By Richard White, December 15, 2013
Spent last Wednesday night at 'in lovely downtown De Winton, Alberta listening to local musicians jamming. It was a true grass roots experience, no egos here?
Perhaps it is the prairie version of an east coast “Kitchen Party” - instead of everyone gathering in someone’s kitchen and playing tunes, people gather at the neighbourhood café or bar and take turns playing for others.
Everyone is invited to participate at the Bees Knees Experience and stay as long as you want. The lead cycles to whomever wants to play a song. There is no sound system, no mics and no electric guitars - everything is unplugged.
A blast from the past
One can certainly picture nights and afternoons like this in kitchens of Canada's Maritime provinces or porches in the Mississippi Delta. Musicians playing for the pure enjoyment of it...any skill level is welcomed to join in. The song selection is all encompassing - country, blues, rock or island music - anything goes.
You don’t read about these jams in the newspapers or the magazines…they aren't all over social media….yet it is vital to creating a vibrant music scene.
Too often we think of culture as something that only happens downtown… in formal cultural spaces…but in reality much of it is happens in the churches, schools, cafes and bars in the ‘burbs.
The big city jams are more orchestrate with a full stage and sound system. The performances are more polished as often the musicians have played together for years. Also, there is a formula, you get your three or four songs before its time for the next musicians. There is lots of fun, often accompanied by dancing and a good bar room buzz.
A "music city" needs both grass root and professional jams.
The Bees Knees Experience
When a buddy suggested we check out the Wednesday jam at Bees Knees Café just off Highway 2 in De Winton I was skeptical, but the “flaneur” in me said “Why Not!” Back story – for past 20 months three buddies (two play guitars, one gets beer i.e. me) had been getting together to jam in their respective houses and regularly attending jams at Mikey’s, Blues Can and other pubs.
It was time for a pre-Christmas house jam at GG’s who happen to live in the De Winton area, so why not kick it up a notch by combining our jam and dinner with the Bees Knees jam.
As we arrived the “OPEN” sign was flashing, but it didn’t look like there was anyone inside and there were few cars around. But, as we got closer we could see one guitar player…opening the door, we were surprise to find four guitar players and a trombone player jamm’n away. What was missing was the audience? Was this a private jam?
We were quickly welcomed to sit and listen or join in - there was even an extra guitar if we wanted to use it. We sat back enjoyed the music and our bottle of wine for a few songs. The trombone added a nice rich element to the jam that was unique.
Soon Merv couldn’t resist the temptation! He grabbed the extra guitar and joined in. He was quickly assimilated into the group…singing and playing as if he was a BFF. He was even encourage to play his “Angry River” song he had written about the flood – his first attempt at song writing. Later GG joined in…the first time he has played in public!!!
As we left we found out the group wasn’t locals from the De Winton area but from Ogden to Okotoks. Turns out the owner of Bees Knees Café lets them and anyone else who wants to join in use the space to jam Wednesday nights – 6 to 9 pm. There is even a small stage for more formal music events.
It is just me or does it seem there has been an explosion of live music events in Calgary over the past few years. Seems like every café and neighbourhood pub has some live music one or two nights a week.
If Calgary is going to evolve into a vibrant music city, the development of places like Bees Knees Café is just as important as the multi-million dollar projects like National Music Centre and cSPACE.
I encourage all of us to get out and support the local jams, open mic nights and other performances.