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Silverdale's Irish jam session a place to listen or play
The trio of players sits beneath a backdrop of colorful paintings. Lanterns blaze against rust-colored walls. Patrons at tables chat, while others watch and listen; most tap their heads, their fingers or their feet.
The Global Bean, an internationally minded Silverdale coffee shop, goes about business as usual on a Wednesday. In the corner, an Irish tune session is drawing interest and applause. But the players are not there to perform.
The music, not the audience, is the group’s raison d’être.
“It’s a little like we’re having a conversation amongst ourselves and we don’t care if people eavesdrop,” Rick May, 56, explained. He’s the organizer of the session that meets twice a month, just to jam.
There is no sound system, no stage, no introduction of songs. In fact, the players rarely look up from their respective instruments.
May, of Poulsbo, alternates between a thin, silver penny flute and a fiddle – the instrument at the top of the Irish music hierarchy. Will Morgan of Vashon Island strums a tenor banjo and Ken Stern, of Bainbridge, bounces his head as he extracts a melody from his dadgad guitar.
“It’s probably one of the best (sessions) for miles around,” said Bean co-owner Joel Skellie. The group has made the place a popular Wednesday night destination.
“What I was hoping to do is grow a first-class Irish session in Kitsap County,” Skellie added. Former director of the Bremerton Symphony Concert Chorale, Skellie spotted May while searching for musicians before he opened the Bean, and the two began collaborating on the session shortly thereafter.
They shied from the idea of an open mic, an event during which Celtic often takes a hazy definition for musicians, meandering dangerously close to country western.
“We wanted this to be authentic,” said Skellie.
The group took up residence in the Bean only a few weeks after its 2007 opening. Skellie said people from Gig Harbor, Port Townsend and anywhere in between have come to either play or listen. Its players have grown steadily, ranging in numbers from three to a dozen.
“It just becomes part of the ambiance of the place,” Skellie added. “That’s what we’re here for, a sense of community. And music is just another way of having a conversation.”
Listening to an Irish jam session can take some getting used to — “It’s all very melody-oriented … no booming bass and crashing drums,” according to May. Sessions tend toward stream-of-consciousness playing, meaning a lot of memorization for players.
The three hobbyists are often joined by session regulars from nearby towns, such as Tacoma or Port Townsend. They recently began a session at the Dauntless Bookstore in Port Gamble.
“We’re too small to call us a community (in Kitsap),” May noted. “There are just a few of us, really.”
He also gigs professionally throughout Kitsap alongside Gil Yslas.
Many who play Celtic music learned to do it from their fathers or grandfathers. Save for one great-grandfather, May has no cultural claims on the music. He “got religion” after dallying in Irish tunes with an acoustic rock band years ago.
“My theory is that it is genuine folk music that people have done for generations for the joy of it,” he said. “I don’t think there are many millionaire Irish music stars. (The music) has got content, it’s got meat to it, it’s stood the test of time.”
The open format means all players can join in Irish sessions, whatever skill level. While there is a certain etiquette – don’t show up to play if you don’t know any songs, for example – May wants to encourage beginners.
“I realized, this does have all the excitement of rock and roll,” he said, “without the hearing loss.”
The Irish jam session at the Bean starts at 7 p.m. each second and fourth Wednesday of the month. The Dauntless session begins at 2 p.m. the first Sunday of the month. The Global Bean also hosts bluegrass sessions on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. For more information, visit theglobalbean.com.