‘Pickin’ on the Porch’: Bluegrass Jamming for 14 Years

Sundays at the Seaport Hunting Shanty
By PAT JOHNSON | Feb 07, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Linda Salmons on guitar and Ron Baxter on banjo during Pickin’ on the Porch at the Tuckerton Seaport, Sunday.

Linda Salmons stirred the steaming pot of beans she had brought. She saw the coffee was ready, and all that was needed was the musicians to come through the door of the Hunting Shanty at the Tuckerton Seaport. The first Sunday of every month, Salmons and her husband, Bill, are the hosts of a Sunday afternoon jam session called “Pickin’ on the Porch,” of acoustic bluegrass, country and old-time music. The Salmonses started the informal gathering 14 years ago, and in that time they have progressed in their talent and repertoire of music, traveled the states to perform in bluegrass venues and made many fast friends.

Just how many musicians would be showing up this past Sunday was going to be a toss-up, noted Salmons, since it was the biggest day in the football season – some would say in history – as the Eagles took on the Patriots.

“We usually have 20 to 25 musicians, and we’ve had as many as 60 to 75 people come to listen. Our biggest draw was over 300,” she said. “It used to be random, but we started to meet every month about 10 years ago.

“And the reason why we always have beans is because of Ivan Sexton. He was a musician in Alloway, Salem County. He had a building out behind his house with a wood stove and a big pot of beans going, and you’d get a call from him, ‘The beans are on!’ And you knew a jam session was happening and to get on over there.”

On Sunday, the first to appear for Pickin’ was a newcomer, a violinist from Toms River. Teresa McGayhey was classically trained and plays regularly in the Kean University Repertory Youth Orchestra, but she wanted to pick up on the country and bluegrass fiddling styles. She hoped she could play something.

Salmons welcomed her and told her she could definitely play along and recalled that once the group listened to a youngster sing the “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” song with gusto. “Everyone is very friendly, and we usually play simple tunes, just three to four chords in G or D. We keep it simple because we are simple people,” said Salmons. “It has to be a major chord; no minor chords – that’s hippy music.”

Salmons explained that South Jersey music was heavily influenced by workers migrating up from the southern states of North Carolina and Virginia to find work in the glass industries after the two World Wars. “Around Millville and Vineland you find a strong Southern mentality in their food and social things. The only difference between being a Southern hick and a Piney is hillbillies have one leg shorter than the other because of the mountains.”

At this moment, Chris Norten from Beachwood came in from the cold, clutching his fiddle case. As he unpacked, Bob D’Amore of Manchester walked in with his upright bass followed shortly by Herbert Busch, a mandolin player from Forked River.

Morris Wrubel came all the way from Howell to play his mandolin, and Mark Urban of Little Egg Harbor unpacked his banjo.

Linda had her Guild acoustic guitar ready on her lap. The music started with Urban’s suggestion they open with “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” leading off on his banjo with the rest of the musicians filling in. A breath after it was done, Norten suggested the group play the “Blue Mountain Waltz” and started it off with his fiddle. Next in line on the circle was Busch, mandolin player, who said one word – “Redwing” – and everyone knew just what he was asking. The music flowed effortlessly. Then Bob D’Amore sang and played “My Blue Ridge Mountain Home” on his bass.

Now another mandolin player walked in, Francois Bodhnin from Vineland. He seamlessly joined in the music-making while a second banjo player, Ron Baxter of Barnegat, unpacked. Suddenly there were four mandolins in the circle as Lewis Trowbridge from Wall Township jumped in and took a seat. More songs followed: “Tom Dooley,” “The Maiden’s Prayer,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Turkey in the Straw.” Most of the musicians played along, and many sang, including Linda and Bill, who have wonderful voices.

Occasionally, Bob Domalewski from Mystic Island played his harmonica from the sidelines and his friend, Marlene Lewis, jingled the tambourine.

Like jazz musicians, as each musician announced his song selection and the playing started, he or she would then call out to another by name to do a bit of a solo.

McGayhey was playing along pretty well with the bluegrass. But when she played “Ashokan Farewell,” made famous by the Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” series on PBS, most musicians dropped out to listen to her sweet violin accompanied by a single mandolin, played by Trowbridge.

“Wagon Wheel” picked up the pace, and another rendition of  “Turkey in the Straw” lightened the mood. After playing “Cricket on the Hearth,” Linda Salmons was reminded of the late Merce Ridgeway and his contribution to the local music scene as a singer/songwriter, and one of the founders of the Pinelands Cultural Society and the Albert Music Hall in Waretown. Ridgeway passed away on Jan. 12.

“His dad was one of the original Pinehawkers who were recorded by Dorothea Dix,” said Linda. “He wrote the music to ‘Home in the Pines’ (words by Bill Britton). The Pinehawkers met while charcoaling out in the pines. They’d be tending the pits and singing to pass the time.”

It was close to 4 p.m. before the circle of musicians began to break up. Guys started getting coffee for the ride and packed up one by one. They left without fanfare, much as they had entered. There were a few catcalls about doing some homework on a couple of songs, and “see you” at such and such venue – and then the music was done for this Sunday afternoon. But the ease of parting was underscored with the knowledge that this community of musicians would re-assemble next month.

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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