A jammin’ good time in George
On the first Friday of very month, the bluegrass music coming from George Community Hall is reminiscent of days gone by. It has a lonely but romantic sound and reflects the soul of country living.
Inside, a group of musicians and their guitars have gathered under dim lights. They sit in an informal semi-circle, taking turns selecting a song as they move around that circle. In harmony together, they sing folk songs and ballads, tossing in some honky tonk for kicks. They sing of finding love and meeting their maker.
A few of the seven musicians gathered on this night are new to singing before a group; however, most are accomplished performers who have been playing for years. Some spent their youth playing in garage bands, others performed with Saturday night bands.
Most jam nights the musicians play before a crowd of about two dozen regulars, many of whom have traveled from Ephrata. The Ephrata Senior Center brings a bus down to have a potluck dinner with the musicians before filling up the seats in the small hall.
There aren’t many opportunities around anymore to hear live music, said Cheryl Jackson of Ephrata, who comes down with her 77-year-old mother Carol Linton.
Linton is sitting in the semi-circle with her guitar. No stranger to the stage, she’s been playing since she was 18. In fact, some 50 years ago Linton and her husband played together in a country band.
The Ephrata group comes because it enjoys the small venue and the atmosphere at the hall, Jackson said.
“It feels like community,” she said.
The first Friday jams began some six years ago. After starting the week-long bluegrass festival in George, now held every September, organizers decided they needed to get together once a month for an impromptu jam session. They invited “anyone with an instrument” to play and “anyone with ears” to listen.
The idea was slow to catch on; four or five musicians showed up to start, said Debby Kooy of George. Debby and her husband, Elliot Kooy, the former mayor of George, have been regulars at the jam since its start — first as spectators and then as musicians. Debby plays the guitar and Elliot the banjo.
At first, the jams were more like practices, Debby said. She and her husband knew three cords when they started, she said.
“We just turned on the lights and played,” Debby said.
But today, the jam sessions certainly don’t sound like practice sessions to the faithful audience. Some first Fridays, more than 15 musicians from throughout the area show up.
“I like that they share their talent,” Jackson said. “I think it’s a blast.”
Marc Leman of Moses Lake has been playing the guitar since 1975. An engineer by trade, he was in a country-rock band for years. The George jam is his favorite above others around the area because it attracts more guitar players.
“I like to play with people where you can hear the rhythm,” he said.
There are quite a few spectacular musicians who show up for the George jam sessions, said Jerry Voorhies of George, who is among the founders of the bluegrass festival and also a crowd favorite. He used to go to several bluegrass jams in the area but now attends only the George one.
“I just love to play the old music and this is a good place to do that,” Voorhies said.
Pete Staudenraus of Moses Lake is another regular. The former postmaster of Warden, Staudenraus was in a little Saturday night band in the 1970s that played throughout Eastern Washington.
For him, playing in the jams is a way to keep up his craft while getting out with other like-minded people. The George jam attracts some good musicians, he said.
“I’m not a bluegrass player,” he added. “I play slow and sing low.”
As for Debby, the jam nights have been like group lessons for her and her husband. You end up learning in spite of yourself, she said. The jams have become one of her favorite things to look forward to each month.
“This is by far the most fun thing we do here,” said Debby of events at the hall.
The First Friday Jams are at 7 p.m. the first Friday of every month. A potluck dinner begins at 6 p.m. and the jamming goes until about 9 p.m. The jam is held at George Community Hall, 403 W. Montmorency.
— By Jill FitzSimmons, email@example.com