For a jam session to work, everything has to be just right. Peter Zona knows — as the leader of many former weekly open jams in the Manchester area, he’s seen plenty of them dissolve for a number of reasons.
But at the Village Trestle in Goffstown, Zona and the Wan-Tu Blues Band have been as consistent as clockwork, hosting a Sunday afternoon jam for for nine years. The jam began as a birthday gift to Zona from his girlfriend Brenda Cadieux, who is now a co-owner of the restaurant. The goal was to get as many players in one room as possible, with the caveat that they all had to play with Zona. The success of that jam led to the weekly sessions.
While the jams run year-round, every September brings along “Slutty” Pete’s Birthday Jam. The annual blowout brings in some of the top talent in New England to pay tribute to Zona’s hard work and dedication to keeping everything just right throughout the rest of the year.
“It’s a stable setup,” Zona said. “It’s the right bar at the right time of day, being a matinee show. The house band has always been comprised of excellent players, and the rhythm section has been the same since it started in 2004.”
Zone’s nickname is a testament to Zona’s hardworking nature. When he first started playing harmonica, he said, he would join in with as many bands as he could to hone his skills. He said his willingness to play with everyone earned him the “Slutty” Pete moniker.
Village Trestle co-owner Amberly Gibbs said the reliability of Zona’s jams has made them a popular option among the area’s musicians. With a packed house each week, she said, Zona seamlessly brings musicians on stage to play with the house band or solo. She said Zona’s ability to manage a room full of musicians itching for a spot on stage has earned him his other nickname, “The Zookeeper.”
“People come in for the first time and ask where the sign-up sheet is and we tell them we don’t have one,” Gibbs said. “He knows who’s here. He pairs people together well and it really flows very well.”
This year, the ninth annual “Slutty” Pete Birthday Jam will be Sunday, Sept. 29, from 3 to 7 p.m. Like most years, the birthday jam will feature a special guest, and Travis Colby, formerly of Roomful of Blues and a touring and recording partner of Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, will sit in on keyboard for the duration of the jam.
Gibbs said the musicians that frequent the Village Trestle’s Sunday jams are fully aware of the work Zona puts in.
“It started as a birthday present for Peter so the musicians could give something back to him for him managing it as well as he does for the rest of the year,” she said.
June Vaillancourt has been attending the Village Trestle's Sunday jams for over a year and said despite the band’s having “blues” in its name, it quickly adapts to her vintage country sound.
Vaillancourt has been performing for more than 35 years and said it’s refreshing to see the encouragement the band and the audience give to young performers who are taking the stage for the first time.
“I stay there because I enjoy listening to people,” Vaillancourt said. “Especially the young people, because this is where it starts. It starts when you’re young.”
What she likes most is that the audience is there to hear the music.
“When I go there it gives me a good feeling because the people are so kind and so nice and they pay attention. They listen to you,” Vaillancourt said. “You go in there and play your heart out and they sit there and listen to you.”
Zona said he doesn’t even take his birthday off. The biggest jam of the year is also his busiest, he said — he couldn’t bear to see anyone else running the show.
“I couldn’t sit there and watch someone else do it because someone else wouldn’t know how to do it,” he said.