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Get Up, Get Out, and JAM, Part 1: Swami's/Beach Grass Cafe

  03/06/12 12:25, by , Categories: BFMN Exclusive, Review, Dan Grigor, Sound Advice, video , Tags: beach grass cafe, bud hamberg, call for info, dan grigor, if you don_t mind, jam

This is the first in what will be an ongoing effort to promote getting off the Internet, turning off your TV, putting your phone on vibrate and going out and playing some music with people you don’t know. It can be wildly entertaining and, as you make music, you will make new friends and great memories.

Click through for more and a new brand-new song!

The real payoff, though, will come that one random night, as it did for me - a late, hot night, not too many people left - a stage full of late-night blues dudes in porkpie hats and skinny ties waiting for the rookies to be too drunk to play. Some guy holds up three fingers - 3 sharps, key of A, 1,2,1234 - and the next 8 minutes is pure blues bliss - not a missed note, not a missed cue between the strangers who can hardly see each other through the smoke. Taking turns blowing riffs at each other - keys and sax tradin’ eights and stop verses - singer nailing the vocal, vamping the breaks - an alignment of planets, right time, right place. It’s as if you can hear the trumpet of Gabriel himself, and angels singing the doo wah diddies. Back on earth, the room is transfixed, caught up in the magic. Then the one-off, never-to-be-heard-again “song” is done - and when it is done you all just sort of sit there for a second and look at each other. You shake a little, shake a hand or two, maybe hug or actually cry. It can be intense if it isn’t one of your songs, and nearly overwhelming when it is.

Then the house comes down! Man, what a feeling. You HAVE to try this and keep trying till you get to fell that moment for yourself. Put it on your bucket list; make it a priority. You don’t have to be a rock star. You don’t even have to be very good. For some songs your part may be to play one chord for 8 minutes. Understand that you could have what I’m talking about by playing one chord for 8 minutes. You have two hands, you know. Adding your strategic, rhythmic “part” to a group provides a building block upon which the other players can place their blocks until, for example, the House of the Rising Sun is built - a simple song in principle and, until we wore it out, a really fun jam in a room full of rockers. It bridged a gap between levels of play, letting everyone take part in the making of a great song, beginners carrying the tune with intermediate help on rhythm and embellishments, and all holding down the fort during killer solos by the old farts. BAM! It’s a thing to hear!

All right, with that said, this starts a series on local JAMs. On every single day of the week there is a jam somewhere within 100 miles of me, usually several, all around the area. My plan is not to hit them all, there are just too many. Rather, I’ll hit them at random. We are working on plans for an “every night of the week” series and other cool things to highlight JAMs and the jammers that love them.

We were invited to a “Leap Day Eve Acoustic JAM” at Swami’s/Beach Grass Cafe in Encinitas, CA, hosted by Bud Hamberg. I’d never played with Bud before. We met online, became friends sharing music and have been talking for months about getting together. Finally, on Tuesday, we piled some stuff into the wagon and drove an hour south. It was a great idea: a lovely drive down the coast with my girl - great food, good jams, new friends - let’s go.

Encinitas is a cool little coastal town a little north of San Diego. Swami’s/Beach Grass Cafe on Encinitas Blvd. is a full-featured restaurant and bar with a great new menu and a few new beers. More important to us, the bar is killer. Comfy high tables and stools around the edges and in the back, low tables down in front. Plenty of spots at the bar on the left and the area where the JAM happens is against the back wall. An acoustic JAM/Open Mic night is ideal for the down-home beach bar vibe. It isn’t perfect. There is no stage, no lights, you are back by the kitchen door and the path to the restrooms. However, if you set up close and keep the volume down, the sound is really pretty good: warm and intimate - if anything, a little too warm with our untested little PA.

It isn’t really about the sound, though, it is about the people, and that night was no different than most. An eclectic group of locals showed up with instruments and music to share. We did some covers, we did some blues; we played originals old and two brand-new, first-time-evers - one from me and one from Bud. Not everyone was a seasoned pro, but everyone was exuberant, enthusiastic and eager to play. I got there a little early and set up a small PA and my 12-string. Bud had his gear and a sweet Martin 6-string. I brought the band with me, so we had Mike on bass and Ric on percussion. We had several singers, a harp player, and a gal with a very nice Larrivee 6-string that looked really good next to my 12 on stage, just sayin’.

The crowd grew - there’s room for 40 or 50 of your friends to show up. It was mostly full and I didn’t know but 6 or 8 of the people there. We had a quick bite before we started and my whole table enjoyed the food. We had steaks and burgers and fries and tasted a few beers. It was great and reasonably priced. Candice was awesome and became part of the family as she ran around keeping everyone in the bar happy, well-fed and drinking.

As the invited guests, we were to be the house band for the evening. Call For Info played a short set of some of our hits. The room was receptive and, though loud, you could tell they were having fun. It’s great to play and see people talking and laughing and eating and boppin’ their heads. Usually with food you don’t get much applause - half the folks have forks in their hands. Here, people set their burgers down to applaud. You really got the feeling it wasn’t just obligatory “the song is over, clap your hands” applause. You know how you know? They stayed. After they ate, they ordered drinks and stayed, most until the end. How cool is that?

Tonight we tried a brand-new song, If You Don’t Mind, and I think it will make it into the next show. It went over well and I only screwed up the lyrics a little. A JAM is a great place to play new tunes and get that first screw-up off your back.

Kim then stepped up with her Larrivee 6-string and, admittedly new at guitar, she cranked out a couple of her best while we took a beer break. I’ll tell you how great the crowd was: she struggled a bit on one tough song and they were rooting her on and giving her a round of applause just for having the guts to try something hard, something new, in front of all of us. She was delightful and was thrilled, then, to have a band to back her on a song she wanted to try out.

Bud came up next and he, too, had a brand-new song. It was for his girl, and he sang it to her while she blushed and giggled. They were adorable. Where else do you get to do that? How would you like it if your man sang you a love song in front of the barmaid and everybody on a random Tuesday in a cozy beach bar with a bunch of strangers and an impromptu band? Guys, I’m telling ya, get on this train. That is worth more than all the flowers and candy in the world.

I jumped out for a bit and Rick stepped in on the harp, Linda on vocals, Mike on the bass, Ric on the djembe, Bud on guitar, Kim on the shaker and they bounced some blues off the room. With Linda expertly leading the band and doling out the solos, everyone got a turn, and when she hit the break verse on a high note she sent chills down your spine. Delightful. We all played a few until we had to quit. Finally, with everyone up there at the same time, there was a sense of accomplishment. We entertained the crowd. An eclectic group of strangers in a room full of strangers. Jammin… that’s a good night.

If you are anywhere near the place on Tuesdays, check out the acoustic JAM and open mic at Swami’s in Encinitas with my good friend Bud E. Hamberg. The food is delicious, the people are cool, the bar rocks and you will not be disappointed with the JAM. Everyone gets a turn, everyone plays along and the crowd grows stronger as word gets around. If you love watching live, in-the-moment, improvised music, this is one of the coolest spots on the boulevard.

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