Roswell’s Bluegrass Harmony: a tale of strings and community

Cade Thacker leads the Roswell Music Jam (12/12/23) – photo by Campbell Flint

This article is a contribution from Campbell Flint, a journalism student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and a big bluegrass lover. She shares her impressions of a popular get together at a church near her school.

Imagine a modest front porch nestled in the heart of rural America, where the soothing twang of a banjo and the harmonious melodies of fiddles first graced the country air. Fast forward to the present day, and those porch side notes have given birth to a musical community that transcends time, uniting generations in the timeless embrace of bluegrass.

The story begins with the legends of bluegrass, the footprints left by Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Their influence birthed a musical community that now spans generations, making bluegrass an essential part of America’s musical landscape. 

This community and ever-growing story of bluegrass, fostering a culture of learning, sharing, and musical camaraderie is exemplified by the Roswell Music Jam, welcoming participants from all over the Atlanta metro area.

In the heart of Roswell, Georgia, Cade Thacker, the mastermind behind the Roswell Music Jam, shares the whimsical tale of its inception. Picture church on a random Sunday in 2022, where friends gathered, instruments in hand, waiting for the next service hour to provide worship. An impromptu jam session unfolded—blues, bluegrass, and a bit of messing around. And just like that, an idea sparked. “Why don’t we do this all the time?” Thacker said.

The next day, Thacker embarked on the journey to organize the jam. He reached out to the music director at Roswell Presbyterian Church, where he is a member, and asked if space could be made available for a bluegrass jam. The answer was a resounding yes, albeit with the expectation of jumping through a few administrative hoops.

A mere few weeks later, the first bluegrass jam unfolded with eight people, including Thacker’s own children and a few church members. But the circle did not stay small for long. Thacker, navigating the nuances of social media, turned to platforms like Instagram to draw in participants.

“This is kind of like my giant middle finger to social media because what I’m doing is the opposite of what everybody else is doing,” Thacker said. “I’m actually using social media to drive people into a physical environment.”

The biweekly gathering of bluegrass enthusiasts now boasts over 30 musicians of varying ages and backgrounds. It’s not just a jam session; it’s a musical conversation where instruments speak louder than words, and joy emanates from every strum and chord.

The Roswell Music Jam is a community-driven affair, and it exemplifies the ethos of bluegrass—a genre known for its inclusive and supportive environment. Four distinct groups characterize the jam: beginners, intermediates, on-tempo players, and aficionados of Americana and blues.

In the beginner’s circle, a sense of simplicity reigns supreme. Participants sit in a circle, each choosing a song from the same beginner bluegrass book to perform as a group. The atmosphere is filled with questions, community, and a warm sense of welcome.

“It’s a good starting point in music just because it’s usually songs that are just like two or three chords,” said Piper Kathryn, an original member of the Roswell Music Jam. “Like super simple patterns and repetitive. It was an easy way for me to get into it.”

The other groups, with a smoother rhythm to the music, operate without songbooks. Musicians, well-versed in common bluegrass tunes, play from memory or catch up quickly. 

The on-tempo group, filled with highly skilled participants, weaves in and out of songs with smooth chords and beautiful lyrics. They know each song by heart, taking chances on solos, and encouraging those still yearning to learn more about their instruments.

While these groups congregate separately during the two hours of the jam, the final ten minutes sees all participants coming together in a spacious room to conclude with a heartfelt rendition of Will the Circle Be Unbroken from The Carter Family. In this moment, voices, guitars, mandolins, violins, and an upright bass unite for an emotional and communal celebration of bluegrass.

Despite the division into groups, the sense of community remains palpable. Before the jam even begins, there’s a lively conversation among all participants. And after the last song of the evening, smaller groups split off, composed of all levels of musicians, to share moments and music.

These community-driven bluegrass jams are hidden gems within Roswell, and while they may not make headlines, they resonate deeply in the hearts of those who attend. They embody the grassroots spirit, where music transcends barriers and people find solace and connection. In this understated way, the bonds formed, and the stories shared within these jam circles echo the true essence of community, quietly shaping the narrative of unity and harmony, one lively note at a time.