Bluegrass jamboree returns Saturday

Sure, there are great tunes rollicking through the free monthly Columbus Bluegrass Jamboree at Donner Center in Columbus.

But the gatherings probably are as much about tight friendships as tight harmonies.

Jackie Combest, one of the originators of the get-togethers, offered that view. The next jamboree, open to all, is from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s kind of like a ball team, really,” Combest said. “Most of these bluegrass bands are pretty close with each other.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the gatherings attracted more than 250 people, including musicians and mere toe-tappers alike. Since venues have reopened, numbers have been in the 100-plus range.

Each date opens with a public jam session from 4 to 5 p.m. — a time in which everyone from the apprentice to the accomplished can play together.

Afterward, normally a series of groups each perform for one hour. Groups confirmed at press time are High Sierra of Bloomington; Highway 46 of Bedford; and the Left Field String Band of Shoals.

Guitarist Combest performs with the trio Highway 46. He mentioned that there still are several bluegrass groups consisting of all family members, such as the Shoals ensemble.

“I think that’s because it’s just such down-home music, and so many of these groups start out as at-home entertainment,” Combest said.

The jam sessions are popular.

“The great thing about jam sessions is that there’s really no firm rules,” Combest said. “You don’t have to be so good, because literally everybody is welcome to sit in. And if you’re not officially a member in a group, it’s a great chance to learn to play with other people.”

Ample room is made for pickers still learning and making their share of mistakes.

“People might look at them and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you try it again,’” he said.

Combest recalled seeing a struggling, young banjo player at the gatherings about five years ago. He said that young man is now “one of the best banjo pickers in all of southern Indiana.”