Jamming in the Commons

Walking up to the gazebo in the middle of Swampscott Commons, the faint sound of guitar strings can be heard through the commotion of whizzing cars passing by on the street.

Getting closer, Sandy Forbes, dressed in a blue aloha shirt and a tan safari hat, sits by himself on the bench, casually playing the guitar and looking at lyrics on a sheet of paper as he belts them out, waiting for complete strangers to sit and join him for a jam session.

This summer, Forbes has been trying to put together a Swampscott Jam Session, where residents can come to the commons, behind the middle school, each Sunday afternoon to play their instruments in an informal group, without any prior preparation. 

Forbes originally got the idea after moving to Swampscott in November from Jamaica Plain. While living there, he would regularly attend a jam session that had roughly 15 members show up every time they met, consisting of fiddlers, mandolin players, and others.

After moving to Swampscott, he looked for a similar group to join, but had no luck.

“I have gone everywhere trying to find an informal jam,” Forbes said.

So instead of looking, he decided to start one right in town. He created a Facebook event just a few weeks ago that drew a good amount of traction. So far, Forbes has had a few newcomers each Sunday since he put up the notice, even having the mother of a 13-year-old daughter, who is just learning to play guitar, reach out to see if she could come to a session. 

Forbes added that the informal nature of the jams are great ways to learn and improve.

“I like being able to turn over and say ‘You take a turn, it’s your verse,’” Forbes said. “That’s how you learn.”

With a white binder full of lyrics next to him, Forbes and others who join him take part in playing songs that are widely known, from The Band’s “The Weight” to more recent country hits like Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel.” 

Rupert Deese was a newcomer to the jam session, as well as the area, having just moved to Swampscott two years ago. He was pleased to see a jam session so close to home, as he previously had to travel to Cambridge just to play with others.

“It’s great that people have come out of the woodwork, because you put this together,” Deese said to Forbes at one of the sessions. 

He added that part of his inspiration to come to one of the sessions was to help it expand.

“My motive in coming was basically the idea of ‘Well, we have to get this thing going,’” Deese said. “And it has to have some kind of personality to it that will attract people.”

Jack Ausick was one of the first to come play at the jam sessions that Forbes started. He talked about what it’s like to build a sense of community through music with people he’s never met before.

“To get out and see people and play music with people is really what it’s all about,” Ausick said. “You always learn something. It’s good to be around other people playing music. It’s great, I love jamming.”

Forbes has been pleased with the amount of interest in the idea online, but is hoping to see more people show up to future sessions. He is aiming to get to what he called a “critical mass,” with enough musicians showing up regularly that the session essentially is able to run itself every week.