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Joining the jam: Local musicians gather for fellowship, fun

Barbara G. Smith, foreground, begins to sing accompanied by Join the Jam fellow musicians. (Photos by Marina Waters)

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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You know you’ve arrived at Jonesborough’s unofficial jam session, Join The Jam, when you open the doors to the Jonesborough Senior Center on a Thursday night and the harmonious sound of guitars, ukuleles, and dobros spills through the hallway.

“If you’re going to get better, you need to play, so we decided to start every Thursday night; anybody that wanted to come could come play songs,” creator and leader of Join The Jam, Terry Countermine, said. “It’s grown and it’s fun. No one takes it too seriously and it’s just playing and singing and laughing and becoming friends, which is the reason that I did it.”

Join The Jam is a musical meeting for anyone, beginner and otherwise, to join in on the jam session that takes place each Thursday at the Jonesborough Senior Center from 6 to 7 p.m.

Countermine started Join The Jam after giving lessons to folks at the senior center and McKinney Center. Countermine, who is a part of the Jonesborough Novelty Band and has played banjo, guitar and ukulele for many years, wanted to share his love for music. And, ukulele lessons followed by a weekly jam session, was the perfect way to do that.

“I love music. I don’t know what I’d do without music,” Countermine said. “I remembered learning the ukulele and it’s so much easier to learn than the guitar or the banjo so I said I would do (lessons) for free and see if anyone’s interested.”

The group, which widely consists of Countermine’s ukulele students, uses a notebook each week that is filled with all sorts of songs — from “Love Potion Number Nine” to “Hey Good Looking.” Each person in the Join The Jam circle will choose a song for the group to play and sing along, and from there, the jam keeps rolling — even through mistakes and pauses.

“Even the ones of us who have played for a while, we don’t know all the chords,” Barbara G. Smith, a Join The Jam regular said, laughing. “We still mess up, but we still keep going.”

Apart from honing their skills and flexing those musical muscles, the musicians who come to join the jam come for the tunes but stay for the camaraderie.  

“It is an outreach into the community bringing people in from everywhere,” Smith said at last Thursday’s meeting. “It just meets a real need in everybody’s life. We just get together and kid and cut up. The guy who picks ‘I Want To Be A Dog’ every single week, we just give him a hard time (laughs). And that’s the thing — we didn’t know each other before.”

One member brings her service dog, Sally, to the jam (which, for Sally, mostly means snoozing while her owner, Valerie Adams, strums her ukulele.) And for another Join The Jam attendee, Sonja Fox, playing is about having fun and honoring her brother who was also a music lover.

“My brother died and he liked music,” Fox said. “We had this old ukulele so my husband said, ‘Why don’t you play that?’ And I said, ‘I will. I’ll go to his grave and play.’ That was my start. But (Join The Jam) is so fun. That’s why I do it.”

Countermine said one of the things he wants the group to maintain is its acceptance of anyone who walks through the door and the story they bring with them.

“We live in times where there are a lot of things we’re not happy about, but when you get together and play music, I think it brings out the best in people and you forget about other things for a while,” Countermine said. “It’s a good group of people who are accepting of other people and other people’s talents and just love music. I think that’s important now. It’s always important, but it gives someone a place to go and for a while you can just enjoy the music and the fellowship.

“Everybody has their own story and it’s important that we respect that and just welcome everybody.”

Join The Jam is open to all instruments such as ukuleles, guitars, banjos, dobros — and they’ve even seen a stand-up bass and cello at past meetings. The group is also open to all ages and you don’t have to be a member of the senior center to join in. All you have to do, Countermine said, is bring your instrument, pick a song and most importantly, have fun.

“I’ll get people who call and ask about it and they’ll say, ‘I really don’t play very well,’ and I’ll say, ‘Just come and sit in and play what you can.’ That’s how you get better is by playing the song,” Countermine said, “and the next time you do, you might not make the same mistake you did last time. It’s not that anybody cares. Everybody has got the same attitude. They enjoy the fellowship and music and getting better. 

“Everybody’s welcome. Hopefully someone will read this article and say, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll join in.’ We’d love to have anybody that wanted to come.”