FOLLY BEACH — Dr. Toni Manos had just finished a session on lead vocals singing Loretta Lynn’s “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” when she took a break.
“There’s too many guitars up there. Sometimes it’s too crowded,” she said.
Manos and about a dozen other pickers entertained recently at one of the weekly Thursday night jam sessions sponsored by the Folly Beach Bluegrass Society.
Bluegrass and vintage country are staples at the show which includes a playful mix of contemporary and traditional sounds. A picture of Jimi Hendrix holding a banjo and wearing a John Deere cap can be found on the society’s Facebook page.
Bassist Jamie Crisp, a regular at the jam, said his musical tastes evolved from punk rock to the Grateful Dead to Americana. He also plays in Champagne With Friends, which offers an eclectic mix of reggae, rock and funk.
The Grill and Island Bar where the jam happens on Center Street is a contemporary setting with blue neon over the bar. The musicians perform in the restaurant.
The music brought together a disparate bunch that included a PhD hopeful, a retired military pilot, a decorative painter, a hotel maintenance manager and Manos, a former emergency room physician. They played traditional string instruments including the dobro, mandolin and fiddle. Some were novices and others considered virtuosos, such as a banjo player honored with a nomination for an International Bluegrass Music Association award.
The Island Bar jam was scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., and musicians leisurely meandered onto the stage throughout the night.
“It’s like herding cats,” said Jamie McDonald, who is a producer of the 12-year-old event.
When the show began, the players picked in free-form fashion with a rotating cast that dropped in or left the stage as the spirit moved them. Sometimes, though, the music takes over. During a break, a musician described the time a jam evolved into a 45-minute romp through the classic “Rocky Top.”
The jam had an appreciative audience of locals and out-of-towners.
“They’re great. Awesome. It’s a great concept,” said Melanie Gibson of Edgefield.
McDonald joined the festivities on his gutbucket bass; he made the one-string instrument using a vintage washtub, cord and a stick. The upside down tub resonates with sound made when the picker adjusts the string tension by pushing or pulling on the stick. It is considered an original bluegrass instrument.
That kind of tradition has long been alive in Berkeley County at Guy and Tina’s Bluegrass Pickin’ Parlor in the unincorporated community of Bethera near Cordesville. Guy Faulk, 80, started the Saturday night event 37 years ago in his home. It became so popular that he built a shed with a stage to handle the crowd.
“We have a lot of fun. We keep it clean. No drinking, no drugging,” he said.
Faulk makes a big pot of coffee for the crowd. There is a potluck supper. Bands play in the shed for the 7 p.m. show and there is an open jam outside.
The South Carolina Arts Commission and the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina recognized the unique venue when it awarded Guy Faulk and his wife, Tina, the 2006 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award. Tina passed away recently. Faulk has other family members to help him with the show.
“My youngest son plays and sings,” he said.
Faulk spoke by phone over the loud whistle of a train as it rolled past his house.
“There was a lot of good music in this area but they didn’t have a place to go,” he said.
A desire to have a place for percussionists to get together and play spurred Joel Timmons’ efforts to begin the weekly Tuesday night Community Drumming Circle at The Brick House on Folly Road.
Timmons, who is a singer and guitarist in Sol Driven Train, said the event starts at 6 p.m. and draws an inter-generational crowd. Drums are available for those who don’t have one.
“It’s just turned into a real jam,” he said.
A cousin of the music jam, the open mic night, has a presence in many clubs including The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms. On Tuesday nights, The Windjammer welcomes acoustic acts only but no full bands or drums.
In Summerville, Shooters provides a stage for aspiring musicians on Saturday nights. “Any genre of music accepted. Originals or covers. Just bring your guitars, sticks, or voice,” says a listing for the event.
Reporter Abigail Darlington contributed to this story.