Exploring the South – Travelogue USA #2

by | 20 Jun, 2010 | 1 comment

Submitted by John Werner – Victoria

We continue the story of two intrepid travelers John Werner & Garry Roberts from Victoria’s Strzelecki Stringbusters on their music odyssey of a life time. At the last episode we heard of their experiences in Jackson Tennessee.

Returning to Atlanta, we swapped our car for an RV, and headed north into Bluegrass country, and serious jamming territory.

After a few days of sight-seeing through South & North Carolina, we attended a community jam in Polkville, NC later in the week. Around 50 people gather at Woods Store in the small, single road town each Thursday night, eating together and catching up with each, as small communities do. We were expected this time, as I’d already emailed the jam leader, who’d brought a bass along for me.
After the meal, a circle of chairs was created in the middle of the room, with a condenser mic hanging from the roof and vocal mic on a stand to share the lead singing. We noticed some speakers hanging from the corners of the ceiling. These people we fairly organised.

Due to a local regulation, a maximum of 13 people at one time could be playing instruments, to allow a speedy evacuation in case of a sudden fire. The bassist, who is usually positioned just outside the circle, doesn’t count, apparently because he’s standing up. Pickers warmed up in the back room, and we met several locals who turned out to be strong players, and were the main leaders in the circle.

As the usual bassist hadn’t showed up, I was fortunate enough to play the whole jam, and we were warmly introduced to the community before the session started at 7pm sharp. Verne, an older guitar player and strong singer kicked things off, with the tune-calling passed around the circle. Upon one complete cycle, Verne invited members of the audience to take a spare seat in the circle and call a tune. Around a dozen fine elderly men & women took turns stepping in to sing an array of songs, some familiar, some obscure, but all extremely moving and sung with great emotion. The on-lookers whooped and hollered here & there, supporting every singer with great affection, as several couples flat-footed over on a corner. We were fortunate to observe the close ties that this weekly session has created in the small community over many years.

Bang on 9pm, the appointed finish time, the circle stood up and crowded in close around the central mic, ripping into a 7-8 minute medley of gospel-based standards, with each person calling the following tune. Almost as if racing towards a finishing line, the circle’s feel rose in a crescendo, and concluded with a real sense of achievement. Shaking hands, and slapping backs and everyone thanking each other for being there, plans were made for the next session.

We spent took time afterward chatting to the many people who were keen to say hi and meet someone from the other side of the world, and were moved by sincerity of their thanks for our attendance. One lady remarked I can’t understand a word you’re sayin’, but when you sing, I can understand everything, why is that?

All in all, a great night with a lovely community that displayed a spirit in which music very obviously the core. These people love their community, and this was demonstrated through the warm and inclusive jam session.

To top off the evening, we got a good tip on local Martin HD28 for sale, which was checked out and duly purchased the next morning.

On to Virginia…

1 Comment

  1. Caroline

    Hi John and Garry! We met at the campground, and listened at the Independence Jam. Tom and I enjoyed meeting you. I don’t know how I found this webiste??… I just typed in Australian Bluegrass! Looks like it’s a popular form of music ‘down under’. Enjoy the rest of your journey.