Ann Arbor (Mostly) Acoustic Jam
A creative community goes online.
by Patrick Dunn
From the June, 2020 issue
At the end of each song in the weekly Ann Arbor (Mostly) Acoustic Jam, there's a slightly surreal moment in which audience members smile and hold their hands up to visibly--but silently--applaud the performer.
The free public jam has temporarily taken to Zoom during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the audience audio feeds are muted. But the warm, supportive nature that's defined the group since it started in 2010 in Michael Niemi's Ann Arbor Township basement still comes through loud and clear.
The jam has changed leadership and venues since then, but it's become a beloved institution. Regular Rod Johnson says the Zoom jams are especially welcome for fans like him who miss listening to live music. "That's just completely stopped, and I think it's been really hard on a lot of us," Johnson says. "This is as close as we can get to that experience right now."
The musicians can't join in on one another's songs, as they used to do in person, because it's nearly impossible to synchronize video feeds on Zoom. But at a Mother's Day session, performers seemed to be drawing on a set of shared lyrical themes as organizer Bill Connors called on them one by one.
Songs about mothers abounded, ranging from Jim Novak's original "Blue Star in the Window," a tribute to his mother's service in the Women's Army Corps, to Stacy Mates's sly cover of Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom." (Mates regretted that her mother couldn't be present for the performance.) Other performances tapped into current events, like Milan Seth's original written from the perspective of a Trump supporter ("His words aren't that important / It's the way he makes us feel") or Tom Egel's pandemic-era update of the traditional "Hesitation Blues" ("How long do I have to wait / Can I go outside now or must I hesitate?").
The performances vary widely--from covers to originals, from Spanish classical guitar to bluesy piano and folk tunes, and from amateur musicians to performers with decades
of experience. The one constant is the musicians' sense of sincere appreciation and love for one another. Between performances, when their mics are unmuted, they exchange compliments and their longing to be in the same room again.
But gratitude for their temporary online home is clear. "I didn't know anyone when I first came [to the jam]," Jan Jones says. "Now ... you all are just near and dear to my heart. You're my buddies. If I had to go all that time without seeing you, it would just be terrible."
The Ann Arbor (Mostly) Acoustic Jam takes place Sundays at 7 p.m. Visit meetup.com
[Originally published in June, 2020.]
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