Local musician Sean Shanahan still can recall his first time playing at a jam session decades ago.
He was in Southern California, it was a blues jam and it was "really awful."
"It was full of guys who had attitude (that) outweighed the talent. It was cliquey," Shanahan said. "They really didn't care about anyone except for the people they knew."
Now the host of Sam Bond's weekly bluegrass jam - one of more than 10 jam sessions held all across town - Shanahan has strived to make his event the complete opposite of his first jam experience.
"I like the idea that someone who hasn't shown up before will feel welcome," he said.
Shanahan, who plays with a number of bands in town including "psychotic rockabilly" group Atomic Junkyard and The Cramps tribute band Hot Pearl Snatch, started playing at the weekly bluegrass jam after it was started in 1996 by his friend Chuck Holloway.
"I was playing every week," he said.
A year later, Shanahan began hosting the jam with Holloway. Shanahan hosted every other jam, and he's been doing it ever since.
"Like clockwork," he said laughing.
An average of six or seven musicians play at the Tuesday night sessions, he said. While they mostly stick to bluegrass, there's occasionally some rockabilly and blues thrown into the mix.
"We're there to have fun," he said.
Jam sessions allow local musicians to network with others and to learn from each other, Shanahan said. In fact, bands often form because of those connections the jam creates, he said.
Shanahan said he learned a lot about how to host a great jam session from Gavin "Rooster" Fox, a KLCC DJ and blues promoter who hosted his own weekly blues jam for decades at various venues before his death in 1999.
"He was the hub for the blues scene in town," Shanahan said. He learned from Fox that the best jams are organized and to always keep things moving, Shanahan said.
It was through Fox's jam that Shanahan also met fellow musician Skip Jones, who took over hosting the Rooster Blues Jam in 1994.
Now located at Mac's Restaurant and Nightclub, Jones said the weekly Tuesday jam has "a combination for success right now," citing the venue's "deep connection to live music" and the consistently high turnout to the event each week. Jones sees an average of 20 to 40 musicians each night, and 60 or more people come to listen.
Jones said that while he plays music frequently with his own band, The Spirit of New Orleans, many players who turn up each Tuesday don't have any other gigs. The jam sessions give them the chance to play alongside others for an audience, an opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise, he said.
Most nights Jones doesn't play at all, as he is "directing traffic," but he said he jumps in if there are any missing instruments.
"I can play if there's a missing piece," Jones said. "I can fill in those gaps."
Often, a small portion of the musicians are inexperienced, Jones said, and he tells the seasoned players to "give those guys a chance."
Jones said he is working to encourage even those who aren't as experienced as the other musicians to "get up and give it a shot."
"The music gets really good," Jones said. "People have a great time."
Brian Chevalier, host of jam sessions at both Happy Hours and River Stop Restaurant & Sports Bar, said that jams can be "a roll of the dice," but "there's a lot of talent down here in the southern Willamette Valley."
"I just feel so fortunate to be a part of it," he said.
Like Shanahan and Jones, Chevalier tries to create a non-competitive, supportive atmosphere at his jams.
"You can learn a lot from the other people (at jam sessions)," he said.
The jams aren't only for the players, but they're for the audience, too, Chevalier said. Heather Herandez-Reja, owner of River Stop, noticed that "people really like to see musicians throwing it together and playing off the cuff and observing how we structure and maintain a song that we've never played together before," he said.
"People find it fascinating to watch musicians speak their languages to each other," he said. "And we're having a lot of fun doing it." LOCAL JAM SESSIONS SUNDAY Sunday Jazz Jam: 2 p.m. at The Jazz Station, 124 W. Broadway; $5 donation Irish Jam: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Sam Bond's Garage, 407 Blair Blvd.; free Old-Time Jam: 6 p.m. every other week, with next jam June 19 at Hi-Fi Lounge, 44 E. Seventh Ave.; free Sunday Jam Session: 6 p.m. (held during summer), River Stop Restaurant & Sports Bar, 39297 McKenzie Highway, Springfield; free TUESDAY Rooster Blues Jam: 7 p.m. at Mac's Restaurant and Nightclub, 1626 Willamette St.; free Bluegrass Jam: 9 p.m. at Sam Bond's Garage, 407 Blair Blvd.; free WEDNESDAY Blues Bash Jam Session: 7:30 p.m. at Quackers Last Stop, 2105 W. Seventh Ave.; $2 for non-jammers Mama Jan's Blues Jam: 8 p.m. at Happy Hours, 645 River Road; free Funk Jam: 9 p.m. at Hi-Fi Lounge, 44 E. Seventh Ave.; free Lounge Jams: 9 p.m. at Agate Alley Bistro, 1461 E. 19th Ave.; free THURSDAY Grateful Jam: 9:30 p.m. at Luckey's Club, 933 Olive St.; $2
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