Musicians play at a weekly jam session, held at Gib & Todd’s Barber Shop in Ava.
AVA – The group of musicians doesn’t have a name, but they do have a legacy.
For around 20 years, Gib & Todd’s Barber Shop has attracted folks looking to pick, strum and sing their Wednesday mornings away. Each session is unique: No one knows for sure how many people will show up, or even what they’ll play. But it’s fact that the jam, dubbed Ava’s “best-kept secret” by one musician, is so enjoyable that some attendees aren’t even all that local. “I come all the way from Ozark because it’s fun to aggravate these guys,” says guitarist Jerry Kleen.
Jerry Kleen (left) and Steve Smith play at a recent jam session.
When the group began years ago, it was without fanfare. “We just started pickin’,” says Todd Miller, one of the attendees who grew up with a love of music. As he puts it, he “pretends” to play these days, wielding both a banjo and a guitar during the course of a recent session. And, despite his modesty, his shop is where the musicians come to play.
Originally, folks played their music right where the hair cutting happened. But as the group grew, more space became a necessity — and when a room adjacent to the shop came available, “we quit renting it out and it’s just kind of went from there,” says Miller.
But one must still walk through the shop to get to the room where they play. A native stone wall serves as a backdrop for the musicians, who sit in a circle. A guitar is hung on the wall; nearby, a giant clock-watch tells the time. A row of old-fashioned barber chairs line the wall.
And all it takes is a simple song suggestion and the musicians are off and away.
“Somebody just starts playin’. That’s what’s kinda cool about this one,” says Kleen, comparing other jams where everyone goes around and has a turn to suggest a tune. “We just say, ‘Why don’t we play ‘whatever.’”
Songs like “I’ll Fly Away” serenade from the space. Passersby wander in, stopping to sit a spell in the aforementioned vintage barbering chairs. When a customer stops by, Miller lays his instrument aside to take care of hair.
Jokes, quips and good-natured jabs serve as segues between songs. At one point, in typical fashion, one of the musicians mentions an idea. “How ‘bout one of them waltzes?” he suggests.
With that, their fingers are flying again.
Click below to listen to one of the group’s tunes.
How many musicians come by just depends on the week: On a recent Wednesday, four people came to play. But during the jam’s heyday, the group saw between 12 and 15 musicians every session.
Today, the average number has dwindled. “We used to have a good bunch here, but some of ‘em died, some of ‘em got arthritis so they can’t play,” says Jerry Wagner of Ava, the overall-clad fiddler of the group.
Those members, however, aren’t forgotten. The passed-on musicians’ names are handwritten on a paper taped to the wall. And pictures keep their presence even though they’re not physically there.
To an outsider, it seems like these musicians don’t think what they have is special. But, week after week, they keep coming back. Their reasons vary.
“We keep hoping we’ll get better,” says one; another reason is because attending means “my wife’s at home and I’m not.”
And, simply “because we like it,” says Wagner. To him, the jam’s really “no secret, but nobody likes it like we do.”
Want to listen?
The group meets around 8 a.m. on Wednesdays at Gib & Todd’s Barber Shop (233 S. Jefferson St., Ava), and plays until around 10 a.m.