Gallery: Virginia, Carolina bluegrass musicians find a stage at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market parking lot

Fridays at the Virginia Beach Farmer’s Market bring music to the stage through a concert series. On same night, musicians from Hampton Roads, North Carolina and beyond gather in the parking lot for an enduring bluegrass jam. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Musicians from Hampton Roads, North Carolina and beyond gather in the parking lot of the Virginia Beach Farmers Market for an enduring bluegrass jam. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

LANDSTOWN — For years, musicians from Hampton Roads, North Carolina and beyond have gathered at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market to play and sing bluegrass.

It’s a Friday evening tradition, but it shouldn’t be confused with the Friday Night Hoedowns, which, rain or shine, bring performances to the circle stage when it shines or under a covered pavillion when it rains.

Rather than rain or shine shows, they tend to be shine only, and they are among a number of local jam sessions that bring lovers of the music together. The Tidewater Bluegrass Music Association has a comprehensive list of jams around the region. 

The bluegrass gatherings at the market take place in the back parking lot, bringing together a variety of musicians, from newbies to old hands who have played together for years. 

These are sometimes fluid gatherings in which groups may break apart, spread out in the lot and sometimes reconnect. 

Several visits to the parking lot this summer tended to feature a central group, itself encircled by spectators of various ages, as well as a couple of pet dogs.

The jams start around 7 p.m. Some visitors sat in lawn chairs. Some stood, hummed, danced, sang along.

“I’ve been coming to this farmers market, gosh, since the 1980s,” musician Gary Bates, 59, of Chesapeake said. “You used to see three or four jams going on.”

Some of the musicians Bates and others looked up to over the years are older and come out less often, if they can do so. 

Yet the memory of the jams is long.

Those who have played here or elsewhere and influenced players live on in the music younger musicians make now.

“I miss ‘em,” Bates said.

Some musicians travel to the jam from out of town, such as Wayne Hicks, 62, a retired Chesapeake firefighter who now keeps his banjo in Sunberry, N.C., or Joy Schmidt, a violinist, who visited recently from the Washington, D.C., area and attended at the invitation of Bill Maddrey, president of the Tidewater Bluegrass Music Association.

During one Friday this summer, Cole Aaron Braswell, a 19-year-old Deep Creek man, brought family and fiddle to the parking lot. He will soon join the military.

Among the places he has played is Wayne’s Body Shop in Portsmouth, a popular spot for bluegrass musicians to congregate.

Theresa Carty of Norfolk, who has frequented the jams for years, said she remembered when Braswell played past gatherings. 

“We watched him grow up,” Carty said that summer evening in the parking lot. 

“When he started, he was young,” she said. “He was learning. It’s wonderful to listen to him now.”

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