Nebraska veterans keep old-time music alive

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

FAIRFIELD, Neb. -- Sitting in a horseshoe formation, a dozen musicians from throughout the area spent a recent Sunday afternoon jamming on old hymns and country songs for an audience in the Fairfield City Auditorium.

Organizer Dale Bauman of Fairfield started the once-a-month Just For Fun Jam Sessions about three years ago at the Clay County Museum in Clay Center while his wife, Karen, volunteered there. Eventually, the sessions outgrew the museum, and the group relocated to Fairfield. About 40 people attended the recent jam.

"There's a lot of songs that if we don't keep singing they're going to be lost," Bauman said. "It's a way that some of us without a lot of talent can still play." The only rule, he said, is if you don't know the song, then don't play along.

Mindy Phillips, who lives in Harvard, Neb., but teaches music at St. Michael's Elementary School in Hastings, Neb., plays the mandolin and piano.

She called their system of going around in a circle, with each musician leading one song at a time, kind of like old-timer karaoke. Of the different styles of acoustic music the group plays, Phillips said, she prefers bluegrass.

Having an outlet like the jam sessions is a good way to get this music into the public, she said.

"It helps promote music at a grass-roots level," Phillips said. "It's music that's being performed in the homes, brought here added all together. You don't see a computer in the place, or a Game Boy."

Carleton resident Rob Williams, who plays the guitar, grew up in Superior, Neb., where his father operated a jukebox business.

"First of all, I kind of like throwback music back into the '30s and '40s," he said. "My dad owned jukeboxes all over south-central Nebraska and north-central Kansas. So when I was a little kid growing up, I liked my rock 'n' roll music, Beatles and stuff, but at the same time I was constantly exposed to the country music in those days."

Two years ago, while driving from Hastings back to Carleton, Williams saw a sign in Clay Center advertising the acoustic jam session.

"It's addictive to come over and do this," Williams said. "They get a nice crowd who really appreciate the music. It's something that in my experience is really rare."

Because of his background, Williams familiarized himself early on in life with music that wasn't necessarily popular at that time. "Once I got done with high school and went on to college, I was too busy to do a whole lot of music," he said. "One of my friends who did rock 'n' roll music moved away, so I found out that if I wanted to do music it would have to be acoustic-type music. A lot of the songs we do now lend themselves to one person singing and one person with a guitar."

Often the jam sessions, which Bauman said are scheduled on a "hit-or-miss" basis, jog a childhood memory loose for him. "There's a lot of songs that my mom used to play that I forgot about. Then somebody will play one of them and revive them, and it'd like, 'Oh yeah, that's how it goes,'" he said.

Williams said the group is like a brotherhood or sisterhood. He was saddened when one of the musicians, a banjo player from Geneva, died not too long ago.

Many of the musicians and audience members on hand sported gray heads of hair. At 55, Williams is one of the youngest in this jam community.

"A lot of these people are getting up there in age, and when they're gone I'm not sure if any of the kids are going to be there to fill in for them," he said. "People of my generation, in their mid-50s, I don't know how many of those people are willing to learn those songs or bring in new songs."

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