Sounds Local: Artspace launches monthly open jam sessions

  • Music instructor Kevin Dee of Artspace, on guitar, leads an informal jam session at Artspace on Friday, Jan. 24. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Music instructor Kevin Dee of Artspace, on guitar, leads an informal jam session at Artspace on Friday, Jan. 24. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Music instructor Kevin Dee of Artspace, on guitar, leads an informal jam session at Artspace on Friday, Jan. 24. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Two violinists play together at an informal jam session at Artspace on Friday, Jan. 24. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rachael & Vilray, a duo who sings pop music of the 1930s and 1940s, will perform at the Shea Theater Arts Center on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Contributed photo


For the Recorder
Published: 2/13/2019 5:49:02 PM

On a sunny Friday afternoon in January, a group of musicians were jamming on the second floor of the Artspace Community Arts Center in Greenfield, marking the first of the center’s monthly open jam sessions.

Kevin Dee, a guitar teacher at Artspace, led the jam, focusing on blues music. He took to the piano and started playing a swampy blues riff.

The hand drummer jumped in, pounding away on the congas, laying down the kind of strong rhythm that drives the other players. In turn, a woman playing the saw (yes, the saw) amazed listeners with the sounds and simple groove she created.

Dee called out for a C and then a F, helping guide the others to craft a melody. Before long, everyone was on track, with Dee nodding approvingly. Some of the players exchanged appreciative glances with each other as they settled in for a good time making music together.

Artspace, at 15 Mill St. in Greenfield, will host open jams at noon on the fourth Friday of each month. Each jam will last about an hour and will be led by an Artspace music teacher with the emphasis on varying musical styles. There is a suggested donation of $5 to $10, but no one is turned away for their inability to pay.

Most importantly, musicians of all levels and on any instrument are welcome. The next jam will be held on Friday, Feb. 22.

Samantha Wood, executive director of Artspace, came up with the idea after hearing from local musicians that there was a need for more opportunities to play music with each other. She realized that Artspace was the perfect place for this to happen.

Another source of inspiration came from her experience of attending open jams, as a music fan, not a musician, at The Press Room in Portsmouth, N.H. She was aware that something very special was happening at these sessions.

“It became clear to me how important it was to have a session where people could join in and learn how to play together,” she said. “This also fueled a sense of community that stretched beyond the music.”

Building a sense of community is one of the goals that Artspace hopes to create with the open jam series. As any musician will tell you, playing with other musicians is an enjoyable and liberating experience, but if you are a newcomer, it can be rather intimidating. These jams will address that by offering a supportive and welcoming environment that will nurture those just learning how to play with others.

That’s one of the reasons that the Artspace teachers will be on hand to assist in the learning process. The jam that will be held on Feb. 22 will be led by Rafe Wolman, who teaches fiddle at Artspace.

“The jam is advertised as a bluegrass jam, but I’m going to let it be a little wider than that,” Wolman said. “If some people show up who want to sing songs, it can be a bluegrass or country and western style jam, where someone sings a song and the other players get a chance to back that person up and take breaks between the verses.”

He added that “If more instrumentalists show up, we might have more of an old- time fiddle tune jam, where I (or anyone else that wants to) lead a tune that they know and everyone plays it together. Old-time fiddle music comes from the southern U.S. and is very fun to play. Think ‘breakdowns’ and square dances.”

Wolman said he will be offering a musical “safe space” where anyone can try out leading a tune or song, or taking a solo, and count on positive, encouraging feedback and helpful guidance if they request it.

Wood said she feels this kind of environment is necessary for musicians.

“It is difficult in our culture to try things and get better at them, especially for adults, because there is a ridiculous burden to be good at everything we do,” she said. “It makes no sense, really, and it inhibits learning throughout life. Learning to play an instrument or taking the risk of playing with people is a fantastic way to find new pleasure and challenges.”

The Artspace jam is not the only jam happening in Franklin County. Looky Here, The Root Cellar and The Rendezvous in Turners Falls also host jams along with their other musical offerings. Wood feels that this is a plus for the musical community.

“What is really important in any community is that there are multiple ripples in similar efforts to encourage and boost the signal,” she said.

I asked Wolman what he hoped people would take away from attending the open jam.

“I hope they leave feeling like jamming is fun,” he said. “And maybe having met some fellow musicians who they might be able to keep getting together with to play music.”

For more information, email or call 413-772-6811.

Rachael & Vilray coming to Shea Theater

If you are looking for a very last-minute Valentine’s Day gift, I suggest you purchase a pair of tickets for the Rachael & Vilray show at the Shea Theater Arts Center, 71 Avenue A in Turners Falls, on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Rachael is Rachael Price, the powerhouse lead vocalist from Lake Street Dive. Vilray is a singer-songwriter who met up with Price at the New England Conservatory of Music back in 2003. Together, the duo sings pop music of the 1930s and 1940s, as well as some of Vilray’s originals. Much of what they sing is love songs.

Most of the time, Price is busy with Lake Street Dive, but when she has a break, she and Vilray often perform together. With simple arrangements and only a guitar for accompaniment, the two sing together using only one mic. They create the kind of musical magic that recalls the golden age of radio.

Tickets are $30 in advance; $35 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Call 413-648-7432 for more information.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at


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