DECATUR — The Bluegrass Music Jam train pulled out of the Rock Springs Nature Center station on Sunday and managed to hit a lot of varied places in a whistle-stop tour through American tunes.
Bluegrass, of course, is always the overriding theme of the second Sunday public jam sessions open to anyone with an instrument and the nerve to get up in the center’s main auditorium and perform.
But a lot of what gets played Sunday to Sunday depends on what the musicians want and what the audience — some 30-strong on this particular Sunday afternoon — tells the stage they want to hear.
So we went from “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver to spending some time in Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” and on to a song about an actual train, “City of New Orleans,” written by Steve Goodman and made a hit by both Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson.
Rock Springs player ages ranged from north of 70 to 15-year-old Decatur student Christian Funk, who managed to bend his powerful voice and guitar-playing skills around “Hound Dog,” first recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952 and, of course, most famously by Elvis Presley in 1956.
“This is probably my third or fourth time out here,” said Funk. “I just like playing music in general and I like bluegrass and country and stuff but I’m most comfortable with rock and folk.”
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Judy Shirley has been a second Sunday regular performer since 2015 and moving back to Decatur from California. She spent 50 years playing clarinet until arthritis cramped her style and now she handles percussion by playing washboard.
“I love listening to music but it’s just such a wonderful thing to be able to participate in making music,” said Shirley.
Her boyfriend, Ed York, was watching from the audience and was impressed by how the ad hoc players, seven of them on Sunday, managed to work together to hammer out tunes on the fly with no rehearsals.
“It’s local people, they’re amateurs, but they are really, really good, whether they play fiddle, base or washboard,” said York, 71. “And they rarely make mistakes and, even if they do, nobody cares because we’re all having a good time. And the other thing is, we didn’t have to pay to get in.”
Richie Wolf, executive director of the Macon County Conservation District, which runs Rock Springs, said the Bluegrass Music Jam has proved so successful that, four years ago, it inspired the launch of the Rock Springs Outdoor Summer Concert Series. It plays June through August and features hired bands.
“But they’re mostly all local groups,” Wolf said. “It’s bluegrass, folk and country out on our west lawn.”