All entries filed under Acoustic Jam

Greg Buragino and I have been attempting to recreate the epic Amy’s Jam from down in Boyertown several years ago, to little success at an Emmaus coffee shop, Greg’s patio and a ski resort in Macungie. Though we’ve become a circle of good, steady friends, our outreach has been spotty. After striking out at Bear Mountain, we decided to move the jam to Godfrey’s. Tonight was the first stab. It was pretty good.

Several familiar faces showed up, plus some new folks, including a Cajun trio and a couple visiting from Baton Rouge. It was a good mix of tunes and entertaining banter. It bodes well for future sessions. Several folks commented that Godfrey’s is the perfect place for it, especially for my friend Rich who got to play (and not haul) a real piano.

I started off with Roseville Fair, and as it came around again, St. James Infirmary, both fairly easy chord changes with a wrinkle or two to make things interesting. Hotel California was a new one for me, several jazz standards, a couple of banjo/fiddle tunes and, as the 9 pm hour rolled around, I finished with I Heard It Through the Grapevine (and got the lyrics right this time…). Not everybody was playing along so I figured I lean on the Cajun trio to finish it out, since they traveled the furthest. A good move.

I realized that, after many years trying to establish this jam elsewhere, Godfrey’s is the right place for it, and the players feel that, too.


I don’t often comment about this low-key monthly jam, but I’ve come to appreciate this opportunity to share music with some good friends, noodle on guitar/mandolin and play some of my repertoire. These sessions are an exercise in group think, and I end up being in charge. I guess that’s why I like it. I love to lead artistic excursions as a teaching artist, and this is simply an adult one.

We pass around new songs that we’re working on, some standards, and we pass around leads as it seems fit. I tend to keep things tight but I am willing to deal it out if it suits the tune. Communication.

There’s some solid players who know how to listen first. Listen. The songs develop as we play them, trusting in the front person to lay out the chord changes. Trust. And, as the song develops, we all figure out where we fit in, and, surprisingly, we come up with some inspired music. Improvisation. We also know when not to play. Humility. It is magic; the world disappears and we all get lost in the moment. (…at least, I do)

There were some really nice instruments passed around tonight and the evening almost descended into acoustic geek-speak. But it is the subtext of our social gatherings.

Voodoo Chile on mandolin sounded very cool with back up tonight, along with Mary Had a Baby, Zat You Santa Claus and I Saw Three Ships were a particular nice set of Christmas tunes for me. I relish playing these songs in the dark of year.

It was a good way to finish up a personally rough several days in the waning days before Christmas.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited my friends in CT so I arranged for another kitchen session up at Ron and Suzie’s place in Northford. Ron invited a bunch of friends on Friday. I had a rather easy drive up from Bethlehem on a Friday afternoon into the teeth of weekend traffic but I fared well, getting to his place around 4:30 in time to check in with them both before the rest of the folks arrived around 6:30. They are my very good friends who are my remaining link to my ten year odyssey in CT. I still feel some pain from my end days up there.

Frank and Cathy, Lou and Jeanne, Chuck and his wife, Bill Morrell and Betsy Rome gathered around the kitchen table with wine, cheese, beer and me and my coffee. We passed around tunes, stories, jammed on songs familiar and others less so. Betsy offered a nice challenge for us: one round with the name of a state in it. It was a good idea and it put my mind to work. I finally came up with Rodeo Rider (Montana), and I don’t recall playing it for them so I played it anyway. The whole kitchen became quiet and it felt good to share this great song with my friends. I really like to hush a room when I play. I enjoy the challenge.

I got to play We Are Welcomed, Green Green Rocky Road, Rumba Man, and Kent’s Giants. I got to noodle on mandolin, and find places to fit in on guitar. I also simply sat back and listened to the songs and smile, basking in the friendships gathered here tonight.

There were some stunning guitars in the room and we passed around our own to share. The conversation was humorous. At one point, after the pizzas were devoured, I mentioned that my next Dave’s Night Out is called Kitchen Sessions and I wanted their reflections on what makes these events so valuable. Lou mentioned that it was refreshing that our problems and the politics of the world are left behind. We talked about respect, sharing a common language. I liked that we listen first and play second. But Ron was getting antsy with all the touchy-feely talk, so he cranked up one of his tunes and we were back in the thick of it. Still, for me, it’s important to reflect on the magic of what we were doing.

I decided I would head back that night for several reasons. At that time of the night, the travel back would be pretty mindless and I actually got back into Bethlehem in less than three hours. As much as I appreciate the hospitality offered, I really would rather sleep in my own bed. The drive up and back also affords me some quality time listening to music, as well. I don’t often get that chance. And I get to be alone with my thoughts.

A good session for the soul.

This annual backyard musical event is one of my favorite local efforts at celebrating our local folk music scene, with all the elements of an informal jam, some stage time for old-time and bluegrass bands and food. Did I mention food? Cliff Cole’s a long-time friend and hammered dulcimer player extraordinaire who puts up a tent, provides a PA and sends out invitations to a pretty wide assortment of players and folk music aficionados.

We were blessed with great weather and folks traveled from miles around to attend. It’s rare these days for me to spend an afternoon under the trees, listening and playing music among friends, so I try to make room on my calendar every year. This year, Cliff asked me to be the featured performer, and I consider it an honor.

I like the open jam that opens the festivities; I get to noodle on the songs and tunes that folks offer up – a be a fly on the wall. Later in the afternoon, Cliff opens up the mikes and various groups, husband/wife duos and soloists get to do short, three or four song sets, so the music moves along nicely, and, importantly, everyone gets to shine. It was nice to see my friend Rolly Brown do two sweet tunes.

As the session settled into the early evening, I stepped up to do my solo set. Cliff had asked if I could invite Rolly up for a couple of tunes, and, upon scant reflection, I asked Rolly to just come up for the whole set. Why not? I’m sure Rolly would rather play than sit, as I would, and Rolly said sure.

As we started, I mentioned that this pickin’ picnic is what folk music is all about; folks getting together share music in a social situation.

We had a great time. Rolly’s great at listening first and letting me set up the song and that’s what I do well. We Are Welcomed, Barrelhouse, Giants and Giant, Don’t Call Me Early, Lessons from Pete and we did an encore with Nadine. Rolly jumped in with some great leads on a very diverse set of tunes and he enjoyed the set as much as I did. The mutual respect was palpable to each of us and to the folks listening. Magic happens. I came away high on the occasion.

It was a full afternoon of tunes among friends. Thanks to Cliff Cole and to my friend Rolly Brown for making it special.


Tonight was an interesting acoustic jam in Emmaus. Several new folks in the house, with fewer than usual usual folks. We have morphed into a unique kind of jam, predicated on listening first and finding our way into these folk, pop, bluegrass tunes. We defer to the person leading the song and let them set the song up. We do make some nice music along the way, quite often, in fact.

I am, at times, a tough task master, often asking that folks put away their lyric sheets and play to the room. I don’t object to folks bringing out lyrics to tunes that they have been working on; I sometimes do that myself, but Googling the song and jumping in on the chords and lyrics is going a little too far for me. I’m an old fart.

I hate to say it, but I enjoy sharing the music organically. (oh, no. not that word!) The listening is sometimes more important that the playing, especially on songs that have meaningful lyrics. There’s always time to jam on other tunes and that is one of my pet peeves with other local jams – lead after lead, endless blues or country licks – but sometimes a song is meant to be a song and not a vehicle for hot licks. There’s something special about a good four-minute song.

I like the intellectual challenges these jams present. I try to figure out the songs I’m not familiar with and the chord structures and find a way to compliment the arrangement. I often find myself as responsible for setting up the rhythm, the chords, and I’m fine with that. Occasionally I get to attempt a lead, and if others holding down the rhythm, I get to noodle along. That’s fun, too.  Again, it’s for the sake of the song.

I find I have to balance my expectations of the jam, and reflect on why we gather to share these songs. It is about the social nature of the event, and that is the ultimate factor on why we gather to play music.

I figured I was due a visit with my pickin’ friends in CT so I picked a Friday date at random and booked a trip up to Ron Anthony’s kitchen in Northford, CT. I had to forswear a Patty Larkin gig at Godfrey’s but my soul pals come first. (Patty asked about me. Yay!) I loaded up a mando and a guitar and headed out about noon. The traffic wasn’t too bad and I had my tunes and leftist podcasts ready for the trip.

I got up there early so I headed for the graveyard on the hill outside of Northford to meditate and decompress from the drive. It was the right thing to do. I gave thought to the ten years I spent in CT, building a family, making friends in the acoustic community and dealing with a different regional mindset.

I headed to Ron’s about 5 and we had a chance to catch up before folks started arriving around 6:30. I like to not know who is showing up beforehand so I can be genuinely surprised and glad that folks show up. I had the opportunity to really thank Ron for being one of my few ‘brothers’, someone I can confide in, and he seemed surprised but honored that I thought that way. I don’t hesitate to tell folks that I love them anymore.

My friends started rolling in, with some new faces. Frank (and Cathy), Denny, Bill, Lou showed up but Betsy and Chuck were new faces. Betsy was a really pleasant surprise. She’s a sophisticated guitarist and singer (I have seen her band Too Blue several times when I lived here) and I really enjoyed interacting with her during the session. Guitar talk, etc. She made the trip. I missed Ron’s lady Sue, away on field trials with a horse and dogs in Maryland. She makes me feel at home when I visit.

We passed around songs, some good jam tunes, some pretty difficult, but what makes these sessions special is the fact that we don’t have to play all the time. We know when to play and when to listen. I love to put my guitar aside, just close my eyes and listen to my friends. We are some fine players and friends. That’s rare.

Over the course of the evening I pulled out We Are Welcomed, Mr. Bojangles, Nadine, On Top of the World, Don’t Call Me Early, July and Dehlia. Some are good jam tunes but all have interesting nooks and crannies that makes one think. I get to make some musical statements with my friends I haven’t seen in awhile, let them know where I’m at musically. I don’t have the opportunity to share my new material with them at the local open mikes. And then there’s the inevitable conversations, chat and truly awful jokes.

Folks pulled out country tunes, blues, standards, swing and more. We all had the chance to stir the pot. I’m not sure I have a chance like this in my own home town! That’s why it’s important to cherish these gatherings. And that sense is deep among us.

I decided not to stay over this time, though Ron and Sue make things very comfortable for me. I packed up, said my thanks and left about 10:15. There was a pretty strong March thunder system rolling through and for the first hour driving back, I questioned my sanity. But, the weather broke in NJ, there was little traffic and I had some good tunes (Steve Winwood and my Sunday radio show) to sooth my ears. I got back into town about 1 pm. Not too bad.

I had hoped to sneak into my apartment undercover (so I could pee….) when some friends (comfortably drunk) were standing outside The Fun House and said “Hello, Dave Fry.” Drat. I was a little rude when I told them of my particular urgency so I unlocked my door, deposited my instruments in the stairwell and headed for my friendly bathroom and dealt with three hours on the road. Feeling a little abashed, I went back down the the street to reconnect with my acquaintances. Alas, it was futile to try to make intelligent conversation, explain what this journey was all about, so I bowed out gracefully and headed u[stairs to my home.

Enough for one day. Seven hours of driving, three hours of great playing.

Nadina and Dave

Mercifully, my two RockRoots assemblies were rescheduled at a later date, after two hours in traffic this morning. That left the Emmaus Jam on my schedule for the day. It’s an informal song swap I’ve be hosting along with Greg Buragino on the fourth Thursday on the month. It’s a relatively small group, and tonight is was just six of us, and that was just fine. We did some quiet songs, passed around the tunes and chatted.

Greg and Robyn

Greg plays fiddle and guitar, has a massive songbook (and is a fine piano player, too), Pete makes his own guitars and does a lot of ten chord swing standards, Nadine is a shy lady who loves to sing and has a fistful of interesting contemporary singer-songwriter material, Rich plays guitar and piano and has a fine set of ears. Robin hauls in her cajon.

I am the guru, I guess, so I have to figure what tunes that I can share, but often break out some material I’ve been working on. Thus, I brought out Song for the Life and Sixty Minute Man, tunes I will use next week at the Troubadour Concert.

Rich, Nadine and Dave

It was funny that I always think about tunes to do as I drive over South Mountain to the gig before 7 pm. Today, I was listening to a CD of material I had ready for my radio show last Saturday and Chris Smither’s minor Maybelline came on. Sure enough, Greg pulled it out tonight. Serendipity!

I remarked how much I love these small gatherings, for the camaraderie and for the chance to noodle on mandolin as I get to play backup for a change. I also love listening to the chord progressions and trying to figure them out. Puzzle time.

Dave and Pete

I get a pocketful of bills to buy me some groceries and laundry money.

I had to get out of the house and put myself in front of some people so I headed down to the Riegelsville Jam, run by Nadine (my good friend), Andy and Mitch. It’s a very warm community of players and listeners and it’s a great place to try out some new material. That’s what I did tonight.

There were an assortment of fine players tonight and I got to follow Dina Hall’s set. It’s always a challenge to play here and I took some chances.  Folks were listening.

I start out with Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, one I’ve be honing over the last month. It’s simple but the trick is not to beat it to death. Mitch dialed it in on bass and Andy didn’t quite figure out the intro, but, if I played it strong, I knew we could pull it off. Nice dynamics, great lead by both Andy and Mitch and folks sang along. It worked well.

I attempted Part of the Union with less success. I should know that the capo is your friend. I shucked it tonight and, combined with a dry voice, lower key and not having the lyrics down, I wobbled my way through it. It was a stern lesson in the difference between my kitchen and the stage. Somehow, it rolled into shape at the end. Not satisfied. But a fellow came up afterwards and loved that I did a Strawbs tune.

I finished with What About the Bond from Bruce Cockburn. I set it up strongly and it turned into an  interesting trip. What makes this song work is the restraint necessary to set up the reggae grove and give room for the lyrics (that actually mean something to me). Mitch and Andy gave me lots of space, like the pros that they are. I shortened the song by doing two verses before doing the chorus. It gave us more time to explore the music when it came around to Andy’s lead. I am glad that I can give out cues to the trio in transit. Andy and Mitch have their antennae up when I play with them and there’s a lot of trust going on. That’s why I love going to this jam.

I got some nice compliments afterward, though I was not satisfied with my set. Apparently I am able to count on my performance skills enough to negate what I consider to be obvious flubs (word, words, vocal key….). I was able to get folks to sing along and create a creative space for my fellow musicians. We were in the moment and that’s what is important, I guess.

It was pretty humorous that a young player came up and thanked me for “What About the Bomb“. That pretty much took me back to ground zero. Now I have that in my mind and it will prove to be great fodder for future introductions of the song.

There is great community happening here. I’m glad to be an occasional part of it.

I always look forward to this small monthly acoustic jam in Emmaus, simply for the simplicity amongst friends. We are a small circle that gathers in this local coffeehouse and we get to share tunes that we like to play. I am particularly proud of these folks who continue to grow as musicians, take chances with new material and diverse genres. The time goes by quickly. It’s the interactions among us that makes it valuable for me. And there are some very wonderful musical moments. We know when they happen.

Tonight, an older gentleman dropped in with a square instrument case and parked on the sofa and listened in. As I poked about with him and asked that he break out his mysterious instruments and join in, he politely refused. He made several knowledgeable remarks about my mandolin (I am not quite secure in the details on my wonderful Gibson), I realized that he was more than he seemed to be. I made several entreaties about his black box of instruments, etc., but he never committed to playing.  He eventually left during Mr. BoJangles and it seemed we never connected with him and it was personally frustrating.

We surmised that he was a old school bluegrasser uncomfortable with our loose jam. This is a common reaction among various folk stylists, be it Blues, Old Time, Bluegrass, Songwriter, Celtic, etc. I would hope that we remain open to all styles of folk music, just by its universal (in my view) nature. But people have different comfort levels.. So it goes.

I gave out CDs to all my friends – my odd assortment of kids’ music, a Christmas compilation, and my older adult stuff – to thank them for their support and friendship at this small, monthly community.

It’s what it is all about. I parted with my ” I love you all madly”.

These roll around like clockwork, and though they are sparsely attended, I enjoy the chance to informally jam with friends who make the effort to come out. Tom’s a banjo player who’s working on playing and singing and that’s a mighty fine step. Peter brings out his latest homemade guitar and it’s a thrill to share these new instruments with friends. Rich knows how to jam on piano and has some great ears; I always count on him to find the groove. Nadine comes out to support the vocals and share a couple of tunes. She’s a good friend in my circle. And there are always a few familiar faces who show up.

I particularly love the chat and banter that goes on between the songs and provides the glue for the friendships we celebrate.

My long-time friend Tom Church has invited me to join him and some of his friends, collectively called the Raw Magic Band, for an annual house concert and benefit for the UU Church of the Lehigh Valley. I used to attend this church back when my family was young and enjoyed the folks that attended. Tom performed quite a bit back in the 70’s and had an album out on Fretless Records, a small but respected folk label in New England. He doesn’t play professionally any more. The Church family also has deep roots in Bethlehem’s history. Brother Danny wrote for the Globe Times here in Bethlehem back when Godfrey’s was very young and his wife Peggy is a good friend, as well.

From last year’s house concert with Paul, Dan, myself and Tom

At his house along the Delaware River, Tom and his wife Sheila gather some of their friends for the affair. Last year I got to meet and play with pianist Dan DeChellis and Paul Thiessen. Dan and I hit it off immediately and I eventually persuaded him to play on my new CD. He teaches at Moravian College, did a great job in the studio and has wonderful improvisational chops. Tom knows a passel of songs and has written some gems as well. This year Tom added a mandolinist Bud Burroughs from the Lansdale area. He is no slouch either. He’s really good.

This year, I didn’t work out material ahead of time with Tom but we agreed that we trusted that we would do well together as a quartet. Tom knew that we are all listeners first and can find our space as the songs develop. It worked and the process turns out to be something that the audience enjoys

It’s a rare chance for Tom to break out his songs and front a group. I particularly enjoy these situations as a side man on guitar and mandolin. And since Bud was on mandolin, I had the choice of playing guitar or second mandolin, both of which remain a challenge for me. We tentatively played the first song, got our ears up, felt around for who plays what lead, etc. By the next song, we were a combo. It was fun to do dual mandolin songs; I found that his hot licks go well with my chordal chops.

I found my spot as the band commentator, as usual, and was able to engage the audience with observations, bon mots, etc. I took time to thank the guys, saying that it’s a real pleasure to play with other musicians who have their “antennae” up, and that we were having a grand ole time. I know the folks gathered in the living room agreed.

Snacks prevailed, with lots of exotic cheeses spread throughout the house. Lots of grazing. I did mention that, for a UU gathering, there was lots of Cheeses (Jesus) present. That cracked up Dan and the folks in the room. If I can get the band to laugh, I’m a happy camper.

I get to front two songs, one in each set, so I did False from True which worked out well as a blues jam piece but folks also reacted to Pete’s lyrics as well, especially among these liberal UU’s.  I did Lessons from Pete in the second set and it turned out to be a remarkable performance piece. The lyrics are powerful but the open jam at the end was special. Again, the band and the audience realized that this afternoon was unique. Tom rose to the occasion with his songs and we were all tickled by the end of the “show” with our version of Get Together. A very satisfying session. Folks said we should play Godfrey’s. That’s a nice compliment.

I couldn’t ask for a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon in March.

Boy, is it cold! I bundled up for a short trip to Emmaus and the regular jam at the Vargtimmen King Koffee shop in town. It’s particularly intimate affair but with some good friends and a strong sense of listening to each other. I find myself enjoying the challenge of finding tunes that folks can pick up on easily, but still able to pull out tunes I’ve been working on. Everyone adds to the mix.

There are some great musical moments, especially tonight, with piano, dobro, fiddle and guitars in a small acoustic space, with everyone listening first and then finding a place to fit in. That’s very special and appreciated.

A good night among friends.

My friend and fiddler Amy Forsyth led a unique class at Lehigh this semester: imagining musical instruments. Each student was to build an instrument during the fall and Amy invited me up for an end of the semester jam with them. From flutes, kitchen pot theremin, kazoos, fluted pipes, various boxes and stringed instruments to a functional banjo.

We gathered in the stairwell in the basement of Chandler Lab (chemistry lab in my LU years) and it turned out to be the perfect place to jam. Each student demonstrated his or her instrument, their thought processes and sound experiments. There was a small Pignose amp available for instruments that used a pick up.

One enterprising student by the name of Gibson (!!) made a wood head banjo that was set up perfectly: frets, 5th string, neck, etc. so I asked to try it. I clawhammered a tune, Amy joined in on fiddle and the others tooted and banged along. I had the chance to brainstorm with Gibson, compliment his craft, gave him a short lesson on my simple, but effective frailing style.

We jammed on a Bo Diddley beat that morphed into a blues. Another LU professor joined in and we attracted various students and staff in the stairwell. I’m sure the sound was pretty cool and it was a particularly good jam, especially with the curious but untrained students. I was glad Amy asked me to help grease the session on guitar. And I got to have another bizarre Lehigh experience.

Amy’s great in inspiring young folks in the creative arts, not just music. She also teaches furniture building and is a fine graphic artist, too. Quite the renaissance woman, and a kindred spirit.

Accordion kazoo. 

Electric banger twanger.





3D printer flutes.    


I haven’t had a lot of work this November but found some time to go to some local jams this week. I hosted the Godfrey’s Acoustic Blues Jam on Tuesday with only Cliff and Steve in the house, plus a few listeners. Surprisingly, we had a good time passing tunes around. Steve is especially fun to have in the house; he’s a fine harp player but also is a blues encyclopedia as well. He know the backstories of a lot of the obscure players, even some of the really obscure ones I dig up.

Wednesday was Andy Killcoyne’s Hot Acoustic Jam in Riegelsville, always a full house of players and listeners and I usually get an early slot. Tonight, I was hoping to get out “Chuck E’s in Love” as a solo for the first time, always a challenge to premier a song in front of a real audience. Andy chided me that it was supposed to be a jam, and that solo stuff was for Monday’s at the club. He was half kidding, so I said I’ll just do this one by myself. (Some songs have complicated bridges, like this one, and are not suitable for a jam). I pulled it off, and people were surprised to hear a pop tune from me. It was a good lift off for the song. Andy came up after it and proceeded to play the lick flawlessly (unlike my attempt) and I muttered a FU under my breath.

I finished up the three song set with Hey Bo Diddley and It’ll Be Me with lots of room for guitar and bass solos and it was appreciated.

Thursday night was my Emmaus Jam and there were only about 5 folks there, but we proceeded to pass around some good tunes. My friend and banjo player Tom sang a song for the first time in public ever. He messaged me later, “Hey Dave, I just want to say thanks for being involved in this Emmaus Jam. I’ve never sang in public before and tonight it was so easy to do it and I attribute that to you. Stick your head out the door, I think you’ll hear Pete Seeger saying “Well done Dave, you’re doing good.” . Thanks again.” That made it all worth it there.

The small gatherings are precious unto themselves.

I finished up the day in the courtyard of a coffeehouse in Emmaus for my developing monthly jam. It was a good night to be outside with just a few folks, and a good way to wrap up a busy day. Only a few folks showed up, but just enough to make it interesting A couple of fiddles, mandolins, a banjo, a bass and uke player and others. I enjoy leading the way as well as making space for the others to contribute. There are always surprises and I like how the genres move from bluegrass to swing to soul to folk and I enjoy the patter that goes on in between. It is as much a social session as it is a music session.

It was a very nice way to finish off a day filled with music.  Off to CT tomorrow.

I started a new acoustic jam in Emmaus on Thursday night, and it was quite interesting. I had never walked into this place, but thanks to some fine scouting by my friend Greg Buragino. We set up outside on the back ‘veranda’, and folks gathered for the evening. Reasonable armless furniture was pretty rare on site so that was the immediate hump. We moved along to creating a reasonable space for the jam. A beautiful evening with a waxing moon rising in the west. This’ll be nice.

An assortment of banjo pickers, fiddlers, harp players, guitarists and the ilk started in on a variety of songs, fiddle tunes, blues and more so I tried to guide the session onwards. Various non-players gathered and really enjoyed the music and the banter. That’s what it’s all about. The bubbles of community rising to the surface.

It’s a fine balancing skill to do one of these jams. I have to assess the skills, the musical genres, the performance abilities, the reaction of the folks observing (it is a performance….) and try to make it work on many levels. It is intense but worth the effort.

A good night, for sure.