Say hello to the Oakie Folkies
Enjoying an impromptu jam together are Oakie Folkies directors (from left) Taylor Finlay, Janet Dove, and Bob Chapman.
You haven’t touched your guitar for 40 years and you’d like to start strumming again? Your mandolin’s stored in a closet and you’re thinking about dusting it off? You’ve been taking ukulele lessons and you’re ready to play for an audience? You would love to drop in on a live jam just to listen? You love folk, country, rock and roll, blues, bluegrass, and swing? You’re into John Denver? Willie Nelson? Kate Wolf? Hank Williams? Johnny Cash?
Say hello to the Oakie Folkies.
The Oakie Folkies are a group of 60 or so musicians who may or may not still be playing professionally and who meet twice a month for the love of sharing good music. At 7 p.m. every second and fourth Wednesday, Oakie Folkies gather to jam on the upper floor of Oakmont’s West Recreation Center. The musicians sit in a circle facing rows of chairs for fans who show up. They play guitar, mandolin, bass, harmonica, banjo, accordion, autoharp – you name it.
Five Oakie Folkies could show up or 25, one row of fans or a full house. An Oakie Folkies jam is as unstructured as the wind. If he feels like jamming, a musician just shows up. If you feel like listening, you just show up. No reservations, no dues, no membership to join, no admission to pay. It’s free. And it’s fun. All Oakmont musicians, listeners, and their invited guests are welcome.
You can also find Oakie Folkies in a sing-along performance every first Wednesday of the month at Oakmont Gardens.
Janet Dove, current contact person, keeps an email list of musicians and speaks for the group. “It’s all about fun and getting immersed in the music and camaraderie,” she said. “Throughout the year new musicians come by to see if Oakie Folkies is a good fit for them. It’s exciting to discover the depth and variety of talent here in our community.”
Dove has been playing guitar since high school and occasionally plays professionally in small venues. Her mother, a gifted autoharpist, also performed with the Oakie Folkies. Dove brings the music of award-winning Sonoma County folk singer-songwriter Kate Wolf to the jams.
Each musician takes a turn in the spotlight, starting to play and sing the song of his/her choice and soon all join in – and the crescendo of seven guitars, four ukuleles, a banjo, harmonica, electric piano and 14 vocalists builds to a peak where, one overly-enthusiastic fan swears, the tennis nets on the courts outside start dancing.
Any seat in the audience is a good one but if you’re lucky you’ll get to sit next to Betty Seacord. Seacord, whose late husband was an Oakie Folkie, rarely misses a jam. She holds on her lap a scrapbook bulging with notes and newspaper clippings and if you ask her she’ll tell you who’s playing and give you the name of the song and its genre.
It was 20 years ago when Oakmont resident Taylor Finlay formed an Oakmont folk and eclectic music society and named it Oakie Folkies. Music has always been major in Finlay’s life. He attended college on a band scholarship, played in morale-boosting bands during World War II, and performed with a guitar group in many folk and bluegrass festivals during his working years.
Wearing a beret, with his guitar in tow and a harmonica in his pocket, Finlay is a convivial fixture at Oakie Folkie jams. Now 92, he says, “Music is the last remnant of our youth. I can’t remember my zip code or my phone number but I can remember the words of a song my mother sang when I was a child.”
Finlay turned management of the Oakie Folkies over to Bob Chapman in early 2000 and Chapman, when he was elected president of Oakmont Village Association in 2010 and subsequently treasurer of Oakmont Community Foundation, found it necessary to pass the baton to Janet Dove. Chapman, an accomplished guitarist, was a teenager when music became important in his life. “I remember getting a broom and putting my collar up and playing ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in front of the mirror,” he recalls. “I was in a folk music group in college and I’ve been playing ever since.”
In addition to Wednesday night jams, Chapman plays guitar with an Oakie Folkies spin-off group called the Mello-Tones that includes Chris Finn on mandolin or bass and accordionist Mary Ellen Brown. The Mello-Tones, one of Oakmont’s most sought after volunteer groups, regularly play for charitable events including the recent Veterans and First Responders celebration at Berger Center. “Oakmont is all about volunteerism,” Chapman says. “This is what we do.”
Having a private birthday or anniversary party and looking for a small group to entertain? You can hire the Mello-Tones. They will put together and rehearse a program of appropriate songs.
Any questions? Contact Chapman at firstname.lastname@example.org.