Cool crisp autumn leaves color the skyline, the fresh scent of leaves and fall fills the campus and the sweet strum of a banjo, guitar and a wide variety of other instruments can be heard spilling out from Hart coffee shop.
The strong aroma of coffee wafts through the air as people sit and enjoy the music; others work on homework whilst swaying to the beat. Students filter in and out during the night enjoying a warm beverage and listening to the sweet sounds of the fiddle and banjo.
Welcome to the Coffee House Jam, where the tunes are plenty, the company is cheery and everyone has a good time. Arguably one of the best-kept secrets on campus, the small entourage of misfit players and talented musicians brings a smile to many onlookers.
Commonly found in Hart Cafe on Wednesday nights from 9 to 10:30 p.m. A few of the players also assemble on the quad and around town.
Although it is officially called the Coffee House Jam, students often refer to it as the ‘jam.’ The jam’s Facebook page boasts 96 members. It’s open to anyone and everyone who feels inclined to bring his or her instrument and strum along to the beat. The ages of musicians range from high school students to a few men in their late fifties.
Spread mostly by word-of-mouth, the jam has become quite successful over the last three years. There are no rules, no structure and no set list. The group of music-lovers gathered around in a haphazard semi-circle and, for lack of a better word, they jam.
They fiddle and bring down the house in a very organic way. Typically the songs they play can range from old-timey to blue grass and some folk music.
The sense of community and fellowship amongst the musicians is what Brandon Burke, senior from Henderson Ky., loves about the jam. Burke has played in the jam ever since the beginning in Oct. 2010. With the knowledge and ability to play a plethora of instruments Burke brings a lively energy to the group every Wednesday night.
“What makes the jam so special, and what makes every old time jam and Irish music session special, is it’s about enjoying music for music’s sake,” Burke said. “It’s not necessary playing people on stage and an audience in seats. Everything is just together. Musicians are on a conversation level with the people that are sitting around.
Averaging around six to 10 players every week, the jam has an overall good turnout. Spectators fluctuate, as finals week looms in the distance, less students can be found milling about the coffee shop.
“It’s not about performance, it’s all about community,” Burke said. “It’s about functioning and playing together. It’s all about the fun of playing, not necessary the fun of listening.”
“‘Sail Away Lady’s’ is connected the fiddle tune called Sally Ann that originated in the 1920s and I have a lot of fun playing Soldier’s Joy,” said Burke. “We don’t play a whole lot but I love it. It dates back to the revolutionary war, and it was a marching cadence. It was later adopted to fit string band music and adapted to a dance tune.”
String base, guitars, mandolins, fiddles, claw hammer, and Scruggs banjos, whistles, and an occasional percussion, just to name a few of the many instruments played at the jam.
Whether students need a study break, want to enjoy live music or are merely curious there is sure to be an open seat for all.
Story by Laura Kovarik, Contributing writer