Augusta jam sessions move indoors today

ELKINS — As the season changes from summer to autumn, the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College invites the public to come indoors for Wednesday Night Pickin’ every week until May in The Joni and Buck Smith Arts Forum in Myles Center for the Arts.

With an emphasis on participatory jam sessions, rather than performances, music is played acoustically in a group setting with everyone from beginners to visitors welcome to attend.

Jam sessions include country, gospel, old-time and sometimes bluegrass music.

“When we move up to Myles Center at the college we always have at least two jam groups,” said Margo Blevin-Denton, who served as Augusta’s director for 26 years and remains active in Pickin’ year-round. “The country music jam often starts as early as 5 p.m. near the fireplace. The old-time jams — sometimes more than one — usually start around 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium hallways.

“If the bluegrass musicians would like to continue through the winter, I know that a good space for them can be found in the building,” Blevin-Denton added. “We’d love to encourage that jam because it’s always so popular when we play in the park.”

Pickin’ has a strong tradition of being open to listeners and beginners.

“Listeners are welcome; they add a lot to the jams,” Blevin-Denton said. “We love to encourage new players because they can learn the tunes and songs just from being there. There’s always someone willing to take a beginner aside and show them a few chords or help them by playing a tune slowly for them to record and work on. It’s how many of us learned these old tunes. This is keeping our musical heritage alive.”

Blevin-Denton remembers when Pickin’ first began, around 1983 when some Augusta participants and staff started playing music on Wednesday evenings sitting on hay bales in Elkins City Park. In the early days, the sessions only took place during Augusta’s program weeks, but it quickly expanded into a year-round event.

Pickin’ embodies Augusta’s mission of “Passing it On” in that young players have had the opportunity to learn from older musicians such as Woody Simmons and Boyd Phillips. Even John Hartford used to stop in occasionally on his way through Elkins. Learning from and playing alongside them were musicians such as Gerry Milnes, Dave Bing and Jimmy Costa. Now another generation of players is joining in, playing music with Fillmore Tully, Luanna Moore and many others.

For the warmer months, May through September, Pickin’ will move outdoors to Elkins City Park. For more information on Wednesday Night Pickin’ and Augusta’s other events, visit www.augustaheritagecenter.org or call 304-637-1209.

A Center of Excellence for 44 years, the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College offers several weeklong programs featuring instruction in many traditions of music, dance, craft and folklore. Concerts, dances, a summer festival and other heritage arts events are part of the Augusta experience. The Augusta Heritage Center is also home to significant collections of field recordings, oral histories, photographs, instruments and Appalachian art.

Programs offered by the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College are presented with financial support from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts. Local support is provided by the Randolph County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Randolph County Commission.

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