Express yourself at Open Jam

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This corner of The Tavern, adorned with a collage of string instruments, awaits musical expressions from local, talented and willing individuals and groups. Open Jam nights are Thursdays from 7 p.m. to whenever the music stops in downtown Prairie du Chien. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

The idea of having an establishment like The Tavern in downtown Prairie du Chien centers around the element of live music. So when the business opened its doors this past spring, and even before then, Open Jam nights were always part of the owners’ vision.

That visualization officially came to life in May when Ryan Fox, The Tavern co-owner and musician, and Todd Crotty, a fellow artist, grabbed their guitars and filled the bar with a few acoustic tunes.

“We picked Tuesday nights, because that’s what worked, and people liked it,” Fox said of the inaugural Open Jam sessions. “We built it up as more people started hearing about it. There are no judges, no prizes. Every week, we have a new ‘gem’ playing.”

Co-owner Patrick Igou said about a half dozen people showcase their skills for The Tavern’s laid-back crowd during any given Open Jam. “All summer, we had people who were totally dedicated to coming every week,” he said. “We had around 18 people, at the most. A lot are guitarists, but some bring trombones and other horns, harmonicas, drums, fiddles and banjos.” Of course, there are vocalists adding their essence to the mix as well.

“We have an ‘anyone can play if you don’t suck’ policy,” he added.

As of Sept. 10, The Tavern switched its Open Jam sessions to Thursday nights. Jamming begins at 7 p.m. and ends whenever the music stops. Everyone—from any locale or of any age—is welcome to join in the musical dialogue. Professional performers, like country recording artist Jeff Dane, have taken the stage alongside local virtuosos such as fiddler Crisse Reynolds. But even the beginners are welcome. A desire to be heard and a sense of adventure are all that’s needed.

“Open Jam is a forum for those people who wish to express themselves by making music,” Crotty said. “Everyone has their own reason for performing; each musician brings their own interpretation to the session. A lot of times we amaze ourselves at what happens.”

Igou agreed. “It’s nice to afford people the opportunity of just playing.”

“The biggest thing is we have a lot of fun,” Fox affirmed. “The result can be totally unexpected.”

Igou attributes the inspiration for both The Tavern as well as Open Jam to the original owner of The Main Entrance, a former bar for live music in downtown Prairie du Chien. “It’s in the spirit of Jon Burlingame,” he said. “It was a great vibe at The Main and it was welcoming. We’re just continuing that. It’s very much a sense of community. We wanted to make this culture of music.”

“It’s just good times with good friends. The musicians gain confidence and feel a sense of community among each other,” Crotty said. “Based on the popularity of the event, I’d say the more people know there’s a place, the more they come to take that in.”

Aside from the good times, there’s one more thing.

Though a sign in The Tavern’s window clearly states “lousy service,” Crotty said it’s quite worth checking out Open Jams and other activities there. “The music’s great and, the service, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.”

In addition to The Tavern, Josie’s River Queen in McGregor offers jam sessions on Sundays from 3 to 7 p.m.

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