It’s here—the time we’ve been waiting patiently to enjoy, when the sun hangs high and long, and suddenly Bainbridge Island is exactly what it sounds like: a summer paradise. Island neighborhoods begin to resemble each other, with windows swung open, fruit trees dropping apples and plums, paddleboards strewn across front yards, multicolored chairs encircled around a fire pit, bicycles, sailboats, panting dogs, sprinklers, budding gardens, and the echoes of playful laughter as the sun sets in vibrant hues across the sky.

Fall, winter, and spring have prepared this island for three months of summer splendor. During those colder, wetter seasons, the island feels cozy and normal, a place where people live, work, and enjoy the Pacific Northwest life. But, when summer comes along, we all drink the Kool-Aid. Out come short shorts, daring wake surfers, and bronzed sea kayakers swarming the coasts while cyclists and joggers enjoy the shaded forest roads. Tourists pour from the ferry boats, with unfolded brochures stretched before them, wondering where the can travel to experience the best of Bainbridge Island—its natural beauty.

While many of us are frequenters of swimming and hiking spots on the island, some folks are new, or simply traveling and trying to enjoy every last drop of sunshine while here. So, here’s some advice on a few local (but not too local, don’t worry) spots perfect for swimming and hiking.

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Swim the Sound

Although we’re on an island, much of the coastline is inaccessible. There are a handful of public beaches perfect for an afternoon in the sun, hidden away from larger channels of cold water. Manzanita Bay is a cove on the island’s northwest coast with a public beach access on Dock Street. Here, water tends to stay slightly warmer and the beach less windy with full sun exposure. During low tide, the access point has a small, sandy beach area from which you can enjoy front row seats to a spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains while swimmers travel back and forth from the floating dock in the center of the bay. Be cautious of private property while swimming at Dock Street—make sure that you’re not parking, swimming, or beach combing beyond public limits.

Point White Pier is a different swimming experience. A big hit among the crowds of youngsters on the island, this pier is located along the incredibly scenic Crystal Springs Road on the southwest end of the island. With parking across the street and well-marked signs along the way, the dock can host large groups of daring jumpers. With a wooden ladder nailed along one of the pilings, the fun is in the rush. Jump in and experience the rejuvenating, cold Puget Sound water tingling your skin. Some are tough enough to skip the ladder and swim back to the rocky shoreline. On hot summer nights, head to Point White Pier to watch the bioluminescence—tiny organisms that become phosphorescent when disturbed, like glowing glitter underwater—dance off of the pilings beneath the dock and burst into a glowing show as you swim amongst it.

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Hike in the Forest

The healthy, vibrant forests on this island make for an incredible and fulfilling day of hiking. With innumerable plant and fungus species to identify, as well as old growth trees and dripping moss, it’s easy to lose track of time in the Grand Forest, located in the center of the island. Multiple trails branch from trailhead parking lots at either Mandus Olson Road NE or Fletcher Bay Road, which lead you beneath the canopies to a beautiful open field in the center of the preserve—a wonderful place to take a breath of fresh air and watch the clouds pass by.

Gazzam Lake rests on the southwest end of Bainbridge Island. This trail has a wide variety of attactions, from coastal to lake access. A trail—perfect for an evening run—winds through the healthy forest with many tree species living amongst each other. During dusk, listen carefully for the owls living in the trees. An access to Gazzam Lake provides a spectacular view of flora and fauna that thrive in freshwater ecosystems. If you’re interested in hiking down the steep coast to the water, enjoy a beach view of Port Orchard during a long and colorful sunset.

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In an era shadowed by threats of environmental catastrophe, economic crisis, and social collapse, we are witnessing a mental shift in the next generation to whom the torch will be passed. By and large, the Millennials, born between 1980 and the new millennium, have been raised in a heavily consumer-centric society that has disassociated with the notion of living simply and sustainably off the land. As society wades deeper into these treacherous seas, communities have taken precautionary steps to keep themselves afloat.

Millennials are rising to the challenge by transitioning into a way of living that reclaims traditions long ago abandoned at the risk of being lost forever, traditions like homesteading, permaculture, fiber and textile production, natural medicine, and sustainable agriculture. As the price of produce and meat increases, so does the shift toward community gardening, urban farming, and agricultural education. Call it nostalgia for a romantically rustic way of life or call it necessity; either way, the growing trend in our generation, and in general, is growing organic food.

On this island, there is no shortage of small-scale farms with a focus on organic food that is grown in healthy rotation with the seasons. These farms, which foster deep community roots and innovative approaches to energy efficiency, such as natural irrigation and solar power, are staffed by pockets of Millennials with a passion for connecting to the earth and growing organic food that nourishes their bodies and the environment.

Nearly all farms on Bainbridge Island are supported by a crew of Millennials driven either by devotion or curiosity, and from what I’ve experienced, they’re really wonderful people—they’re my friends. With lives that can be mapped across the globe, these young farmers make up a colorful portion of this community, contributing music, art, and, well, food, that keep Bainbridge Island moving forward. With long, exhausting days in the sun and an intense summer push, they’re hard to find out on the town, but rather at intimate potlucks and picking sessions around a bonfire surrounded by fields of slow growing produce.

You’ve seen them bouncing between mud-caked work trucks and local restaurants with bins of fresh produce; you’ve smiled at them at the farmer’s market as they explain how to perfectly massage your kale for dinner tonight. They’re rugged and tan, with soil stained fingertips and disheveled hair hidden beneath a wool cap. They travel across the country with all of their belongings packed into their hatchback making stops at farms along the way. They conduct educulture programs aimed at introducing young children to the art of farming organic food and give property tours that showcase their happy plant and livestock production. They’re WWOOFers, interns, grantees, dreamers, spearheads; they are the future of a newfound relationship with food that just might save us all.

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The airport flooded, the highways packed, hotels booked, and sidewalks buzzed with over 250,000 folks from around the world who had arrived in Seattle to enjoy and participate in our annual free festival, Northwest FolkLife. The independent nonprofit organization has held this event in Seattle Center over Memorial Day weekend since 1972, drawing a crowd that consists of diverse cultures and backgrounds for four jam-packed days of music, participatory dancing, cultural showcases, food, and workshops. Local artists shared stages with international names to bring four days of non-stop entertainment; if you were to attend each event to its fullest, it would take 28 days consecutive days to experience!

Gospel, bluegrass, world music, elementary school choirs, local singer/songwriters, funk, country, electronic, Native drum circles, and reggae—the list of music genres is nearly as long as the list of performers squeezed into the festival. On some stages, world dance performers featured traditional ethnic dance to the live music of their culture, while other stages hosted performers getting the dance started in the heart of the crowd until nearly everyone was on their feet. Sunday’s Mosaic Stage featured a full day of reggae, ending with Seattle’s Clinton Fearon & The Boogie Brown Band, a festival staple for more than 20 years and longtime, long-loved reggae group in Seattle.

At Northwest FolkLife, diverse music isn’t the only thing flooding your senses. The smell of funnel cake and ethnic food lingers in the air, swirling with the cool mist from the international fountain beneath the shade of the Space Needle. Children with vibrant face paint zigzagged through the crowds, cotton candy in hand. Some folks rested in the shade, watching collections of hula-hoopers and fearless dancers move to the sounds of the music from onstage. Others enjoyed each others company in the beer gardens featuring organic and gluten free options.

Vendors line the walkways with unique booths and colorful crafts reminiscent of a bohemian street fair. I watched woodworkers, jewelers, batik artists, and clothing designers charm envious customers as I strolled through, savoring the vegetarian sambusa I ordered for lunch from Portland’s Horn of Africa, which serves traditional food from the coast of Northeast Africa. As I wandered into the Fisher Pavilion, lured by the sound of strumming fiddles and tapping feet, to my surprise I caught sight of hundreds of smiling faces dancing in synch. This contra extravaganza draws many generations of contra dancers year after year to experience the folk tradition of contra dancing with a diverse crowd. Beginners are urged to dance with a drastic wave of the arm by red-faced, panting elders who are willing and eager to teach starry-eyed onlookers the ways of contra. I wasn’t brave enough to try, but I felt the energy from the sidelines and smiled along with everyone.

The greatest thing about this festival? It’s free to anyone, even if you haven’t a penny to spare. You’ll find buskers, travelers, and aspiring musicians putting it all on the line between stages, food carts, and craft stands with an instrument or two, an upside down hat with a sign that says “anything helps,” and a passion for music shared by all in attendance. In the crowds, you’ll find local legends, students, neighbors, homeless, out-of-towners, sailors, young families, artists, pockets of pre-teens, and every other walk of life. Judgment is laid to rest at the entrance, and everyone enters on the same level. It’s a wonderfully inclusive festival fueled by the donations of the able and the energy of the willing. Staffed by over 6,000 volunteer performers and 800 volunteers (yes, performers all volunteer!), this is truly a celebration of Northwest culture and togetherness.

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Up until September of last year, Bainbridge Island climbers had to travel to Seattle or Bremerton to get their fix at the few climbing gyms in the area. The ferry and bus rides were enough to keep local climbers from commuting for regular training, and even worse, keep potential climbers from falling in love with and becoming committed to pulling rock. Then, along came Jason Lawson, who built the Island Rock Gym (IRG): a beautiful climbing platform nestled in the Coppertop Loop off of Sportsman Road with 40-foot walls and a bouldering garden that’ll get you horizontal, vertical, and every way in between.

The dilemma of the Bainbridge climber, be it minor, is that of commuting to access solid outdoor (and indoor) routes. Although there is fantastic climbing off of exits along I-90, as well as various locations such as Index and Vantage, these sites aren’t exactly post-work, two hour practice spots, but rather weekend warrior commitments that most are unable to pledge consistent time for. Once upon a time, Bremerton hosted a branch of the indoor climbing gym known as Vertical World, which, when closed down, cut Kitsap County off from relatively accessible indoor climbing. Things grew stagnant and the climbing limitations began stacking up. Lawson’s IRG expanded the opportunity for both new and seasoned climbers to excel while creating a hyper local climbing culture that simply hasn’t existed until now. The staff is knowledgeable, experienced, and more than willing to cheer you through the toughest routes, while the friendly gym members are eager to skillshare and offer an impromptu belay when needed.

For a new climbing gym, IRG membership rates are affordable and there’s rarely a wait to get on a wall. The aesthetic is vibrant, with color-splashed walls dotted with every hold you’ll ever need to train on. What they lack in massively horizontal overhangs they make up for with intricate routes that send your body in convoluted positions that work every muscle. If you’re like me and climb hard when you find the time, tape your hands—these routes are so addictive you’ll climb till you’re raw.

While many of the rope and bouldering routes are difficult and require advanced strength and agility, about half of them cater to beginner or young climbers. In fact, IRG has a youth program that exceeds many, with bouldering and rope trainings that even advance into route setting. Beginning ate age four, these classes and camps focus on getting youth accustomed to rock walls both on and off the rope. The IRG Climbing Team, starting at age eight and ending at 18, delves into advanced beta technique “geared towards endurance, technique, strategy, and strength,” according to their website. Their events extend to seasoned climbers as well, holding courses on anchor building that may serve as refreshers, as well as hosting presentations by professional athletes in the field.

There’s no time like springtime to get ready for a summer of outdoor adventure. Whether you need a refresher on lead climbing and anchor building or to ready your muscles for prime climbing season, IRG is the place to be. After a good climb, walk the short distance over to Bainbridge Island Brewing Company for relaxation, beer, and good company. Climb on!

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Bainbridge Island is populated by a wide variety of talented individuals, many of whom are deeply rooted in their community. Some are masters in craft trades, others in farming, arts, business, engineering—the list goes on. Each have developed expert skills, and each has the ability to share their skills within the community.

So, when offered Pegasus Coffee House for a location to organize a weekly event, I thought intensely about the direction I wanted to take it. The purpose was to unite the scattered collections of younger, like-minded people who were either brought here to pursue a passion or raised in the area and stayed because of a love for this magical place. Although drinking, games, and music are exciting ways to gather and create friendships, I wanted these events to amount to more than social hour. That’s why, with a little help from my friends, I created Seaside Learning Collective, a free school on Bainbridge Island.

At Seaside, your peers and friends are the teachers, giving lectures, leading discussions or workshops, and sharing their knowledge in order to promote community involvement. These classes demystify topics like homesteading, fermenting foods, or bicycle maintenance. By making these topics accessible, members of the community are more likely to participate at home, which can lower one’s living expenses, strengthen community bonds, and work toward a more sustainable environment and local economy.

The structure of free schools varies across the globe. Initially, fellow organizers and I drafted an intricate outline regarding donations, scheduling, and sign-ups. We researched global free schools to see how they ran. We planned websites with open discussion forums. We invented a money and sign-up system that would provide funds to the class teacher, the free school, and Pegasus. Just before launching, though, we scratched it all and trimmed it down to bare bones: a donation bag is passed around at the end of each class, and each class is open to any and all community members, regardless of advanced sign-up. Free coffee and tea are served during the class, and on special occasions the bar is open and alcohol may be purchased. At its heart, Seaside Learning Collective strives to bring people together for the purpose of advancing knowledge and promoting community.

Ryan Montella taking questions at Butler Green Farm

Ryan Montella taking questions at Morales Farm

The months of March and April held some incredible classes hosted by young members of the community with a passion for their craft. Farmers from Butler Green Farm led a tour through Morales Farm, discussing design strategy and agriculture strategy. Another islander directed a hands-on fermentation and cultivation workshop with various work stations where attendants could make their own kombucha, yogurt, or kraut, and they brought the final products home! On the other end of the spectrum, we have hosted classes grounded in arts and intellect, such as a creative writing workshop or discussion on the importance of gratitude and giving.

The months of May and June are packed with exciting opportunities to participate in a folk songwriting roundtable, learn the basics of direct action and community organizing, experience another farm tour, create your own drop spindle and yarn, or even experience the ancient method of transcendental meditation through percussive drumming, led by a woman traveling from Greece to lead workshops in the greater Seattle area. We are very fortunate to be expanding, both in our teachers and attendants, to a broader audience.

While a class or two has been held at another location on the island for the purpose of a farm tour, most classes occur each Wednesday, from 7:30-9:30 at Pegasus Coffee House. I, along with the rest of Seaside Learning Collective, hope to see you there!

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Coyote Woodshop Owners Drew Reynolds & David Kotz

At the annual Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet  held on January 25th, 2014 I made a presentation of a series of 20 photographs that were displayed for 20 seconds at a time… Pecha Kacha style. Concurrently, I read a 20 second profile of the business and other interesting facts about the industry.

This year’s presentation theme was about the often anonymous businesses that contribute to the island’s economy through manufacturing and industrial operations. The intent was to illustrate that the commercial capacity of Bainbridge Island is not just the retail storefronts that everybody is familiar with; but, there is also a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit that works, often hidden amongst the trees, if you will, that goes relatively unnoticed.

The photos were taken by Mr. Joel Sackett.

I’ve uploaded the slideshow here for you to take a look: Slideshow

Stitch ‘n Bitch

March 28th, 2014

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Every Tuesday at Bainbridge Island Brewing Company, a group of wool-clad islanders sit in a circle around heaping piles of yarn, casting and binding and looping and dropping stitches in the slow, methodical creation of their latest sweater, cowl, fingerless gloves, or beanie. The gathering, called Stitch ‘n Bitch, consists of local folks interested in textiles, knitting, drinking craft ales, or genuine conversation.

Knitting has always seemed out of reach—an unachievable skill. I tried to learn a few times, but constantly dropped a stitch in each row, making tiny little triangles that were ultimately useless. I gave up, and as the years have passed, so have the windows of opportunity to learn this social folk tradition. Ironically, I always imagined the years passing while I knit socks on the front porch, swaying in a rocking chair and watchin’ the crops grow. The time had come!

When I approached the group for the first time, I was met with warm smiles and chairs slid over to make room for me. They continued on with their conversations while their buzzing fingers robotically repeated pattern after pattern, seemingly detached from the rest of their bodies. Impressed and intimidated by their dexterous mobility, I introduced myself as an aspiring knitter with an unfortunate “ya can’t teach an old dog new tricks” disposition. The group deflected my lack of confidence, having all been there at one point, and offered words of encouragement, assuring that I would be able to knit and create in no time. Then, one stitcher pulled a beautiful ball of steel blue merino wool from her bag and held it out to me.

“Here, learn with this!” she suggested.

“For me? You’re just giving this to me?” I asked, shocked.

“Do you like it?”

“Yes, it’s amazing!”

“Then make something beautiful with it!” She smiled, and everyone continued on chatting.

No big deal. Just a perfect ball of merino wool yarn. Gifted to a stranger, no less. What a community we’ve got here on the island! The next day I bought my first pair of knitting needles–sized nine per suggestion of the group–and began courting a lifelong relationship with knitting. Since that first Stitch ‘n Bitch, I haven’t come far with the craft, but I have built relationships within the group. Each stitcher has a loving, warm character. Often they’ll cook each other food and bring a sharing dish to the gatherings.

The gatherings are organized by Tatyana Vashchenko, co-founder of Local Color Fiber Studio, a fiber dying duo consisting of Tatyana and Emily Tzeng, who cultivate and forage various plants to use for dying natural yarns. These two sell their organically pigmented yarns at farmers markets and online at localcolorfiberstudio.com. Come meet Tatyana, Emily, and the rest of the Stitch ‘n Bitch craftspeople on Tuesday nights between 7 and 9 PM at Bainbridge Island Brewing Company. Support your community, support local art, and, while you’re at it, support local beer!

For all of you with pretentious-detectors, beware: I have welcomed the identity of poet into my life. Before, I just considered myself someone who wrote occasionally. Now I think that poetry, the art of poetry, is a way that I understand the world around me. How do I explain? Take for example photography. Once you get more and more involved in photography, you are not only a photographer for the split second you snap a photo. No, you walk around, always, seeing things in terms of composition, of lighting, of placement and movement. It is by continuously remaining open that you can then relate your experience in a moment of creation. So it is with poetry, I think. You walk around wide-eyed and in love with each thing you see then write about it.

The bizarro videogame Katamari Damacy comes to mind too. The sole purpose of the game is to roll around as a sticky ball and grow bigger. You start out sticking to small objects and increasingly gather larger and larger items on your body until soon you are rolling down skyscrapers. I think that it works as a metaphor for the artistic endeavor. From the second I leave my front door and head out into the world for the day, I am a sticky glob and take note of everything I see. By the end of the day I am chock full of the ephemera of my day. To write a poem I would take each piece off of me and lay it on the page. If I do a good job, the poem should stand as a simulacrum of the concert of emotions of my day. If I do a really good job, I manage to pick off all the junk of my day and get down to my skin and, once there, pick off the flesh with renewed vigor.

Serendipitously enough there is a copy of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life in the bookshelf in the house where I live. Ever since reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek I have been desperately in love with Dillard. She too lived on an island in the Sound, though more isolated and further north than I am now. The Northwest, it seems, is a literary hotspot. The rain, the mountains, the forest, the countless coffee shops, all of it gestures toward the literary. So I decided to pick up her book I hadn’t (gasp) yet read. In it, she remarks upon the difficulties and impossibilities of leading a writer’s life. She tells a story of trying to chop firewood: for the longest time she was terrible at it, could never make sizable pieces of firewood for burning, only small useless chips. Eventually she learned that to do it right, you don’t aim for the wood but the chopping block beyond it. After that realization she had a high stack of wood ready to burn, hurrah hurrah! And so it is with writing, you aim, always, for the obstinately blank page, the screen of flaring pixels, and try to etch out your flawed creation despite the sea of blankness and incorrigibility.

From what I can see so far, Bainbridge is a fantastic place to be an artist. Open mics are everywhere, the art museum is free, people are warm and welcoming and willing to share their craft. Guitar players come out in droves to perform, you can’t walk down the street without bumping into a writer, and artist exhibitions pop up continuously. So it is not so hard to be young on such an island. It is quite easy to walk around and feel welcome and on the cusp of many chance encounters. And so I throw my own voice out there, in the form of a small poem, to join the artistic community of Bainbridge. The Pacific Northwest has me thinking about the incomprehensibility of city sewer systems, mountains, whales, the Pacific Ocean, and ant colonies.

Lesson from Blue

Dates, appointments, schedules,
details, all details, slide right
off me like sea trash off a lost whale
during a cataclysmic storm in the far reaches
of the Bering Sea in the icy grips of November.
That is ok because even though I cannot hold
a pen between my flippers to write you,
I am a whale and can sing-song a semblance
of a message for the whole ocean to hear:
I am late, but coming.

By Andy Butter - The lovely Christine St. Pierre (See BIMM Part 1 & 2) and I share a house, internships at YES! Magazine, and barista duties at Pegasus Coffee House. We’ve also been jointly asked to blog about our experience of being “young on Bainbridge”. I think that this will be great for you, the reader, to see how two people put in the same place can come out with two vastly different (or not?) experiences. But first, a little background info from me.

I moved to Bainbridge at the beginning of the new year to start a four-month long internship at YES! Magazine. After a grueling 40-hour Amtrak ride all the way from Minneapolis, which promptly dispelled any romantic notions I had of train travel, I found myself, still swathed in all my winter gear, in downtown Seattle. Laden with all my belongings, I waddled to the ferry and bought my first of many tickets to come.

Trains, busses, ferries, skyscrapers, taxis, business-people. All of it strange and unfamiliar to me. I grew up in Grand Marais, Minnesota, a tiny town of 1,300 people on the northern shore of Lake Superior. Grand Marais has one stoplight, two grocery stores, and three seasons: almost winter, winter, and still winter. To me, Bainbridge is not small or remote but quite a bustling place, especially considering its proximity to Seattle. Living on Bainbridge is not a tuning-down, a sinking into a bucolic dream, but instead a foray into a chaotic whirlpool of new faces and places. I can’t stand and gawk forever though, I have to get out in the world and see it, then blog about it!

An important part of integrating yourself into a new place is to meet people and make friends (duh). Sometimes that’s easier said than done. But no worries, for those less gregarious, less adept at navigating the innumerable pitfalls of social interaction, I have compiled a bullet-proof list of my way to make friends while slinging coffee at Pegasus. Godspeed ye, and good luck making friends out there, friend.

Midwestern Themed Clothing

I have a sweater that features two proud owls and the word “Wisconsin” in bold white type. I have a bright blue shirt that has the outline of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan encased in a heart. I often wear shirts that feature Northland College, my alma mater in Wisconsin. Every time I don cloth from the heartland I am always engaged in a fun conversation while I’m cashiering. Apparently, everyone on the West Coast lived in the Midwest at one point, or has a half-step-semi-second-cousin-in-law that does. Once I admit my origins the conversation turns to the weather. Once we start talking about the weather I am in the zone; I grew up in Minnesota, I could talk about the weather for days. Friendship: forthcoming.

Self-Deprecative Humor

Did you hear about the giant that threw up? Really? Because it’s all over town. How do you organize a party for the solar system? Simple, you just planet. These jokes are terrible, I’ll agree, but if you happen to chuckle, or at least show the common courtesy of chortling, then we have a starting point for rapport. After rapport, a budding acquiantanceship. Soon I’ll be your children’s godfather, just you wait.

Swag

Only to be used ironically. Results may vary.

A Sprinkling of Pop Culture References

After I take someone’s order and they fumble around for exact change I may ask them “Where’s the money Lebowski?” If they raise an eyebrow and give me the $2.17 without saying a word, I move along. But if they proudly proclaim their proclivity toward nihilism, then we have a blossoming friendship on the way. Don’t be disheartened if the references don’t start a friendly conversation right away. This method of friend-making often takes time and persistence. It also has the possibility of alienating you from those around you. Play it cool, man. If 90’s movie quotes aren’t working out, try a line from Game of Thrones. No one picking up on your amazing whistled rendition of Europe’s “The Final Countdown”? Bring it back with a hummed chorus of the Beatles’ “Penny Lane.”

Note for those that enjoy higher-brow culture: This method of making friends can work for you too! For example, I saw a young woman reading a book of poems by Elizabeth Bishop. We talked about our favorite poets. We then learned each other’s names and shook hands. Friendship!

Playin’ in the Band

March 13th, 2014

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At around seven o’clock on Thursday nights, Pegasus Coffee Shop undergoes a transformation: the small tables, previously occupied by laptops and foamy lattes, are rearranged and used as placeholders for cocktails, tall beer, and sheets of music at the dawning of Biscuits & Gravy, a three-hour jam session hosted by local musician Ethan Joseph Perry. Folks flood in through both entrances with instruments in tow, greeting each other with nods, hugs, and playful banter between old friends.

Incoming musicians strategically dance across the coffee shop, raising instruments above their heads and shuffling through the maze of chairs, tables, guitar cases, and people in order to grab a spot in the large circle materializing around the front fireplace. Non-musicians also take their place around the bar, ready for the pickin’ party to begin. People walking past the front windows often stop and smile, curious and warmed by the sight of community collaboration. A few welcoming waves from the jam circle urges them to come inside and join; they laugh, shaking their heads as if to say, “I couldn’t do that!” and walk away with a smile equal to ours.

Then, with a one, two, a one, two, three, four, the atmosphere ignites into a frenzy of string instruments and vocals as the group begins the ascent. Laughter and side conversations at the bar are drowned out by the fifteen or more new and veteran musicians encouraging each other to play loud, sing out, take it away, and bring it back. The choice of song is determined by a clockwise rotation around the circle, with each musician bringing a different flavor to the group. An old Grateful Dead tune may be replaced by a John Prine sing-a-long followed by a little Neil Young, and so it goes. The keeper of the song also passes along jam solos to various members of the group. Courageously and at a moment’s notice, the soloist takes the song to a new level. You’d think they’ve been playing together for years—and, in many cases, you’d be right.

I sit high on a stool behind the circle’s inner layer of musicians waiting for a song I know, a wave I can catch and ride straight on home with the rest of the crew. As soon as it hits—that old familiar tune—I sing out in harmony with the women and men around me, and our voices blend with the fiddle, guitars, mandolin, banjo, stand-up bass, harmonicas, and impromptu table drums, swirling in a vortex around the circle and reverberating off of the tiny coffee shop’s walls. Every Thursday, the energy is palpable, the happiness contagious, and the feeling of community undeniable. At the stroke of ten o’clock, the session comes to an end with Pete Seeger’s “Goodnight Irene,” and the musicians part ways, ready to do it all again next week. Join in!

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