While the masses of music lovers gather at music festivals all summer long, and congregate in renovated theaters, coffee houses, and such; the backbone, if you will, of bluegrass music, exists all over rural America in small towns and communities on any given night of the week at something called Jams. They’re often free, usually involve dinner and/or desert, lots of home spun pickin’, and tons of friendly fellowship. Some might call it amature night for the bluegrassers, but it’s hard to know how many of today’s (and yesteryear’s) favorite bluegrass bands started at local bluegrass jam gatherings.
Just in the general area from where AR Magazine is published I could attend a different one almost every night of the week. Kaye D. Hill has been a regular contributor to this magazine almost from the beginning. She’s a big fan of one such local gathering called the Spike Jam Session. Follows is her account of this teriffic community event.
As you’re traveling west from Broadway, Virginia, towards the West Virginia line, it’s hard to not be in awe of the simple beauty of the area. About eight miles out of town, it’s hard not to notice the large rock formation on the right, with a simple white block building nearby, and a U.S. flag proudly waving. Although the highway is a busy one, there’s normally not a crowd at the Chimney Rock Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9660 building – unless it’s a Friday night.
Every Friday evening from 7 o’clock until nine, the VFW building is home to the Spike Jam Session; the parking lot is full, and the building is often over flowing. Folks come from miles around to enjoy the free bluegrass music, fellowship with their neighbors and friends, and do their part to honor local veterans.
In Honor Of Spike
The jam sessions were started years ago, by Vallie May Stroop, to honor the memory of her husband Spike Stroop, a bluegrass legend in his time. Vallie May and her dedicated helpers arrive early to open the building and start setting up the table of free refreshments and snack foods. There’s no charge for the music or the good food; they only ask for a donation to help the veterans if you can. Soon the crowd files in to take a seat, followed by musicians carrying their instruments on stage, greeting each other with handshakes and laughter. The music begins promptly at seven with every participant being asked to “pick one” or “sing us a tune.” At nine, when everyone on stage joins in a gospel song, or invites the crowd to help with a sing-along, the crowd filters out, remembering to drop a dollar or two in the box on the table near the door.
It’s a fun time at The Rock on Friday evenings. The music is always good, the laughter is contagious, and it makes one feel especially proud of the local folks who gather there to chat, check on one another, and enjoy time together. You often see older men in bib overalls, many wearing cowboy hats, ladies sitting near the back knitting as they enjoy the music, and children always sit on the front row of chairs so they can see the stage better.
VFW For The Cause
This small chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has one purpose – to help local veterans in any way possible. Through the sale of barbecued chicken in the summer and the bluegrass events all year, they’ve been able to update the building, provide craft items to veterans in the hospital, and recently made it possible for two busloads of veterans and their friends to attend the Marine museum in Quantico, Virginia, free of charge.
On November 17, Vallie May and Dave Kyger, a musician and music instructor who also serves as the emcee for the jam sessions, were on hand as Modern Woodmen Insurance Company honored a local citizen with the Hometown Hero award. Mrs. Stroop and Mr. Kyger are past recipients of this award themselves. Mr. Johnny Conley was surprised and honored to be named the Hometown Hero for 2017. Also recognized by the Spike Jam Session was Mr. Danny “Tucker” Stedman who was presented a gift and the Achievement Award for his dedicated work in promoting the music.
After the award presentation, it was announced that plans are underway for another project – a music CD will be made of the musicians who normally play for the Friday night jams. The necessary money for the CD has already been raised, thanks again to the generous donations of many local folks.
To me, this is what community is all about. It’s a handful of folks who want to help each other and especially those who served our country. You can’t leave The Rock without having a good feeling about what goes on there each week. Country artist Lee Greenwood wrote, “God Bless the U.S.A.” and we know for sure that includes the good folks at the Spike Jam Session at The Rock. My hat’s off to everyone involved in these projects that do so much good for our community and my thanks for keeping the music alive!
By Kaye D. Hill – a long time friend and contributor to Americana Rhythm – she is of course a huge fan of the local Jam too!