I was first introduced to the Brooklyn indie music scene while traipsing through central Ghana with a great work friend, Jason Dilg – a gifted bluegrass player with roots in Appalachia by way of Boulder. We were digging an impromptu local High Life celebration on a red-dusted road near Kumase when he told me about a friend called Jefferson Hamer, whom he used to room with long ago and thought I might enjoy his music. Maybe a month later I was alerted to a Hamer performance at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC and decided to check it out. I have not looked back since.
Thanks to the miracle of connectivity and Mark Zuckerberg, musicians can announce their presence at the smallest of venues to the largest number of potential audience. I heard Hamer & Friends were gigging at a renowned local Red Hook bar called Sunny’s on a Tuesday night and I decided to check it out.
I got there at 9 p.m., the appointed hour, and Hamer was meticulously setting up the mics and amps on stage by himself. A ragtag band of seeming musicians were hanging out in the tiny stage area, chatting amiably and occasionally lending a hand. Since music appeared to be a few moments off, I sidled up to the bar and ordered a beer and a shot. There were maybe three other people hugging a barstool. A young woman came in and sat down next to me. She ordered a Manhattan. “Hi Sarah,” I said, without really looking up.
“Hi,” she said glancing at me, not a clue who I was.
“I saw you this winter at The Public. Great show! How’s the tour going?”
That’s the thing about New York. You go out for a set and find yourself sitting next to a Grammy Award-winning artist, who by her lonesome was demure and beguiling, in stark contrast to her searing guitar licks and soulful harmonizing thirty minutes later.
The stage at Sunny’s – the premises which were notoriously ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and lovingly restored by a local community effort – is about 12 foot by maybe 15. Even Hamer marveled that he was able to get five guitarists in one place at the same time as the loosely assembled band meandered through two impromptu sets, including a heart-wrenching rendition of the Dead’s “Loser” and an epic Glen Campbell singalong of “Gentle on My Mind.”
Musicians continued to wander in (other sets? day jobs?) and at one point they might have outnumbered the audience, whom one got the sense may have also all played a fiddle or the bagpipes or a horn. It was family night at Sunny’s. Sometime after 1 in the morning, a long jam ended with Hamer leading the audience in an a cappella singalong. He clapped his hands and marched off the stage as the band and audience kept singing. That was, until they realized Hamer was no longer there. I picked up my coat and headed for the door. Hamer sat alone at the bar with a drink. I assume his friends would find him eventually.
Jefferson Hamer will next grace Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn on Tuesday night, April 16th. Sarah Jarosz is currently on tour with her band I’m with Her, and is headed to Australia. Gina and Jason Dilg can next be seen at The Floyd Country Store in Virginia on April 27th.