April 01, 2020

Casual jam sessions now weekly public shows > Country sounds, bluegrass fill Oakfield center

OAKFIELD – It started off small, just a few friends getting together a few times a month in someone’s living room to play old-time bluegrass and country music for their own enjoyment.

But that has changed.

They still enjoy playing together, but instead of half a dozen there sometimes are three times that many.

They no longer play just for themselves either.

Last March, they moved to the Oakfield Community Center to have more room.

“We just wanted to come in and play music, and be in a little circle,” recalled Terry Levesque, 54, of Oakfield before Tuesday night’s concert at the community center.

“All of sudden, people started showing up,” he said. “And then more people showed up.”

So many people began showing up to listen to the impromptu performances that Levesque said he finally went to the town and said, “Just schedule me every Tuesday night until hell freezes over,” he said, laughing.

What has attracted so many people – as many as 100 most nights during the summer – is nothing fancy or elaborate.

No light shows, no performers in tight costumes revealing their navels or standing in front of banks of amplifiers.

In Oakfield, it’s cotton shirts, one small amplifier and a single microphone, with performers sitting on beige folding metal chairs arranged in a semicircle.

The musicians play a wide range of instruments including harmonica, banjo, mandolin, steel guitar and fiddle.

“We just take turns going around,” said Levesque, who is more or less the unofficial leader of the musicians. “When it’s your turn, you can do whatever you want and everybody tries to follow you. If they can’t, they just stop.”

The songs are old-fashioned country music and bluegrass such as “Cabin in the Hills,” “Tennessee Waltz” and “Maiden’s Prayer,” a popular song from the 1930s.

Levesque describes it as “regular country music like what they played at the Grange hall every Saturday night” when he was a teen-ager.

Most of the more than 50 people on hand at Tuesday’s show were at least in their 60s, and some were into their 90s. Almost as soon as the first song began, they started tapping their toes, slapping their knees and, occasionally, dancing to the songs they knew best.

“It’s the old-time music,” said Levesque as someone tuned up a fiddle on the other side of the gym. “We don’t have any of the new things.

“The people who want to go to a bar and listen to honky-tonk stuff, this isn’t what they want,” he continued. “But for us, this is the music we like and what we want to play.”

Glenn Oakes of Ashland and his wife, Gertrude, aren’t sure how they heard about the “shindigs,” as Gertrude calls them, but they rarely miss a Tuesday performance.

“We love to dance and we like the exercise,” said Glenn Oakes as the musicians began taking their seats.

Cecil and Lois Somers of Oakfield are typical of the local people who show up.

“We love this kind of music and we love the warmth of a friendly evening,” said Lois after breaking off a conversation with friends. “We tell everybody we see to come, because it’s a nice evening.

“What else would we do, but sit home?” she added.

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