 7 p.m., on a crisp, spring Monday night, and a cool breeze whispers, carrying the lyrical medley of mandolins, banjos, fiddles, and other acoustic instruments as a group of approximately ten musicians play faint chords of bluegrass under the Leo Scott Pavillion.

It’s Tax Day, April 15 — but now it is the evening, with personal finances a passing thought. An audience aligns with the circumference of the picturesque shelter as a passion and love for the traditional mountain music seems to flow naturally from the center of the circle.

The audience sings along, clapping their hands and rhythmically tapping their feet, while children dance in the grass with young smiles glowing from cheek to cheek.

A few poems are recited from within the circle. Some members begin conversations of random, yet intriguing information that grasps the attention of the group. Cars driving on the nearby roadway honk friendly toots of greeting at the sight of a local gathering.

It does not stop there.

This is not an annual occurrence, a special feature, or a one-and-done event. It’s the Monday Night Jams, taking stage each Monday in only the most notable of manners at the college.

And the musicians aren’t just any musicians. They are a miscellaneous collective of musically inclined individuals from the community, including local residents, college students, professors, and more.

The weekly event is co-hosted by Ferrum College and the Blue Ridge Institute and Muesum, featuring and developing local talents. They promote Jams to be for all to enjoy and encourage any and all to join–to play, sing, dance, or admire.

Jams are sponsored by the college’s Appalachian Music Program and have been considered a highlight of the discipline for more than two years.

According to Music and Theatre Professor Emily Blankenship-Tucker, Jams began in the fall semester of 2020.

At first, the event was not as common and was a strictly college event, failing to extend past the warm weather. So, Blankenship-Tucker began to advertise jams as a community-wide endeavor, and it’s been a growing program for the year-and-a-half since.

A group gathers in a circle, with the center performing bluegrass music, to enjoy a warm spring evening and a Monday Night Jam. (Grace Weaver)

Jams even continue throughout the summer.

“We kind of ebb and flow,” explained Blankenship-Tucker. “The sessions vary in attendance, depending on the college being in session and summer vacation plans. Yet we still continue to grow, and it’s always a blessing to see both those new, and those not, get excited about our music.”

Since its origin, Jams have provided a location of personal connections, confidence, musical development, and sense of belonging for any who may attend.

In the case of Maddison Cox, local high school senior and prospective student, Jams hold a special place in her heart. She discovered the event through a school program in eighth grade, as she learned to play guitar, and she has been attending  ever since.

For her, it’s the environment that makes her experiences so worthwhile.

“I have lived in Ferrum for a while, so it’s very convenient for me,” she offered. “And I love how all the people are so sweet and so kind to one another. It’s a great atmosphere and full of support.”

Jams are not just for the regulars either, as even the newest attendees tend say they to find themselves feeling right at home from their very first session.

Stone Gibbs, local, attended his first jam, reacting enthusiastically.

“I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into,” he stated. “But I sure am glad I came. There was only friendliness in sight, everyone was so welcoming and so talented, and it was super cool to see how everyone just coordinated so naturally.”

Gibbs was also impressed by those who performed. He could only explain it with an analogy.

“These people,” he said, “they have more talent in their left hand than I do in my entire body.”

“The group in the center with all of the instruments–they seemed so random, and it was such a diverse group of people.” Gibbs explained, “And then they started playing, and it was beautiful. The coordination, the rhythm, the way they worked together, it was all fascinating.”

Experiences as such are just what the jammers hope to provide, too.

Each Monday, Jams end promptly at 8:30, with a cheerful, yet solemn song of farewell. This night was no different, with the jammers joyfully playing I’ll Fly Away over the sound of crickets chirping in the distance as the stars began to line the night sky.

The group aims to meet beneath the pavilion located across from the main campus each week. When the weather fails to prevail, the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum takes the honor.

The next Jam will take place on April 22, with the addition of the college’s Earth Day Celebration. .

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