Local jam session pulls musicians from far and wide | Local News

TILTON — For the 15 to 20 musicians who play harmonica, guitar, bass, banjo, drums or fiddle, the Wednesday night jam session at the Tilton Senior Center is no minor event or casual stop on a local road map.

It’s a destination — and for an expanding audience, it’s a night steeped in vintage sound.

Lindall Demers, 66, a violinist turned fiddle player, discovered the weekly Acoustic Country Pickin’ Party after it was featured in January on WMUR’s “New Hampshire Chronicle.” Since then, the number of players and listeners has nearly doubled in the center’s building, a former grange hall and church that was renovated 10 years ago to become a bright space with gem-like acoustics. Demers and her husband make the 170-mile round trip from their home in Lancaster so she can perform and he can listen to everyone who plays.

“I used to travel to Derby and Lowell, Vermont. Then COVID stopped most of the jam sessions,” said Demers. “If I’m free and I hear there’s music, I go. You learn new songs and meet new people.”

For 10 years this free, spontaneous, informal concert, which is open to the public and players who relish a mellow folk-country sound, has been a mainstay for live entertainment and social interaction in an area with a growing population of older residents. But age has almost nothing to do with its appeal. There’s a subtle synergy among the players that makes the performance feel uncannily intimate and moving. It is completely unrehearsed.

“I’m more or less the host,” said Paul Boudreau of Tilton, now 86, who strummed his first guitar when he was 10. For years, “We had a group of individuals that played together week to week at each other’s house .” The group of dedicated amateurs switched briefly to jamming at the Sanbornton Town Hall, then Tilton agreed to let the shifting band of 10 use the center as long as the public could listen.

“We have regulars and some extras here,” Boudreau said Wednesday, as 13 musicians began to take their seats in a ring. “The key people here are my friends.” Newcomers add new flavor, he said, to a whatever-moves-you lineup of songs. This week it included vintage American tunes such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Look Away, Dixieland,” and a deeply resonant ballad that sparked whistling and clapping, Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

“It’s whatever that person brings into the room,” Boudreau said.

Increasingly, listeners and performers journey from points beyond — including Wolfeboro, Campton and Hanover. In the fall, a couple from the Carolinas performed, and recently a traveling nurse drove from the Lebanon area.

John Froumy, 76, of Belmont, a retired telephone company engineer, plays guitar and the cajon, a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru. Froumy used to perform at venue on the Jersey Shore when eight he owned to band and played two to five nights a week for years.

“I’ve had music in my life, all my life,” said Froumy, starting with his mother, a singer, who brought music into their home. “I was a piano player as a kid. You can’t take a piano with you, but you can take a guitar. This is a night out for older people,” he said. “They come here and listen and talk to the musicians. They forget all their troubles. It’s a night of just enjoying. That’s what I do, too. Play and listen.”

Froumy thinks about a bumper sticker that has become his mantra, and sums up the credo of players here: “Enjoy every day. Life is not a dress rehearsal.”

Mike Palmiter, a former downhill ski racer who used to live in Waterville Valley, now works in physical rehabilitation in Laconia. He plays acoustic guitar and sings, and has come four times since this jam session aired on WMUR-TV. “Everyone is just so nice and friendly and the music is great,” said Palmiter, who led this week’s group in a popular Cheryl Wheeler song, “Don’t Forget the Guns.”

The two hours of music, with a five-minute intermission, is a draw for seniors and family members who live in Sanbornton, Tilton, Northfield and Belmont. But on any Wednesday, the event pulls listeners throughout the Lakes Region, who tap toes, smile, and enjoy hot food together.

“When the guys came in from work, they’re hungry, and they wanted to come for music,” said Emily LaPlante, who has cooked lunch on Tuesday and Thursday and dinner on Wednesday the center opened in 2012. Audience favorites include grilled steak and cheese sandwiches. LaPlante steers a loyal squad of kitchen volunteers who serve senior center regulars. “We have a lot that go south during the winter, then come back in April.”

Food is the magic ingredient that gets people to come early on Wednesday and stay.

“I consider this place my home away from home,” said Pat Merriam of Sanbornton, who volunteers with LaPlante and four others, taking orders from listeners in the next room. “I love it here.”

“I come for the music and the food and the people and I drag my friends with me,” said Linda Eldridge of Northfield, who also helps in the kitchen.

In the center’s main room, about 25 people were seated at tables, munching and listening to Boudreau strum opening bars on his guitar.

“It’s a nice way to get out of the house without having to pay a lot of money. I like seeing the different instruments come in. For the last two weeks, there was a singer,” said Mary C. Harris, a retired nurse’s aide from Franklin, who came with cookies to share.

Caroline Clairmont of Gilmanton, a flute player, arrived with her friend, Walter, who sings and plays bass guitar. Clairmont sat in a chair on one side, and smiled at the room full of contentment and busy feet. “After New Hampshire Chronicle,” Clairmont said, “twice as many come to watch, and twice as many come to play.”

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