Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Culture: Small Town Music

PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA - I've been quite critical of the individualistic culture of the United States, which in most large cities leads to very selfish, each person for him or herself attitude that makes it almost impossible to build communities of any consequence, sometimes even in church congregations. Money seems to be at the root of the difficulties--if it doesn't make money, it doesn't last if it comes into existence at all. In smaller towns (read: "Red America"), though, exceptions to this pattern seem to be far more common. Sometimes it's good to see community-building and "just for fun" activities taking place.

I had such an opportunity this evening. My "cousin" Jimmy and I had gone out to one of his favorite dinner locations only to find that the steak deal had been canceled because of the recent storm. However, his friend Randy showed up and invited us to travel a few miles farther down the road to Folsom to watch him perform at an open Blues jam session. We followed him down to the historic center of Folsom, and found a bar at street level in a "haunted" hotel, the Old Folsom Hotel.

The only thing haunted on this night was the music. The anchor act was Fire and Wheels, a group that will soon be traveling to Memphis for a major Blues competition, and it was easy to see why. These guys were talented musicians, and their use of synthesizers to make an electric guitar sound like a variety of other instruments was remarkable.

What made the evening, though, was the open jam. A parade of different local musicians joined portions of the group to make even more music, and the quality was still quite high. Furthermore, everyone just mixed through the crowd, talking musicianship, music technology, food, and beer. And, while the event was clearly good for the bar's business, this really wasn't about money. There was no cover charge (though there could have been), there was no food for sale (people were buying pizzas at a nearby location and bringing them in to share), and the owner of hotel was mixing with the crowd, clearly enjoying the music.

There should be more scenes like this in North America.

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