Bluegrass Jam - The Real Deal in Chesnee

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bluegrass Jam - The Real Deal in Chesnee

Posted on Friday, January 10, 2014

By Jeremy L. C. Jones
Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

I took 221 North through the farmland and foothills, past the churches, gas stations and hand-painted signs offering fresh produce. I was headed up to the Homespun Bluegrass Friday Night Jam in Chesnee, SC, less than thirty minutes from Spartanburg.

I knew from previous visits that I’d arrived in Chesnee once I’d passed the American Legion building with the disabled combat helicopter next to it. I slowed down as a throng of people crossed the road for the Friday night football game at Chesnee High School.

Some venues can be hard to find, but not a bluegrass jam. I parked on West Cherokee amid the pick-up trucks and followed the men and women carrying instrument cases. Even though I was early, a few dozen people had already crowded the storefront venue across the street from the Chesnee Hardware Store.

I dropped my donation in an iron cook pot an inch deep with coins and leafy with one dollar bills. There was no ticket booth, cash box, or usher. At Homespun Bluegrass, they work on the honor system for admission and for concessions—canned soda and bottled water from the cooler for $1.00. Coffee and Moon Pies for 50 cents.

BluegrassVisitors shouldn’t expect glam or elegance. Homespun lives up to its name. Antique tools and farming implements hang on the walls: a few exotic stringed instruments, including BubbaBass, an upright made out of an oval-shaped washbasin, and posters advertising bluegrass concerts and guitar strings. People sit at banquet tables and in rows of folding chairs aimed toward the musicians and microphones.

Everyone seemed to know each other and the atmosphere was open, relaxed, and friendly. It was hard not to eavesdrop.

"How are you?" someone said.

"Tell us a joke!"

"Where's your gee-tar?"

Everyone spoke in exclamation points. Smiles came fast and wide.

The musicians joked around with each other—all except one who sat toward the back, waiting quietly, gently thumbing his guitar strings. I’d discover his name was Buster, but not till later.

I moved closer. Up front, a guitar player in a dark green shirt and suspenders noodled toward a tune and the mandolin player next to him picked up the melody and a few flat-pickers joined in.

A spry older gentleman wearing a polo shirt and neon yellow cap sat down beside me and introduced himself. He and his wife had moved to Chesnee from Virginia three years ago and were glad to have found Homespun Bluegrass.

“We come every chance we get,” he said. “No two Fridays are the same. You never know what you’re going to get.”

There are regulars, he explained, but the line-up of musicians and songs changes week to week. One thing stays the same, though.

They play gospel bluegrass from 7 to 9 and traditional bluegrass after that.

A banjo player waltzed in at 7:15 with an apology and a grin. There was a little peg twisting, and he jumped right in.

“We’re lucky we found this place,” my friendly neighbor said.

The band harmonized, high and lonesome, and when they finished there was a good bit of joking and razzing just out of reach of the microphones. From what I gathered, the singing duties rotated each song and the banjo player didn’t want to sing, claiming not to know the words.

BluegrassThe banjo player sang about walking down by the river, and then the dobro player slipped and slid into a break that wove through the countryside like a cool river through the foothills. On and on he strolled, until he arrived back home where everyone else picked up the boom-chunk-chunk rhythm and carried on the way the boys do when they’re glad to be together of a Friday night.

After the applause faded, my friendly neighbor leaned toward me and smiled. “It’s a little slow tonight.”


Within the hour, surprisingly, things picked up even more. The audience hooted and clapped and sang along. They encouraged even the most hesitant of pickers to take a turn at the mic.

It was a little disconcerting at first to hear women my grandmother’s age cat-calling a guitar player my grandfather’s age. The thing is, I soon realized, music in general (and bluegrass in particular) knows no age or physical limitations.

Yet, good old Buster demurred when the ladies called on him. He smiled. He waved them off with a wrist bound snuggly in a brace. He didn’t know the words. Didn’t know the key.

Key of D, and the words were right there on the page.

Buster shrugged. Buster smiled. Buster set right in to singing.

And everybody sang along with him. His voice was ragged, but no less enjoyable for all the rough edges.

Amazing, really, how at home I felt, at this informal gathering of Chesnee’s finest and friendliest musicians. Over the years I’ve been to hundreds of concerts and never felt so at home, never felt like I’d come so close to sharing the “front porch” before. I’d arrived knowing no one, met only one person formally, but left feeling somehow a part of the Homespun Bluegrass family.

Jeremy L. C. Jones, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

Jeremy is a freelance writer, editor, and lecturer living in Spartanburg County with his wife, daughter, and two miniature poodles. He teaches English part-time at Wofford College, volunteers at the Carolina Poodle Rescue's dog sanctuary, and plays folk ukulele ... but not very well.

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