Are you a bluegrass picker looking to make a move? Or maybe you and your instrument are just in the mood for a long summer road trip.
Whatever your reason, we understand the draw of a town where it’s easy to find people to pick with. Nothing builds your bluegrass chops faster than regular opportunities to play with others, and there aren’t many better ways to make friends in a new home, either.
With that in mind, here are what we consider the best bluegrass jamming towns in America:
Read on to find out what makes them special. And if you do decide to drop in on an unfamiliar jam in one of these towns, remember to follow basic bluegrass jam etiquette.
1. Asheville NC
WWNC radio in Asheville was a stepping stone for the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, when he was working his way up to the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s,
Today, this mid-sized town in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the beating heart of Appalachian music in America.
Its Mountain Dance and Folk Festival has been running since 1928 and is America’s oldest such festival. But the attraction for bluegrass jammers is the sheer concentration of pickers among its 92,000 residents, who gather for regular jams at brew pubs like Jack of the Wood.
An outdoor concert series called Shindig on the Green draws weekly crowds throughout the summer to Pack Square Park with plenty of bluegrass on the bill. Bring along an instrument and you’ll find breakout jams all over the park.
The Asheville Bluegrass Happenings Facebook group is the best place to find yourself a jam.
And should you ever tire of picking, Asheville is teeming with great street buskers and clubs, restaurants and bars that welcome all genres of music.
2. Boulder CO
Northern Colorado is famous for its progressive, experimental brand of bluegrass. We could have put four of its towns on this list, but since they’re all within 20 miles of Boulder we’ll lump them together.
The legendary Telluride Bluegrass Festival and RockyGrass are both run by Planet Bluegrass out of Lyons, just north of Boulder. Jamgrass pioneers Yonder Mountain String Band hail from Nederland to the west. In Longmont to the northeast, there’s jamming in the park every Saturday morning during summer.
And it seems like every brew pub in the region has a weekly bluegrass jam. Look up Beyond the Mountain Brewing Co. or Front Range Brewing Company in Boulder, and 12 Degree Brewing in Louisville. The Kettle and Spoke Brewery in Boulder hosts an “Estrojam” for women on the last Sunday of every month.
To keep track of all this, you can join the Boulder Bluegrass Pickers Facebook group. It has 2,100 members, which is insane for a town of 108,000. It’s like one out of every 50 people in Boulder will jam with you!
Some of the credit should undoubtedly go to Dr. Banjo himself, Pete Wernick. The Hot Rize co-founder lives near Boulder and has been teaching new pickers how to jam for years.
3. Mountain View AR
With a population of only 2,900, Mountain View is punching well above its weight as a mecca for bluegrass jammers.
The Arkansas town bills itself as the Folk Music Capital of the World, and you gotta love a town that does its big bluegrass festival twice a year instead of annually.
The Mountain View Bluegrass Festival runs every March and November, with past appearances by Rhonda Vincent, J.D. Crowe & The New South, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, The Grascals and more.
You’ll find plenty of jamming at the festival, but the best jamming venue in Mountain View is the square outside the Stone County Couthouse. Even when the summer concert stage on the courthouse steps is empty, folks will turn up with their instruments pretty much any evening when the weather is good and start picking.
4. Washington DC
People will tell you the DC bluegrass scene isn’t what it used to be, and that’s probably true—it would be tough to match the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s when bands like the Country Gentlemen, Seldom Scene and Johnson Mountain Boys turned the Beltway into America’s bluegrass capital.
Still, that kind of DNA doesn’t just disappear. Washington is the nearest big city to northern Appalachia and has been attracting mountain musicians forever. Plus, the place is huge. Trust us, you’ll find a jam.
5. Nashville TN
The last big city on our list would be a tough one to exclude. It’s a common misconception that Music City is full of cutthroat would-be pros who are unfriendly to beginning bluegrass pickers.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
A city of this size with such a rich music tradition has plenty of casual pickers, and also a lot of pros who embrace the inclusive culture of bluegrass. A relative beginner who can keep time playing rhythm is welcome to jam with much more advanced players, and can probably learn a lot of things while doing so.
Try the Authentic Coffee Company on the northern outskirts of town for some of this Friday night action:
And of course, don’t forget to drop by the Station Inn on Sunday nights for a regular bluegrass jam where you might get to pick with some big-name drop-ins.
6. Floyd VA
The last time we visited Floyd it was literally a one-stoplight town, and it’s hard to imagine that has changed.
They only have about 700 people, but the crowd for the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store gets well into triple digits every week.
The Jamboree highlights performance and dancing, but in the summer in particular the event becomes a hub for local pickers who spill out onto the nearby sidewalks and parking lots for impromptu jams.
Every Sunday afternoon, the store itself hosts two hours of old-time jamming followed by a 90-minute bluegrass jam.
Half a block away you’ll find County Sales, which has the world’s largest selection of recorded bluegrass and old-time music.
Floyd is just a great stop on the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.
7. Johnson City TN
Maybe you only know Johnson City as the trucker’s destination in “Wagon Wheel,” but this East Tennessee town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains was the site of the second most important recording session in country music history.
The bluegrass standard “Nine Pound Hammer” takes most of its lyrics from railroad laborers who worked here in the late 19th century.
Johnson City’s population of 67,000 is enough to produce plenty of pickers in an area so rich with bluegrass and old-time tradition.
But your best bet for getting plugged into the local scene is probably East Tennessee State University. Since 1982, ETSU has offered a bachelor’s degree in Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies. Hit them up and find out what’s happening around town.
Image at top: Asheville, N.C. skyline