The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Music Revs The 'Burg

4 min read

Senior Dave Jensen doesn’t play in a band, and he hasn’t since he was 13 years old.

Jensen does play music. At 13, he picked up the guitar at an old auto repair shop in Smithfield. The small bluegrass town held jam sessions and a bake sale at the shop once a month to raise money for the volunteer fire department.

“It was with people who live on farms and ranches every day,” he said. “They had one chance each month to come out to the back of the shop and play music.”

Jensen explained the unwritten code that dictates the now ceased Bluegrass jam sessions at the auto shop.

“They want you to play by the rules,” Jensen said. “You’re polite at first, on the edge of the circle, just listening. Once people get to know your face, you’re invited to move inward. You’re paying your dues in the circle.”

Jensen jams in Fredericksburg now, with the friends he’s met since he enrolled at the University. He explained that the rules are much looser here in town.

“It’s not as organized, there’s not a style people subscribe to,” he said, acknowledging that the fellow musicians know the standards and can “hold their own.”

Senior Thomas Johnson, a music major who plays with Jensen at the Sunken Well Tavern every other Sunday, had the same response about the people with whom he plays music.

“With pick-up music, rehearsal and gigs are the same thing,” Johnson said. “You bring a basic structure with you to the table. Everyone can hold it down.”

In addition to playing the keyboard at the Well, Johnson works as a church musician every weekend, and plays jazz trios and quartets with college students for private and public gigs.

Not every event, Johnson explained, runs smoothly.

He recalled one show, where he played with a group he described as “of Brazilian Mafia caliber.”

“It was a large train wreck in high paying clientele,” Johnson said. “You never know what [your customers] are going to ask for.”
Senior Ephraim Firdyiwek, bassist for the funk rock band Junk Science, recalled another unforgettable show in Annandale during the summer of 2007.

“We dressed in funny hats and played songs like ‘When the Saints Come Marching In’ to hundreds of K-4th grade students,” Firdyiwek said.

Junk Science started as a “nameless cover band,” according to Firdyiwek, until they began writing their own songs and music together in 2006.

Though the band’s UMW graduates have moved around, the band strives to stay together and keep meeting new challenges.

“It’s the goal of every band or musician, I think, to be able to make a living off of the art that you make, and this is something none of us want to give up,” he said.  “Incorporating electronic music into our sound would be challenging, and open us up to a different crowd of people.”

Bands popular to campus crowds, like Junk Science and Tereu Tereu, are inspirations to newer bands rising out of UMW and Virginia.

Junior Brett Nickley is guitarist, singer, and songwriter for OKCorral, an indie rock band he put together with his brother and two friends.
OKCorral, which played for the 2008 SHH Walkathon last spring, hopes to release a full-length record by January.

For Nickley, finding a unique sound for this young band before then remains the group’s biggest challenge.

“New sounds keep forming. We’re still looking for that sound that sounds like the OKCorral,” Nickley said.

At the Loft open mic each Wednesday, audiences can listen to the Green Boys play acoustic sets.

Junior Sean Green started the Green Boys with his brother, UMW alumnus Ryan Green, after spending a year in New Mexico together.

“We were trying to get something together the whole time,” Green said.

The brothers, who found initial inspiration from a Beatles book of chords,  both sing their own lyrics and play original music on the bass and guitar.

“We really try to focus on the melodies and harmonies, on blending our voices together,” Green said.

Jensen plays as much in his friends’ apartments or rented warehouse space as at local establishments with artists like Jay Starling and John Buck, both members of the band the Transmitters, the Green Boys, Andre Eglevsky, and Thomas Newendel.

“After a really good show, everyone is feeling the vibe,” Jensen said of his favorite time to play music. “In the first hour, everyone is settling in and warming up. By the second or third hour, they’re all getting in the zone. You start reaching for things you couldn’t do before, start hitting your stride.”

Green agreed.

“It’s not just nights, it’s songs you get into,” he said. “You know where everyone is, and you know where the song is going.”

Jensen remarked that that spontaneity is what makes Fredericksburg’s music scene thrive despite the lack of a large population and venues.

“It doesn’t have the population, the drive of people to support the number of talented musicians in the area,” he said.

Band or no band, musicians tend to agree that they are the ones to keep each other going.

“You say, ‘let’s play this tune,’” Johnson said of typical jam sessions.

“They say “okay,” and you start going, and picking up off of each other. It’s impromptu, but you keep the cool and make things happen.”