Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jammin' in Rough and Ready

Rough and Ready, the Gold Rush-era hamlet just outside of Grass Valley, is known for its rabble-rousing past. In 1850, its residents rebelled against taxes and other laws, deciding to secede from the United States. The “Republic of Rough and Ready” lasted only three months before townsfolk rejoined the Union. (Legend has it that the move that was prompted at least in part by the refusal of saloonkeepers in nearby Nevada City to sell liquor to the “foreigners”).
The tiny town today is known for Sunday morning jam sessions of the Fruit Jar Pickers, a loose-knit group of musicians who congregate in an old gas station at 10 a.m. The building -- you can't miss it with the bright blue banner proclaiming "Pickers Palace" -- is home to the local volunteer fire department and also doubles as a concert hall.
On a typical Sunday you might find 20 musicians on stage playing a wild assortment of homemade and professional instruments. When I was there recently (My article about it ran in the San Francisco Chronicle Aug. 10), musicians with elegant violins performed along one jamming on a funky handmade bass whose strings came from a weed whacker.

During the two-hour session a crowd slowly gathered, about 100 people, some bringing their own chairs because the 50 or so metal folding chairs often fill up. There were a few newcomers, but most were veterans at the hall and they knew the routine: at the door, pick up the group’s red, three-ring binders filled with song sheets, grab a seat and sing with gusto, swaying and dancing. It’s free, including donuts and coffee, although donations are gladly accepted.
The Sunday morning sessions started eight years ago across the street at the old general store when a couple of musicians began informal jams. Nevada County is home to a large community of professional and amateur musicians and word soon spread. The number of musicians and audience members grew. They couldn't fit in the store any more. So, a few years ago, the move was made to the old fire house.
The group is lead by Everette Burkard, who plays a homemade steel guitar and leads the sing-alongs. Everette changes one wacky hat for another as he tells corny old jokes between songs. The selections are country, pop and gospel -- “songs your grandpa sang on the porch," he says. On the morning I was there, they included standards such as “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” “Jambalaya” and “Hey Good Lookin’.” It's a blast from the past. At noon, everyone left the fire house smiling.

No comments: