Rambling Bluegrass Jam History
Ego, Hunger, and Aggression
Some of us used to jam at a place called the "Ego, Hunger, and Aggression
Café". What a great name. Unfortunately, the place went
out of business eventually (which had nothing to do with the bluegrass
jam). Curiously, the Ego, Hunger, and Aggression jam continued to
be announced on the radio and reported in the local jam listings sporadically
for years after the place closed. This is a chronic problem with jam
sessions that have ever been announced and ended or moved, but for some
reason the Ego, Hunger, and Aggression jam seems to hold the all-time record
Then there was the Freeborn Music era. There was a long-running
jam (maybe there still is) at a music store called Freeborn Music in Newberg,
Oregon. It was really a Country Music jam, but a bunch of us Bluegrass
people started going there. Most of the country music players had
electric-acoustic guitars plugged into amplifiers. They also passed
around a microphone that you would sing and play into when it was your turn
to lead a song. Apparently there was a retirement home nearby and about
a dozen of the residents would come by and listen and enjoy it immensely.
It was different (and kind of inspiring, actually) to have a bit of
an audience. The jam was fun, but it got pretty hard to hear some of
the quieter acoustic bluegrass instruments some times. So the bluegrass
people started sneaking off into a storage room in the back and playing there.
There were some mighty fine jams in between times when the air conditioner
blower started and stopped its mighty roar. Eventually one of the bluegrass
pickers prevailed upon one of his buddies who managed Izzy's Pizza to open
up their side room to us.
Thus began the Izzy's Pizza era. This was Izzy's Pizza in Newberg,
Oregon. This was a good location for those of us people who lived
out in the country (at least, that part of the country). The manager
usually put us in a sort of "banquet room" they had off on the side. This
worked out pretty well most of the time, when there was no group having a
banquet. As people started to find out about the jam after several
weeks, some would come and eat in the banquet room just so they could listen.
One day it was Kathleen's birthday, so I brought along a chocolate cake.
Everyone kept eyeing it hungrily between songs, so pretty soon we set
the instruments down and tucked into it. When we started playing again
everyone was on a sugar-and-chocolate rush and every song ended up going
along at about twice its usual tempo. A great time was had by all,
and bringing a birthday cake to the jam became an ongoing tradition.
Sometimes the banquet room was in use so we would simply play in a circle
of chairs right by the entryway. This actually turned out to be pretty
popular with the clientele, although it was sure cramped. I'll never
forget one time when one of the waiters requested us to sing a song for his
girlfriend who was sitting at one of the tables. Without thinking much
about it, we took our instruments over there and launched into a current
favorite: "Sing Me Back Home". To this day, I wonder if the waiter or
the girlfriend noticed that we were singing about a "death row" criminal
being led to his execution.
Eventually Izzy's no longer worked out. A couple of the local
people moved away or had conflicts and it became too far for the rest to
drive on a regular basis. So in November of 1998, we started up a
new jam closer in.
A New Beginning
McMenamin's Cornelius Pass Roadhouse
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On November 2, 1998, we had our first jam at the Roadhouse. I set
it up as a four-week trial with the manager, and then I called all sorts
of friends to come to the jam for the first time or two to help it get started
up. I asked for "ringers" to come a couple of times even if they
didn't figure they could attend at that location on a regular basis. We
picked Monday nights since it was a slow night for the Roadhouse and there
weren't other jams going on in Portland on Mondays. Both arranging
it on a trial basis and inviting ringers turned out to be good ideas. The
management didn't have the threat of being stuck with us, and we brought
in enough people right off the bat to have fun, entertain some of the customers,
and get momentum.
The Roadhouse at the time consisted only of the historic Imbrie Farmstead
house. It's a big old three story Victorian farmhouse built in the
late 1800s or so. The first two floors had been converted into a microbrewery
pub. The house has dense old lath-and-plaster walls and 15 foot ceilings.
During the winter we jammed in a second-floor room. The dense
walls kept the sound mostly within the room, and the high ceiling kept
it from being too echoey. During the warm summer nights we played
on the lawn out in back. We gave the Roadhouse our business, tipped
the waiters well (another key to a successful relationship with your jam
host), and brought in a fair amount of extra business besides.
The Roadhouse has a somewhat interesting history, including a bit of
a reputation for being haunted. The waiters were reluctant to be
upstairs late at night after the jam ended. There are several stories
of people seeing ghosts, although I personally wonder whether these were
carefully cultivated. The jam certainly wasn't bothered by ghosts.
There's something about filling a room with happy laughter that seems
to eliminate the ghost sightings.
We had a lot of fun times at the Roadhouse. They had a garden with
tables out back, with strings of lights overhead. We would play out
there on warm summer nights. This is Bluegrass the way it is meant
to be! Lots of people heard about the jam while we were at the Roadhouse
and came to pick with us, and lots of them stayed on and became good friends.
Two of the more memorable visitors were Misha and Marie, who were visiting
from Austria for a couple of months. They learned Bluegrass over there
from records and were looking for a jam over here. They were an instant
hit at the Roadhouse jam, and kept coming back until they got an assignment
elsewhere. We hope they will come track us down wherever we are if
they come through town again.
Nothing ever stays the same, though. Eventually we attacted so much
business to the Roadhouse that they built an entirely new hall out in back
of the main farmhouse, complete with plumbing done by the mad plumber. Lest
you think I'm kidding, take a look at his handiwork:
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That's all under "live" water pressure, folks. When you flush, the
lights change color and the pressure guages bounce.
Anyway, the Roadhouse switched all their regular business over to the new
hall, saving the farmhouse for rental to corporate fat cats (in late summer
2001, which was not a good time for corporate fat cats). The new hall
is all one big room, so it wasn't suitable for a jam session without interfering
with the other guests. So we found ourselves rambling around looking
for a new place.
We started playing at Eddie's Restaurant in fall of 2001. Eddie's was
at the Hillsboro airport, upstairs, with a view out over the runways and
tarmac. They had a small stage and parquet dance floor set up at one
end. They were generally pretty quiet on Monday nights so we pulled
some chairs or stools around in a circle on the dance floor and played there.
This put us right by the windows, which was kind of cool, since we
could look out over the runway lights, and see planes land and stuff. I'm
sure we wierded out some of the Intel employees when their shuttle plane
taxied up to the terminal and there were a bunch of musicians looking out
the terminal windows at them.
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There's probably some deep symbolic significance to the fact that the banjo
player came out clearly while the rest of the jam is a chaotic swirl of motion.
But I'm damned if I know what it might be.
I never did figure out the acoustics in Eddie's. It wasn't echoey.
You could hear your own instrument well enough. You could hear
the singer. But for some bizarre reason it was very difficult to hear
yourself sing. A bunch of us used to strain our throats trying
to sing loud enough to hear ourselves until we checked with one another and
realized that at least the others could here us. It made it kind of
challenging to sing harmony. You had to do the old trick of cupping
a hand halfway between your mouth and your ear to hear yourself sing. Still,
it was a warm spot to jam out of the rain and they were happy to have us
We would be jamming there still, except that one Monday night we showed up
and Eddies was gone. Just gone Stripped down to the bare walls.
Actually this was not a complete surprise since there had been some
rumors that there was going to be a change. It was a sudden shock,
though, and it left us rambling again.
To be continued...
The Rogue Pub
Jackson School House
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Glen Brook Apartments Recreation Room
Papa's Pizza Parlor