Getting decked out for music


Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2007


  Dave Unruh, of Nikiski, leads Peggy Jones and Alan Thye, both of Kenai, in a song at a folk jam Tuesday at Veronica's Coffee House in Old Town Kenai. Photo by Jenny Neyman

Dave Unruh, of Nikiski, leads Peggy Jones and Alan Thye, both of Kenai, in a song at a folk jam Tuesday at Veronica's Coffee House in Old Town Kenai.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

The rain was tapping on the plastic awning over the deck at Veronica’s Coffee House in Old Town Kenai. There are several potted plants, including bright pink geraniums on the window sills. One end of the room was packed with musicians: three guitarists were already strumming by 7 p.m., and a mandolin player joined later.

It looked like a group of old friends, gathered on a deck or in a sun room in somebody’s home. As they played, the group was laughing and giving each other a hard time. Dave Unruh, one of the guitarists, invited a spectator to join the group. The gentlemen demurs.

“As you can tell, we don’t care how rough we are,” Unruh said.

The group was casual, a mix of ages between the musicians and the audience. It was a small group Tuesday, but it was only the beginning of Veronica’s regular Tuesday night Folk Jam on the Deck.

Sarah Jane Superman, chef at Veronica’s, who also will play at Veronica’s on Friday, said it can be hard to gauge what the crowd will be like on any given Tuesday in the summer.

“Some nights, a whole lot of people show up, and some nights it’s just two or three people. But they always have fun,” she said.

It is a natural process that follows the weather’s lead.

“Last year, it went until September, until it starts getting colder and we can’t leave the deck open.”

The musicians played in a circle. They weren’t arranged as a band with the audience watching in front of them. It was a circle where the musicians could chat and laugh with each other and the audience between songs.

“Mostly they come to play together, because they always play in the big group, you know? That’s the difference between this and open mic,” Superman said. She said it was all about “relaxation and a good atmosphere.”

She said the faces and number of people change. Last summer, the largest group for the jam was 12 to 15 musicians. Except for Peggy Jones.

“Peggy was here every Tuesday last summer, and I think, when this stopped, she actually held the folk jams at her house over the winter.”

“The group changes every week, except her,” said Hatton Greer, the mandolin player, as he nodded at a woman who laughed a big laugh as she put away her guitar. The woman is Jones.

Jones played and sang Tuesday night with Dave Unruh and Alan Thye, also on guitar. Jones has been there from the start of Folk Jam on the Deck.

“It started three years ago when Terry and I talked to the owner and asked if we could do something like this,” Jones said.

“Terry” is Terry Debban, also a regular, who was out of town on business for the first jam.

Thye said the group will grow as the season goes on.

“Word is not really out there yet, since it’s just the first week.”

They encourage folks of any experience to show up and play.

“Jump right in, you know, because we all just try to take turns. Everybody gets included, no matter whether they’re beginning and starting out, or any level. If you have the ability to bring music to pass out, that’s great, if not, we’ll just figure it out,” Jones said.

“We’ve had people just show up and strum along, that just want to hang out with people, someone to play with,” Thye said.

The repertoire that night included such tunes as “City of New Orleans,” and toward the end, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” They would stop between songs, capo up their guitars, rotate who got to choose the song and tell jokes and stories.

“Guys with guitars that don’t have a capo — that’s like owning a car with no tires,” Unruh said.

The evening rolled on toward 8:30. The musicians began winding down — one last song. Then another. They were not eager to pack it in.

“It was wonderful, and we hope that other musicians will come,” Jones said.

There will be an entire summer of Tuesdays for those who want to play with other folk musicians. Folk Jam on the Deck will continue through the summer at Veronica’s on Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. Open mic is on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30.

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