Every table is full, and the house band on stage finishes a 45-minute set to loud cheers and applause. The band leader sets her guitar in a stand and announces that they are going to take a short break.
Then she picks up a clipboard and reads from a sign-up sheet.
“Next up, we have Jerry on guitar, Jim on harmonica, Stacy on vocals, Kirk on drums and Patrick on bass,” she announces. “Stick around, everyone. We’ll be right back with a whole new lineup.”
The musicians named get up from their seats, making their way to the side of the stage, retrieving guitars, a bass, drumsticks or a harmonica case from the collection that has grown as musicians have arrived.
It’s a weeknight jam session, one of dozens held every month throughout the Puget Sound area, and it’s a chance for musicians to meet each other; for professionals to have fun playing with friends who aren’t in their regular bands; for beginning musicians to get a chance to play with more experienced players; for entire bands to come in and try out new material or a new member; and for audiences to hear new combinations of musicians doing what they love.
There are three jam sessions held regularly in the Sky Valley, and musicians and music lovers alike can come in for an experience that is sometimes sublime and sometimes not so much, but that is creative and new each and every night.
Here are the three jam sessions in the Sky Valley, including information on who hosts them, what kind of music is played, and what makes each one unique.
Eddie’s Trackside, Monroe
Before the Oxford Saloon in Snohomish closed last year (it just reopened two weeks ago) the Thursday night jam session there was one of the state’s longest-running and most popular. It was heavily attended by professionals and blues aficionados, and the house band included some of the most highly-respected musicians in the region.
After the saloon closed, drummer Tommy Cook, the last person to host the Oxford Jam, migrated to Eddie’s Trackside in Monroe and joined forces with Teri Ann Wilson, a noted guitarist and songwriter, and award-winning Patrick McDanel on bass, and started a new Thursday session.
Time: 8:30-11:30 p.m. every Thursday
Format: Blues and mixed
While some blues jam sessions are very strict about musicians sticking to an all-blues format, this one is blues-oriented but open to a variety of styles, said Cook.
Many times at jam sessions, musicians will wind up sitting in with some combination of members of the house band and guests, especially on those frequent nights when guitar players outnumber the bass players by a considerable margin, or when there seem to be nothing but drummers and singers in the house and not a guitar player in attendance beyond the one from the host group.
The band at Eddie’s is up to try anything within reason, said Cook.
“We do a lot of experimental stuff,” he said. “If we feel comfortable enough to cover it, we’ll try it.”
And while heavy metal wouldn’t be a good fit, styles besides blues are mostly welcome, he said.
“We have jam bands showing up and it’s been fun,” he said.
Because the jam session has become pretty popular, musicians typically get about 15-20 minutes of stage time.
Equipment: Mostly provided; bass players can use McDanel’s amp, drummers should bring their own sticks, and guitar players should bring their own amps.
Why it’s special:
The host band is an all-star lineup, consisting of world-touring drummer Tommy Cook, formerly of international touring band Too Slim and the Taildraggers, Teri Ann Wilson of the multiple award-winning Red Hot Blues Sisters and a noted songwriter and lead guitarist, and Patrick McDanel, a many-time nominee for best bass player from the Washington Blues Society.
Also, each week the house band includes a different all-star guest from the Pacific Northwest.
Expect food specials from an extensive bar and a restaurant menu featuring things like hand-made burgers and hand-cut fries.
And the fact that the first set, performed by the house band, always includes a different featured artist keeps the music fresh each week.
“The guest artists bring a variety of styles and music and offer a lot of spontaneity and keep it interesting, and guests bring in friends and family, too,” said Wilson. “And there’s such a wide variety of great artists in the area that it’s nice we can feature some of them. We even get people from Spokane once in a while.”
Location: Eddie’s Trackside is located at 214 N. Lewis St. in Monroe. For more information, call (360) 805-5305.
Bubba’s Roadhouse, Sultan
Most jam sessions in the area lean heavily to blues, as it is music that lends itself well to improvisation. But at Bubba’s Roadhouse every other Sunday night, Marlin James runs a jam session that is oriented to country music.
James is a local guy who graduated from Sultan High School in 1991, but his career has taken him a long way from his home town. For the last several years he has spent a lot of time in Nashville, where he has recorded two albums. And he has toured all over the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Each jam session starts with a performance from Marlin James’ trio, which plays for about 45 minutes; less if there are a lot of musicians waiting to play.
After that, James and company invite musicians to the stage to either jam with each other or with the house band.
As at most jam sessions, if you don’t know anyone, James will find you other musicians with whom to play, or put you up with his own group.
Time: 8 p.m. to midnight every other Sunday. The next session takes place Sunday, May 19.
Format: Country and mixed
While country musicians are warmly welcomed, all styles except bone-crushingly heavy music will work well, and James said that his own band mixes classic rock into the set.
The jam session is still fairly new and therefore not as heavily attended as some of the others. For musicians, that can be a good thing; those who attend will get more stage time than they might elsewhere.
“Everybody always gets to play three songs, but sometimes they get to play a lot more,” said James. “So far the guest list isn’t that long.”
The band consists of Marlin James on guitar, Jim Donahue on drums and Jeff Lorenz on bass. Donahue is a northwest native with a long pedigree in local bands, and he currently plays with local country band Bullet Creek.
Bassist Jeff Lorenz, who is notable both for his skill and the fact that he mastered the instrument while blind, is a native of Stockton, Calif., and is also a veteran of the Bullet Creek Band.
Equipment: Provided. Guitarists are asked to leave their amps at home
Although the band is a trio, there are two amps available for use. While some jam sessions are stern about not loaning amps, at this one, musicians are asked to leave them at home.
“Otherwise you always get someone who wants to crank it up to 11,” said James.
The equipment is all professional-level; one of the amps is a Fender Twin and the drummer plays a classic Gretsch kit. Do bring your own guitar.
Why it’s special: Very few jam sessions are as specific to fans and players of country music as this one, which sets it apart in the Pacific Northwest. James is also a widely renowned country artist with a very skilled band.
And, he noted, Bubba’s also has great food.
“They are really well known for barbecue,” he said.
Location: 924 Highway 2 in Sultan. For more information, call (360) 793-3950.
Loggers Inn, Sultan
Sultan is suddenly rich in jam sessions; there are currently two venues that have started them recently, and the Loggers Inn in Sultan has added Monday nights to the local jam session calendar.
Host Bear Drury was also displaced when the Oxford Saloon closed last year. While not one of the regular hosts, he was a frequent sub there, and was involved running sound and generally volunteering as needed.
So far, the bar, already popular for live music, D.J. dance parties, karaoke and cards, has taken to the new event, as well.
“It’s been pretty good,” said Drury. “We get a lot of musicians.” Drury himself is the bass player for local blues band Junction Sixty-One Forty-nine (named for the Mississippi highway crossroads at which bluesman Robert Johnson allegedly traded his soul to the devil for his prodigious talent) but he only acts as a host at the Loggers.
The guitar player from his band, Nate Burch, however, is a member of the Loggers Inn host band, and he is joined by drummer Rick Bowen of the highly-decorated Stacey Jones Band, with bassist Rob Baker, who works with up-and-comers RJ Knapp and Honey Robin.
Time: Monday nights from about 7:30 until 11 or so.
“We say 11 but we always run later,” said Drury.
Format: Blues and mixed
While all the band members are blues specialists, it’s not a blues-only jam.
“It’s basically blues, but you can do anything,” said Drury.
The music is non-stop on Monday nights, and musicians join and leave the stage one at a time, so there’s no halt to the proceedings while one group tears gear down and another sets up.
And people often wind up playing a lot more than just three songs.
“If you show up and you’re the only bass player, you’re going to play a lot,” said Drury.
Equipment: Don’t bring your amp; the band puts an emphasis on keeping the music going without interruption, which means there’s no time to set your rig up. There are two professional-level guitar amps, a bass amp and drums.
Why it’s special: This is a jam session at which the hosts try to make sure everyone gets as much stage time as possible. And while some jam sessions close the guest list after a certain number of players arrive, at the Loggers, the band makes sure all who come get stage time.
“Everyone gets to play,” said Drury.
Also, each Monday the owner creates a home-cooked food special, such as Italian or jumbo burritos, and there’s a back yard with horseshoes for beautiful summer nights.
Location: The Loggers Inn is located at 215 Main St. in Sultan. For more information, call (360) 793-1923.