CABOT — One of the defining elements of any culture is its music. Tunes and lyrics have been useful in sharing stories and history, gathering people together and uniting communities in anthems and tradition.
That’s one of the reasons Jim Talbert is so passionate about bluegrass. The twang of a banjo and the rapid bowing of a fiddle provide a glimpse at history, as well as a good time for musicians and listeners alike, he said.
On the first Monday of every month, Talbert gathers with other bluegrass musicians to play music and to fellowship with each other as part of the SongFarmers of Cabot.
“The WoodSongs Front Porch Association is the corporate umbrella that all of this is under,” Talbert said of the local group. “Since they formed the Front Porch Association, they have been trying to form little community groups called SongFarmers. My original idea of it when I decided I’d start a SongFarmers group here was that I would maybe reintroduce bluegrass music into this area.”
Talbert started playing when his grandmother bought him a banjo 50 years ago.
“My grandmother ordered me a banjo from Sears Roebuck in Memphis,” he said. “I was about 12 to 15 years old. I piddled with it then, … but then 30 years ago, I sat down and decided I’d really learn to do this. Now it’s my thing.”
A couple years ago, Talbert decided to start a SongFarmers group in Cabot to teach bluegrass. The group originally met at the senior citizens center across from the old library on North Grant Street. A librarian mentioned the library would like for the group to meet there, but then the library moved to West Main Street, and the idea was forgotten for a short time.
“We were just getting together and playing at different places,” Talbert said. “Once [the library] got moved into the new facility, we got in touch again, and we decided we’d have a monthly music jam at the library.”
The group’s first monthly jam at the Cabot Public Library was in August, and Talbert said the community has jumped on board and come out every month to the event.
“Last month, we tried to move everything outside in the green space at the library, and First Security came out with their Teal Grill to provide hamburgers,” he said. “We had way more people than we anticipated. We guessed there would be 125, and the main librarian said she stopped counting at 160. We ran out of everything, but it shows that the community really has gone for it.”
Talbert said there are a lot of “closet musicians” who come to check it out and get their feet wet playing bluegrass. The format is very laid-back and provides a good environment for new and seasoned musicians, he said.
“We get in a big circle. We sometimes get way too many of the same instrument, but it’s all fun,” he said. “Each person picks a song, and we just play it. … Bluegrass music runs on three main chords. If you know three chords, you can play with us. We can change the key of it with a capo, and you can play with us.
“Back where this comes from — West Virginia and the hills and hollows — they had no music teachers. They had no musical education. They just had these chords and put words to them, and that’s where it comes from.”
The SongFarmers of Cabot meet at 6 p.m. the first Monday of every month at the Cabot Public Library, 909 W. Main St.
The group will also have a Harvest Fest Mini Farm Jam at 5 p.m. Nov. 4 with a potluck style dinner. The event will take place off Military Road at a farm outside the Jacksonville city limits. Sign up for the Nov. 4 event — and find out more information about the group — at www.sfcabot.org. For more updates, visit SongFarmers of Cabot Arkansas on Facebook.