The Isolation 2020 Country Jamboree

Since people aren’t supposed to go outside or meet in groups during the coronavirus pandemic, people are spending a lot more time online, and one of the things they are doing (apart from endless Zoom calls) is trying to recreate some of the things they enjoyed during more normal times — like the old campfire singalong or basement jam session, for example. Someone in need of the latter created a Facebook group called the Isolation 2020 Country Jamboree, and it has quickly become one of my favorite stopping points on Facebook. The idea behind the group — which had 26,000 members when I wrote this — is that anyone can record themselves playing the guitar or piano or whatever instrument they feel like playing, and then upload it to share with everyone who is missing live music. It’s really great.

I found the group after a friend posted about it a few weeks ago, and asked me to play and upload a song (a John Prine one, since he had just passed away). So I recorded one, and uploaded it, and I think it got 5 likes or something like that, and one nice comment. I confess this made me a little irritated, since I thought I was much better than lots of the other people who were uploading songs (in my own mind anyway) and some of them got dozens or even hundreds of likes and comments. Social-media thirst is a terrible affliction 🙂 Anyway, at first I thought the hell with it, I don’t need to go there any more, most of the singers are terrible, and their videos are bad, and so on. Or that’s what I told myself anyway. But I kept seeing them pop up in my Facebook feed, and I clicked on a few, and I have to say the whole thing kind of started to grow on me.

Not only were some of the videos and songs pretty good — in some cases by people who play professionally, and have albums, etc. like Heather Valley, who has an excellent voice — but even some of the “bad” ones started to grow on me. The whole thing is like a giant campfire singalong with hundreds of guitarists and singers, some of whom are excellent and some of whom are, well… enthusiastic at least. Some are shy (and a few of them are the best) and some are very confident without reason. But some are just quietly great, and some of the ones you wouldn’t expect turn out to be the most talented, with great voices, and some great guitar playing. There was even a guy who recreated an entire Supertramp song with all the keyboard parts, plus the snippets of a Winston Churchill speech that were included in the original.

In some cases, their phones are pointed up at the ceiling, or they have fingerprints all over them, or they are too far away, or the volume isn’t high enough, but in most cases the passion comes through anyway and none of that matters. Some of my favorites are the ones where the player is sitting in their garage or a woodshed, with their overalls or work clothes on, and maybe their guitar isn’t the best, and then they launch into something and it’s just great. One guy standing in his garage as his kids rode in and out on bikes admitted that he’d had a few beers after work and then did a great version of My Home Town by Bruce Springsteen. I’ve been going through it and adding comments on almost every one of them, telling them they did a great job and to keep it up. Maybe it’s the cabin fever talking, but it’s become one of my favorite things.

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