In my first post about the 2013 Cherokee Jazz and Blues Festival, I provided one sort of picture of The Gathering Place, one of the venues on the pub crawl. Certainly, when compared to a bar/restaurant with less square footage and no stage, The Gathering Place comes off a bit grand. Yet it is also capable of being an intimate and friendly place, which is what makes it so perfect for the Saturday afternoon jam session.
Typically, the Festival jam on Saturday is hosted by the band who happens to be that year’s headliner. It’s a four-hour deal (noon to four) during which host band plays a few songs by itself, plays a bit with other folks, and makes room for others to play on their own by organizing the signed-in musicians into temporary “bands.” The crowd is filled with festival attendees, musicians who are on the festival program, musicians who are not on the program, and anyone else who happens to be there (roadies, children, whatever). It can be (and usually is) a wildly good time.
This year’s hosts were the members of The Candymakers, a smokin’ blues outfit (and, as it happens, a bunch of really genuinely pleasant guys who know how to run a jam well).
Time to make the candy…
While the band did its thing, people sat up in the mezzanine (at either end) playing cards, eating, drinking, and relaxing. People hung out at tables on the main floor, or sat in rows of chairs before the stage. There was chili and assorted other food in the kitchen, and there were instrument cases all over the place. It felt a bit like a relaxed party combined with the old solo and ensemble contests I used to attend as a much shorter and slightly less competent violinist. Everyone was waiting his or her turn to rock. Some had a plan, some didn’t. The Candymakers rolled with what they got, and so did the very receptive (mostly hungover) and kind-hearted audience.
Dude in the middle? Totally not a Candymaker.
One of the real treats of the jam was this kid:
All right, guys, uh, listen. This is a blues riff in “B”, watch me for the changes, and try to keep up, OK?*
He is ~10 years old, and he plays the guitar like he’s being possessed by the restless spirits of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He got up there and shredded “Pride and Joy”
and “Voodoo Child”
like it was easy. Those tiny, tiny hands moved so smoothly, so perfectly on that guitar…it was a kind of magic to watch him. More than one audience member confessed to tearing up a bit while he played, and for good reason. At any given time that afternoon, the joint was filled with terrific sounds and happy, tired people.
At night for the Saturday pub crawl, The Gathering Place changed once again, and it’s worth it to show you a contrast case before I get to how.
One of the other venues for the crawl, the one furthest away from the center of things, is the Cherokee Bowl. The festival runs a courtesy shuttle for its participants (much appreciated on a night like Saturday, when the temperatures plus windchill were nigh on to lethal), and that shuttle got full-up and busy on Saturday. The band at the Bowl that night was a whole lot of friends and sometime bandmates of mine, Blues Drivin’.
(L to R) Barb, Mel, Henrique, and Doug. Behind the drums: Scott
Blues Drivin’ plays classic rock and blues (more on the classic rock side, lots of 60s and 70s stuff), and they do it very, very well. They were rocking a packed house at the bowling alley bar. This is another tight, small venue, not quite as jammed as the Gasthaus, but still full-up. The big band dance had just ended when the pub crawl started, so when I arrived (early in the night) there were a bunch of great swing dancers on the tiny dance floor in front of the band, making it all look easy. This is a classic bar venue, and the only thing that kept that tiny dance floor from being packed was the fact that those damn swing dancers were intimidatingly good. The music filled the space with a kind of loopy, rocking joy. There were lights, but it wasn’t fancy. The bar at the Cherokee Bowl is a no-frills, comfortable sort of place to get very, very drunk and dance without caring what you look like, and the band obliged with danceworthy tunes. It’s not so much intimate as it is crowded, but the crowd is good-natured and up for fun.
It’s worth noting that the Saturday night crawl crowd this year was bigger and livelier than the Friday crawl. At some point in the night, every venue was packed to varying degrees with cheery, inebriated revelers well and truly committed to enjoying themselves. The Candymakers filled the VFW hall, and the bar owner actually had them play longer because it was going so well.
In the middle of all of the wild fun, though, The Gathering Place hosted a moment of truly beautiful (comparative) stillness: the Sherri Cafaro Trio.
Smooth and beautiful…
By the time I arrived at the Gathering Place (much later in the night), the crowd was thin but intensely dedicated to the sound of classic jazz and blues sung by the most wonderful voice. Sherri Cafaro apparently makes most of her living playing this music on cruises (and for special occasions — she has played for dignitaries, etc.). She has appropriately big hair, a huge repertoire of songs, magic hands on the keys, and side men (including her son Joseph on bass — he’s one of the best upright bass players I’ve ever met, and also a really good guy) who know their business and love it. The Gathering Place was transformed, through them, into a kind of quiet temple of jazz, one in which the audience was deliberately silent (instead of shouting at each other over the sound, which is what happened at the louder, dance-filled venues). The atmosphere here went from party to worshipful attentiveness. This was music for connoisseurs, more like a wine tasting party than a frat-house kegger. Even though people were spread around the fairly large space, they still seemed to feel close; we gave each other room to feel, but we were never alone.
For me, though, what I loved best was watching the beautiful, serene expression on her face as she sang. Somehow, that made the music even better.
*obviously, I’m quoting Back to the Future. Deal with it.