Tuesday, April 9, 2009 • That high, lonesome sound rings out in Susanville

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, April 9, 2009, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Bluegrass music, one of the largest and most influential roots of the sprawling popular music tree, is alive and well locally thanks to the Lassen County Bluegrass and Roots Music Society.

Rich Schoen, the society’s founder, said the group is enjoying its new digs at the Lassen County Arts Council gallery during its twice-monthly Saturday afternoon jam sessions.

Originally Schoen held the jam sessions in his living room, but the group finally grew too large and needed to find a bigger and less crowded space. When the arts council offered its gallery space, the society eagerly accepted.

In return, the group passes the hat after every jam session and donates the money it collects to the arts council to help pay rent and heating bills. The free jam sessions are open to the public for both musicians and music lovers who just want to listen or hum along.

“It’s going really great,” Schoen said. “We’re drawing decent sized crowds, and about once a month or so somebody new shows up. We’re having a lot of fun.”

Schoen said one of the society’s goals is to preserve the old-time music that was popular when families and friends gathered together on the front porch and provided their own homegrown entertainment. All the instruments are acoustic and the jam sessions are free of amplifiers, microphones and sound reinforcement gear of any kind.

“A lot of the music is from a historical period,” Schoen said. “Sadly, it’s a part of America we’re slowly losing. It’s about a whole different time and a whole different way of life. We’re trying to keep the tradition going.”

But don’t be confused. Those who attend the jam sessions are a not bunch stodgy old tweed-clad musicologists who insist on a steady diet of moldy tunes long steeped in antiquity. The players come from every walk and station of life, but they all share a common love of making music.

“There’s a lot of give and take at each jam session,” Schoen said. “We have a great mixture of the both the old and the new. It really varies from session to session. Because everybody gets to throw out a song, it all depends on who’s there. Sometimes the music’s mostly bluegrass, sometimes it’s mostly country and sometimes it’s mostly folk. We don’t really care about that. We’re just having a lot of fun getting together and playing music a couple of times a month. That’s what it’s all about.”

Some of the songs played at the society’s last jam session on Saturday, March 28 included “Old Home Place,” “Aragon Mill,” “Honkey Tonk Tequila,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Homegrown Tomatoes.”

With every jam session the musicianship improves. Musicians are encouraged to bring lyric and/or chord sheets to the jam sessions to share with the other players.

“We’ve had a chance to practice and learn a lot of the songs, so we’re playing them better,” Schoen said. “Some of the songs almost sound decent now, but we’re not ready to take it on the road. I’m sure nobody’s quitting their day job yet!”

Instruments played at the last jam session included mandolin, autoharp, guitar, banjo and resonator guitar.

Schoen lamented the lack of fiddle players in the group.

“We’re looking for some fiddle players,” Schoen said. “We don’t have any, and we sure would like to. I’d like to invite any fiddle players out there to come jam with us.”

Jam sessions are scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 11 and Saturday, April 25 at the Lassen County Arts Council Gallery, 807 Cottage St. in Susanville. The jam sessions are open to the public, and there are no dues or membership fees.