By Josette Keelor
Music lovers come from all around to attend The Shenandoah Banjo and Fiddle Club. Some play the fiddle or banjo, some play auto harp or upright bass. Some sing, but most just sit back, watch and enjoy.
"Last Friday we had 95 people total, including 23 musicians," Linda Varner, president of the club for the last 13 years, said recently.
The Friday night picking sessions at the New Market Community Center are free to attend, and visitors make a whole evening out of it. For many of them, it's a weekly ritual.
"We usually get 20, 25 [musicians] up there," said the club's vice president, Gary Runion of Orkney Springs. In all, there are 29 members, he said. Five of them are members of local band Thrash n Holler -- Todd Bynanker on mandolin, his father Roger Bynanker on banjo and uncle Bruce Bynanker on upright bass, Ira Carte on fiddle and Dale Bauserman on upright bass.
"It's growing, but we've worked hard," said Varner of Harrisonburg. Part of keeping the club going week after week is "friendliness, greeting people," she said.
"It's a good, clean place," she said. "We consider it a family get-together place."
What started 20 years ago in Mt. Jackson at Rude's Hill Gas Station, owned by the Bynanker family, has become the destination for up to 100 people on any given Friday.
From 7 to 10 p.m. every Friday night, musicians meet at the community center, weather permitting, and many count on the entertainment as well as the fellowship to start off the weekend right.
Ronnie Varner of Linville was there last Friday with his stepfather David Grogg. Having attended now for about a year, Varner used to attend with his late mother, too, but "now it's just me and my stepdad," he said.
Varner attends "when I get a chance, when I'm not working," he said. "It's just relaxing."
Mary Mahitaa of Crimora attends just about every Friday.
"It's quite a ways," she said, "... but it's worth coming to. It has some really good players."
She said she heard about the Friday night jam sessions at another group that used to meet in Grottoes on Thursdays. Mahitaa enjoys the family friendly atmosphere at the New Market group, echoing others' sentiments that the no drinking or smoking policy allows for a wide variety of participants and attendees.
The crowd last Friday filled the room, with seats reaching all the way to the back wall. An hour into the music, fans and newcomers still were arriving. Mahitaa sat in the back by the windows, quietly enjoying music that ranges from original songs by Thrash n Holler to old, well-known favorites.
"It's just a nice place to come," she said. "I enjoy it."
Karlie Smelser, 10, of Stanley approached the microphone on crutches to sing "Rocky Top" with Todd Bynanker, who has been teaching her to play fiddle. She's been singing since the age of 2, she said, and she's been coming to the Friday night sessions for about three years with her grandmother Ruth Colmer and the young man Karlie has claimed as family.
"I like seeing my 'brother' Todd and the musicians," Karlie said.
Sharon Ritchie, who lives near Broadway, learned of the group from Runion's wife Lillian, and Ritchie now attends with her husband Ray.
"It's a good way to spend Friday evenings," she said.
Her husband agreed. His car knows exactly where to take the couple each Friday night, he said -- for nearly six years now.
The Shenandoah Banjo and Fiddle Club holds free picking sessions from 7 to 10 p.m. Fridays through May at the New Market Community Center, 9184 John Sevier Road, New Market. For more information about the club, call 856-8056.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com