Erin Anais Heist sings during a Bluegrass Slow Jam at the Alaskan Bar on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Mollie Barnes |For the Juneau Empire)

Erin Anais Heist sings during a Bluegrass Slow Jam at the Alaskan Bar on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Mollie Barnes |For the Juneau Empire)

The grass is bluer at this new jam

Monthly bluegrass jam aims to ease fears for new musicians

There’s a new slow jam for slow Sunday nights.

Erin Anais Heist is creating a space for musicians, who are new to bluegrass, and that she wishes had been there when she was just getting started.

“Most bluegrass bands they’re not rehearsing things,” Heist said. “That’s part of the fun of bluegrass you don’t know what’s going to happen in the moment. [The musicians are] improvising everything, including the structure of the song. You rehearse how you’re going to start and how you’re going to end and everything in the middle is a free for all.”

She was explaining Sunday night some hand signals bluegrass musicians might use to a group of three women during a new monthly bluegrass slow jam upstairs at the Alaskan Bar and Hotel. March was the third time she’s hosted a jam like this, which is aimed at people learning how to be able to participate in more fast-paced experienced jams.

“Beginner isn’t even the right word,” Heist said. “It’s people who aren’t as familiar with bluegrass or haven’t played with a lot of other people or in a live situation.”

Bluegrass is structured like jazz with standards, she said. So the idea of the slow jam is to introduce people to the concept that they can travel all over the country and be able to jump into a jam session and play the same songs with people they’ve never met before.

[Jazz & Classics closes with one of the best fiddlers around]

“It’s pretty scary to jump into a jam for the first time if you’ve never really done it before,” Heist said.

Alaska Folk Festival is happening next month, and Heist said the slow jam helps train people to be able to jump into some of the jam sessions that happen during the annual festival.

On the list of guidelines for the jam online, the website states: “Generally in a bluegrass jam, a smaller jam is preferred to a larger one. So when joining a jam, try to make sure that you are adding something, such as: an instrument that isn’t already there, a vocalist when no one seems to want to sing, a tenor harmony if there’s no tenor, a six-pack of beer, a cool dog or some great jokes.”

The March jam was only the fourth jam of the series, and Heist said it usually goes from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., with generally about seven to eight people showing up so far. It’s different from the old time jam at the Alaskan Hotel and Bar on Wednesday nights.

Musicians share music during a Bluegrass Slow Jam at the Alaskan Bar on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Mollie Barnes |For the Juneau Empire)

Musicians share music during a Bluegrass Slow Jam at the Alaskan Bar on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Mollie Barnes |For the Juneau Empire)

As their first song rolled to an end, Heist kicked out her foot, signaling the group to stop.

“There’s a whole language happening here. I just thought bluegrass people do this for no reason,” said Rashah McChesney, who made a head motion to illustrate her point about nonverbal communication.

McChesney said that at the first jam she ever played in Juneau during Folk Fest, she had a duet going with someone and she missed something during a verse and he made a weird face at her.

Rashah McChesney and Jess Parks play guitar and sing during a Bluegrass Slow Jam at the Alaskan Bar on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Mollie Barnes |For the Juneau Empire)                                Rashah McChesney and Jess Parks play guitar and sing during a Bluegrass Slow Jam at the Alaskan Bar on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Mollie Barnes |For the Juneau Empire)

Rashah McChesney and Jess Parks play guitar and sing during a Bluegrass Slow Jam at the Alaskan Bar on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Mollie Barnes |For the Juneau Empire) Rashah McChesney and Jess Parks play guitar and sing during a Bluegrass Slow Jam at the Alaskan Bar on Sunday, March 1, 2020. (Mollie Barnes |For the Juneau Empire)

“Well, some people can’t control their face,” said Heist.

Musicians have to learn their people, Heist said, because different musicians have different cues.

“Normally we would not be looking at the words, we would be looking at each other,” Heist said.

The jam had a low-key vibe, and only four other people were downstairs in the bar. Some participants shared sheet music, kicked off their Xtratufs and sang chords instead of lyrics to cue the others. Heist said there are usually two to three singers in bluegrass.

“If you sing the melody, I’m happy to sing the harmony,” McChesney said to Heist. “What would you rather do? All I ever want to do is be discordant with someone, so I will never be upset about not singing the melody.”

For a list of cues, guidelines, song repertoire and more information about the Juneau Bluegrass Slow Jam, visit their website or attend a jam on the first Sunday of each month at the Alaskan Hotel and Bar at 7 p.m.

• Mollie Barnes is a freelance reporter in Juneau.

More in News

This photo shows a multi-vehicle carport following an early morning fire. (Courtesy Photo / Capital City Fire/Rescue)
Firefighters extinguish early morning carport fire

The fire marshal will investigate.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, contracting with Coastal Helicopters, works to reduce avalanche risk on Thane Road by setting off avalanches in a controlled fashion on Feb. 5, 2021.(Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Thane Road to close Saturday morning for avalanche hazard reduction

Thane Road will be closed for two hours Saturday morning to allow… Continue reading

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML)
COVID at a glance for Friday, March 5

The most recent state and local numbers.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML)
COVID at a glance for Thursday, March 4

The most recent state and local numbers.

Police Car
Police calls for Thursday, March 5, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This Sept. 2008 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research taken near Washington state’s San Juan Islands shows scientists looking for clues about the diet of the Pacific Northwest’s endangered orcas using a pool skimmer to collect the scales or other remains of salmon the whales had eaten. A long-term study published Wednesday, March 3, 2021, reaffirmed the importance of Chinook salmon to the whales even when they cruise the outer Pacific Coast, where the fish are harder to find. (Ken Balcomb / Center for Whale Research)
Study: Chinook salmon are key to Northwest orcas all year

That includes fish that spawn in California’s Sacramento River all the way to the Taku River.

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., listens during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior secretary, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Some Republican senators labeled Haaland “radical” over her calls to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and address climate change, and said that could hurt rural America and major oil and gas-producing states. The label of Haaland as a “radical” by Republican lawmakers is getting pushback from Native Americans. (Jim Watson / Pool Photo)
Senate energy panel backs Haaland for interior secretary

Murkowski was the lone Republican to support Haaland.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML)
COVID at a glance for Wednesday, March 3

The most recent state and local numbers.

Most Read