After more than a decade of live music – 162 shows featuring 450 musicians – the John St. Jam in Saugerties is coming to an end. The last Jam will be on Saturday, April 11 from 7:30 to 10 p.m. in its usual home at the Dutch Arms Chapel on John St. The final event will feature Jam founders and organizers Steve and Terri Massardo along with Big Joe Fitz, Terry Seeley, Marji Zintz, Mike Baglione, Kimberly, Fran Palmieri and Paul Luke Andreassen.
“It’s taken us over a year to come to this decision,” says Terri Massardo. “We agonized over leaving our audience, leaving a financial hole at the church and leaving the musicians one less good listening room to share their voices. We’ve reached a point in our lives, though, when family and other considerations are becoming more important to us.”
The John St. Jam has been a labor of love for the Massardos. And there’s a lot of labor involved; Steve booked the musicians and coordinated the events and Terri prepared dinner at their home for the musicians before each Jam. At the events, after setting up the room, Terri worked the door and Steve worked the soundboard and served as master of ceremonies. Afterward, they did all the clean-up with the help of volunteers.
Terri says they haven’t asked anyone else to continue holding the Jam, but a few people have expressed interest. She said the couple would welcome anyone to adopt the format and would even lend a hand.
But maybe not just yet. At this point, the Massardos are looking forward to some vacation time and spending more time with their nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Dedicating more time to their own music is also in their plans.
For the first two months it existed — the first Jam was held Jan. 31, 2004 — the Jam was an open mic. But in an effort to attract a wider-ranging audience and ensure a high level of musicianship, the Massardos began setting it all up in advance and inviting musicians to play on the second Saturday of each month; the fifth Saturday, too, in months that had one.
As the Jam grew in popularity over the years, the format for each evening was established. In an intimate “living room” setting lit by softly glowing lamps, four musicians arranged in a circle performed acoustic music for an audience seated on folding chairs just feet away. The performers’ musical styles ranged from folk music to blues and everything in between.
Over time the event came to be about community camaraderie as much as it was about music. And those who experienced a John St. Jam often came back again and again. Maureen and Don Black live in Wappingers Falls, an hour-and-15-minute drive from Saugerties, yet they’ve hardly missed a show since they discovered the Jam in its second year. “Put it this way,” Maureen says. “I’ve had two hip replacement operations, and we scheduled them so that I would not miss a John St. Jam. My husband actually broke me out of rehab in a wheelchair and drove me to Saugerties so we could attend the Jam.”
Maureen credits Steve and Terri for creating the welcoming ambiance at the events. “Love and laughter; I think that’s their secret. They really make everyone feel like they’re the most special person on the planet.”
And the performances drew them back. “It’s a listening room,” says Maureen, “so everyone is paying careful attention to the performers in the middle, and they feed off each other, which is wonderful. The circle of four performers, in two different sets, and they do a round robin; one person will start and then the next person might change what they were going to play because the first song played reminded them of something. Or they may invite the other performers to sing harmonies or do instrumentals with them. There have been some nights when it turned into a ‘magic’ Jam; these people had never met before but they’re so talented they could just jump in on each other’s song and do wonderful, wonderful things.”
The Massardos were first inspired to create the John St. Jam after taking a trip to Nashville in 2003. Terri and Steve are both musicians, and Terri had been thinking of ways to help raise funds for the Saugerties Reformed Church in which she’s long been active. “She had decided to do something musical to raise money, and a regular event would be better than a single concert,” Steve said in a 2013 interview with Saugerties Times. “We’d been kind of racking our brains about how to make it distinctive when Terri saw a show in-the-round at The Bluebird Cafe [the Nashville club known for its intimate acoustic music performed by its composers]. That was really the spark; it was less than a month later when we got back that we did the first Jam. We went from performing in local bars and coffee houses to sort of creating one out of thin air.”
A void in the music scene
The John St. Jam meant a lot to the musicians who participated, too. In the 2013 interview, Steve Massardo explained that the musicians appreciated the level of attentiveness from the audience at a Jam. “The people are really engaged in everybody’s performance. It’s not like playing at a bar, where you’re competing with the baseball game on TV or billiards; which is not only distracting as a performer, but disheartening. They come here and they have 100 or so people who are just fascinated by what they do. And a musician wants to be heard; they’re putting their heart and soul into writing these songs.”
When Paul Luke Andreassen performs at the last Jam, it will close a full circle in a sense, because he was one of the performers at the very first Jam. Andreassen credits the Massardos dedication to the singers and songwriters of the region as creating an “Austin City Limits of the North country” in the John St. Jam. “I was proud as a performer as well as a spectator to participate through the years,” he says. “I have seldom witnessed as genuine a respect for singers and writers as I’ve witnessed by Steve, Terri and their merry band of volunteers who are always there at the shows to help. All I can say is, ‘They’re a tough act to follow.’ A void in the music scene will be evident for years to come.”
Proceeds from the $5 admission fee and sales of refreshments have always gone entirely to benefit the church.
The last show will be special, says Terri Massardo, not only as the last show but because the couple will share the stage with some of their closest friends. “One of our songs was written by a dear friend, Beth Ashton, who has since died of cancer. Her husband, Steve Ashton (now remarried) will join us on upright bass.” The Massardos also plan to perform one of the first songs they learned when they first got together.
Terri says it’s hard to even think about the preparation for the last show without tears. “We began this journey thinking it would last a few years, then lose favor and eventually end. Instead it has done just the opposite; we’ve continued to grow and are blown away at times by the performances. We are often amazed at the talent that comes to us, and from great distances: Switzerland and Sweden, I think, top the list! A lot of musicians have met at the John St. Jam and continue to get together musically and socially; there are even several couples we know of that met at the Jam and one in particular that eventually married. It has been our musical child and we have felt very protective of it. But now we’re ready to let it go, enjoy the memories and hope that friendships formed there will last forever.”
More info is available at www.johnstreetjam.net.