The mandolin player was still frazzled by her car being rear-ended that morning. As she took her place in the circle of musicians, Neal Swander’s gentle voice began the jam session with a promise the evening would be a “good way to hit the reset button on a bad week.”
Whatever the day’s worries, they seemed to fall away in the front room at Blackbird’s Music Store on Cedar Avenue. Swander’s voice, sad and lonesome as he sang the night’s first song, Maple on the Hill, has a way of clearing the head and setting the meditative time of the picking and strumming of the guitars, mandolins and fiddles.
Jam sessions are informal gatherings of musicians with no agendas, but the free-flow and vamping of songs and chord progressions can produce magic. Blackbird’s Music Store came together like a lovely little piece of improvised music
Charlotte Matis, a fiddler and luthier, started the store more than five years ago as a place to teach music and repair string instruments. Swander, a Pennsylvania native, wandered in, kept dropping by and soon was teaching guitar. Then came Ross Rayfield, equally comfortable on banjo and ukulele, also gravitated toward the shop.
Even the store name was a random gift from the universe when Mathis opened up a music history book and saw a picture of a blackbird.
The three are partners and working to obtain a tax designation of worker-owned co-op while keeping the shop and its lesson rooms friendly and warm like a country cabin. New and used guitars, banjos, ukuleles and a few odd-shaped stringed instruments from another century line the walls, the ones with wear ready to release an old ditty in the right hands.
Yet, this trio, does not belief there are right hands for playing. Self-doubt will be met at the door by whichever partner is out front at the time. They will pull down anyone of those instruments, place it in your hands and show you some basic chords.
Blackbird Music Store
3445 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55407