Every Saturday afternoon a group of musicians from across the Twin Cities begin gathering in a small back room of the Homestead Pickin' Parlor for the Advanced Bluegrass Jam, a weekly session held at the Penn Avenue store.
The musical instrument emporium is narrow and well-stocked. The walls in the jam room—where the shop holds at least four jam sessions each week—are covered with string instruments of every variety: Children's guitars hang next to banjos and Appalachian dulcimers are pegged across from mandolins.
Eight or 10 chairs seem permanently arranged in a haphazard circle, and as musicians enter the store carrying one or more string instruments in-hand, the chairs are slowly taken over as the store swells with the sounds of tuning and congenial greetings.
The shop has been hosting informal jam sessions since it opened its doors in 1979, according to Dawn Menzel, who started the store with her husband, Marv. Many of the musicians have been attending the Saturday jam session for more than a decade. In addition to having taken lessons at the store, Jerry Knopik guessed he'd been coming to the Saturday jam for about 15 years.
"It feels like 30," joked Bruce Johnson, a long-time store employee.
The musicians who attend the sessions bring a diverse mix of skill levels and tastes to the group, Knopik said.
"There are some people who come here who are good enough to be what I would term professional," he said. "Then there are others who are amateurs but still play really well."
"There's a lot of karma in this place," Craig Evans, another player, added. "This room has seen a lot of tremendous musicians come through."
Regardless of skill level, Knopik said the music is important on a spiritual level.
"You have the music in your soul," he said. "Some people have blues and we have bluegrass."
While many of the participants are also customers, who help boost the store's bottom-line, Johnson said the jam session is important to the bluegrass and folk music community.
"Mainly the store is just a place for the people to get together and play the music that we're all in love with. Getting people involved is the main deal, that's what we're here for," Johnson said. "It's community, it's all community. It's about establishing a good group of people to keep the music alive."