As they have been for the past three years, a diverse and dedicated conglomerate of acoustic pickers and their faithful gathered Friday night (not so) quietly for the twice-a-month Bellport.com Acoustic Jam at the Bellport Community Center.
Friday night’s get-together was special because it brought to the circle Long Island native and nationally renowned roots-blues guitarist Little Toby Walker.
Walker’s vibrant picking style and devilish slide work have taken him all over the country and the world. But whenever the stars align and his good friend, Bellport.com publisher, Acoustic Jam organizer and bassist Larry Sribnick asks, Walker makes sure to sit in with this group of old friends and new faces.
“I know Larry for years and years and years,” Walker said. “He’s the one who puts this together. It’s his fault!”
Like so many suburban teenagers in the ‘60s and '70s, Walker fell backward into traditional music through good old rock and roll.
“For me it started with the Rolling Stones,” Walker said. “I started listening to where the Stones got their stuff from, and from there I got turned on to Chicago blues.”
While the soul of the blues is strife, the heartbeat is community – sharing the pain, soothing it through song. Sribnick’s said his love for the Bellport community and his love of music inspired him throw this event back to tradition, both in sound and scope.
“Musicians have been sitting in a circle and playing for hundreds of years,” Sribnick said. “What’s new here is we’ve invited an audience to see that process.”
On Friday night, what the audience got was a taste of Walker’s genius.
While the circle of talented and heartfelt musicians took turns introducing and leading the group through folk and country tunes, Walker did what all virtuosos do best – he gave plenty of space to the other players and picked his spots carefully. The result was some brilliantly tasteful playing and warm harmonizing by the entire ensemble on such neo-traditional gems as “The Weight” by The Band and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
It was a thrill for local mandolin player Wayne Krush. Krush, a first-timer to the collective, said when he learned Walker was sitting in, he knew he had to make it down.
“I saw Toby was playing and felt if there ever was a night I was going to get down here, this was it,” said Krush said. “I’ve never been here, so it’s kind of fun.”
As Krush got comfortable and started to dig in, scales of his cascading notes instantly found their rhythm in and among the first drumming of a rainstorm on the windowpanes. Walker smiled and jumped right in with picking of his own. The two strangers were trading licks in no time.
Above, from left, Larry Sribnick and Little Toby Walker trade licks during a jam session Friday night at the Bellport Community Center.