The Station Inn on a Sunday night
It’s the type of place where you’d meet the guys for a beer after your shift at the factory in your three-digit population town, and you probably wear flannel and it snows a lot, but there’s no taxidermy on the walls.
The chairs are mismatched and the tables are a little wobbly (got a piece of cardboard I could stick under here?) and almost every square inch of space on the walls and ceiling is covered in paper posters from past performances. The buzzing neon Budweiser signs are most definitely from before 1986, and the circa ‘60s wood paneling is the cherry on top.
Welcome to the Station Inn, where they serve cheap beer, cheap popcorn, and Tostino’s Pizza because they’re not really out to impress you with their culinary efforts (and no one asked them to anyway). This is where careers have started. This is where people are jolted with inspiration, joy, and utter awe on a nightly basis; where dreams are born, lived out, and re-lived simply by the reverberation, plucking, tuning, and bending of strings.
Stepping in from the glitzy, raucous honky tonks a few blocks away sways you into a notion of timelessness as you hear a mandolin melody made to make your heart melt. It’s Sunday night, and lucky you: You’ve just stepped into the weekly bluegrass jam.
A woman in a red, long sleeve button down is poised with a fiddle as she eyes the only other female in the round of 15 off-and-on pickers, a portly woman on guitar, waiting for the right measure to jump in. And suddenly you hear her part, and it’s like they practiced this. Except they didn’t. Someone just yelled out the name of a tune, and they all nodded in varying degrees of self-confidence. (Pro tip: If you haven’t memorized at least a dozen Bill Monroe songs, hop on that before trying to join in).
They play and harmonize with nary a microphone. If you didn’t get here early enough, you may not hear the best banjo solo picking in Music City right now, and bummer for you because it’s unbelievable. But if you stick around a little longer, you’ll probably catch the guy who has laid low whip out a harmonica and join in next to the seasoned veteran on Dobro. And by the way, he’s an actor; you just can’t put your finger on where you’ve seen him.
In a dizzying industry saturated with out-doing and overdone, the organization (or lack thereof) at the Sunday night bluegrass jams is nothing if not refreshing; the ebb and flow of listening, playing a solo, learning a new lick and then teaching another in return is an intimate thing to witness. It’s a privilege watching a talented ‘nobody’ become the dark horse of the night, and then you realize you’re picking favorites. Is long-haired banjo man gonna lay down another slick jam? That kid on the fiddle can’t be a day older than 13 and he just kicked the other fiddler’s ass. And seriously, who the crap is the guy on harmonica, Google it for me.
Things speed up, they slow down. New players tune up and join in, while others bow out to go to bed before starting another week.
It’s just another Flatt and Scruggs tune and then I’m off, boys. Y’all have a good one; I’ll see ya next week.