A cozy restaurant, good food, lively music.
An "Old Time Acoustic Jam" draws musicians - a few weeks ago it drew 16 musicians - with a variety of instruments each Sunday from approximately 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. for this synergistic combination. All are welcome - to play and to listen. Many of the musicians formerly played at Fresh Cup and at the community center on Fourth Avenue, which are both now closed.
"The Crossing is so thankful to host the musicians," said Crossing operations manager Shallin Munksgard. "We are elated."
Sunday jam session at the Crossings in Warren, Pa.
The mix of everything from mandolin to guitar to harp makes for a variety of pleasant tunes, but the best part of watching and listening to the "jammers" is the fun they are having; it's infectious and palpable.
Instruments are acoustic only; no amplifiers allowed. Singers also are welcome. Many of the songs have choruses that provide an opportunity for everyone to sing along. Music includes traditional North American folk music and some Celtic (Irish and Scottish traditional music). The Celtic tradition relies heavily on fiddles to carry the melody. Song choice works its way around the informal circle of musicians, giving each a chance to pick a song to play. Instruments include violins, guitars, basses, mandolins, flutes, harps, various percussion pieces and more.
"For me, it's an over-all love of music, and folk music is so much fun because the basics are relatively easy to learn," said musician Gary Lester. "You can have fun just plunking along in the background. Yet there is plenty of room for learning more complex styles and tunes."
Musicians come from alls kill levels.
"Quite a few of us were well into adulthood when we picked up the instruments we play now," said musician Ellen Paquette. Some have been playing for years ... Lester, who played the mandolin at the jam last Sunday, has been playing for 54 years ... Paquette for 32 years ... Rico Hines for nearly 60 years. But some just started playing and some were refreshing their skills. Geoff Howard, who has played guitar for five years after a 30-year absence, said, "We have a ball. Sometimes there's no one here to listen, and that's fine."
"I grew up around music," said Lester. "It was a rare Lester gathering when Grandpop wouldn't get his fiddle out. Dad played clarinet, an uncle played piano, another played guitar. When I first started to play mandolin, I did get to play with Grandpop a few times and I think of those experiences every time I get together with my fiddle-playing friends."
"Anyone who plays an acoustic instrument and is interested in sitting in with the jam is welcome," Paquette added. We'll share our fakebooks! Just two years ago I couldn't sing and play the harp at the same time, or play chord progressions fast enough to keep up with some of the faster tunes. I worked up my nerve to try it every so often at the jam and really broke through a 'fear' wall, thanks to the warm fuzzy environment."
"A big thing about this group is that it is an exceptionally friendly and warm environment for someone to learn to play traditional music," Paquette agreed "A lot of us use 'The Fiddler's Fakebook' to follow along with chord progressions and melodies, or those that play by ear just quietly play along as their confidence builds. Playing with people in a jam setting is an excellent way to improve as a musician, and with this group, nobody cares about 'mistakes.' Many of the musicians play by ear and don't read music. The best thing about the group is the diversity of personal history with music and what people bring to the table as musicians. And they're all just really nice people."
"I think the jam, and music in general, is a real highlight in our lives, and we just enjoy seeing each other-really wonderful friendships have built out of it," Paquette continued. "I'd guess a lot of us are really protective of that time when jams are scheduled and consider it a priority that we don't want to miss. Jammers come from as far as Ellicottville, Columbus, sometimes the Erie area, and all over Warren County. It is really inspiring how many talented musicians there are in this area, who love to get together just to play for fun."
"This particular group of people is typical of 'music nuts,' Lester added. "We get a lot of joy out of sharing our interest and especially so when it involves a young person or someone just starting out. One of my musical mentors was trying to get me to sit in with his band in a very casual performance setting. I was reluctant and finally told him I didn't think I had that level of talent. He said, 'Enthusiasm is more important than talent.' So I started playing with him and then decided to try the jam session and I love every minute of it."
"We all get a real kick out of playing music together, because everyone is there for the love of just that - playing music together," said Paquette, who plays the harp. "Nobody's the 'front man'; we all take turns picking songs, and when we really groove on a tune, everyone just gets a huge kick out of it. Sometimes we'll finish a song and just look around at each other and say, 'Now THAT was good!' But we have just as much fun on the songs with rough edges. It's an incredible sense of musical fellowship that keeps people coming back every week."
The fellowship is enhanced by the individual appreciation of music.
"Any activity that stimulates the creative brain is priceless," Paquette added, "and I'm sure must release endorphins, or something that causes a natural high."
"I think everyone has some type of creativity at some level, and music is one outlet for it," said Lester, who also is the director of Family Services of Warren County. "I often ask clients, 'Can you sing?' and the answer is almost always 'No.' Then I ask, 'Have you ever tried? And nine times out of 10 (or more) their answer is once again 'No.' The beauty of a jam like ours is how it's different from performance. It's like a perpetual rehearsal where we try new things, work out glitches that crop up, all in a very safe environment. Some of the people are very good musicians or vocalists, but no one is judgmental. In fact, it's just the opposite, everyone always tries to help other out."
"I always encourage people to engage in 'mentally healthy activities.' I think, to 'schedule in' some fun (is crucial)," Lester shared. "If you don't, you are actually scheduling it out - other things will take up the time. Fun is a basic need we all have. If it's thwarted or we ignore it, we will be less happy than we could be. So, when it comes to scheduling, fun is as important as anything else."
"I definitely would encourage people to try music (or any other activity) as a hobby," Lester added. "It's not uncommon to hear people say, 'I've always wanted to try ...(fill in the blank)...' But they don't do it. I know a number of people who took up painting late in life and a number of people, including me, who put music aside for years then started again. I'm sure I will keep it up this time as long as my fingers work well enough."