Open Stages Excursion 

A journey through jam sessions in Boise from Saturday morning to Monday night

An excursion of open stages begins at Satchel's at 705 W. Bannock St. on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Hosting this show is Dan Costello, Rob Hill and Doug Brown, who play well together. The newly built patio stage is impressive with its backdrop of instruments which include mandolin, banjo, bass and acoustic guitars. Dan Costello's songs and playing are engaging and Hill's support on fretless bass complements them both well. Doug Brown has the luxury of having his songs backed up by Hill and Costello, as well as Pat Reid deftly playing with brushes on djembi.

And this is just the beginning. After a song, the stage is given up to whoever is there and wants to play, which always varies. One Saturday, I saw The Desert Swing Band, which included eight banjo players and a saxophonist holding down the bass line. On this day, it was Travelin' Travis, who is the epitome of the itinerant musician. He has seen and done a lot of things and that's what he sings about. Jeremia James was also there playing and singing his country-tinged, poignant ballads of life and travel, followed up by Michael Ray Cox playing straight-ahead fingerstyle instrumentals. All three guitarists were entertaining and diverse.

This is an open-air occasion with a lot of foot traffic because right around the corner is the 8th Street Saturday Market-a people-watchin' situation. The tables at Satchel's are full of families, and the food looks and smells good. So much so that I've heard people say, "I'll have what they're having." What I like is that when people walk by carrying their blueberries and flowers to their cars, they stop and tap their toes or do a soft-shoe shuffle. Such is the mood.

This is a relatively new open stage, not quite a year old, but very accessible. After enjoying the sounds here, I look forward to tomorrow and my next stop.

It's 7 p.m. on Sunday night and I am at The Bouquet at 1010 W. Main St. There's been an evolution of sorts here. The Blues Bouquet is now The Bouquet, and the Blues Jam is now Open Jam Night. There are a lot of bands. Some are the jam bands-interchangeable individuals that sound like one working band. This is indicative of the level of musicianship.

The unassuming guitarist Gary Dow is a master of taste who can fit in anywhere. Dale Cusumona sings with her entire being and Brian Smith is another great guitarist with a gorgeous tone. The surprise of the night was Pilot Error, a recently formed group that did admirable covers of stadium rock like Styx, the Cars and such. And then who should hit the stage but Travelin' Travis, with a fine version of Dylan's "Highway 61."

Hosting this Sunday event is Mike Pinney and he's been doing this for one-and-a-half years now. He runs a tight ship from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.: There are no pockets, no long jams, no dead space, just continuous good music, a near festival of groups. This is one of the busiest nights of the week for The Bouquet and is a mother lode of talent. As much as I've enjoyed the music here, I am looking forward to my last stop on my tour of open stages.

It's now Monday night and time for the Open Jam with Rebecca Scott and Ben Burdick who have been doing this for four-and-a-half years, at Pengilly's Saloon, located at 513 W. Main St. from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. This is also called "Singer Songwriter Night," as well as (my favorite) a "Musician's Forum."

This was by far the most intimate of the jams-very communal with handshakes all around. It starts with Rebecca and Ben, who are both institutions in this town. They do a short set and then the cavalcade of artists begins. This is a happening situation where every 15 minutes someone is walking in with a guitar to a teeming atmosphere. Most of the people walking in are solo artists, but now and then, Ben or Rebecca-or both-will get on stage and support the performer. There are some covers, but most everyone plays originals. Everything seems to be in perpetual motion. A majority of the audience seems to be musicians. They seem to love talking to each other and, here is the phenomenal thing-the musicians can speak and listen at the same time. A good song is immediately recognized and appreciated.

After three days of open stages, I started to see some of the same faces. On Monday night, Jeremia James, Michael Ray Cox and Travelin' Travis were all back again. After three days of traversing these venues I saw close to 50 different performances and not one bad note in the bunch. Incredibly, it was all free.

If you are a musician and want to get up on stage or just go and listen to local musicians, try Satchel's on Saturdays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., The Bouquet at 7 p.m. on Sunday nights and Pengilly's on Monday nights at 8:30 p.m. Happy playing!

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