Field trip. Chris and I did make that trip to Charleston, South Carolina. Folly Beach is a small beachside town just outside Charleston, and the jam was being held in the lounge of the Holiday Inn there. We checked into a ninth-floor room early enough to enjoy the view of the ocean for awhile, then went downstairs to stroll out to the end of the nearby fishing pier and watch the sun set. The pier was empty, the weather was beautiful—seventy degrees, clear blue sky, bone dry—and we wished there was some way to move the jam out there. After sunset we walked across the street for a seafood supper, then back to prepare for the evening.
The jam began at 7pm, and we wandered into the lounge about ten minutes early. Later on I thought about the sign on the door which said “No one under 21 years admitted”, but at the time nobody mentioned Chris’ age. There were a couple of people already in the stage area warming up, but nobody seemed to be in charge so we decided to sit in front and watch things get underway. Which they did, promptly at seven; five or six of the musicians gathered into a group at the microphone and without any announcement began to play. A few others stood around the periphery of the stage and strummed along. Since it wasn’t obvious to us how the jam worked, and since we knew it ran till past 10pm, we decided to wait and watch awhile.
Eventually Jamie Wilson, who founded the jam after attending Pete Wernick’s camp two years ago, arrived. She came straight over and introduced herself, watched the jam for a minute, said “We seem to be playing in groups tonight,” and then invited us to come onstage and join in.
The format (that night, anyway) was for informal ensembles to form and play a few songs, then make room for the next group. Some of these groups had practiced together at other times; others were formed on the spur of the moment, with set lists created and reviewed at the back of the stage or outside on the patio. Chris played along at the side of the stage for awhile; once folks figured out that he could play a break, he was invited to take a turn at the microphone on just about every song.
At one point I was chatting with Linda the banjo player, and she asked if Chris and I did any singing. I said we did, and immediately she went off to find Jamie; they came back and insisted we do a set ourselves. Linda agreed to accompany us, and so we hurriedly worked out our own set list. In deference to Linda we picked two Flatt and Scruggs songs (“Salty Dog Blues” and “My Cabin in Caroline”), and for ourselves we picked two songs where our harmonies sound especially good (“Kentucky Girl” and “Girl at the Crossroads Bar”).
Linda kicked off the first two songs—fast! Chris didn’t have any trouble keeping up, and the bass parts weren’t complicated, but I had a hard time spitting out all the words at that speed. Chris then jumped in to kick off the last two songs, and kept them at our usual moderate tempo. We then dropped into the background again, and around 10:15 made our goodbyes.
The trip was pretty long—six hours down, six hours back—but it wasn’t just the jam we went for. As Steve Jobs’ favorite Buddhist saying goes, “The journey is the reward.” It was the jam, plus the preparation for the jam, plus the discussion with Chris about how the jam went, plus the new friends we made, plus the ocean, plus the seafood supper, plus the hours and hours of old-time CDs we played, plus all the rest of the conversation, that made it more than worthwhile.