When word spread that Zepp’s Country Music store in downtown Wendell was closing last year, mandolin player Joey Tedder and a host of other bluegrass musicians feared losing one of their favorite hangouts. For more than 20 years, pickers had gathered in Wendell weekly to play, with the crowd spilling out into the streets some nights.
John Freeman found out that the musicians were looking for a place to play, so he approached Tedder to offer his Outdoor Recreation Center at 4900 Wendell Blvd. Free.
The group began playing there almost a year ago.
Situated on the eastern edge of the Wendell town limits, the Outdoor Recreation Center opens its doors every Thursday night around 7, after the swimming pool has closed. Musicians come from across the Triangle for three hours to play and sing.
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“We are about having fun. We have a unique bond – we all love this music. Bluegrass music is an American music. We just enjoy it,” Tedder said as he took a break to talk outside on a hot August night.
“We have all kinds of people coming in here, some are professional-level musicians and some beginners. Everyone is welcome at the jams.”
The group grows on some nights to as many as 30 musicians. Dobro, fiddle, bass, guitar, mandolin and banjo players weave in and out of the nucleus of the jam session as they choose songs, and pass solos to each other with a nod of their head. There are no microphones or amplifiers, just pure sound.
Arrive early and you can claim one of the rocking chairs on the front row to soak up the night’s offerings. Or you take a chair along the perimeter of the room.
In one corner, a group of ladies play Russian Solitaire next to table strewn with empty instrument cases. Some are here for the music, some to play cards.
Each Thursday is different. There could be a shortage or abundance of banjo players. No one is really sure who will show up with what instrument.
Tom Becker joined the group recently. A fiddle-playing software engineer from Texas, he found the Wendell group after first landing in another group in Garner. “Music is such a great way to meet friends and have fun – it’s like a road into the community.”
Working temporarily in the Research Triangle Park since November, Becker believes he has found his family away from home. “Music is the center of my life.”
Where to hear bluegrass in the Triangle
▪ Outdoor Recreation Center at 4900 Wendell Blvd., Wendell, 919-366-0080.
▪ Common Grounds Coffee & Music House, 20 Cheves Road in Bunn, 919-340-4477.
▪ Johnny’s On Main, 27 S. Main St. in Franklinton, 919-925-8058.
▪ Lorraine’s Coffee House & Music at 101 Timber Pointe Lane, Garner, 919-714-7990.
World of Bluegrass coverage
The International Bluegrass Music Association returns to Raleigh this week, and The News & Observer will offer complete coverage:
▪ Photos, videos, news and features: nando.com/bluegrass.
▪ Twitter: #BluegrassRaleigh.
▪ Print: Special daily coverage Tuesday through Sunday.