Jam Sessions in Southwest Missouri
Featured Jam Sessions:
Competitions and Festivals:
Jam sessions are widespread in southwest Missouri, and they seem to be growing. Many of the jam sessions documented for this project began within the past few years, and they clearly meet a strong need in many rural areas. This website features descriptions and photographs of fifteen of these events held principally during the summer of 2000 in rural communities surrounding Springfield, Missouri. For more information about the jam sessions listed on the left, click on one.
Jam sessions-or "true" jam sessions as one musician called them-are regularly- scheduled gatherings where musicians, sitting in a circle or semicircle, each have an opportunity to lead a song or tune while listeners sit outside of the circle. Typically, an individual will play one or more songs or tunes while the other musicians play along, and then the leadership role will move to the next person in the circle. In many cases, a microphone on a stand is moved from person to person. In the course of an evening, the microphone might travel around a circle several time.
Usually these events are informal, without an M.C. or a formal plan, and they are held in community buildings or buildings owned by individuals who wish to support the continuation of a jam session. No one is required to pay an admission charge, but in some cases organizers will set out donations jars or offset costs by running concession stands. At the jam sessions I attended, early country music, bluegrass, gospel, and old-time fiddle music were featured, and most of the musicians were in their fifties or older. Listeners occasionally enjoyed two-stepping or jig dancing to the music.
All jam sessions are not the same. For example, at some of them the musicians appear to be performing for an audience while at others they appear to be indifferent to listeners. At the jams sessions in Anutt, Manes, Weaver's RV Park, McDowell, and Mountain Grove School, musicians face an audience, but they continue to feature a round-robin performance element and are free of charge. At Anutt in particular, the group of performers actually has a name, the Little Branson Band, but appears to consist of anyone who shows up. At Souder, the jam session is held at a restaurant for the listening diners. Conversely, one relatively large jam session I visited consisted almost completely of musicians; the organizers did not want the weekly gathering to have more than a few listeners (and for that reason they asked me not to include their jam session in my project). Organizers of a few other jams sessions expressed concern that they did not want their gathering to become much larger, but most enthusiastically welcomed visitors.
At the McClurg jam session, which has received the most media coverage because National Heritage Award-winning fiddler Bob Holt usually plays there, the round-robin element is slightly different from those at the other jam sessions. Fiddle music, rather than songs, are featured, and a single fiddler might hold the leadership role for much of the evening while other instrumentalists play along. The beginning of the jam session will often feature singing and various fiddlers such as Jim Beeler and H.K. Silvey, but fiddler Bob Holt usually ends up in the leadership role for most of the evening.
Drawing the line between jam sessions, opry's, open-mike events, dances, community picnics, homecomings, fiddle competitions, festivals, and private house parties is not always easy. For this project, I have focused on the events that have at least a few of the characteristics of a "true" jam described above. I have, however, devoted a section on this web site to events that have characteristics similar to those of jam sessions. These related events are listed at the bottom of the list on the left.
The jam sessions I have documented for this project represent a relatively random sampling. I am not suggesting the ones I chose are the only ones or the best ones. My goal was never to seek out the best talent, the most enjoyable show, or the most "authentic" Ozark music. Because no money changes hands at these jam sessions, the musicians are typically unaffected by pressures from the public or outside institutions to play a certain kind of music or act a certain way. For this reason, visitors to the jam sessions hear a good representation of the musical aesthetics and preferred styles of the region.
Although most jam sessions welcome visitors, all visitors should keep in mind that the events typically have been organized within a community and reflect the musical tastes of the community. The songs and tunes played are often known and performed by all the musicians present. For that reason, visitors are encouraged to be respectful of the music and people involved in a jam session.
Descriptions of the jam sessions will not be updated, and reflect the state of the events during the summer and fall of 2000 only. This project was directed by Dr. Drew Beisswenger, Music Cataloger and Assistant Professor at Meyer Library, Missouri State University. Bob Jordan and Edward Proctor assisted with web page development. The research was supported through a Summer Faculty Fellowship at Missouri State University. Financial assistance for this project has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency. Dr. Beisswenger has also completed a related project on Ozark fiddler Bob Holt for the Library of Congress's Local Legacies program at http://lcweb.loc.gov/bicentennial/propage/MO/mo_s_bond1.html