ST. CLAIR — Toes were tapping and hands were slapping to the beat of bluegrass on a recent Friday night at the Home Folks Acoustic Music House in Parkway near St. Clair. Even people just standing up to walk across the room couldn't resist shuffling along their way. One person standing up to hug a friend as she came in spun around in a circle with her before taking their seats. Others were dancing as they walked in.
Home Folks, located in a small stone building at the corner of Highways 30 and K just next door to the BP gas station, holds free jam sessions every Friday and Saturday night (except holidays) from 6 to 9 p.m. Musicians who favor bluegrass, country and gospel come to pick and croon together, and music lovers come to enjoy the entertainment and fellowship.
A sign painted on the window lets you know you're in the right place, but if you arrive close to 6 p.m., the music will guide you.
Leading the jam sessions are Spike and Janis Huff of Lonedell. Spike, a self-taught musician who has been playing music since he was 12, is a retired deputy from the Franklin County Sheriff's Department. Janis works in the superintendent's office in the R-14 School District.
The Huffs have been playing music together for 35 years, as long as they have been married. Both have won the Southern Regional Hammered Dulcimer Competition — Janis in 2008 and Spike this year.
Seven years ago the Huffs began holding weekly jam sessions in their home. Two years later the crowd had outgrown their living room.
"People kept comin' and the house couldn't hold 'em all," Spike remarked.
The couple began renting the stone building at Highways 30 and K for the weekend jam sessions. Spike also teaches music lessons there a couple of days during the week.
Spike plays the guitar, fiddle, mandolin, dobro and mountain dulcimer. Janis plays the guitar and hammered dulcimer.
There's never a charge to attend the jam sessions, but a metal jug near the door collects donations. A sign notes, "We rely solely on your support for our expenses," and audience members are quick to drop in bills.
The atmosphere at Home Folks is informal, friendly and down home. People are free to get up and dance, if they're so moved, or just head to the kitchenette for some free snacks.
"You're welcome to take what you want and pay what you can," Spike commented.
Metal folding chairs with cushions are set up in rows and along the walls for the audience. There's enough chairs for several dozen people, but some nights the crowd gets large enough that it's standing room only.
"It can be a packed house," Spike remarked. "We've had maybe 80 or 90 people."
"It just depends on what's going on around town and what the weather is like," Janis said.
"But there isn't another place like this around here — a place that offers free entertainment where people can talk and visit," she's quick to point out, "so we usually get a good crowd."
With the musician area set up only a few feet from the audience, every seat in the house is a good one. The quality of the music varies, Spike says, because he doesn't limit who can join the jam.
"Some nights the music is better than others," he said, "because here, everybody plays. I don't care how good you are or not, I let you play."
In addition to the weekly jam sessions, the Huffs occasionally present special concerts at Home Folks.
The Huffs also perform concerts at other venues, and they offer workshops at the music house on topics such as, "Which End Is Up (on a Hammered Dulcimer)?," ''Polish Your Performance" and "Playing Well With Others." A schedule of special concerts, workshops and Home Folks jam sessions is available at the Huffs' website, though 2011 dates have not yet been posted.
Although the jams aren't held on holiday weekends, like Christmas, the Huffs said they are planning to hold a jam for this New Year's Eve.
Fans of the Huffs will be excited to know that the couple hopes to record their first CD, "Home Style" soon.