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O’Hurley’s: It’s where the music lives

By Staff | Sep 16, 2016

Every Thursday at 7:30 p.m., O’Hurley’s General Store in Shepherdstown, hosts a weekly jam session open to all local musicians and to anyone who wants to listen.

“Anyone who shows up is welcome,” Jay Hurley, a longtime Shepherdstown resident and owner of O’Hurley’s General Store, said.

“There are a few basic rules, just common sense things like leave your instrument case in the other room so the main room doesn’t get cluttered and we only play tunes that aren’t registered. The tunes go around in a circle and each person in the circle picks the next tune in turn,” Hurley explained.

Although Hurley, a hammer dulcimer player, cannot read music, he can play by ear.

“We have those who read music, which is not me, and they have books but we don’t really use them. Sometimes someone will come in and say they heard a tune that they liked and we’ll play it,” Hurley said.

“Sometimes this is a disadvantage because there are some people who can only read music. Most of us, when we hear a tune enough, can usually catch on pretty quick.”

Hurley said that those who are not familiar with the music they play at the jam sessions are welcome to come and play their own music.

“For someone to come in and say that they don’t know what we play, we don’t want to hear that. We want to hear what you play and it really delights us when someone asks if they can play an original composition,” Hurley said. “It’s about being very hospitable to anyone who shows up.”

According to Hurley, the hammer dulcimer is an instrument that is played by using hammers.

“A hammer dulcimer is a dulcimer that’s hit with hammers and I always say that whatever it is, if I can hit it with a hammer, I understand it. I have a blacksmith shop in the back and I work on my Ford tractor,” Hurley explained.

Hurley said that all instruments are welcome to come to the jam sessions. To get involved in a jam session one can contact either Hurley prior or just show up on a Thursday night.

“Some people come in and say they’d like to play with us and I’ll usually run them through the ropes or sometimes I might look up while we’re playing music and see someone I’ve never met before,” Hurley said.

Although the jam sessions only play public domain music, Hurley said that many of the tunes are Celtic, original compositions and ‘Old Time Traditional’ pieces.

Hurley, who was born above the General Store in a room where he now sleeps, said the tradition of the jam sessions have continued for 36 years without missing a Thursday.

“We haven’t missed a Thursday in 36 years except on Thanksgiving, even when I was in the hospital. For the last couple of Thanksgivings I haven’t had a place to go so I sit in here and start playing and leave the door unlocked. Next thing I know, the door opens and a musician comes in,” Hurley said.

“The jam sessions have added so much to the richness of those who play and those who listen,” Hurley added.

“Some people come every Thursday night just to listen and others come almost every night for about two to three months and then not come often. They seem to come at a time in their lives when they need that kind of input and the musicians play because they like music and they like to play but they also like the comradery and it becomes a family,” Hurley said.

Hurley said that in many ways, the music of the jam sessions helps bring the musicians together.

“The average person comes in and they don’t really see the depth of it, which is fine because they’re getting what they want to get out of it but people who need more will find more,” Hurley said. “It’s really rewarding to be able to do it and being able to play music.”

Timothy Jacot, a Shepherdstown resident who has been attending the jam sessions for three years, said he thinks the jam sessions are important because they remind people of what music is about.

“The jam sessions are acoustic based and the diversity of instruments gives far more of a scope on what music is. Music is not just amplified stuff or computerized stuff, there’s actual sound coming out of manmade things,” Jacot said.

Jacot added, “I think people enjoy the music because it’s easy listening because of the acoustics.”

Wes Merchant, a Frederick resident who attends the jam sessions once a month, said he comes because he likes being a part of a group.

“I come to play music with people,” Merchant said, “It’s a social thing, being with the musicians and being a part of a group. It helps you learn new skills and hone your own skills.”

O’Hurley’s General Store is located at 205 East Washington Street.

To get involved in a Thursday night jam session, one can stop by during store hours and talk to Jay Hurley.