TERRE HAUTE —
The next Grammy-winning bluegrass band could form, at random, in a college campus hallway, on an otherwise quiet Saturday night.
Or, at least the musicians will have some fun.
The chance to share in one of America’s oldest music forms draws dozens of banjo, guitar, mandolin, upright bass and dobro players to the GM Room of Moench Hall at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for a three-hour jam session on the last Saturday of every month, from October through May, year after year. Officially, the organization wears the lengthy name of the National Crossroads Bluegrass and Acoustic Music Association, but the pickers and singers who comprise its membership simply call it “Nack-bama.”
Mostly, they call it “fun.”
“Everybody, when they leave, they say what a good time they had, and say they’ll invite their friends,” said Laura Pounds, fiddle, bass and banjo player, and NCBAMA vice president. “So I think that’ll keep it going.”
So far, so good. The group’s monthly jam session started in 1982 and hasn’t stopped since. It shifted locations a few times, from the Carpenters Union hall on South Third Street to the National Guard Armory on the city’s northside, before settling in for the long haul at Rose-Hulman. The faces have changed — some early organizers have died, other regulars have moved elsewhere, some show up for a season and then scatter, and some keep coming back.
The format involves a featured band, which performs on the main stage at the beginning and end of the activities. In October, the popular Wabash Valley group Diamond Hill Station served as the headliners.
A monthly raffle (with jammers bringing in the items) and the $15 annual family membership fees help pay the top-billed bands, but admission is free. In between, all of the visiting musicians pair up in groups of four or five, and jam (improvise) to songs they all know or teach each other. At any point, regardless of skill level, those impromptu clusters of players and singers can take the main stage in an open-mic forum.
“If you know a few chords or hot licks in ‘G,’ you can play about anything,” said Mark Grayless, a NCBAMA jammer since 2001 and pastor of Union Christian Church in Terre Haute.
Dave Voltmer, a 73-year-old electrical engineering professor at Rose, was among the jam’s originators 30 years ago, and still plays his banjo in a unique “claw hammer” style at each NCBAMA jam. He favors an offshoot of bluegrass, old-time mountain music, but the unplugged, acoustic sound remains at the core. It’s the genre, and the enjoyment of it, that perpetuates the jam’s tradition.
“People like the high harmonies and instrumentation. It’s pretty much upscale and more virtuoso performers. Maybe you could say it’s the roots. People who are derisive would say it’s songs from the heart sung through the nose,” Voltmer said, with a chuckle.
Whatever the reason, bluegrass continues to draw musicians and their families and friends to the NCBAMA jams, trekking from Indianapolis, Washington and Worthington and Odon in southern Indiana, northern Indiana, eastern Illinois, and across the Wabash Valley to the stage at Rose. Years ago, a group of Purdue University students routinely journeyed from Lafayette.
“Bluegrassers” exist around the globe, but their numbers in any one place may be small. Jams, festivals and concerts bring them together.
“Where there’s bluegrass, bluegrass players go,” said Voltmer, who hosted a bluegrass radio show, “Rosey’s Pickin’ Parlor,” on the campus station WMHD from 1982 until retiring the program this fall.
The roster of players who’ve shown up at the NCBAMA jams includes some of the most recognizable names in bluegrass. In its early days, in the 1980s, a young Terry Eldredge strummed and sang. The West Terre Haute native left town as a teenager for a music career in Nashville, Tenn., and now is the lead singer of the Grammy-nominated band The Grascals.
One of the early featured bands at the monthly jams was a group featuring a couple Wabash Valley musicians and a teenage singer and fiddler named Alison Krauss. More than two decades later, Krauss, along with her band Union Station, holds more Grammys (27 awards and 41 nominations) than any living performer of any genre. “She wasn’t the Alison Krauss back then,” said Roy Lucas, a guitarist and banjoist who joined NCBAMA six months into its existence and hasn’t stopped since.
The presence of teenagers and young players — such as Krauss and Eldredge — persists even now.
“We’ve got some great young artists here,” said Voltmer, who mentioned, among others, Marshall, Ill., fiddler Marie McGlone and Graysville mandolin ace Solly Burton.
Less experienced young people also bring a refreshing energy to the jam atmosphere. “The youngest people are playing right up there with the oldest people. There’s no age discrimination in bluegrass,” said Lucas. He and his wife, Peggy — who plays upright bass, guitar and mandolin — are both in their 70s. “We both play with kids 15 years old,” Roy said, “and they’ll say, ‘Can we jam with you?’”
That mix gives Lucas confidence the jams will live on for another 30 years.
The smiles found there won’t hurt the jams’ longevity either.
“It’s folks you want to be around,” Voltmer said.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
The next Grammy-winning bluegrass band could form, at random, in a college campus hallway, on an otherwise quiet Saturday night.
Guiding Star: Inspired by family, Terre Haute native rallies famous names to fund cancer research
Famous people filled the Riviera Country Club, a scenic golf resort in affluent Pacific Palisades, Calif.
A city block away, Sunset Boulevard runs toward the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Monica Mountains overlook it all. Inside the Riviera, during a 2009 fundraising dinner, Terre Haute attorney Tony Tanoos found himself surrounded by a who’s who of celebrities — actors such as Ray Romano, Mark Wahlberg, Don Cheadle and others, and golfing greats like Gary Player, Johnny Miller and Rocco Mediate. Soon, the crowd of notables heard the words of main speaker Lisa Paulsen, the president of the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
Country singer/songwriter from Illinois to perform at The Verve
Up-and-coming country singer/songwriter Troy Stone of Paris, Ill., will perform from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. March 14 in The Verve at 677 Wabash Ave.
Gallery presents ‘Halcyon Days’ exhibit
Halcyon Art Gallery is presenting the regional juried exhibition, “Halcyon Days 2014,” on view from Friday until March 28. The opening reception will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday. This is the ninth in a series of juried exhibitions showcasing the best of contemporary art in all media.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter
I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.
Making Waves: Woman devotes part of rural Vigo County home to museum on hairstyling
Some studies show that women spend more than $50,000 in a lifetime and more than one month of their entire life at a beauty salon, trying to get and keep their hair just the right style. How they have accomplished this through the ages has been a fascination for local hairstylist Brenda Ellis for more than 50 years.
Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Rock of Ages: Hulman Center stage has been entertaining crowds since 1974
As the stage lights came on, Sam Wellington and his cohorts gazed out at an audience of 8,060 Midwesterners.
The scene was familiar for him. Wellington and his country music quartet, The Four Guys, opened shows night after night for fellow RCA Records artists Ronnie Millsap and headliner Charley Pride on tours across North America.
Wearing a Legacy: Inspired by Debs, a variety of places and things beyond Terre Haute — from a town to beers — bear his name
A town and a school. Two styles of beer. A radio station, a street, a township, and a house for college students. Even a parade.
Any of those places or things named in honor of legendary labor and social activist Eugene V. Debs could theoretically exist in Terre Haute. Alas, none do.
Flowing forward: As Riverscape leader retires, he sees great things ahead for the Wabash River
An iconic photo of Harry Truman hangs in John Mutchner’s office.
The walls of that room and others inside Mutchner’s scenic eastside home offer glimpses of his interests, from auto racing to basketball to political history. The famous picture of a triumphant Truman, hoisting an erroneous “Dewey Defeats Truman” Chicago Tribune headline, rests neatly framed alongside a 1952 campaign button and an autographed notecard from the former president.
Hope Awakened: On a floating hospital, Terre Haute nurse sees lives of needy transformed
The woman was 24 years old. She weighed 70 pounds.
She had young children and, for a long time, a heavy burden. A tumor, large as her head, engulfed her jaw. Eating and breathing became all but impossible for her. Undoubtedly, she’d been ostracized because of it, too. Such cases are rare in the Western world, but they occur frequently in the Republic of Congo. The coastal African nation has just one doctor for every 20,000 people.
Rock Collector: Indiana Coal Council president loves rocks, fossils and 4-H
You might say Bruce Stevens grew up with lots of pet rocks.
Scavenging for rocks and fossils as a boy near his home at Coalmont launched Stevens’ fascination with geology. His love of all things sedimentary led him to a successful career in hydrology, reclamation and the coal industry.
‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.
No Intermission: Character meets demise on ‘Walking Dead,’ but lively acting career continues for Terre Haute’s Jose Pablo Cantillo
Characters often make dramatic exits from television shows.
Few could top Terre Haute-raised actor Jose Pablo Cantillo’s departure last month from AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
The scene occurred in the fourth season of cable TV’s most popular drama series ever.
Telling stories in song
Pieces of Terre Haute’s infamous past gather dust in the town’s metaphorical attic. Closed-up, old baggage — forever linked, like it or not, to the historical record.
Real people lived through those times, but as generations pass, memories of those characters fade and disappear.
Effort under way to restore Civil War monument to original grandeur; ‘Soldier of the West’ unique in state of Indiana
“How sleep the brave, who sink to rest with all their country’s wishes blest.”
A lone soldier sits atop Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle. He is seated with his foot on a cannon of long ago, looking westward, perhaps toward the future he fought for. “He” is a stone memorial, rising nearly 30 feet in the historic cemetery. He represents all the men, young and old, from Putnam County who fought and died in the Civil War, and he is aptly titled “Soldier of the West.”
Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.
Heightened Sense of Place: Educators’ efforts helped put geography back on map in schools
Geography transcends dots on a map.
Teachers traveling abroad alongside Terre Haute geographer Dorothy Drummond have experienced the real-life cultures, atmosphere and people existing within those dots. An educator herself, Drummond has organized affordable geography tours of foreign lands for Wabash Valley schoolteachers for many years. The journeys involved more than sight-seeing.
Fade to Black: A few local theaters among last to part with century-old 35-mm film
The projectionist behind the first movie shown in the Indiana Theatre nearly 92 years ago would likely feel right at home in that same booth today.
HEALING WATERS: Team River Runner offers inspiration, opens doors for wounded veterans
Some people say the fun of boating on the Wabash is dealing with unexpected challenges such a big body of water can present on certain days; others delight in the wild beauty at Terre Haute’s doorstep, from bald eagles soaring above trees lining the banks of the Wabash to the panorama of the river itself as it curls through woodland in many places reminiscent of primeval splendor seen hundreds of years ago.
Leaving ‘footprints on the sands of time’
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Had I taken the time to read a street map, I would have been able to walk through Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s historic home four years ago. My daughter, Ellen, and I spent the better part of a day hiking over the grassy hillsides of historic Mount Auburn Cemetery, just a few blocks away from the great poet’s house, and never knew we were that close.
See dinosaurs, Dr. Seuss characters at Children's Museum
On Sunday, March 9, Terre Haute Children’s Museum guests will be in for a special treat. Prehistoric creatures from Erth’s “Dinosaur Zoo” will be roving the museum, and Dr. Seuss characters will come to life when the Children’s Theatre of Terre Haute presents “Seussical Jr.”
GRAPE SENSE: News from the world’s wine regions can affect future prices
News from the world’s wine regions can affect even the average wine drinker. There is a lot going on, particularly in California, which can affect future wine prices.
TRIED ’N’ TRUE: The easiest ham loaf I’ve ever made
I have been asked for a good ham loaf recipe. This is really good. It comes from a friend of mine in Morton, Ill. Eileen Knapp makes this for her kids and grandkids — we all enjoyed it.
Party New Orleans-style at Swope Mardi Gras celebration
The Swope Art Museum’s fifth annual Mardi Gras celebration is this weekend. Enjoy a visit to the Big Easy on the museum’s third floor from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday.
‘A complete meal of classical music’ at Central Presbyterian
Beethoven composed his masterpieces nearly two centuries ago. George Gershwin wrote “Rhapsody in Blue” a few years after World War I.
Final Fridays: Lunes Domingo at Verve
Lunes Domingo returns to the Verve this Friday with special guests The Brown James.
The show starts at 10 p.m. Admission is $3.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: No need to knead dough much for these rolls
I know we all like homemade bread. These rolls are great.
When we used to have Christmas with Gene’s family, his uncle Bob Beard’s daughter made these Oatmeal Rolls.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: We can help save the manatees, right here in the heartland
The year 2013 was the deadliest on record for manatees with about 829 reported deaths. This was a major jump from the 392 in 2012 and the record of 766 in 2010. While the cold weather played a role, one major attributing factor has been toxic red tide events caused by algal blooms.
Eric Bibb, Ruthie Foster to bring ‘Joy!’ to Rose-Hulman
He has been compared to blues greats like Taj Majal and John Lee Hooker. Blues Revue said she sings with a “full-on blast of soul.”
Yara to bring international sounds to ISU performance
Sarah Stone, a mezzo-soprano and alumna of the School of Music at Indiana State University, will perform works by international composers with her ensemble Yara at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the Recital Hall of Landini Center for Performing and Fine Arts.
- More Features Headlines
- Guiding Star: Inspired by family, Terre Haute native rallies famous names to fund cancer research