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Bluegrass Jam Class at Smiley Building

Few genres of music encourage after-hours playing like bluegrass. It’s social music, arguably the most social of the bunch, a style that encourages its performers and fans to congregate and play, no matter the skill level. Go to a heavy metal concert or jazz performance, and it’s quite rare that post show you end up back at someone’s house with other show attendees, ready to hang and play music on your own well into all hours of the morning.

Right alongside those attendees could be the people you had just paid to see on a venue stage, professional musicians eager to play another couple of hours of music “off the clock” in an informal setting with fans.

Bluegrass music, and these informal “jams” does take some instrument proficiency, way more than the bluegrass naysayers may think, as the chord changes and beats per minute come fast and furious. That’s where the bluegrass jamming class comes in, a course where bluegrass picker Joel Denman, who currently plays in local mainstays The Badly Bent and Blue Moon Ramblers, will roll through the ins and outs of the bluegrass jam. Denman joined the award winning Badly Bent as a result of meeting them at one of these informal, but musically serious bluegrass jams, and his current bluegrass-jam course is underway, happening on Tuesdays through the end of March at the Hideaway Ukelele Studio in the Smiley Building.

If you go

WHAT: Bluegrass Jamming Class.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays until March 28.

WHERE: Hideaway Ukelele Studio in the Smiley Building, 1309 East Third Ave.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.letspick.org.

Learning the jam skills is all part of the scene.

“When you go to a concert, afterward you get together and jam with that guy or girl, or whoever you are seeing,” Denman said. “It’s not uncommon to have those kind of interactions, so it’s pretty cool. It’s very social, the scene is friendly, and it’s very accommodating.”

Denman taught music in the Denver school district for 30 years. His method for teaching this course is known as the “Wernick Method,” named after Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick, of famed Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize. It’s a welcome teaching gig he’s taken on in retirement, free of some of the headaches teachers may encounter in the elementary school classroom. There’s a real appeal in this type of music course, and bluegrass music lends itself to the free-form jam.

The music is anything but simple, but there is some simplicity to the approach; know some songs from the hearty and deep, roots music and bluegrass canon. Gather with friends and instruments, pull out said instruments, decide on a song and get after it.

“You just sit down and play,” Denman said. “You don’t need a conductor, you don’t need one instrument to have all kinds of stuff to plug in, or a lot of space, all those kind of adjustments you have to make for a rock group. It’s real, user-friendly music in that way.”

For a teacher it’s not without its obstacles. Denman refers to the course as having the “one-room schoolhouse” concept, where you’ve got a room full of students at different skill levels. There could be students who are proficient at playing a guitar but have never heard of Tony Rice let alone heard one of his solos.

It is, however, all about fun. If you’ve ever been on Reservoir Hill at a Pagosa Springs Festival, or at a house on the Southside of Durango after Town Mountains been to town, you realize how fun a bluegrass pick can be. The deal with this class is to not only teach you the skills and subsequent etiquette of being in a bluegrass pick, but to remind you that it’s all about a good time.

“This class needs to be thought of a fun class,” Denman said. “So, we try to always remember that and not take ourselves too seriously.”