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Jam at Catonsville shop strikes chord with musicians in Baltimore County

Among the signs on the door of Anthony Instrument Repair at 4 Mellor Ave. is one that directs wayward customers to the Peace of Sunshine next door.

The need for the sign is understandable, since both businesses occupy the lower level of same building near the intersection of Mellor and Frederick Road.

On the evening of July 18, though, each time the door opened, the person on the other side had found exactly what they were looking for: a place to jam.

The music instrument repair shop, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, also hosts monthly jam sessions where musicians of all skill levels are welcome.

"It started out as just a promotional thing, just spread the word that the shop was open," said Nick Anthony, owner of the shop and organizer of the sessions on the third Wednesday of the month.

Anthony, who plays guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo and keyboards, opened his instrument repair shop two years ago this month and started hosting the jam sessions that fall.

"I just get a kick out of it," he said. "It's a lot of fun."

By 8 p.m., about an hour after last week's jam started, the cramped shop had six acoustic guitarists, a bassist, mandolin player and harmonica player.

"Come on in. We'll squeeze you in," Anthony, 28, said to the late arrivals.

The players sat in a circle playing songs primarily from the 1960s and 1970s, such as "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding and "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones.

The musicians commute from all over Baltimore County, from Dundalk to Phoenix.

A lead guitarist in two bands, Anthony said the pitch-imperfect performances make it all the more inviting for people just dipping their toes into the waters of playing.

"A lot of these guys are older folks who are just getting into the open mic scene," Anthony said. "The open jam scene is a little less intimidating."

Randallstown guitarist John Lynch, who has attended the jams at the shop for a year, agreed.

"It's different than open mic," Lynch said. "If you screw up, who cares?"

Chuck Joseph, a 54-year-old Catonsville resident, has played the guitar since he was a teenager and started showing up to Anthony Instrument Repair in spring 2011.

Joseph, who played bass and mandolin during the jam, said he enjoys the jam because of the "eclectic mix of people" who bring a wide-range of music.

"For me, the larger value is getting exposed to other people's repertoires," Joseph said.

Anthony, who lived in Catonsville from 2004 to 2009 before moving to his hometown of Pasadena, said he usually averages about 10 players each week.

When the number has swelled to more than 20, the group splits, with some playing outside as the others jam inside.

Anthony jokingly likened the jams to an Irish pub where "everybody's singing the same song out of pitch."

A comfortable setting

In between songs during last week's session, some musicians strummed their instruments while others engaged in playful ribbing about their ages or playing ability as they sipped beer.

Though he had pizza at the most recent session due to the warm weather, Anthony usually cooks up hot dogs and hamburgers and buys some beer for the event, spending about $100 each time.

He does it because the jam attracts musicians who might not otherwise come to his business.

Baltimore resident Chris Bell, 37, for example, attended a jam session for the first time on July 18.

He admitted he was somewhat nervous about taking part, since he has only a couple of years of experience playing the guitar.

"I'm definitely impressed with the quality of people and it's very open," Bell said about 90 minutes into the event. "These guys are definitely ahead of me, but I'm picking up a few things as we go along."

Anthony showed Bell how to move his left hand to the proper fret on the guitar to make a B minor chord, for example.

At age 47, Scott Holokai was one of the younger musicians at the jam. He played a few riffs from the band Shinedown, which formed in 2002, and taught others the chord progressions.

Asked what drew him to this jam, the Catonsville resident, said, "Just wanting to play music, man."

"You can teach and learn at the same time," said Holokai, who has played since his preteen years.

Steve Jacousky, a harmonica player from Owings Mills, immediately injected a different energy to the group when he started playing at around 7:30 p.m.

Though he has played for about 30 years, he said the jam sessions have helped him improve his timing in a stress-free atmosphere.

"Everybody's really encouraging," Jacousky said. "It's not a contest about who plays the best."

Marian Chaprnka, a guitarist from Phoenix, was the only woman at the jam.

She said she has attended three since Christmas, with the first when the group met at the 8X10, a music venue in Federal Hill.

Chaprnka called the experience intimidating. She said she prefers jamming in the shop that's 45 minutes from her home.

"I heard it was really crowded here, but I heard it was a really good jam," Chaprnka said.

"Whether you're performance-ready or a beginner, you're just as welcome in this group."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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