Generations of JAM

Mountain music enriches the lives of local kids
By Kristian Buckner | May 28, 2014

The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) after school program, which helps local children learn how to play stringed instruments, is accepting new students for the 2014 Summer Jam Camp.

The JAM program was started in 2001 by brothers Travis and Trevor Stuart, and follows the school calendar meeting every Tuesday evening. JAM strives to allow the children to “get back to their traditional mountain roots,” said Sally Mackert, the current director of the program. “Many of the kids are playing instruments their grandparents played,” said Mackert, emphasizing that mountain music doesn’t just live in the classroom, but is a community and family experience.

“Me and my brother are in the arts council, we put together other programs but there wasn’t one like this in the area,” said Travis, who is still a primary teacher and director of the program. Since the program’s start, it has only grown every year, collecting more and more students. One of the original students, Keegan Luckey-Smith, is now helping teach banjo. Mackert hopes to have more students come back and teach, and in the future hopefully bring their kids to the program creating “generations of JAM.”

Luckey-Smith, student turned teacher, has been playing the banjo for 10 years, and has been with the program for six.

“I prefer being a teacher,” he said about the transition.

Travis said Luckey-Smith has always been a hard worker, he even got a scholarship last year to be in an “Old Time Music” program at East Tennessee State University, where Luckey-Smith can continue his learning and love for folk. Will Thames who has also been in the program for some time, is hopeful to be in the position that Luckey-Smith is one day as a teacher. “It was fun to learn,” said Thames about beginning in the program and learning to play banjo, “It would be fun to teach.”

Until then, Thames can be part of the more advanced part of JAM, the string group. This group of kids are ones that have been playing for longer. The string group is something that the younger JAM members can look forward to graduating to once they’ve mastered their skills.

During the summer the string group tours, playing open concerts. Last year, they performed at 10 different places, some of those include the county fair, the Waynesville Street Dance and the Western Carolina Mountain Heritage Festival. The group has already been invited to play at many of these locations again this summer.

JAM is not just an after school program, but a family affair for Angelique Carpenter and her three kids, Nichole, Ben, and Johanna. Carpenter first heard about the program from Luckey-Smith’s mother four years ago, and decided to get her eldest, Nichole, involved.

Since then, her other two children have followed in their older sister’s footsteps. Nichole and Johanna play the fiddle and Ben plays the guitar. The kids unanimously agree that the program has enriched their lives, the whole family now goes to play at the nursing home once a month and jams with their grandparents too.

It even gave Nichole an opportunity to get closer to her grandfather, a musician himself, who helped her figure out the fiddle. Johanna, the youngest Carpenter, is hopeful that she can move onto the banjo. Since Johanna already knows how to play the fiddle, it should not be a huge struggle to learn how to play the banjo.

According to Luckey-Smith, who is working on learning a different instrument himself, “the knowledge is transferable” with stringed instruments, if you already know how to play one, it’s easier to learn how to play another. This summer at the program’s JAM Camp, Johanna will have to opportunity to learn how to play on a banjo that was donated by Pat Smathers.

JAM Camp is a week-long program where many of the kids already associated with JAM will go to further their skills, and is open for the community where other kids can come and decide if they too want to learn how to play mountain music. There will be classes in guitar, banjo and fiddle, as well as string band classes.

It will be July 7-11 at Canton Middle School, and the fee is $75. If you’re interested in getting your children back to their grassroots, you can register them by calling the Haywood County Arts Council as 828-452-0593. The registration deadline is June 14.