Up Close: Campfire Jones


Share music, spread joy …
Campfire Jones doesn’t want to simply play music; he wants to share music with other musicians looking to fill up the empty air of a quiet room. The 36-year-old Lake Ariel resident traveled throughout the country for years while playing with different musical acts, but now he claims that he has grounded himself in northeastern Pennsylvania. Born in Chicago, Jones hosts a Pizza Jam every Wednesday night at The Gravity Inn in Waymart. What is a Pizza Jam you ask? Essentially, it’s a group of musicians spanning all ages, skill levels and musical genres, coming together to share their music in an “in-the-round” format, with rotating solos and styles. Participants earn some pizza and beer for their efforts, but more importantly, connections are made between the participating musicians and the expanding crowd of listeners. Although the Pizza Jam is only in its fourth month, Jones sees the maturation of the weekly event and is excited to see just what will happen every Wednesday. He doesn’t mind pickin’ a tune for a frosty brew and a slice. Meet Campfire Jones…

 

How would you describe your profession?
I’m a producer and musician. I like helping people. I could be a session player because people are always calling me to play with them and fill in the pockets. I play primarily strings; a lot of mandolin and fiddle or banjo and guitar.

Where has music taken you?
Pretty much everywhere besides South Dakota. I spent a lot of time out west and a couple years up east in New Hampshire just learning French Canadian tunes, contra dance music, bluegrass and blues. I was really inspired at 19 to start traveling and the romance behind it. You listen to Woody Guthrie’s music and it starts to get in your head. I started studying. You can’t really know what the music sounds like unless you’re there; in places like New Orleans, Southwest and Texas. After time I was collecting songs like a song catcher. My repertoire kept building and building. When I arrived in the area, I started opening up more. I love traveling but I’m done for now. I have my roots here.

Talk about the role music played in your life growing up.
When I was younger, I started playing the trombone. I never really got past the Star Wars Imperial March or the theme song from The Smurfs. (Laughs.) My mother got me my first guitar. Growing up, I listened to a lot of KRS-One and Black Flag. I try to take that edge and put it into my music.

Where did your love for this old- timey music originate?
It’s hard to pinpoint. I went to a folk festival in Chicago and it was so raw. People were very friendly, approachable and really into sharing. There were all of these different rooms; people dancing, people fiddling, an Irish session and sea shanties. I migrated toward that openness. It’s more of a respect for keeping the torch burning for American music and American roots.

How would you describe your approach­­ to the music you play?
My approach is that I try to keep it open. I’ll play an old time song or a reggae song, bluegrass and hip hop. It just comes out. There is such a thing as the spirit of music and sometimes it takes over. I just put my passion in it. You listen to these old guys and take a little bit from them and throw it in your bag of tricks.

Talk about Flutter.
Flutter is a project that Jody Oaks and I have. It’s a duet; I play guitar and mandolin and she plays ukulele and fiddle. It’s an experiment in old-timey music. It’s so cool to experiment with the dynamics between a man and woman.

How would you describe your personal sound?
I’ll call it neo-traditional-folk-music with overdrive. Or bluegrass-hip-hop-Irish-roots-funk. It has all those elements in it and I try to put that out there. People ask me to play dueling banjos a lot. I laugh and tell them it’s not a banjo; it’s a mandolin or a tiny guitar.

You host a Pizza Jam every Wednesday night at The Gravity Inn in Waymart. How did this get started?
I walked into The Gravity Inn and talked to manager Cliff Krajkovich and told him I had this idea. I wanted to make it a community effort. There are a lot of people who live around in these mountains sitting at home pickin’ with nobody to play with. I want to get people out and interact and learn songs together. I had a pizza jam 10 years ago in Chicago and I wanted to bring it here. The idea was come, learn together and the bar gives pickers free beer and pizza, which works out good for everybody. It’s all about the music, but it makes everyone feel that they are worthy and accomplishing something.

What takes place at the Pizza Jam?
We play anything you want to play from Bob Marley to Radiohead. We’ve had all kinds of people playing originals or covers. It’s respectful. People tell us the basic chord structure and we take it from there. We huddle around two condenser mics in a circle. We’ll have mandolin, guitar, banjo and fiddle, bass and everyone gets their round or solo. Sometime people won’t want to do it and take a pass, and that’s totally cool.

What makes you want to work on these events where musicians of all ages and skill levels get together to perform and share music?
Music is universal. There is nothing to worry about at the Pizza Jam. There is no pressure and you can just show up and chill. The crowd at The Gravity is getting bigger and people are responding. The ceilings are perfect in the room for the sound. People are really into this kind of music and it’s the perfect spot. It’s in the middle of everything, yet everything is still 45 minutes away. It’s self-gratifying, but it’s great seeing the unity. It’s nice to know that I have someplace to go every Wednesday night.

If you could perform a duet with any person, who would you perform with and what song would you sing?
Willie Watson and his song called “Ain’t it Enough”. It’s a song that has a lot to do with living by the day, not taking things for granted. To be one with the world, take it while you can and try to spread that kind of positivity to other people through music. He just has that feeling when he sings it that grabs you. That song has been stuck in my head for three months. It grabs me and it doesn’t let go.

You’re all about sharing the music with others.
Music is a healing tool and brings people together. I would be totally lost without it. It’s my medicine.
— tom graham

The Pizza Jam is an all-acoustic jam of all genres. It takes place every Wednesday night at The Gravity Inn, 40 Gravity Planes Road, Waymart at 7 p.m. Participating pickers receive some free pizza and beer.

  • Tom

    Mr. Tom Graham, good article. and a worthy subject in Mr. Jones. he and I are waaaaay good friends from his being a southeasterner for a few years. he makes music happen where he goes. neater than this, he congregates the folk. yes yes, Mr. Jones does.
    – Tom Grant,
    Gainesville, FL

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