When Lake Norman Jam lights up its fiddle tunes, you might as well be sitting around a campfire two centuries ago.
Much of the music dates that far back – some to the founding of our country.
Ralph Gettings, 62, of Cornelius started the band five months ago for anyone who likes to play traditional American music, beginners included.
Twice a month, Gettings welcomes fiddlers, guitarists, accordionists and mandolin players of varied experience into his home on Schooner Drive to practice a set score of tunes.
They perform at the Davidson Farmer's Market, church luncheons and other venues.
Many pieces date to the mid-1800s or earlier, such as “Oh! Susanna,” “June Apple,” “Buffalo Gals” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”
Wisconsin native Gettings calls his gatherings “slow jams,” because performers work off a set score and play at the pace of the slowest player.
The more recognized “jam” style is when musicians gather and one starts a tune that others follow if they know it.
“It's not one-upmanship, a competition against one another,” he said. “These are sweet, good people, the kind of people you want in your life.”
Gettings is an insurance adjuster who has lived on Schooner Drive since 1983. He plays bass fiddle.
Band members are of various ages and professions. Some play in the Charlotte Folk Society.
Mandolin player Karl Plank, 56, of Cornelius teaches religion at Davidson College.
Fiddle player Ed Gebauer, 57, of Concord works for Time Warner Cable Engineering. Guitarist Rich Rosenthal, 56, of Charlotte is director of design and construction at Central Piedmont Community College.
The oldest members are World War II Marine Bill Williams and friend Frances Conyers, 84, both of Charlotte. Williams plays fiddle and guitar and Conyers the guitar and accordion.
Nine performers practiced at the Gettings home the night I visited, and I quickly sensed from Williams and the rest that the band is also lots of fun.
Williams said he doesn't want presents when he turns 86 on Saturday. “Just send money,” he said.
He told me he grew up in L.A. – “Lower Alabama.”
Brian Blaney, 49, of Huntersville, who plays a bunch of instruments, looked around the room and told me, “I'm the kid in the group.”
He moved from California, where in 2007 he produced a CD of traditional music called “Cantaloupe Tonite.”
But the band also is considering a Kids Jam, Gettings said.
To carry the music of our ancestors into another generation.