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Last January Jam airs Sunday

The Grey Blues Band plays during week two of the 2021 virtual January Jams, Sunday, Jan. 10. (Photo provided)

On Sunday, in a normal year, some of us would be packing instruments into our cars and heading over to the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay to play music, listen to music, catch up with friends and eat ham at the January Jam. But this is not a normal year, and these are not normal January Jams.

In December, Scott Renderer and Michael Galligan filmed a slew of local musicians at the lounge in private sessions and have been releasing the videos each Sunday this month, capturing the essence of a January Jam.

If you missed the first three Jams, don’t worry. They can still be viewed on the Upper Jay Art Center’s YouTube channel. The final Jam will be uploaded tomorrow, the last day and last Sunday of the month.

One of the things I’ve realized I took for granted in normal times was live music: concerts, incidental music and most of all, open mics. Open mics give amateur musicians, hobbyists and growing artists a wonderful platform for their music, however polished or rough it is.

The virtual January Jams have been a lovely window into this world once again.

Aaron Cerbone enjoys a January Jam in 2019 at the Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

The artists perform on the Recovery Lounge stage behind a glass shield, a staple of these coronavirus-infested times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many art exhibits and events online, to mixed success.

It’s an emotional experience, listening to the January Jams from afar. It does not feel right. But being able to hear friends’ and strangers’ music feels right.

It’s comfort, delivered in a strange way.

Interspersed with the music are conversations with the musicians, skits and footage of vintage ham commercials, all edited with impeccable timing by Galligan, who obviously had a lot of fun in the process.

Grants from the C.R. Wood Foundation, the Pearsall Foundation and the Cloudsplitter Foundation were able to make video editor a paid position.

Renderer said Galligan has a background in a style of French comedy theater called “bouffon,” the root of our English word “buffoon.” This comedic timing is obvious in the cutting and substance of the videos.

“He’s a wizard at making and editing video, taking the material and making it funny and entertaining,” Renderer said. “I think that helped capture somewhat of the frenetic energy at the Jams.”

Renderer said the three cameras used for filming the sets ran from the moment artists arrived until they left. Some of that footage is included in the final product.

It is very personal, showing conversations about people’s childhoods, small talk and snippets of the set-up and tear-down process. It also includes some funny, strange moments — Renderer with Doc and Carolyn catching a Buzz (they were tossing around Buzz Lightyear toys), musicians bumping mics and the band Famous Letter Writer giving their host a book on Andy Warhol.

Renderer referred to this as a documentary style, but it really feels more like voyeurism, almost like standing on the edge of a conversation at the Jam itself. This approach really brings out the spirit of the Jams.

Yes, everyone’s there for the music, but they are also there to catch up, meet, share stories, remember and share a laugh.

Renderer said sometimes people forgot the cameras were running. He did, too, at times.

“Even though (Galligan) embarrassed me quite a bit, or I embarrassed myself quite a bit, I think it’s an OK sacrifice for what we’re doing,” Renderer said. “I wasn’t always happy with what was captured on film.”

Mostly, he was talking about his cover of Drake’s 2015 hit “Hotline Bling,” which kicks off the third week’s video.

“That’s probably one of my most embarrassing moments of the last 10 years,” Renderer said.

He had filmed himself playing along with the hip-hop beat on the drums and twerking in the Recovery Lounge by himself, just fooling around with a camera with a vision of an eventual parody of the song.

Galligan saw the raw footage and knew he wanted to use it.

“I should’ve maybe just not given him the footage,” Renderer said.

Now, he says he has people showing their backsides to him and catcalling him as he walks around town. He seems simultaneously pleased and horrified by this public , he hopes it goes away. But he said he often plays the role of the fool for other people’s entertainment.

In my experience, that is a large part of the Jams. Everyone is putting themselves “out there” and being vulnerable to a crowd of friends and strangers. If Renderer leads by fooling around, it creates a less tense environment for others.

The Jams also include a few unconventional performances. Zach Clemans performed his poem “Fish Wish,” a poem he wrote at age 4 and performed at age 29. Former Enterprise reporter Griffin Kelly recorded himself playing songs from his home in Pearl River. Renderer says tomorrow’s Jam will include a storyteller for the first time.

The first week now has over 300 views on YouTube as people have been able to enjoy the Jams over the month. This is more people than might be at one Jam on a given Sunday.

Sitting in my office chair, listening to these songs on a Monday, seeing the lounge and all the familiar faces, I am transported to a different time, before COVID-19. I can almost feel the presence of a crowd around me. It’s strange how I now long to be bumped by someone hurrying by with a guitar.

When the world opens back up, let’s agree to never complain about being bumped into again.

In my head I hear the low hum of chatter beneath each song. It’s like listening to a record. The sound is not too crisp. There is a fuzzy foundation to the sound. A couple of chuckles break through. It feels right. That’s the joy of January Jams.

I hope we can enjoy it again in full next January.

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