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40 years of jamming: O’Hurley’s General Store celebrates musical anniversary

By Staff | Nov 22, 2019

Musicians perform a variety of folk songs, during the 40th anniversary celebration of O'Hurley's General Store's Heritage Music Jam Sessions on Nov. 14. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — When Jay O’Hurley took over his father’s general store 40 years ago, he knew he wanted the business to preserve elements of American history. His business plan worked, and today, those who step into O’Hurley’s General Store suddenly feel like they’ve entered another world.

“I was totally determined to preserve some of the things from yesteryear that were worth saving,” O’Hurley said on Nov. 14, as he prepared for a 40th anniversary celebrating one of the most renowned parts of his business plan–the weekly Heritage Music Jam Session.

“We play music here every week, which is sort of well known. But tonight is a special event,” O’Hurley said. “This is the 40th anniversary of playing music here tonight. We haven’t missed a Thursday night since Nov. 13, 1979.”

To avoid copyright infringement issues, the jam session music sticks to “old-time traditional, Scotch-Irish and contemporary pieces written by people in the circle,” O’Hurley said.

“Community music and the camaraderie was just a slam-dunk, when I was making the decision to start doing the jam sessions,” O’Hurley said. “I liked music anyway, and played a little bit, so I wanted to do a jam session. I didn’t know where it would go, and never thought about how popular it would be.

The 40th anniversary cake, along with cups for hot cider in the fireplace, wait to be used up by attendees of O'Hurley's General Store's celebration on Nov. 14. Tabitha Johnston

Musicians of all experience levels from throughout the Eastern Panhandle show up each week, to play music together on their harps, guitars, violins, dulcimers and banjos. While many of the musicians have played of-and-on for many years, O’Hurley is the only person who has been playing at the store since the beginning.

“There’s no one around who was part of the jam session back then,” O’Hurley said. “A hundred musicians have easily been part of our jam sessions. And even today, we’ll have our weeklies, our quarterlies, our bi-annuals, our annuals who will come in to play.”

“Somebody told me that we are recognized as one of the top jam sessions in the state,” O’Hurley said. “I think that’s probably because of our longevity and quality of music.”

For those wanting to get or share a taste of O’Hurley’s General Store’s 40 years of music this Christmas season, the store has finished recording its first CD of music. “Thursday Night Jam,” which was recorded by nine of its jam session members, is expected to be available in the store by the beginning of December.

“We’ve thought about doing an album for many years, and finally got around to it this year,” O’Hurley said, mentioning the timing with the anniversary was coincidental. “We want the audience to sit there and feel like they’re listening to a jam session. We’re working so hard to keep the audience feel, to keep you feeling like you’re right there with us.”