A few hundred beers, four fiddles, two cellos and a bit of Scottish history is typical for a Bridger Brewing Sunday afternoon. Last weekend the Scottish jam session was missing their usual guitar players and drummer due to a marriage and an impromptu Scotland bike tour, but the sound of cello and fiddle still filled the back lounge.
“We had an accordion for a little while, but he got too busy. We have a couple people who play the pennywhistle,” cellist and fiddler Tina Visscher said.
With five musicians in their circle, song choices come from the players themselves. “When new people come in, they get a chance to show us what they’ve been working on,” Visscher said. “Each time they come around [in the circle] they get a chance to show off.”
Visscher is the glue that holds these Scottish jam sessions together. “It’s very energizing,” she said. “I grew up playing classical music and it was a little tense. We just get to go for it here. And we get to play from memory which you would never get to do with classical.”
The crew last Sunday ranged from one fourteen-year-old playing both the cello and the fiddle to adult musicians of 30 years and more. Ansel, switching between his two instruments based on the song, started with a violin-sized cello when he was about eight years old.
Visscher loves having the kids at the Gaelic cèilidh (pronounced kay-lee) on Sundays. She said, “We have Ivan and Cade and Ansel; they’re young and they’re energetic. When you have more young people, you get more of the really fast, energetic stuff.”
Multiple times the group said they’d love to have more young musicians, especially participation from MSU students. “You don’t have to play everything. You can just listen and figure out the ones you love,” Visscher assured, “You ask what it is and you get a chance to learn it. It’s a gradual process where you learn more and more. It’s not a performance, it’s just people playing together. You can mess up all you want. It’s fun.”
The real organizing structure of this cèilidh is the Bozeman Folklore Society. The organization is a “volunteer non-profit dedicated to preserving, enjoying and sharing the music, dance, arts, crafts and skills of traditional cultures.”
The Montana Reel and Strathspey Society, a subsection of the Folklore Society, organizes the dances and the jam sessions and the concerts. “We bring in Scottish fiddlers to do weekend workshops, Scottish dancing, and we have a band,” said Visscher. “There are Contra dances first Fridays and third Saturdays. It’s not just Celtic music. There’s Scottish dancing, Contra dancing and International.”
The dances are hosted with the musical stylings of bands in the Strathspey Society, including Barrowdurn Dance Band, Visscher’s band. “We have six in the band. We just let [Cade and Ansel] come in for next Friday which is the annual party we’re playing.”
Visscher explained, “[Bozeman Folklore Society] has an annual meeting to kick off the season. After the potluck and election of officers they’ll have some listening sets of all different kinds of genres. We have folk music and three or four different kinds of dancing where you can learn how to do those dances, so you can get introduced to everything. Anybody can go.”
This year’s kick off is Friday, Sept. 25 at the Lindley Center starting with a potluck at 6:30 p.m. and music and dancing at 7:30 p.m..
The jam sessions inside Bridger Brewing are held every Sunday from 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come play, watch, listen or do homework. “We used to play at 406; we’ve been [at Bridger Brewing] for at least a year. I like the acoustics here better and the beer,” Visscher said, laughing.