I still have my emails from when I was planning my trip to my first LB Jam and it’s really fun reading through the history.
The date was the weekend of 17 September 2004. I don’t have much in the way of photos or video from that one. This was before smartphones and I didn’t take my Nikon camera with me until 2007 I think. In fact I didn’t get that camera until Hamish was born in 2006, so I must’ve decided not to take it to Georgia that year cos, you know, carrying guitars is enough of a worry!
For all the jams, I flew in on the Thursday to arrive in the evening and give myself a head start on the time shift.
I arrived filled with a combination of incredible excitement and tiredness from the flight. I would fly either Luxembourg to Paris, or Luxembourg to Amsterdam then direct to ATL. It was a long trip!
There was usually a few others with the same idea of arriving early, so Little Brother took us downtown into Atlanta to visit his regular haunt, Northside Tavern. What a place! A real spit-and-sawdust joint, with live blues every night. It was there that I got meet and hear Mudcat for the first time. What an entertainer! Little Brother used to sit in with Mudcat and Ross Pead, and so we got to hear some authentic Atlanta blues.
The time shift had me wake up crazy early. I made my way downstairs into the quiet house and started playing through some of the incredible guitars that were all over the house. It was a really nice way to start my first full day in Conyers: nice and quiet, with some coffee and some alone time with guitars with brand names that I’d only ever read about.
It was at this jam that I did my first ever live performance. I was nervous as hell and can’t really remember what I played, but it was the beginning of something great. I’ve been performing ever since. It was such a friendly environment and everyone was so supportive, a real moment for me.
It was at this jam that I heard bluegrass for the first time. There were a bunch of guys from Tennessee that were having a jam in the garage, with Frank Eastes sitting in on banjo and Dave Skowron of Red Bear joining in with rhythm and lead guitar. The tune that stands out is Whisky Before Breakfast. I’d never heard anything like it – Scottish, but not. My love of that style started there and continues. In fact, I played in a bluegrass band locally on Arran for a few years and had a blast!
I didn’t take any photos during the weekend, which I’ve always regretted, particularly of my trips to Northside. I guess I was just too busy with the meeting and the playing. I do have some pictures that I got from my pal Kelvyn, so I’ll fire them up and thank him kindly for sending them to me.
All I have videowise is this clip of Dave Skowron of Redbear Trading ‘playing a little guitar’. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I would later go on to share a room with Dave at Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp the following year. He took me on as a retail partner for his picks after this jam and we worked together for a couple of years. We’re still in regular contact, and I just bought a guitar off him!
Lesson with El McMeen
Ah yes, El McMeen!
I’d been following his music for a couple of years at this point, having got into Celtic fingerstyle in quite a big way around 2002. El’s musical style and melodic playing really appealed to me, so I started some video lessons with him in early 2004. Bear in mind that this is back in the dial up days, pre mobile phone. I would record my playing on a Sony camcorder, capture the footage onto my PC over Firewire and send it to El on a DVD through the mail.
Since I was going to be ‘in the area’, I thought I’d plan an extended lesson with El, and that’s just what I did. I flew from Atlanta to Newark and rented a car to drive to El’s place. It was my first time driving an automatic transmission car and I remember not being able to get it out the carpark because I didn’t know you had to push the brake down. The guy behind the desk must’ve wondered if I’d actually ever driven a car before lol!
I learned a lot from that trip and try to pass on some of that to my own pupils when I get the chance. Use a thumbpick!
Call for Content
If you were at the jam and have some content you’d be happy to share, please send it to me and I’ll post it up here with credit. I’d love to see these pages become a real historical document of these amazing jams!
Cams is a guitar enthusiast living on the Isle of Arran in Scotland with his wife and two teenaged children. He has a fine collection of instruments and enjoys playing live around the island.