In the 1980s, Americans tuned in their TVs to watch a show about a bar where “everybody knows your name.” Cheers was a top-running show for a long time because the world could appreciate the feeling of having a place where you could really be accepted as yourself. Just as important, the characters accepted each other even after they had one too many beers.
Oh, how times have changed. Just a cursory glance across the current landscape and you see political unrest, social unrest, a pandemic, and economic turmoil. For the average Joe, it can mean incredible stress at work due to staffing shortages and supply chain problems.
Social media algorithms prefer emotional distress because that is what gets interactions. It seems the whole world wants to cancel anyone who doesn’t feel just the same as they do. We are overworked professionally and in a permanent state of social and political fight or flight. If there was ever a time we needed a barstool of acceptance, it is now. As luck would have it, there may even be an open one in downtown Salt Lake.
An environment has emerged that is not unlike sitting around a campfire, picking at a guitar, and singing with family and friends. Before the pandemic began, a weekly jam started up at Gracie’s bar, hosted by Pixie and the Partygrass Boys, a band that has become a local favorite. They created an environment where the line between the performers and the spectators fades away.
Public entertainment went away during the height of the pandemic, but when music came back, it came back big. Pixie and the Partygrass Boys found themselves too busy touring to continue supporting what they had created, so a loose coalition of musicians associated with the original band came together to keep up this front against the harshness in the world. They call it a Jam because any musician with an instrument can join in with the band, but it’s more like a hybrid between a jam and an open mic, with a band to back up whoever wants to come on stage. It is hosted by the David Burchfield Quintet, which consists of Megan Nay on fiddle, Melissa Chilinski on banjo, Matt Conlin on the bass, and a fifth rotating mandolin, often filled by Ben Weiss from Pixie and the Partygrass Boys.
Each member is a great musician in their own right, but what really makes them stand out as a band is the supportive and upbeat environment they create. The glue that seems to bind the group together is that either none of them have any problems in their lives and they are terminally happy, or they just know how to be present in the moment and exude positivity.
“It feels really special to carry on the tradition started by our friends Pixie and the Partygrass Boys. We love hosting the jam as a weekly gathering point for musicians and music lovers of all kinds. It’s called a ‘bluegrass jam’ because that’s our roots, but we play all kinds of music,” says band leader David Burchfield.
Some of those that get up and play with the band are seasoned veterans, while others just barely learned a tune on their ukulele on YouTube, so the experience is unique from week to week and even from song to song. What is really inviting is how the audience will sing along and celebrate even those who are just learning to overcome their stage fright.
The David Burchfield quintet has fostered an environment where there are always enough seats in a full bar because you can feel good sharing a table with strangers as if this were your regular haunt and they were longtime friends.
Whether you bring an instrument, or you come for the good food and well-crafted drinks, what you will really appreciate is the welcome sense of community you will find every Tuesday night at the Jam.
Gracie’s is located 326 S West Temple in Salt Lake City.
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