Waneta Young likes to say that she fell for her husband’s guitar first.
Her friends wanted to introduce her to George Young, a "good-looking, dark curly-haired" musician who was playing at a club, and she instantly swooned for the music. Falling in love, she says, took a little more time.
And even though those club days are behind them – "When he got saved, his guitar did, too," she says – the couple’s strongest bond is still music.
Nowadays, the Youngs meet up with other musicians every first, second and third Tuesday of the month for a bluegrass jam in Kosciusko County Historical Society’s Old Jail Museum in Warsaw.
"My husband and I have been married for 45 years, and at this stage of our life, we still have music together," Young says. "As people who have been together for all those years, unless they find something compatible to draw them together, they go separate ways. Our life is rich and full because of our music."
"And he better never get rid of his guitar," she says laughing.
Open to the public, the group of musicians is looking to welcome a few newcomers whether they’re skilled musicians or beginning to learn traditional bluegrass instruments – just make sure to use the back door when you enter.
Musician Paul Welch, who is learning to play the dobro, says he makes an effort to let people know that there are bluegrass jams in the region, but they have to know where to look. Not only are there jams in Warsaw but also in Akron and Kendallville, home of the Northern Indiana Bluegrass Association’s Tri-State Bluegrass Festival, which took place this past weekend.
"We make people feel welcome," he says. "It’s a camaraderie of people who love music and that’s why they come out and play."
Young says she wasn’t very musical growing up, but marrying into music, she learned how to play the bass by shadowing her husband playing on rhythm; she also plays the steel guitar and dulcimer.
The couple, along with their daughter, formed a gospel group, but as the family began performing less, the couple put their time into blues and gospel jams nearly 15 years ago.
The jams are a hybrid of a rehearsal and an actual performance. Musicians may be trying out instruments or techniques, but they’re also listening to each other’s music. Typically, each person will lead a few songs, and the rest fall in once they have a grasp of the chords.
Betty Dobbs, who says her natural rhythm lends well to playing the musical washboard, says that the jams often cross a number of genres.
"We really play all kinds of music, bluegrass, old country and sometimes even some old folk music might trail in there every once in a while, and of course, gospel," she says. "It’s just really fun to be around other musicians who enjoy performing the same types of music you do."
Welch says musicians meet for additional jams every third Saturday at the old Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge in Warsaw, and on most Thursdays a group of jam musicians play for the residents at Grace Village Retirement Community in Winona Lake.
"Sometimes, there’s 20 players there, and we play country, gospel, bluegrass and protest songs for some of (the residents) who were in college when that music was popular during the ’70s," he says.
Carol Buhlmann, coordinator for Grace Village’s Resident Services, says as the performance has grown over the years, some of the musicians go upstairs and have a jam for the assisted living residents who can’t make it down to the dining room.
"Boy, they are consistent. They come all the time. I practically have to beat them off even for holidays," she says laughing. "The residents find that it lifts them up and some of them are prone toward depression sometimes, so they find it to be a very uplifting, encouraging moment in their week.
"That’s a big comment I often hear."
Dobbs says she remembers how one of the residents approached her a few weeks ago after she sang the hymn "In The Garden," the Thursday before Mother’s Day.
"When I was little, my mom didn’t sing lullabies, she sang old hymns, like ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘In the Garden’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross,’ and I lost my mom over three years ago, and I felt like I needed to do something to honor her," she says.
"I had a gentleman come up to me afterwards and said, ‘You made me cry – you brought back the memories of my mom because she would sing those songs to me when I was a baby.’ "
"I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I connected’ – that’s the joy that we get when we can touch someone else that way," she adds.
It especially fills a certain void for the skilled musicians who don’t often get to perform as often as they once did.
Similar to Young, Dobbs’ husband, Lowell, played in a country band and even after his days in a band, the couple would often travel to music festivals. As the couple slowed down, however, the jams and the people they have met there have become an important part of keeping music in their lives.
"Every time you get together, it’s like a family reunion, even though you get together every week," Dobbs says. "We pull so much joy just from picking up an instrument and playing it with our hands."