Upper Jay Art Center offers musical fun in January Jams
What: January Jams
Where: Upper Jay Art Center, 12198 Old Route 9N, Upper Jay
When: Every Sunday in January from 2 to 6 p.m.
How much: Donation
UPPER JAY — There are many things that can make an open mic night bad or frustrating — guests are too loud, hosts pick favorites and allot more stage time to certain performers, they’re hosted on a night where nobody shows up, performers only appear for their set and then leave — a lot can ruin a night of musical fun.
January Jams, a staple at the Upper Jay Art Center in Upper Jay for the past decade or so, suffers from none that.
You can say it’s the tight yet laid back shift run by arts director Scott Renderer or the refreshments table that turns into a potluck with homemade mac and cheese, venison chili and a whole spiral ham, but what really makes January Jams a fun night out is the community.
Nobody hogs the lime light and everyone always offers a job-well-done.
After I sang “Needle and the Damage Done,” by Neil Young, a song with much personal meaning to me, Lynn Waickman approached me said she appreciated my performance. She said it took her back to middle school years.
Waickman is a unique musician. She plays recorder. Everybody learned “Hot Cross Buns” at some point in elementary school, but Waickman adds a depth and knowledge to the recorder that is far beyond most people’s idea of the instrument.
Waickman has about 40 different recorders all varying in shape, size and key. One runs the length of an adult arm and has the traditional thin and cylindrical shape, while the one she used on “Singing in the Rain” was more than three feet tall and looked kind of like a periscope coming out of the ground.
Her musical partner, James Coleman, a tenor ukulele player and singer, has been performing at January Jams for about three years. He said his and Waickman’s music provides an unusual and unique sound to an already diverse environment.
“You see a lot of variety here,” Coleman said. “Sometimes it’s acapella; sometimes it’s a full band.”
Dave Comegys, or “Doc” as most people know him, dressed in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. Around his neck he wore camouflaged patterned dog tags with Jesus’s cross raised on the metal. He sang original western gospels: the type of music Roy Rogers and Dale Evans would play at a USO show. A little later, Caitlin Bloom, a young ski and snowboard instructor at Whiteface, sang Gnarls Barkley and Britney Spears with a voice that made the room go silent (in a good way, of course).
Coleman’s opinion, which seems to be shared with most of the January Jams attendees, is that there’s not much to do in the dead of winter. The sun hides, travel is hard and hazardous and the weather can chill you to the bone. Coleman spent three days inside during this past weekend’s spout of far below zero temperatures.
“People become desperate for community,” he said.
That’s not to devalue January Jams as the only thing to do, but rather it’s the thing to do.
Shawn Lamarche and her husband moved to AuSable Forks a few years ago from Florida. Normally they make trips back to the Sunshine State during the winter, but not this year.
“My husband told me. ‘No. We can’t miss January Jams,'” she said.
There were about 75 different seats in the place — folding chairs, tall bar stool, stiff leather club chairs, Chesterfields, Fiddlebacks, eloquent sofas with floral upholsteries and a few 1970-esque armchairs that looked they were pulled out of Archie Bunkers living room — and every seat was either taken up by a body or the jacket belonging to that body.
“This is just the first night,” said Tim Robinson, board member and director of communications for the art center, “It’ll fill up more next week. Sometimes we’ll have two lines of parked cars running down the highway.”
After I got done playing “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie, my personal hero, numerous people greeted me, told me “good job” and shook my hand. Despite the high attendance numbers, no one gets lost in the shuffle. Even if you make mistakes on stage, which I did, all the performers feel at home.
“People love to see their friends and others who play at every skill level,” Renderer said. “We try to be as welcoming as possible.”
It’s the sense of community that draws people in and that’s why I’ll be returning to January Jams this Sunday too.