Arts and Culture

Shani Gilchrist



A new experience and old feeling at the Jam Room Music Festival

Posted 11/10/2012 7:27:00 AM

Back in 1988, Jay Matheson decided to put his love of independent music to work by opening Jam Room Recording Studio in Columbia. Twenty five years later he is going stronger than ever in his Prospect Street studio that provides recording space, drums, various guitars, state-of-the-art equipment and a community of musicians who love exchanging ideas as much as they love their music.

To celebrate 25 years of business and community, Jam Room brought national headlining bands The Hold Steady and Justin Townes Earle to downtown Columbia for The Jam Room Music Festival, a free event that has its audience hoping it will become an annual tradition. The corner of Hampton and Main was shut down and traffic was replaced with food trucks, performing arts groups, a gallery exhibition, a bicycle rally, and people from all over the region who simply love music.

It’s been awhile since I’ve attended any kind of rock concert or festival. When I was in college in Milwaukee I would often hop the train down to Chicago for a weekend of loud and anthematic fun, but since then most of my listening has been done via iTunes and Pandora internet radio. Heading down for the festival was a bit of a guilty pleasure for me since I hadn’t done anything like that since becoming a mortgage-paying-grownup.

What I did not expect was the extent to which this was a community experience. Bands weren’t just playing… they were hanging out. I saw people from as far away as California who just didn’t want to leave. Children were creating masterpieces with chalk in the street. Performers were jumping off stages to dance with adults and little ones alike. If you can take a family reunion and mash it up with your favorite small music festival experience, you would end up with the Jam Room Music Festival.

I was able to step backstage to chat with studio founder and festival organizer Jay Matheson to chat about what the festival means and his hopes for it to continue.

“It’s by the people and for the people,” he told me, which explains the closeness between the individuals in the crowd and that between the performers and their audience. It was a telling example of the quality of independent music in Columbia and that a true support system among peers is what got it to the level we see today. All one has to do is wander into New Brookland Tavern, Conundrum Music Hall, or The Art Bar on a performance night to find this feeling of warmth and support that makes touring bands want to return over and over again.

I hope that Jam Room will continue to celebrate its birthdays with such parties every year. I will definitely become a regular. Thanks to Jay Matheson’s efforts I have a renewed appreciation for the rock scene in South Carolina and plan to explore it much further.