Local pub demonstrates jammin’ is not a thing of the past

Kevin Minderhout

For Chuck Holloway and Sean Shanahan, Tuesday nights at Sam Bond’s Garage are a time when people of all sorts can come together and jam.

Sam Bond’s Bluegrass Jam has been held now for nearly two decades, and these two main hosts share a passion for sitting with others and jamming to this rural American genre. The two undoubtedly have different styles when it comes to their roles as hosts, but the long-time friends and fellow musicians only think those differences add to the experience for jammers and listeners alike.

The forum of the jam is almost like that of an open mic in that just about anyone with an instrument can get up on stage and join the host and other musicians, but playing is semi-coordinated and a certain level of competency is required. 

“I see skill levels all the way from accomplished people that know what they’re doing to people that want to learn and everything in between,” Holloway said.

The atmosphere is inviting and unpretentious, as bluegrass music should be. Holloway said usually about four to as many as 15 people come out to play, but that, “Even if (no one else shows) I’ll carry on by myself. But there’s always somebody there. Either a guitar player, a bass player, a banjo player or a mandolin player.”

In typical bluegrass style, the whole night is performed acoustically without the aid of amplifiers or electronics of any kind.  And aside from the fact the hosts do this to keep in the bluegrass tradition, it also proves to make getting up on stage and playing simple.

“The music is very portable; you don’t need to have a whole set up,” said Shanahan. “All you have to do is bring an instrument, get up on the stage, and start playing.”

However, when it comes to the actual hosting of the night, Shanahan and Holloway each proudly express their own version of playing leader. If you go on the first or third Tuesday of the month to play with Holloway, you’ll experience something different than attending the second or fourth Tuesdays of the month with Shanahan. 

“(The hosts) both create a shuffle-your-feet and jiggle-your-chin kind of atmosphere that has built a great crowd of familiar people,” said Drew Caldwell, a bartender at Sam Bond’s. 

Holloway knows bluegrass music. His current band, the Green Mountain Bluegrass Band, frequently plays around Eugene and tours the rest of the Pacific Northwest when he’s not teaching the banjo or mandolin at Lane Community College and the Shedd Institute. To Holloway, bluegrass music happened when musician Bill Monroe came on the scene around 1945. From there, the genre morphed into different sub-genres and spin-offs with acts like Old Crow Medicine Show, Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band. He labels these bands more “jam-grass” than traditional bluegrass. When he hosts on Tuesday nights, he likes keeping tradition alive.

“As the host and being the banjo player, I try to keep it along the lines of bluegrass,” said Holloway. “Don’t get too folky, don’t get too rocky; just play bluegrass music.  It’s its own little world.”

Even though he wouldn’t consider bands like OCMS or Yonder Mountain to be traditional bluegrass, he understands their place in the musical world.

“(Those bands) keep it fresh,” Holloway said. “That brings people that might have an interest in different genres into the fold of bluegrass music, even though I don’t term (their style) to be bluegrass music.” 

As his trade would impart, Holloway is a teacher by nature. He loves seeing a newcomer intrigued by the older, traditional style and it wouldn’t take much to get under his wing if someone was really interested. “I like to mentor people, and I find people that come to the jam, that time might be the only time they play bluegrass music,” Holloway said. “I like to think of myself as a mentor.”

For Holloway, bluegrass is more than just a musical style or categorization; it’s a way of life and he’s always on the look out for people that care to undertake his passion. 

You can expect the second and fourth Tuesday of every month to incorporate a little more of a “jam” aspect to the playing as Shanahan takes the reins. But “taking the reins” wouldn’t be how he’d put it. 

“My take is that if you can just get people there and you kind of prop them up a little bit — I tend to treat the jam as less educational and more experiential,” Shanahan said. 

Shanahan’s musical background incorporates many different styles of music and although he knows bluegrass, he’ll lend an ear and integrate a new sound. He looks at hosting as more of a guiding and directing task saying, “If someone comes up after and asks, ‘Hey, how do you play that?’ then I’ll steer them towards an old Flatt and Scruggs recording or a Bill Monroe recording.”

Shanahan admits to not being a “straight bluegrasser,” but there’s no doubt he’s got a firm grasp on the tradition of the genre.

“I’ve played all sorts of music, and I think that’s one thing about the bluegrass jam is that, by and large, you see a lot of people who aren’t just bluegrass players,” he said. “Musicians from all sorts of backgrounds are there.”

Shanahan likes to meld and Holloway likes to mold musicians and that’s perfectly fine for the two. In fact, that makes it all the better for Tuesday nights at Sam Bond’s, mixing tradition with innovation. And it’s not a matter of picking one night or the other to attend, because both prove to be wonderfully different.

“I’ve known Chuck a long time. I love him and we’re good friends, we just kind of have a little bit of an angle for each of our jams, and that’s OK,” Shanahan said. “Why do the same thing each week?”

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