Carroll County Times

Bluegrass sounds return to Sykesville

In the 1970s, Sykesville residents would wander into Jim's Barber Shop for a $1.50 haircut and some bluegrass.
The proprietor, Jim Wilder, would stock his establishment with various instruments, and allow his customers and friends to borrow a guitar or perhaps a banjo, shoot the breeze and serenade the town, who would line the street outside the shop to listen.
Eventually, some of his clientele banded together as the Sykesville Bluegrass Association, and Sykesville's tradition of bluegrass began.
Colleen Gibbons Hoffmeister, a Sykesville resident, knows and retells this story fondly. A volunteer at the Sykesville Gate House Museum and bluegrass enthusiast, Gibbons Hoffmeister has attempted to revive the town's bluegrass roots by founding Sykesville Americana Music, an intimate, informal group that hosts jam sessions in the same vein as Jim's in the '70s.
Jim died at the age of 69 in 2008, according to his Carroll County Times obituary.
On the museum porch every Sunday 2-4 p.m., Gibbons Hoffmeister and other "grinners," a colloquial expression meaning an audience, will group, lean back on the grass or creaky rocking chairs, and listen to "pickers," the performers.
"It's beautiful," she said. "And very pleasant."
Many "pickers" who participate are veterans from the Jim's Barber Shop era.
Frank McGowan, 83, said Jim used to cut his hair.
He formed a five-man band from friends he met at the barber shop and played around the county for nearly eight years. He said though he's vacationing in Florida at the moment, he's eager to investigate Gibbons Hoffmeister's effort to revitalize a tradition.
"There would be people from all over the place at Jim's," McGowan said. "It grew to be quite a big deal."
Mike Lindsey, a Sykesville resident and jam attendee, said he grew up with bluegrass in his childhood home in Severna Park. Every morning, he said, he and his older sister would wake up to their father, a musician himself, downstairs turning on bluegrass.
Bluegrass is a genre of country mixed with roots of the Appalachia, features only a blend of spring instruments - guitar, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass and more - and vocals. It is known for its "High Lonesome" sound, Gibbons Hoffmeister said, a tenor wail layered with harmonies.
"We grew to love it," Lindsey said.
Lindsey, now in his 50s, looked to continue playing but said he found it difficult to locate venues without forming a formal band, and said the jam sessions available are quartered in municipalities near Annapolis.
The Sykesville Americana Music program offer a local alternative for his love that would otherwise require extensive travel time, he said.
The old-timers, as Gibbons Hoffmeister refers them, some of whom who played at Jim's, emulate High Lonesome, she said. Since she began Sykesville Americana Music, she has tracked them down through word-of-mouth and plans to organize a separate picnic so they can reconnect.
She said she also wants to piece together an exhibit to place in the Gate House museum, mostly photographs, but also recorded oral history from the "pickers."
Mark Fraser, curator of the museum, said it's important to preserve the town's stories, and thinks the exhibit would help those who didn't see Jim's Barbershop first-hand get a taste of town history.
"The unfortunate thing is, other than oral history, we don't have a lot in writing," he said.
Music is essential for those old-timers, Gibbons Hoffmeister said. She volunteers at the Westminster-based hospice center, Dove House, and said when she sits with her patients and strums her guitar, she will see some spark of excitement in their eyes.
"For some of my patients, especially people with dementia, [the music] helps them so much emotionally," she said.
For more information about Sykesville Americana Music and updates on their events, visit their Facebook group at