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Hallway Jams at Joe Val

13 February 2012

The Joe Val Bluegrass Festival is upon us once again. For folks who are used to picking around a campfire, the jams at Joe Val require a mental adjustment. Have a look at this video and you’ll see what I mean…

The Joe Val fest takes place in the dead of winter within the confines of a Sheraton Hotel just off the Mass Pike in Framingham, Massachusetts. For three days in February, every available inch of the hotel is given over to bluegrass. The main stage is in the ballroom and the workshops and vendor displays are in the conference rooms. Any leftover space is filled with jams of every level. If you watch the video closely, you’ll catch a glimpse of some industrious teenagers who have repurposed a phone booth to run through some fiddle tunes.

Some aspects of the jams captured in this video are standard issue for bluegrass fests, but that doesn’t make them any less cool. Were a Martian anthropologist to drop by a bluegrass jam, it would note how participants in this earthling activity share the spotlight rather than showcase just a few talents. At the very start of the clip, you can see ­­­­­­Celia Woodsmith of Della Mae and Sten Havumakiof the Professors of Bluegrass and Billy Wylder teaching the changes on “Look Down That Open Road” by Tim O’Brien to veteran banjo picker Rich Stillman of Southern Rail. Stillman proceeds to acquit himself very nicely while apparently playing the tune for the first time.

Finally, the jams at the Joe Val fest, like most bluegrass picking sessions, are a demonstration of radical democracy. Not only do they feature players truly aged eight to eighty, but they also encompass everyone from novices to stars of the bluegrass circuit. No matter how many times I attend the Joe Val fest, I don’t think I’ll ever lose my sense of wonder at having the elevator doors open, revealing a bunch of musicians with national profiles jamming with everybody else in the lobby.

With this video, another new superhero from Team Curly makes her debut. Mistress of Mayhem Megan Lovallo cut this piece together, and she did a fine job of capturing the magic of the moment. Megan and I will be covering the Joe Val fest together this year. We look forward to seeing some of you in the halls…

Yer Pal— Curly

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