The 2022 season of the local Red, White & Bluegrass Jam is scheduled to kick-off Tuesday, April 5, at the American Legion Building in Blowing Rock. That’s good news to local musicians and their fans who love gathering on the first and third Tuesday of the month, usually from April to November.
Doors open at 6 p.m., the music starts at 7 p.m. and continues for about two hours. Food is often available as a fundraiser by the youth ministries of Brushy Fork Baptist Church Youth Ministries.
Billed as “the best ole-time, bluegrass, folk and gospel music” — all rolled into one event twice monthly — the jam offers an opportunity for musicians to bring their instruments and join in, while others enjoy the entertainment and camaraderie as an audience.
We spoke recently with Tom Isaacs, one of the area’s noted bluegrass musicians and event coordinator (along with JM Trivette), who gave us a few updates on the popular gathering.
The Red, White & Bluegrass Jam has entertained locals and visitors to the area since 2007, when established by musician and promoter, John Tester and his wife, Janice.
Tester, now deceased, had a deep love not only for the music, but also for musicians and his friends who loved bluegrass music.
Having started small, and outgrowing several venues through the years, including local hotels, the Harvest House and a community center in Foscoe, the event landed in its current home in 2019.
“One of our jam’s attendees suggested it as a location; Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation Department has been wonderful to work with,” said Isaacs.
The American Legion building is a great location, he added, with plenty of room inside and doors open to the porch in warmer weather.”
Attendance on any given night can average between 50-100, depending on the time of year and if it’s a holiday week.
While most folks in attendance are locals, Isaacs said, many people passing through the area looking for some authentic mountain music are happy to stop in. “We have some regulars that come from Tennessee and Virginia.” And, he added, “It’s going to be so nice to see everyone after the winter break.”
With a unique flavor all its own, at one time this jam was one of several regular jams within a 100-mile radius of the High Country.
“That’s why this one originally started on Tuesday nights — most other nights had a jam already going on,” Isaacs described. “A lot (of those) have shut down for various reasons, access to a good venue being one of them. We’re very fortunate to have the Legion.”
And, yes, Surefire is still the host/house band, with Isaacs on guitar, J.M. Trivette on bass, Tim Norris playing banjo, and Robby Norris on mandolin.
“It was John Tester’s idea to have a house band,” Isaacs shared, “to make sure any listeners would be guaranteed some music, even if there weren’t a lot of jammers show up.”
Usually, that’s not a problem, he added.
There is no way of knowing who will be there to join them on stage, Isaacs indicated, but it’s not uncommon for some of their good friends, who are now playing professionally, to show up, including Kody Norris of the Kody Norris Show, John Bryan of the Grascals, and Gary Trivette (a jam regular) of Nick Chandler and Delivered.
When asked if the musicians take requests, or if they have a set list, Isaacs answered with a chuckle, “We love requests, because most of us can’t decide what to play.”
And when asked about rules, Isaacs said there are none.
“But this jam is a bit of a different format from most ‘gather around in a circle’ type jams. This jam is more of an open mic format with a stage, sound system and an audience,” he said. “We encourage anyone that shows up with an instrument, or anyone who sings, to get up and perform. As the house band, we’ll back up anyone who wants us to — or we’re happy to sit back and listen.”
And, he added, “There are no limits to participants’ age, the number of songs to do or anything else. We just want to make sure everyone gets an opportunity and feels welcome. And if you don’t want to get on stage yet, there’s plenty of room around it to play along without being put on the spot.”
We asked Isaacs what makes this event so special to musicians, and to those who attend.
“An outlet is the most important and fulfilling thing for a musician to have,” he responded. “This jam is that outlet for a lot of musicians that might not have one, otherwise. It’s also a great place to learn and perfect your performing on a mic and on a stage. We have a lot of young (and not so young) musicians who get their first on-stage experience at this jam.”
Isaacs stressed that he hopes those in the audience feel welcomed, engaged and entertained at each jam.
“We’ve had some of the same people coming to these for over a decade now, so I think they’re still having a good time.”
While the jams usually go through November, a lot depends on the weather, when the summer crowds head south for the winter, etc.
“We’re not 100% sure if we’ll go through October or November, but we’ll make that decision later in the year,” Isaacs said.
And an added benefit for many, is food availability, provided by Brushy Fork Baptist’s Youth Ministries, which has prepared meals in exchange for donations to their program in the past.
“ I think they’re planning on doing it this year as well, so I’m certainly looking forward to that,” Isaacs noted.
On behalf of Surefire and the Red, White & Bluegrass Jam, Isaacs said he would like to thank all the sponsors who help make this event happen.
“We have had great support in the past years, and cannot thank them enough. We try to make the jam the best it can be, and the support of our sponsors’ makes it possible.”
Secondly, he added, the attendees are vital to its ongoing success.
“Like I said, a musician needs an outlet. Without an audience, it would be much more cost-effective to just sit on the porch and play. But this jam gives musicians a reason to perform.”
And last but not least, he said, he wants to thank all the musicians that come.
“ I look forward to getting to pick and sing with them and listen to folks I wouldn’t get to, otherwise. And it’s always fun to see a ‘newbie’ show up and blow us away with their talent.”
Isaacs concluded, “We hope to see all our familiar faces — and plenty of new ones this year.”
Admission is simply a suggested $5 donation at the door that helps cover expenses.
The American Legion building is located just behind the park in Blowing Rock at 333 Wallingford St.
Scenes from past Red, White & Bluegrass Jams across the High Country with house band Surefire helping to keep the legacy alive. Photos submitted