Spanish grassers address universal desire to pick during shutdown

The desire among pickers to get together and play is not confined to bluegrass musicians, though the portable and non-electric aspect of it does make it easier. This contribution shared by Spanish banjo master Lluis Gómez shows shows how a group of jammers in Barcelona are coping with virus restrictions.

The COVID 19 pandemic and the subsequent confinement are having very serious economic and social consequences. However, in most of the studies of this phenomenon taking place, the possible psychological consequences of being confined for about three months are forgotten. Loneliness, and the inability to contact family or friends, without a doubt, has affected the psyche of many. For bluegrass music lovers, jamming in a park, bar, or at a friend’s house means much more than simply making music. Experts call this socializing, but this word doesn’t encapsulate the full meaning that participating in a jam has for many of us. In the jam, all our passions come together: playing our instrument, listening and learning new songs, and, above all, chatting with friends and meeting all kinds of new people.

For our part, the Barcelona Bluegrass Jam has tried to alleviate this small, great void with virtual meetings. Unfortunately, the technical impossibility to play together due to the delay in the audio made this solution dissatisfying.

Since yesterday, some of the measures of confinement have been gradually lifted in the Barcelona area. Meetings of up to 10 people are allowed, and it is recommended to always keep a distance of 2 meters. If this is not possible, we are obligated to use face masks. Bluegrass lovers of the Barcelona Bluegrass Jam couldn’t wait any longer, and yesterday afternoon we met in a park to make a masked-jam.

Playing our well-known songs, like Will the Circle Be Unbroken or Angeline the Baker, together again for about two hours made us happy and recharged our batteries. It is not just about being able to enjoy playing music together, it is also about seeing the unspoken bonds of community in the eyes of friends.

Now, because of the face masks, things like warning someone they should take the next break, saying that you don’t want a break, or showing recognition to a partner for a well-executed break has been slightly more complicated. But we were more determined than ever to play together, even if it was with masks on, and a few simple glances have been enough in most cases — well, there were some funny moments because of misunderstandings in the non-verbal communication!

Now we come back to the subject that I called socializing: meeting your friends again, being able to enjoy a beer while making small talk, explaining your sorrows and joys. The jam yesterday was so much more than just playing music together.

In addition, having a masked-jam in a park has allowed a wide variety of people to come and enjoy, for a few moments, this type of music we love so much, still so unknown in Spain. At the beginning, it was parents with their children. They approached timidly at first, but by the end they danced among us. As time passed, the type of public changed to singles or couples who had gone out for a walk and sat for a while to listen. The music made a smile appear on everyone’s faces. Being able to share the power of music to bring joy to people warmed my heart.

After two hours, we were all a little tired because of the lack of practice, and said our goodbyes. But before leaving, we asked each other: “When’s the next jam?”