Five years ago in December, Mike Langford began bringing folks together at My Sister’s Store in Travelers Rest to do a little singing and playing. “That was back in our old place on Main Street,” present organizer John Rayley says.
They’ve been doing it every Friday since then.
They have various abilities, some just beginning and some with many years of practice. They play differing instruments: guitar, mandolin, bass, keyboards, saxophone, banjo, harmonica, tambourine and even spoons. Some come with only a lovely voice to contribute. “It’s primarily bluegrass, gospel and country,” John says with a grin. “Occasionally somebody wants to play some rock and roll, and that’s fine. We don’t discriminate.” John says that it takes about a half an hour for set up and the same amount of time for tear down at the end of the night. “And by nine o’clock, we’re ready to clean up and go home.”
A lot of love, talent and genuine hard work goes into this effort and it’s apparent to anybody watching.
John happily shows off a flat-top Epiphone guitar signed by such greats as George Jones, Bobby Bare and quite a few others. Around the room are portraits of Kenny Rogers, George Jones and Elvis Presley. And below them, multiple shelves of books that beg to be browsed. In a circle sit 17 different musicians with all manner of musical instruments as well as microphones and amplifiers. Their leader is Bryon Austin, also known as Catfish. You might find anywhere from 15 to 25 musicians here on any Friday night and about the same number in the audience.
One gentleman introduces himself as “Bo Harper, the harper”. He unloads several harmonicas in a variety of keys. With a quick smile, he says, “I’ve heard playing the harmonica described as ‘playing a piano with one finger in the dark’.” Later he says with a laugh, “I’m not scared; it’s family.”
That seems to be the key here. Having fun with family. Whether you call the music “back porch pickin’” or “mountain music”, it all amounts to having a good time with blended instruments and voices. The official name is Friday Night Jams and you can find it any given Friday at My Sister’s Store at 7 PM.
Catfish begins the festivities with, “Attention Kmart shoppers, we’re fixin to rumble”. Then he tests his microphone with an acapella serenade to Mildred, who sits in the audience. He announces the first song, “I Wonder Where You are Tonight”, in the key of “G-whiz,” and begins to play as all the rest follow along. The microphone is passed to the next person in the circle who announces a song and key and the same thing happens again. The music continues with each person choosing a song in turn. Ramona Hustek, who also describes this group as family, brings her clear voice to the forefront with “Why Me Lord?” We hear classics from others like “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Silver Wings” and even “Boot Scoot Boogie”. Some sing gospel songs that make you want to join in on the four-part harmony. Twelve year old Dallas Young sings “Jesus Hold my Hand”. He says that he and his sister, fifteen year old Dakota, often record together.
Patsy Swygert, an audience member, tells me that she is involved with a group called “Build a Better Berea” that wants to start a similar program in the old Berea Elementary School.
It’s apparent the idea is catching on, and for good reason. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy being with other people who love this kind of music.
In John’s words, “When it stops being fun, we’ll stop doing it.”
All Photos by Jane Howard