An open invitation to the Sunday blues
By Reece Williams
Nov 18, 2014
It’s approaching 11 p.m. on a typical sub 30 degree, Sunday night in November. Fuller Road, which is home to a not-so-popular Ali Baba’s Indian Spice store and a Freihofer’s Outlet that closes “too early,” is seemingly lifeless, the inconsistent mercury vapor streetlight bulbs flutter, radiating a faint and feeble pulse.
All but one of the street’s businesses have closed for the remainder of the weekend.
At this hour, some University at Albany students have already taken to bed, preparing for the tests and trials of tomorrow’s dreaded Monday. Others are awake, studying frantically, the result of a weekend occupied by partying and, or, procrastination. Few students if any are on Fuller Road, and if there are, none are at The Roadhouse Grille.
For the last 21 years, The Roadhouse Grille has transcended the Sunday night, Fuller Road blues.
In fact, it’s that genre of music, the blues, that has been the breath of life for the small bar and grille on these otherwise would-be desolate Sunday nights.
“It’s an open blues jam,” says Jeremy Waltz, host of The Roadhouse Grille’s Sunday night Capital Region Blues Jam. “I’ve been doing it for 12 years.”
Monday through Sunday afternoon, the Grille is a haven for sports fanatics and bar-goers. Boasting, “25 HD TV’s including one 10 foot TV,” fans of “all teams [are] welcome.” The luminescent signs on the side of the building advertise the week’s upcoming games. The front door hosts an Uncle Sam “I want you” inspired decal, imploring passersby to “watch football here!”
“Buckets of Labatts, Bud, or Bud Light,” the chief beer sponsor of the National Football League, are available “for $12,” as well as “specials on food and drinks.”
Monday and Thursday nights, and Sunday afternoons are dedicated to football. Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights feature “bar-style trivia” and local band performances. The Grille smells of beer, and 50 cents buffalo-style chicken wings as a colorful sea of jerseys dutifully watch, criticize, and defend their respective allegiances.
But on Sunday night, the atmosphere changes.
Long gone are the rowdy gridiron gurus, as the mellow Sunday night ragtag bunch of millennials and baby boomers fumble in.
The air begins to change, most of it comprised of the smell of cigar and cigarette smoke. What’s left is filled with the smell of bourbon.
The television sets remain on, but no one is watching.
The heavy, heart-felt, finger board sobs of electric guitar can be heard from just outside the Grille, accompanied by a loose kick drum strike on the one, and a solid snare drum crack on the four, all held together by the steady tik-tik-tik-tik-tik-tik 6/8 rhythm on the hi-hat.
Not everyone is on the stage that rises, at best, only an inch and a half from the floor, but those watching are no audience. Everyone is telling their own story.
“I do this because I love music,” said Waltz who works as an “IT guy” during the week.
“I just love playing music. It’s my religion. The blues has power. I want to play things that have power, and honesty.”
Like Waltz, a number of others faithfully follow the sounds of the blues to the Grille on Sunday nights. One couple sits attached at the hip in admiration of Waltz’s fervent riffs.
“I played for 60 years,” says the man inextricably linked to his date. His date explains, “arthritis” as the reason for his cease playing.
Waltz finishes his melodic sermon and steps less than a foot outside the door for a cigarette. The majority of the listeners, including the only employees, two female bartenders who draw comparisons to the main characters on CBS’s 2 Broke Girls, join him.
“Good evening folks,” one man familiarly says. He is greeted with smiles, and a cigarette. There is an undoubted sense of unity among the gathered; it’s the blues that connects them.
“We don’t usually get too many students,” Waltz says. “Maybe a few here and there.”
But with 24 individual and joint universities in New York’s Capital Region, more than half of which have music programs, one might wonder why the Capital Region Blues Jam receives such little attention from students.
UAlbany junior and music minor, Jordan-Anthony Channer knew nothing about the Jam.
“[It] sounds awesome, very interesting,” said Channer.
UAlbany senior Corey Parker has driven passed the Grille on Sunday nights and heard the music.
Both expressed an interest in visiting the Jam. Channer, a gospel hip-hop artist who also plays piano, drums, and trumpet would consider sharing his harmonious accounts with the Sunday night crowd.
Promotion of the Jam should increase with this generation’s tendency to be in constant communication through means of social networking.
Waltz wants students from all over the capital district to know that they are invited to the Jam.
“Everyone is welcome. We have a sign up sheet. You just come in, sign your name, and, when I call you, come up and jam. If you’re a drummer, just bring some sticks.”
The host band plays for an hour, followed by an open jam for the rest of the night. The Jam includes sets limited to three songs called by the singer of the group.
There is no cover charge for participation in the Jam, but donations are greatly appreciated. Donations go to the host band, who provide the equipment for the night.
The Capital Region Blues Jam takes place Sunday nights from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. Visit www.capitalregionbluesnetwork.org for more information about the Capital Region Blues Jam, as well as other upcoming musical events in the Capital Region.