For years Sioux City musicians had at least one place to jam out with others. Even now there are places for locals to test themselves or have a bit of fun -- the monthly jam sessions at the Old Brass Rail hosted by John Bekish or Vangarde Arts’ once-a-week acoustic open mic nights, for instance.
And perhaps the most notable jam night was held at The Chesterfield until its closing in late November. Amy Weimer, co-owner of Half Moon Bar & Grill, said the closed bar and music venue’s Wednesday night jam was a “staple” in town. Inspired by her appreciation for local bands, Weimer decided to create her own jam night at Half Moon.
“Our talent is out-of-this-world,” said Weimer. “[My husband] Steve and I both love music so we want to support them and have a jam night down here.”
She mentioned the plan to Matt VanMeter who -- along with Big Bad Cash Band member Adam Girard -- helped turn the idea into a full-fledged event. Half Moon’s jam night debuted on Monday and will continue to be a weekly event at the restaurant and bar on Lewis Boulevard.
The stage, near the entrance of the bar, is equipped with bigger speakers, a PA system and microphones -- anything one would need to jam. Weimer said if the event gets too crowded, she will consider moving it near the back end of the bar and possibly shifting the jam outside during the summer.
Much like The Chesterfield’s jam night, a “host band” will organize and facilitate the function. VanMeter and Girard have opted to host the jam nights with their group Big Bad Cash Band. As a host band, the members will kick off the jam with a brief performance of three or four songs before moving on to the next musician.
“It’s pretty laid back,” said VanMeter. “Sign up whenever you show up and we’ll do first-come, first-served. If there are jammers, they’ll jam. And if anybody needs our help singing or playing guitar or drums or something, then we can stand in and help with that part.”
This isn’t the first time Half Moon has had live music reverberating off the walls. Weimer said bands have performed regularly at the bar every few weekends or so. She added that those performances from local groups will still continue despite the newly added jam night.
MISSING THE CAMARADERIE
When VanMeter first came to Sioux City about seven years ago, The Chesterfield’s jam night was the place he would normally frequent. The open jam was the place VanMeter met with other musicians and people with whom he continues to stay in contact and work.
“Anybody could get up and play with anybody else,” said VanMeter. “To be able to bring that and keep that -- no matter where it’s at in town -- is just something that needs to stay here in Sioux City. I think it’s super important for the music industry around here.”
The jam night at Half Moon not only allows musicians to hone their craft, VanMeter argues that it’s also a valuable networking tool that goes “above and beyond Facebook or any other social media.”
“I can come in here and see somebody onstage and think, ‘Oh, hey, this person is actually a really good musician. Perhaps they’d want to collaborate on something?’” said VanMeter. “Whereas you can talk to somebody on Facebook all day long and not learn anything about them musically except for what they share.”
Girard is looking forward to meeting and seeing new people.
“I know a lot of Sioux City musicians, but there’s always someone new that comes through that’s going to blow you away,” said Girard. “One of the coolest things that ever happened in the jam that I went to, we had musicians in well-established bands in town and we all went up and played. It’s cool if you can get these guys who’ve been in the music scene for quite a few years and play stuff that’s a little out of our comfort zone or out of the norm.”
VanMeter hopes camaraderie will be built around the open mic night at Half Moon and “keep the musicians close” and not battling.
“I just want to see it grow into this organic thing – a new jam spot,” he said.
Although sentiment for The Chesterfield jam may fuel the inspiration behind Half Moon’s open mic night, VanMeter stressed that they’re not trying to replace the closed bar’s signature event.
“Obviously, that stage was gigantic compared to what we have here,” said VanMeter. “But you don’t need a big stage to make great music. You just need great people.”