A quick conversation on a wooden stage, a few inches off the ground, below one fluorescent light starts the song off.
“What key is this in?”
“Do you know the words to this one?”
After the band works its way through the first couple bars, the players fall into rhythm and they, along with the 10 or so audience members, some with their eyes closed, but singing each word, make a two-room music store in Candia feel like a Tennessee saloon in the 1950s when the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens ruled country music.
At least once a week, Henderson’s Pickin’ Parlor (179 Raymond Road, Candia) hosts traditional country jams where anyone can stop in with an instrument and play, sit and watch or get up and dance. The country jams are on Thursday nights, and rock ’n’ roll jams are on Mondays. Jody Henderson, who owns the store with his father, Joe, said the store is hoping to have live music every night of the week.
“We may be out in the woods, but we’ve had quite a few bands get started here,” Jody Henderson said.
On Thursday, Sept. 27, Joe Rollins sat stage right, alternating between a fiddle and an electric guitar while sharing some of the vocal duties. A frequent participant in the weekly jams, Rollins said the talent of the musicians who come through Henderson’s has been at such a high level that he recently started a band, Nashville Rash, right out of the music store.
The band is starting to book gigs, Rollins said, and will play traditional country numbers with three guitars, a pedal steel guitar and a fiddle. Before the band takes on a gig outside of Henderson’s, Rollins said, the weekly jams are a good place to test out material.
“You need to be able to reach the audience,” he said. “For me, life is a stage and it’s good to get feedback to see what people like.”
The Hendersons say they never know precisely who will be attending the jams, but there is typically a strong turnout. At the Sept. 27 jam, musicians were spilling off the stage and setting up seats in the audience to strum along. Joe Henderson said that it is not uncommon for business travelers who get sent to Boston from the South to make the trip to Candia after looking the place up online, to get a taste of country music in New England.
“They don’t want to just sit in their hotel room,” he said.
The conversation continues in back:
“Do you know ‘Walking After Midnight?’”
“I don’t know. Play it and we’ll see what happens.”
It’s clear that tonight’s band has an open-door policy. Some players who come are in their 90s, while some are young and have only attended a couple prior jams.
As they work their way through Hank Thompson’s “Wild Side of Life” and Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” each song ends with applause from the audience and laughter from the stage.
Music, Rollins said, is a conversation. And when everyone can participate, that is when the best sounds are made.
You get in the room and everyone communicates in the same language,” he said