This was not my first time at the bluegrass jam in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I’d visited once before when I’d come over to the States on work, travelling without my fiddle. My plan to sit in the audience and listen lasted about two songs – my fingers itched so much at the sound of the music that when I spied a spare instrument in the corner, I’d asked if I could borrow it and get involved.
That was last June. Ten months later, having flown into DC in the early afternoon, I’d decided that, jetlag or no, I was going to make it to that Thursday night session, just so I could prove to them that I did indeed own a violin. It takes place in O’Hurley’s General Store, which sells vintage gear like grandfather clocks and tiffany lamps and cast iron cookware without any sense that they’re not completely contemporary. It’s the perfect backdrop for old-timey music and they gather a decent crowd most weeks – a good 30 or so last night.
I attempted to sneak in and join them, to have a listen and get a feel, but even as I was quietly stowing my case underneath the chair in front I was spotted by the harpist, Genevieve. She recognised me immediately as that random British woman who had gatecrashed the session last year: “Don’t think you can bring that fiddle here and not play it…”
The vibe here is more mountain music than bluegrass – as well as Genevieve’s harp there’s a flute and not one but two hammered dulcimers in the circle. Holding one of those pairs of hammers (which always remind me of bottle openers) was Sam Rizzetta, who composed a huge proportion of the tunes in the group’s repertoire. Here's one of his waltzes.