Back to the Blue Ridge Music Center

We had heard that the Sunday afternoon music volunteers at the Blue Ridge Music Center invited participants to join them for jamming. This seemed an ideal way to enjoy a Sunday afternoon, so we returned to the Center to check it out. The group; Stu Shenk, James Tate and the Fisher Peak Timber Rattlers; was an old-time band. We listened to a couple of songs before I asked them if our information was correct: was this an open jam? “Yes! Bring your instrument! Join us!” they said. So I did!

Stu Shenk of the Fisher Peak Timber Rattlers

Stu Shenk of the Fisher Peak Timber Rattlers

It was an education for me to listen to their music and to try to distinguish between what they were playing (“old-time music”) and bluegrass. Most all of the jams I have participated in have been bluegrass. This music had less singing, more fiddle, and fewer instrumental “breaks.” (A “break” is when a single instrument steps up for a solo while everyone else plays quietly in the background.)


One of the things I have been wondering about in these jams I’ve been participating in is, how does everyone know when to end the song. It seems that, invariably, everyone is able to discern the end of the song simultaneously. I figured that, either everyone knows the songs so well that they instinctively know when they’ve reached the end, OR there is some sort of signal that the leader gives so they all know to wrap it up. I figured it was the latter. In fact, I had read somewhere that the leader is supposed to raise his or her foot to indicate the start of the last measure. Well, here today, I was able to witness this raising-of-the-foot signal. This was the signal, even though it was not discussed, that everyone understood to mean “last measure.” I’m glad I knew to look for it, because it would have been embarrassing to play on when everyone else suddenly stopped.