As you venture out in these sickenly crazy times, particularly at music festivals and campground jams, there are some new things to consider. Well, actually, we are two years into a worldwide pandemic with Covid 19, so it really isn't new. In fact when I am out and about, things look pretty normal on the outside, especially since all of these power mongers have chosen to politicize the health and welfare of it's citizens. So, people are sick and dying, some are not getting sick at all, some are vaxing and masking to help slow the spread, some are just thinking of the "freedom" they have to not care at all and choose not to mask as they buckle their seatbelts, put on their motorcycle helmets, don shirts and shoes to enter a store or restaurant and snuff out that cigarette, oh, and put that alcohol away and that phone down while driving.
So, the jam arena, let's think this one over. It is not unusual to see booked entertainers, hot lick pickers, prodigious kids, and musicians of all levels here and there, all over the festival grounds, jamming.
As we all know, so many jam fests and smaller music venues took a critical pause in 2020 due to the worldwide outbreak of “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2). Covid 19. You all know the details and have witnessed the sickness and devastation brought to the entire inhabited planet. It is very real and highly contagious.
Again, back to the jam. It is a well-known and scientifically established fact that this virus is mainly spread from one person to another by hitch-hiking in droplets of spittle, catapulted into the air by sneezes, coughs, and slobbery singers and talkers. Filters really do help trap these droplets.
Have you heard the term “super spreader”? Thanks to the growing percentage of folks getting “vaxed”, using filters(masks), distancing, covering sneezes, sanitizing and hand washing and respecting each other’s air space, and the emphasis of most festival's staffs and crews to keep things as safe as possible, things are slightly better. However, someone will bring it and someone will take it home with them so please, do your due diligent best to keep it down.
As for any jam with strangers, or old friends whom one hasn’t seen in quite a quarantine while, please consider these Jamdemic Etiquette tips:
1. Try to distance in a jam circle. It isn’t easy to be heard in a large circle so keep your circle as small as you can. Let folks know your intentions to distance and be safe.
2. Avoid singing into and above someone’s face who may be closer to you than 6 feet. Singers are known to project spittle while singing, as far as 12 feet, so be aware of your spittle trajectory. Jam outside of your tent or RV. Avoid the temptation to hold that private jam inside an enclosure.
3. Masks really do help. For example, try spitting as far as you can without one. You might be amazed at how far you can do this. Now slide on a simple mask and spit. OOH, yuck! It stayed inside the mask didn’t it? The virus is tiny enough to get through the filter medium on its own, but folks, the virus uses mucous and spittle to travel from the host, so, yes, filters help trap and slow down that travelling bug. This is about harmonizing to defeat a common enemy.
4. Grin and bear it. This too shall pass. Better days are coming. Make the most of your opportunity to pick and sing and live another day.
5. If you are not jamming, but wandering and listening, stay as far out of a circle as you can and still hear, and never stick your video or audio recording device in someone’s face. As always, take your conversation away from the jam.
6. “Share the air”. Don’t smoke in an obvious non-smoker’s jam or camp. Just step away. If you must cough or sneeze, cover it.
7. If you are a virgin jammer, tune to pitch before you leave your campsite. Tuners and tuner apps are cheap and easily available. If you forgot to bring your clip-on, check with one of the vendors at the craft area. If you find that you are not in tune with the particular jam where you feel most comfortable, step away far enough to hear the music, and make the necessary adjustments without interrupting. (I think "Earl's Breakdown" may have been written while some one was trying to tune.)
8. Roam around and find the jam level that best suits your ability. Remember, everyone is here to make music and it should always be fun but... not everyone wants to pick with everyone else. There are friendly people who are very serious about picking with their friends whom they only see at WVFest and may have a limited time schedule to re-hash and re-live their best pickin' moments. Do not feel jilted. Listen, enjoy and walk away having learned something. Most pickers will accommodate a beginner for a little while, but many beginners enter the jam arena thinking that they will absorb each and every technique and nuance by watching very closely, and even interrupting a song to ask questions- "What is your favorite kind of guitar? What kind of pick do you use? How many hours a day do you practice? How many guitars do you own? Will you go slower so I can write down the chords? Gotta light? Would you like your fries super-sized? GRRRRR!"
9. If you really want to be heard, avoid big circles. Circle jams pass the tune around. Remember the average song is about three minutes long and if the jam you choose has twenty or more pickers, well, go figure. If you are shy, try standing alone in your own camp, or in some other suitable shaded area and start pickin' and singing. It won't be very long until you are joined by wandering others and ... there you go!
10. Most importantly, enjoy yourself and make sure others enjoy you. Don't be intrusive, wait your turn. Listen to everyone else instead of worrying about what you're going to play. Practice individual camp etiquette. Are they non-smokers? Are they playing only gospel music, only bluegrass, is this a John Prine jam? Am I darn tootin' sure I can take a break at this speed or will I de-rail this train? Plan to arrive early enough to scout out the jam situation. Get acquainted. Ask to join a circle. "Is this an open jam?" "Mind if I join?" and remember...later. "Later, would you mind showin' me how ya did that?"
Please be sensible, safe and aware of those around you who might just die if you breathe on them. Could just be someone you love.