Brooklyn, New York, might seem an unlikely place for an old-time music festival. But it was like a homecoming party at the First Annual Park Slope Old-Time/Bluegrass Jamboree, held last September on the grounds of the Ethical Culture Meeting House, a turn-of-the-century building located across from Prospect Park in Park Slope, a neighborhood that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
James Reams, the person who conceived of the Jamboree and one of those on the planning committee (and an old-time and bluegrass musician himself), said, "We plan to keep things on a small scale. We want people to feel at home and have a good time. The only thing big is the big time we hope everyone has! That's why the Jamboree's motto is, 'Just a big old-time.'" Despite plans to keep it small, the Jamboree attracted more than 230 musicians and fans of old-time music over the two days. It was held both indoors in the rooms of the 100-year-old Meeting House, and outdoors on the mansion's park-like grounds, so passers-by, attracted by the music, came in, kids and all, and wound up staying through the evening hoedown and concerts.
Old-time music is no stranger to New York City. The availability of early recording techniques brought many southern old-time musicians to the city in the 1930s to record. Thirty years later, the folk revival of the 1960s was headquartered in New York City's Washington Square. Now, 30 years after that, the Jamboree planners hope to add a chapter to the saga of old-time music in the city. That dream may become a reality, as the Second Annual Park Slope Old-Time/Bluegrass Jamboree is already set for September 24 and 25, 1999. The format will be close to that of the first Jamboree: a kickoff concert and reception on Friday evening, followed by a full Saturday of workshops, jamming, song-swaps, a hoedown, presentation of the "Brown Jug Award" to a person who has made a significant contribution to old-time and/or bluegrass music in the Northeast (this year it was awarded to Ray Alden), a barbecue dinner, and an evening of concerts by six bands.
Performers at the first Jamboree included Major Contay and the Canebrake Rattlers, Tom Paley, Ray Alden, James Reams, Wretched Refuse String Band, Big-Town Harkers, Gravel Scratchers, and Steal a Donut. Liz Slade called the hoedown. The line-up for the 1999 Jamboree is not yet set, but it's sure to include musicians of similar stature.
The workshops included such topics as old-time fiddle, old-time banjo, bluegrass banjo, guitar accompaniment for old-time music, "how to play songs you don't know with people you've never met," songs and ballads, among many others. Admission to the Friday evening concert and reception was $8, and admission to the following day's program was $1. Children's activities made for a great time for whole families.
Tasty barbecue and corn-on-the-cob was offered at the festival, and the surrounding neighborhood offers many restaurants within walking distance, as well as interesting shops in what seems like a small town nestled in the big city. And it's all accessible by public transportation (parking, too, is available in the streets surrounding the Meeting House as well as in parking lots a couple of blocks away). The city offers many nearby hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.
Said James Reams: "We hope to include everyone and to bring old-time music to a wider audience. We're lucky we have an organization, a neighborhood, and a radio station (WKCR) that support old-time music. There are lots of incredibly talented musicians in the area as well as an appreciative audience--and a legacy of old-time music--so we have all of the ingredients to keep this going."
The Jamboree is held annually at the Ethical Culture Meeting House, 53 Prospect Park West at 2nd Street, Brooklyn, New York 11215. Further information may be obtained by contacting Anne Klaeysen at 718-768-2972.