Fire on the mountain: Jam sessions attract eclectic group of musicians
Monday is the new Saturday.
Heading down Frazier Street in Waynesville to BearWaters Brewing Company, one can barely find a place to park on a typical Monday evening. For the last couple of months, the location has played host to a semi-weekly open mic event called the “Spontaneous CombustJam.” Bringing together local talents and acclaimed regional players, the sessions have gained a buzz around Western North Carolina in just a short time.
“We want to bring a thriving music scene here to the Waynesville community, something unlike we’ve ever had on a regular basis,” said Kevin Sandefur, owner/brewer of BearWaters. “Monday suits the top-shelf quality musicians the best. They’re booked later in the week, and this works with their schedule.”
During the jam, musicians simply pick up their instruments and gradually slide into a groove. The sound builds and gains momentum until suddenly the ambiance becomes a full-on concert, with rhythms and lyrics bouncing around the space. Other musicians rotate in, trading off instruments. The scene is collaboration and experimentation at its finest.
This particular Monday, legendary drummer Jeff Sipe took the stage. A renowned local musician, the percussive master has played with members of Phish, Widespread Panic and Leftover Salmon, as well as being a founding member of Aquarium Rescue Unit with Col. Bruce Hampton. Some might say Sipe is the “John Bonham” of jazz-fusion.
WNC Travel Guide: What do you like about open jam sessions?
Jeff Sipe: If you’re playing an improvisation setting, you have to surrender to the next right note. And what is the next right note? That is the dilemma. If you allow music to take you to the next right note, it takes care of itself. Sometimes you’re working on stuff and you want to try stuff out, and that can get in the way of the moment. So, there’s always a fine line between working on stuff and playing what’s called for in the moment. If you surrender, the music will take you there naturally.
WNCTG: Why are these jams important?
JS: This is the birthplace of creative music and creativity thought. People get together with this kind of intention and to play from the heart and be spontaneous. It’s really a demonstration of true democracy. It might be the only true democracy we have. Everything is legitimate. Everything is on the table. You bring your ideas in and see what works and what doesn’t, and go back to the drawing board.
WNCTG: Why is it important that people support these jams?
JS: Whether the crowd comes out or not, the musicians will always be on it. They’ll never stop. But once it catches on for the crowd, it’s infectious. It’s a safe place for people to come and witness magic in the moment.
WNCTG: What do you like about playing these smaller rooms?
JS: The smaller rooms are conducive to the most creative music. The bigger rooms you get, the bigger audiences you get, the less intricate you can be. You really feel the energy in smaller rooms, you’re not disconnected on a huge stage. You can see, you can smell, and they’re spilling drinks on you.
WNCTG: What has a lifetime of playing music taught you about being a human being?
JS: All the lessons for the proper ways to live as a human being, among human beings, are taught in music. It parallels all over the place. It’s like a language. You listen, you respond, and you don’t talk over them. If you take those and apply them to real life, then you’ll be fine.
WNCTG: What’s your ultimate goal with music?
JS: My personal goal is to reach a level of proficiency where I can express without effort. Every year that goes by, I get a little closer. Music, like art, is bigger than any of us. None of us can claim to own it. We can swim in the river, we can get out, we can get back in, but the river is still the river — we don’t own it.
Open music jams around the region
• Old-time music jam from 1 to 3 p.m. the third Saturday of the month at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on U.S. 441 outside Cherokee. 828.452.1068. Through October.
• A community music jam is held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursday of each month at the Marianna Black Library in Bryson City. Year-round. Free. 828.488.3030.
• Signature Brew Coffee Company holds Sylva Open Jam nights on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. Shop provides the instruments, you provide the talent. Chris Coopers’ Fusion band hosts.
• An open jam session is held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. each Thursday at Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva. All skill levels and instruments welcome. 828.631.4466 or www.yourgnometownbrewery.com.