ARARAT, Va. — One definition of a “jam session” is the informal playing and/or singing of improvised music without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements, which seems to describe the Willis Gap Community Center Open Jam pretty well.
It features regular Friday night gatherings of old-time , bluegrass, country and gospel performers wielding all-acoustic instruments in conforming to Appalachian traditions. This includes a session planned there this Friday, when the doors will open at 6 p.m. and the music is to begin at 7 p.m.
Musicians and singers of all skill levels are invited along with music fans.
In addition to the tunes rendered, dancing, food, fellowship and fun in a family friendly environment is offered, according to information from Mary Dellenback Hill, the secretary of the Willis Gap Community Center Board of Directors.
A kitchen at the center sells fresh slaw and chili for hot dogs, along with chips, cakes, candy, popcorn, soda, coffee, bottled water and hot chocolate. A 50-50 drawing also is part of the festivities.
The Willis Gap Community Center Open Jam originated in the mid-1990s, when groups of musicians would meet regularly at a local home.
Its growing popularity subsequently prompted a move of the jam sessions to the community center, located at 144 The Hollow Road in Ararat, where events are now slated each Friday night.
Along with providing entertainment, the gatherings are playing a historic role by helping to keep alive the music traditions of the region.
The Willis Gap open jam is an affiliated partner of The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. It links various communities in Southwest Virginia, such as Willis Gap and Floyd, which are helping to preserve the traditional genre through regular performance sites and in other ways.
Also as part of its status as a living Patrick County historical project, the Willis Gap Community Center Open Jam serves as an exhibit for the Crossroads: Changes in Rural America program.
That effort is being made possible in Stuart, through the Reynolds Homestead Creative Arts Center there, by Virginia Humanities, formerly known as the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities — an organization promoting the civic, cultural and intellectual life of the state.
Crossroads: Changes in Rural America is part of Museum on Main Street, a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils nationwide.
Among others involved are the Virginia Association of Museums, the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce, the county government and Virginia Tech.