It’s a bright blue spring morning. A hint of crisp floats in the air, but winter has largely passed. I’m sitting with my wife Trudy and John Gormley outside Infuse Coffee House in Loch Lomond. Pines tower over our heads, filtering sunlight onto the table. Trudy and I first saw John a few months earlier at The Roadhouse, where we experienced his skills as a musician. For several years, John has run an Open Jam, initially at the Village Pub, then once the pub closed, at several other places before it settled down at Riviera Heights.
John sits across from me, a baseball cap on his shaved head, a t-shirt covering his muscular frame. “You have to be aware of what’s going on at all times at an open jam,” he says. “Not all acts can capture an audience. That’s just part of the deal. If you have a few of those acts in a row, you can lose the room.”
But John’s a master of managing a set. He treats each Open Jam like he’s creating an album, moving people around to keep the groove going, putting musicians together who have complementary styles, keeping the audience involved. As a non-musician who loves music, I find that it can be stressful attending an open jam because I never know what’s coming next. Yet John is as gifted with placing musicians as he is thumping on his bass and singing, creating a positive, upbeat, inclusive environment.
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do,” he replies. “You know, I’ve actually had a couple of people say that I’m making it all about me, but it’s not.” He pauses, his hands in the air mid-gesture. “I mean, when it’s my time, I’m gonna go with it.” His sharp, bright eyes glint in the spring sunlight. “I’m gonna give it my best. Many musicians will not share their stage. It’s their show. I respect that, but that’s not me. When we perform, even in regular shows, I’ll see someone out in the audience and call them up.” He smiles, his gray soul patch shining on his chin. “My philosophy is to have an open stage.”
“It shows,” Trudy replies. “You create a welcoming, inviting atmosphere, not just for the musicians performing, but also for the listeners.” She pauses. “It’s not just the Johnny G Show.”
He takes another sip of coffee. “One of the main reasons I’m doing the Jam is to become a networking hub for musicians. I can think of several people who met at Open Jam, played some music together and now they’re playing other gigs together.”
John does have a knack for getting musicians together to play. Over ten years ago, he and his friends Danny Prather and Eric Patrick were playing around a campfire at Pine Grove. They had a good vibe and decided to enter Pine Grove’s annual talent show. It worked so well they added Tom Crampton, Mike Elliot, and Kimberly Rippi-Thomas and formed CAM, the Cobb Area Musicians. For years they performed around northern California, heading as far north as Eureka, until not long after the Valley Fire when life happened to the band. Everyone got busy. Some had personal issues to deal with. Danny Prather’s wife got sick, and after a long illness passed away.
“He needed some time,” John tells us, “And left music for a while. But we brought it back into his life to heal.” He smiles, setting up the story he’s telling. “We had a surprise for him. We were playing on Superbowl Sunday at The Roadhouse, and had it all set up.” He gestures with his forearms, creating an image with his callused, bassist hands. “The stage was ready, and Danny came in. As he came around the corner and saw us, we yelled through the PA, “Danny, your band is here and ready to play.” Of course, Danny was overwhelmed with emotion as he once again stood on stage, playing with his friends.
Of course, if you want to experience John’s unique, inviting musical style, you can see him the first Sunday of each month at Riviera Heights. He fills the place with his energy, and people come from as far away as the bay and Sac to participate in the Jam.
To get in touch with John Gormley or CAM, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org