The Great 48 Jam is this weekend, so bluegrass fans: grab a guitar, fiddle, banjo or anything else to play and get ready to join in. Or, if you prefer just to listen, grab a friend and enjoy the music.
The days-long jam session and festival returns to the Marriott Convention Center this Thursday through Sunday. The long weekend includes workshops, slow jams for beginners, a Friday night concert, an area for kids to play music and more.
"We literally jam, until the wee hours of the night," said Jack Pierce, the organizing chair of the event, put on by the California Bluegrass Association. "There's bluegrass in the lobby, on every floor, in the rooms."
About 400 to 500 people are expected at the event, Pierce said, with people coming from all over the state. The Marriott filled up back in October, and plenty of guests have needed to book stays at other hotels in the area. Since the hotel is jam-packed with jams, it's a good thing most of the guests are there for the music.
"The Marriott warns — if you will — non-bluegrass folks, 'Hey, we're having a bluegrass convention then. Do you still want to stay?'" Pierce said. "Last year, an out-of-town physician happened to be there, and she actually enjoyed it so much she came out of her room (to listen). She played fiddle, so she grabbed a fiddle and jumped right in."
That welcoming vibe is extended to anyone who wants to jam, no matter their experience level. Just going up and down the floors, Pierce said, people are usually able to find a great place to jam that fits their own abilities.
"We encourage the Bakersfield community to come with their instruments," he said. "Just come on and hang on."
At most events, a "kids area" means a handful of inflatables to keep the kids entertained while there with Mom and Dad. But at the Great 48, the Kids on Bluegrass area is where young musicians can get in on the bluegrass fun themselves, Pierce said. One of the kids will be his own.
"My daughter is 13 and plays the fiddle, and she plays pretty well, so she gets involved," he said. "The Kids on Bluegrass area is for kids to play and hone their skills. ... We want to keep the genre alive."
The Friday night concert is the only part of the weekend that isn't free. Tickets to the David Parmley and Cardinal Traditions performance are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Opening for Parmley will be local band The Roustabouts.
During two scheduled slow jams (on Friday and Saturday afternoon), veteran jammers will teach newbies the ropes of jamming, including how to play their instrument with others, classic bluegrass songs and jam etiquette. Workshops will start at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. There will also be showcase events, where bands from all over the state will perform in the evenings. On Sunday at 9 a.m., there will be a gospel jam.
A full schedule of events will be posted in the Marriott lobby this weekend.
Although the weekend is all about jamming, there's no pressure to pick up an instrument if you don't play. Guests are welcome to just come and listen.
Whether they play an instrument or not, Pierce encourages the community to come out to the Great 48 Jam.
"It allows them to experience the bluegrass genre ... and it allows them to listen to what America's all about. Bluegrass is very American."