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ON THE SCENE: The beat goes on at the Upper Jay Art Center

January 10, 2020
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

By 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 5, it was near standing room only in the Recovery Lounge for the 13th running of the January Jams, an open mic collage of talent that gathers each Sunday in January from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Upper Jay Arts Center. Not bad for an event first publicized three days earlier.

Scott Renderer organizes the annual gathering inspired by his brother Bryon and serves as emcee, sound engineer and fill-in musician, mostly on drums. January is a perfect time for people to snuggle together and listen to local talent. The days are short, the weather often brutal, and what could be better than gathering together with fellow music lovers and enjoying a bit of food and beverage?

While some of the musicians are professionals, most are people from around the region who like to play with and listen to others. The style is a mix of folk, blues, a bit of country now and then and early rock with the musicians composing much themselves. Scott usually puts out a roasted ham, and people often bring soups, cheeses, dips, crackers and other goodies to share. The cost of admission is contributing any amount, with those wishing to perform, letting Scott know as soon as they arrive so he can add them to his list for the day.

Article Photos

Performing at the January Jam event Sunday, Jan. 5 at the Upper Jay Art Center, the Gray Blues Band features Bob Juravich, Lynn Comegys and Joe Kahan.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"I got into writing songs by accident," said Dave Brierton of Willsboro. "About 20 years ago, I was singing to a radio in my car one day, and someone heard me and said, 'Dave, that's pretty good. Can you write?' That got me started. Now I can write a song in about 10 minutes. Since then, I've written somewhere between two and three hundred songs. I've been coming to the January Jams for six years. I like it because it's like performing in an urban loft."

David Hodges of Elizabethtown and James Coleman of Whallonsburg, who met at an open mic and have performed on and off at the Sunday Jams over the past several years, come for the opportunity to see and socialize with other musicians. Coleman said that while he doesn't know many of the people attending or performing, he feels that he could sit down next to anyone and have an engaging conversation about music.

Julie Robards, on the other hand, has been attending since the very first Jams. She says it's the "happening place," but more than that, it's a place where she can recharge her batteries after an intense fall season that includes helping manage her husband's wine store and performing at Santa's Workshop in Wilmington.

"It helps me reset my music after two months of singing Christmasy stuff," said Robards. "It's just so good to be with other like-minded people. I look around, and we all are getting a bit older, but we're still doing it. Mostly, performing and hanging out with other music lovers is a great way to start the year. My New Year's resolution is always to spend more time with friends, to connect more because I can get sucked into my little world. The Jams provide us an opportunity to express ourselves and to encourage others."

The setting is a former Ford Model T assembly building, then antique store and, in the early days' upholstery shop since it moved to the second floor and is now run by Scott's nephew. The atmosphere is rustic eclectic with elements of past theater production set designs reflected in floor patterns and various objects hanging from the ceiling, decorating the walls, or shoved into a corner. Seating provides a diversity of choices from sofas and plump armchairs that have seen better days to wooden and folding chairs and a row of tall stools along the back.

The no-frills sound system is excellent, and lighting works, the acoustics better than most, and the turnaround between musicians reasonably quick with a few taking a bit longer than others. The musicians usually have the opportunity to perform three songs, unless they are long-winded or because of the turnout Scott needs to shorten times to give all, if possible, a chance to perform by the targeted closing at 6 p.m.

Bob Juravich of Wilmington, Lynn Comegys of AuSable Forks, and Joe Kahan of North Jay met about 10 years ago in an acoustics club that gathers Thursday nights at the Jay Entertainment & Music Society Theatre in Jay. They played together at the club for about four years before forming as a group, now called the Gray Blues Band. For them, the January Jams provide a chance to perform together for a larger audience and test out songs, some working better than others, leading to other performance opportunities in the region. Kahn said when playing in bars and restaurants, it's a bit low key. He likes the Jams because it's more relaxed and fun; they can put more energy into the performance.

"Jim, Eric and I play together fairly often because it's fun," said Bob Haley of Upper Jay. "What brought that about was these guys over here, Scott, Byron and the others. Back in the '80s and '90s, we didn't have anything like this around here, maybe in Saranac Lake, but not in Keene, Keene Valley, Jay, Upper Jay, AuSable Forks, Willsboro, nothing like this. Most of the people are older. The kids are out of the house, so you don't have to behave the same way, and you have a bit more time. Everybody is welcome here. They're be all kinds of music here today. And if you don't like what you hear, they are only playing a few songs and the next person you may like a lot, so come on down."

Also in January are Casey's Winter Documentary Film Picks held Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m., which this year launches with the Sundance award-winning "Honeyland" about the last female bee-hunter in Europe's effort to save the bees in her homeland. This self-described ethnographic series features films selected by Casey Galligan that examine social life and cultural habits. The suggested admission is $5.

Check the Upper Jay Art Center (aka Recovery Lounge) website for weekly offerings.



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