old-time music string players

And the jam goes on

Nearly four years ago, Ruth and I attended the old-time music jam at the Morgantown Brewery on a Wednesday evening in October. It was 2018 and the world was a wonderful place. People didn’t wear masks unless they had a medical condition, gasoline was affordable, and a trip to the grocery store didn’t involve a second mortgage.

The jam had been going on for nearly 20 years when I visited it for a Goldenseal story. But the story didn’t make it into the magazine before Covid-19 struck. During the pandemic, the brewery changed owners, and the jam moved up the hill to 268 High Street and the Art Bar.

Owners Stephen Wilson and Robert Abel welcomed the musicians to their new venue, which opened in September 2021. With Goldenseal planning a music-focus for its Summer 2022 issue, I was asked to update my original story with the jam’s new location, which is just down the interstate from our home in Bruceton Mills.

The Art Bar is a brilliant concept, although “bar” is a bit misleading at this point because alcohol options are limited to wine and hard cider (adding beer is in the process). Food is available throughout the day and evening, and there are options for adults and children, alike.

The owners recognize the value of art in everyday experiences, and to that end provide white sheets of paper on each table for doodling and coloring. Markers and crayons are available, as are coloring books for any age. For a few dollars, you can add a craft project to your burger and tots. The walls are adorned with the work of regional artists, and the bar offers workshops for adults and children in a variety of media. It’s refreshing to see this kind of creative thinking and re-defining of what a restaurant or bar should be. The owners clearly understand that not all bar visitors want to be bombarded with sports and FOX news blaring on 16 monitors.

The old-time music jam is held Wednesday evenings. Not every Wednesday evening, but many of them. Check the Art Bar’s Facebook Page to get the dates.

Playing begins between 6:30 and 7 p.m. and has been known to go until 10 p.m. The emphasis is on string instruments and old-time music. Guitars, fiddles, banjos, mandolins and a bass the mainstays of this gathering. The evening I attended, a harmonica player from Pittsburgh, Chris Hollingshead, joined the group, as well.

Jim Wilson, a bass player, told me, “If you come next week, it may not be the same. It is always changing.”

The entertainment is free, as is participation in the group, which includes many seasoned players eager to perpetuate the old-time music. They do this by recruiting whoever shows up with a stringed instrument. Lily Farabaugh, a WVU senior, came to a jam with friends back in December 2021. She had her guitar with her, and noticing her clapping and instrument, banjo player Sue Gimbal invited her to play. Two days later, Lily bought a mandolin and has been sitting in the players’ circle ever since.

Players in the old-time jam at the Art Bar sit or stand in a circle on the bar’s front-window stage. From left are Larry Spisak, Jeanne Sutton, Gabriel Bass, Lily Farabaugh and Scott Radabaugh (foreground). Bar guests can listen to the music while they enjoy their food and beverage at the bar or tables. There is no admission fee for the players or audience.

If you enjoy being around a group of friendly people who are passionate about keeping old-time music alive, this jam is for you. Bring your instrument and join them. If you are musical klutz like me, come out for the experience, food an Appalachian-made hard cider and camaraderie.

Just remember to wear a mask.

Morgantown Art Bar is located on 268 High Street, Morgantown. There is plenty of parking on the street but bring a pocket full of quarters. You don’t get a lot of meter time for a buck, and the meters are checked “after hours.”