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Davis, California

Friday, July 19, 2024

Arboretum group invites community to experience the joy of folk music

Every Friday, Davis locals and students gather with instruments at the Wyatt Deck for an open jam session


By MIA BALTIERRA — features@theaggie.org

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The Davis Arboretum is known for its sprawling grassy landscape, redwood trees and peaceful stream. But every Friday at noon, one may also encounter the sounds of fiddle, guitar, ukulele and singing join the rustle of leaves and flow of the stream, as community members gather at the Wyatt Deck, just across from the Music Building, for a folk music jam session. 

Regular attendees make up a group of around 10 musicians and singers, composed of locals and some UC Davis students. By 12:10 p.m., chairs have been placed in a semicircle, music stands are set up and instruments are tuned. Several guitars, a ukulele, a violin (or fiddle, depending on your style) and a harmonica are poised for song, and soon, the music begins. 

The somewhat free-flowing structure of the session is welcoming to attendees and audience members alike. Each member is given the opportunity to choose a song for the group to play.

“We don’t have any rules as far as what kind of music,” regular attendee Rick Hein said. “If you wanna play some oddball music, we’ll try it. You have to give us some parameters; you know, tell us what chords to play or what meter we are playing in, but we’ll try.”

The music selection is mostly folk, but also includes rock, country and even Celtic songs. Attendees can choose from a large collection of sheet music or bring their own. 

The folk music jam session has been a tradition at the Arboretum for over a decade and was started by Elaine Fingerett, an Arboretum academic coordinator, who has since passed away. The group started on a bi-weekly basis, but within the past few years, it has become a weekly event.

Operations of the group halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they had to move locations to Chestnut Park when the Wyatt Deck was under construction, according to Hein. Once the Wyatt venue opened back up to the public this past winter though, the group resumed regular meetings. 

The jam session is advertised online on the campus website, as well as on a sign on the lower deck of the Wyatt location. First-year microbiology major and second-time attendee Simita Ananda said it was that simple sign that led her to join the group.

“I just passed by, and was like, ‘Oh there’s a folk music jam session; I listen to mostly folk music,’ so I was like, ‘Okay I’ll come by,’” Ananda said. “I sing and I play some instruments.”

At her first session, Ananda, who mainly plays the lyre, offered a Celtic song she liked, gave the group the chords and sang while they played. The group has since requested the song for her to sing again. 

Recurring members have established an encouraging atmosphere, and Hein said they welcome everyone to try out the group.  

“Even if you aren’t good, it’s okay,” Hein said. “We will help you, and it’s just fun.”

The group has provided Hein with a weekly activity he looks forward to in his retirement. Hein said that when he was still working, he saw an ad in the paper for the group, but couldn’t join due to his schedule. Now, he has been jamming with the group for over eight years, playing guitar. 

“I love playing music,” Hein said. “Every day you play music is a good day to me. I don’t have any set genre, but I gravitate to rock-and-roll. The Rolling Stones are my band. I love AC/DC [and] ZZ Top; I’ll play some old Bob Dylan [and] some country music. I’ll play anything if I like the sound of it. [If] it feels good, I’ll do it.”

His passion for playing is what first drew Hein to the jam session, but he quickly learned that playing as part of an ensemble is a much different experience than what he was used to.

“I played a long, long, long time but not good enough to play with other people, really,” Hein said, “But once I started coming here, I started learning how to play with people, which is a whole lot of fun.”

Lauren Wesling, a third-year biological sciences major and fiddle player, said she is grateful for the space the jam session provides to play music in the beautiful environment of the Arboretum. 

“I missed playing music with people,” Wesling said. “I joined a band when I came to Davis […] but they played a lot of metal, and I couldn’t keep up with it. I had a lot of fun the last time I came [to the folk jam].” 

The group has also attracted a fair number of audience members each week, including passersby walking the trails of the Arboretum who stop for a bit to take in the sounds of a Rolling Stones song, a classic John Denver tune or even original work from a member. 

“Recently, there have been a lot of people out here,” Hein said, motioning to the lower deck. “One girl came by one week, and she wanted us to play a song. She told us, ‘These are the chords,’ and we did that while she sang. It was nice, very impromptu.”

During his time at the jam sessions, Hein has been impressed by the students who play and their knowledge of older music. He hopes that with their ever-changing playlist, more students will join the group and continue the tradition.

“I’m 70,” Hein said. “We aren’t gonna be around 40 years from now, so somebody’s gotta start coming down here and doing it to keep it going [and] keep that music alive.”


Written by: Mia Baltierra — features@theaggie.org