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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Folk Music Jam Session in the Arboretum

An informal gathering of musical enthusiasts jamming in nature  

From the quintessential spirit of the Farmer’s Market to the duality of tranquility and liveliness of the Quad, Davis is a melting pot of culture and people. Walking from Point A to Point B, the buzz of conversation, art, food and music fills the soul with a radiating feeling of content. The UC Davis Arboretum, a hot spot in Davis to relax and unwind in nature, has a myriad of opportunities to connect with yourself and the community. The Folk Music Jam Sessions are one of the many ways in which the Arboretum evokes this feeling of letting go and soaking up what the town has to offer.

These jam sessions are intimate gatherings of musically inspired individuals who get together and, well, jam! Musicians of all backgrounds informally congregate with their instruments every other week from noon to 1 p.m. at the Wyatt Deck in the Arboretum. A quaint wooden cottage-like structure with a homey and undisturbed feel and neighboring majestic redwood grove quietly watching over the area creates an ideal spot for channeling the rich roots of folk music. Dabbling in “a little bluegrass, old-time, blues, Celtic, klezmer and world music,” as referenced in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden website, “all skill levels [are] welcome and listeners are invited.”

The environment of the jam session is relaxed, fun and inviting. The instrumentalists range in age, experience and instruments played, which creates a hospitable space for the expression of a communal passion for music. The audience is an umbrella of different individuals comprised of runners, students and families. The jam sessions act as a universal form of entertainment for both the participants and audience members. 

“I came from the suburbs of Silicon Valley… so it was really hard to meet up with other people unless you went to school with them; it’s not like here where you can just go out and meet people,” said Moises Lopez, a first-year psychology major. 

Self-taught through YouTube, Lopez has been playing guitar for five years, and wanted to get more involved with the music community in Davis. After finding the jam session on the Arboretum website, he rallied a few friends and decided to join in on the fun. 

“[It] doesn’t matter how you’re involved, you can get involved, and that wasn’t an opportunity I was given in my hometown,” Lopez said. 

The Davis community has given many people like Lopez the chance to practice their art through many platforms. It eliminates boundaries that other organizations may restrict members to, such as age and experience. 

Students were not the only ones intrigued by the open and creative environment of the jam session. In fact, the majority of those playing were not students but residents of Davis who have found their outlets for expression of musical freedom in the community. 

Casey Davis, an employee at the Student Academic Assistance and Tutoring Center for math and physics and a former Davis student, has a unique role in the jam session. For twenty-three years, he has been playing the penny whistle, also called the tin whistle, in various groups and genres. 

The tin whistle is traditionally played in Irish and English folk music; Davis has stayed rooted in those traditions to this day. Inspired by his parents, who predominantly played Irish folk music growing up, the folk genre in general has been ingrained into his identity. 

“I really like the way it sounds, the melodies and rhythms, it also feels good to have the musical connection to the past,” Davis said. “Folk music is more than just a genre to people like Davis, it is a connection to the greater community and to history — an experience you cannot gain from a textbook.”

Along with the folk jam sessions, Davis plays the penny whistle at the Dickens Fair in San Francisco, as well as for an English country dance group and Irish dance sessions in the local community. 

“[Davis is] a lovely place to just go out to a park or to the Quad and play some tunes for a while,” he said. 

This town is rich with channels for practicing one’s talents, even something as unique as the penny whistle. Formally or informally, the expression of musical talent is accepted and appreciated by other art enthusiasts in the community. 

“The importance of folk music would be the social justice side,” said Joy Apple, a former gymnastics coach and now a full-time grandmother who enjoys playing flute, guitar and vocals for leisure. 

Influenced by Joan Baez, a proclaimed folk artist and activist of the Woodstock era, Apple noted that Baez “did a lot of making the world a better place through her music, […] people like her are inspirational.” Collaborating with artists such as the Allman Brothers Band, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Baez not only impacted the music industry through her fame but her audience as well. 

Fans such as Apple have rooted their beliefs of what folk music, and music in general, are meant to portray. 

“Folk music has a lot of stories in it, stories about life, a lot of truths about life, and a lot of speaking what you believe,” Apple said. “Putting out what you believe and supporting other people, and saying what’s right.” 

Aligning with her notion of folk music as storytelling and a catalyst for change, Apple has played a role in a variety of groups in and out of the Davis community. Apple has made a point to relay her beliefs in her hobbies from leading music at church, open mics, jam sessions in nature and joining “Free Range Singers” — an all-accepting singing group founded by Laura Sandage, which promotes singing for individual and social good. 

Everyone has a culture, a niche in which they belong. Folk music is one facet of culture that touches the lives of many. Why? According to current Davis locals, it’s because it tells a story, because it has depth.

 “[The folk] genre you can play with other people, and everyone can just sing along; it’s more of a community thing,” Lopez said. “The Davis community can lay a foundation for self-expression and for opportunities to get involved with your passions, no matter how broad. If you look for it, it will find you.”

Written by: Sierra Jimenez — arts@theaggie.org


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