Old Time Jam celebrates traditional Appalachian music

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The sounds of guitars, dulcimers and mandolins filled the Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park’s Visitors Center on Sunday afternoon.

A small group of local musicians gathered at the park for the monthly Old Time Music Jam, which features the traditional type of music associated with the area.

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“We play old-time string band music such as was played for barn dances and other special occasions for the past 300 years,” Jerry Walls said.

The Jam has been held at Sycamore Shoals for many years. Musicians of all experience levels are welcome to attend and bring their acoustic instruments such as the fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, dulcimer and autoharp. Attendees don’t have to play to come to the Jam, Walls said. People are invited to come down and listen to the music if the want.

The Old Time Music Jam is a casual concert. Musicians come in as they can and sit in circle in the Visitor’s Center. They each take turns calling out songs, such as “Tennessee Waltz”, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” “Dark as a Dungeon” and “Spotted Pony.”

The person who selects the song traditionally leads the performance and others play, or sing, along as they like.

“This is a wonderful experience,” Walls said. “I love the chance to come down and play the old-style music. I look at it as a learning experience. I get to do what I enjoy and learn new songs and melodies while I am here.”

Brenda McNenny is a regular at the Old Time Jam. She frequently comes and brings her dulcimer named Squiggy, and her tin whistle to play with the other musicians.

Not only does McNenny practice her musical talents at Sycamore Shoals, that is where she got her start as a musician. She had recently moved to the area from Texas when she attended a craft show that was held at the park. She visited a booth that sold dulcimers and the rest is history.

“The dulcimer threw itself off the table and said ‘Take me home.’,” she laughed. “They told me it was named Squiggy. Traditionally, the people who make the dulcimers name them so that they will play better. I think it worked out just fine.”

After purchasing the dulcimer, she learned about the Old Time Jams that are held monthly at the park. She brought her new instrument along and learned to play while meeting new friends and learning more about traditional Appalachian music.

“I just love this style of music,” she said. “It just expresses this place so well, and it is so fitting that we get to play it here at Sycamore Shoals. I play all kinds of music, but I love this kind the most.”

Mike Mnich is a musician with many instruments. During an Old Time Jam, he can be seen playing anything from a mandolin and guitar to a harmonica and a fiddle.

Mnich has been coming to the Old Time Jams for around two years since he moved here from Chattanooga. He attended a Stepping Out session at Roan Mountain State Park and found out about the casual concerts at Sycamore Shoals.

“This is a very accepting group,” Mnich said of his fellow Jammers. “No matter what level you are at, they accept you in and let you play with them. I love that we play here at the park in the Visitors Center. It gives a little to the atmosphere, and people can just stop and listen if they feel like it.”

The next Old Time Jam will be held on June 28 from 1:30-4 p.m. at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.