Deanna Beauchamp contends the once-a-month bluegrass jam session she attends at the Kenai United Methodist Church is social in more than one way.
Besides catching up and playing music with friends, Beauchamp contends bluegrass itself is social — a dance among however many players show up that day.
One leads and the rest follow, feeling their way through the tune. But this dance isn’t a stuffy waltz. The music pouring out of the Kenai church Sunday jumped and bounced, as if a warm Kentucky breeze blew through the air.
And, as expected, toes were tapping to the beat.
“Music, you come up with it and it comes out of you. ... Everyone is amazed — my music starts in my feet and comes up out this shoulder,” Beauchamp said with a laugh.
Nikiski resident Jim Evenson started the group three years ago after his pastor found out Evenson played music and encouraged him to start a jam session at the church. The group meets the third Sunday of each month from 1 to 4 p.m.
Evenson said the group isn’t necessarily about worship, although they do play some gospel songs early as players arrive and the church crowd filters in and out. Other songs, as he put it, are simply about railroad cars and cheating women.
At first, Evenson picks up his banjo and calls out “key of C” to Beauchamp as she finds her guitar and quickly joins in. Soon Nikiski resident Dick Weaver joins the two and picks up a mandolin without missing a beat.
As more players arrived, the group forms a circle with players taking turns leading whatever song they’d like to play — country, bluegrass, gospel and regular “old-time stuff,” Beauchamp said. Then the other players, some switching between several instruments, followed and improvised their parts as they went.
“Very few of the people in our jams read music,” she said. “We follow each other by ear. That’s the old timey way.”
Soon, at least eight players sat in a semicircle playing. Some would blush when they hit a sour note, others would laugh and chuckle when they lost the rhythm, and bashful others would coyly turn down an invitation to lead a song.
“It is a little frightening to lead,” guitar player and Sterling resident Tina Hall said with a smile.
Beauchamp, who played several stringed instruments, said she plays in the jam session for fun. She said her motto is if it isn’t fun, she doesn’t do it.
“A long time ago I was a professional musician and that’s work,” she said. “But when you do it for fun, well, it’s fun.”
Evenson said many area residents, young and old, play at jam sessions at other churches, senior centers and locations. Some venues are better known and attended than others, he said.
“There’s bluegrass players all over the Peninsula, we live all over,” he said, eating a potluck lunch before the session. “Heck, we’ll play if there is an audience of two people — we don’t care.”
Hall said that many of the area’s bluegrass players are in high demand to make appearances at various functions.
“I know if you want to book them to have them play somewhere, you have to give them advanced warning because they have a full schedule,” she said.
Evenson said he gets tired after each jam session — three or more hours of playing music with a heavy banjo often leads to a sore shoulder. But despite the sore spots, he said he is immediately looking forward to playing again.
“It’s a good tired, just physical you know,” he said. “It isn’t emotionally draining or anything like that in fact it is just the opposite — it is kind of exhilarating.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.