The Orion

Bluegrass jam delivers great music, welcoming atmosphere

Ashiah Scharaga

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Eddy “Eddy B.” Baker, of Eddy B. and Pure Country Plus, soulfully croons to audiences at Cafe Flo on Saturday.Photo credit: Matthew Vacca

Bluegrass music flowed smoothly out of the front door of Cafe Flo and onto the sidewalk of East 6th Street on Saturday. The intriguing sound came from 15 musicians sitting in a circle with banjos, mandolins and guitars in their arms or harmonicas at their lips, singing and playing bluegrass tunes from 1-4 p.m.

The Bluegrass Jams, put on by the California Bluegrass Association, happen every fourth Saturday of the month. People who have been playing for five years played alongside those who have been at it for 60, and musicians came from as far as Chester to play.

Lucy Smith, area activities vice president for the Butte-Tehama-Glenn area of the California Bluegrass Association, leads the jams, which have been happening in Chico for about seven years, she said. Many of the musicians are members of the association, but joining is not a requirement to play or listen.

“We’d love for Chico State
students to come,” Smith said. “Either listeners, singers, players, doesn’t matter.”

Smith, who started playing bluegrass when she was 23, likes the organization of the music and how respectful bluegrass players are to each other, she said. Everybody gets their turn in a song and can choose to improvise musically during individual “breaks” in the music.

“It makes it possible for 20 people to be playing together and not step on each other,” Smith said. “That’s what I love about bluegrass — it’s just so inclusive. Everybody can play along.”

The atmosphere of the jam was relaxed and welcoming. Todd Taylor, a guitarist who had never been to a bluegrass jam, was brought into the circle to play with musicians who had played together for years.

A lot of the musicians played multiple instruments, sharing their tools whenever they switched. A rotation developed that allowed every person in the circle to pick a song and a key.

Audience members sang along during familiar tunes and rocked their heads to the rhythm of others.

Eddy “Eddy B.” Baker, a member of the association, has been playing guitar for more than 65 years and the twang in his voice is just right for bluegrass. He currently performs with Eddy B. and Pure Country Plus.

What Baker likes about bluegrass music is that it emphasizes storytelling, like gospel and country music, he said. A song without a storyline basically says nothing.

“Food for thought is my interest and desire to try to project when I’m singing a song,” Baker said. “If it has a good story line, it’s like a double-patty burger.”

Mary McCluskey, who plays with Celtic group Molly’s Favorites, has only been to two of these particular Jams, she said. But the jams at Cafe Flo are events where people will go and end up staying longer and longer without realizing it.

“I think this is so cool that people just get together and play,” McCluskey said. “To me it’s the essence of what music’s about — that people just come together and play music.”

Bob Paugh, a musician from Butte Creek Canyon, played the blues harp with intense passion. It was as if he was transported to a place inside the music. Though Paugh said he has only played the blues harp for five or six years, it came across as if he had been born playing.

Paugh leans more towards blues but enjoys the upbeat character of bluegrass, he said.

“It’s a happy, upbeat kind of music,” Paugh said. “It’s kind of light-hearted. Sometimes you need that.”

Ashiah Scharaga can be reached at [email protected] and @AshiahD on Twitter.

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Bluegrass jam delivers great music, welcoming atmosphere