CHARLES CITY — A dozen musicians sat in a semicircle playing guitar, mandolin, banjo or accordion, taking turns singing lead on old country songs and other tunes.
The audience of 100 or so gathered at the Charles City Senior Center tapped their feet in time to the music and sometimes sang along. A few of them got up to flap their arms to “The Chicken Dance.”
These evenings, known as the Old Time Music Jam, take place twice a month.
“We have a lot of fun,” said John Neuzil of Charles City, who plays guitar with the group.
So does the audience, which consists mainly of senior citizens.
“The old country music, what can you say?” said Betty Keifer of Charles City, who attends the jam sessions regularly. “The more you come, the more the old music comes back to you. It lifts your spirits.”
Other music jams are springing up in North Iowa.
Annie Avery of Rowan, who co-hosts Texas-Style Music Jams once a month in Dows with her daughter-in-law, Terri Avery, said they are very popular in southern Iowa, and that popularity now seems to be spreading to the northern part of the state.
Avery was inspired to start a music jam back home when she played in some while spending the winter in Texas.
About 25 musicians play country and bluegrass music at the Dows Convention Center during the music jams.
Some nights more than 200 people show up to listen, as well as dance to the waltzes and polkas.
Everyone brings snacks to share.
When the local jams first started, they consisted of a few friends playing in a machine shed on Avery’s property.
Soon “we filled the machine shed” and had to find a bigger location, she said.
But as the crowds got bigger and bigger, they kept having to find a new place for the jams.
The Old Time Music Jam in Charles City faced the same problem. The jams, which began eight years ago, moved to the senior center in January 2009.
During a recent jam session at the senior center the musicians — known as “pickers” — played the Roy Orbison classic “Blue Bayou” and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band hit “Fishin’ in the Dark,” as well as “How Great Thou Art” and “God Bless America.”
The “pickers” like to chat and joke around between songs.
After singing the Johnny Cash-June Carter duet “Jackson” with Jackie Lambert of Mason City, Neuzil said he’s never been to Jackson — “just Jackson Junction.”
Lorado’s in Mason City, hosts a music jam with a slightly different flavor on Saturday nights, organized by local musician Dustin Anderson, who loans out his drum kit, guitar stack and bass stack for the jams.
Typically four or five musicians play together on any given night.
“If the bass player gets tired, someone else steps in and plays bass,” Anderson said.
The music can be anything from classic rock covers to hip-hop.
“A lot of it is improv,” Anderson said.
Sometimes if members of a band have a new song they want to try out in front of an audience, they do it at the open jam, he said.
Another North Iowa bar, Home Base in Charles City, hosts an acoustic jam on Tuesday nights.
The musicians at this jam range in age from 20 to 80. About half a dozen show up each time to play all kinds of music, including country, bluegrass and early rock ‘n’ roll.
“It’s just kind of blossoming,” said guitar and fiddle player Gene Parson of Charles City.
John Morris of Charles City plays pennywhistle and banjo, and sometimes even brings his bagpipes.
Irish tenor John Loftus of Charles City comes to the jams, as does Cole Younger of Nora Springs, who attends Wartburg College and is home for the summer. Younger has a stand-up bass he brings to the jam sessions.
“Sitting down acoustically is always fun,” said Parson, who also plays in the rock ‘n’ roll oldies band Endless Summer and owns Parson Real Estate. “We get tired of the day and we need to go pick.”
Here are the times and locations for some regular music jams around North Iowa:
• Open Jam, 9 p.m. Saturdays, Lorado’s in Mason City.
• Acoustic Jam on Tuesdays, Home Base in Charles City. The music starts around 5:30 or 6:30 p.m.
• Old Time Music Jam, 7 to 9 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, Charles City Senior Center.
• Texas-Style Jam, 6 to 9 p.m. on the third Friday of each month, Dows Convention Center.