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Ukulele jam sessions brings music lovers together
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Ben Plowman strums his ukulele during a jam session with the newly formed group, the Thunder Road Strummers. The group meets the first, third and fifth Tuesdays every month at Because Coffee. - photo by Jessica Taylor

If you’ve ever thought about learning how to play the ukulele, now is your chance.

Over the summer, a new ukulele group has sprung up in Dawson County with ukulele players of all abilities coming out to jam session several times a month.

“We are just trying to get organized,” founder Margo Booth said. “Just play for fun, totally fun. Some people are brand new. Some people have been playing their whole lives… it’s just a fun thing to do.”

Forming the Thunder Road Strummers was Booth’s idea that began earlier this summer.

And after five jam sessions at Because Coffee in Dawsonville, the group’s grown to about 25 members.

“I’m not the teacher or the leader or anything,” Booth said. “I’m here to have fun too.”

Booth picked up ukulele playing about a year ago and plays with a group of 72 members in St. Simons that plays every week and performs twice a month.

But while Booth spends her time in Dawsonville, she wanted to create a group where she could play and practice with other ukulele enthusiasts.

“We just have fun,” Ben Plowman said. “We don’t care what your skill level is, just come have a good time with us.”

Plowman, a founding member of the Thunder Road Strummers, picked up the ukulele only a few weeks ago. He is president of Georgia Pick and Bow, a nonprofit afterschool program based in Lumpkin County that teaches children in elementary up to high school how to play string instruments. He, along with fellow instructor Heather Smith, were excited to join a ukulele playing group a little closer to home.

“We had a uke jam up in Dahlonega for a couple years and then we kind of petered out and then Margo moved down here and contacted us and said if we wanted to start one up around here,” Smith said.

Plowman and Smith also brought a couple friends from Georgia Pick and Bow to join in the fun.

For the first few jam sessions, 9-year-old Cash Kirby had the distinct honor of being the youngest ukulele player of the group, however on July 16 his 6-year-old brother Dylan dethroned him.

“I just love playing,” Cash said as he strummed his ukulele that he built himself.

The boys’ mother, Alli, who’s in charge of organizing sheet music and driving the duo to jam sessions, said Cash wanted to join the group because he was in the Georgia Pick and Bow program with Booth and Plowman. She was also excited to see Dylan trying his hand at ukulele with his big brother.

“(Dylan) bought his ukulele last month by playing on the street with his brother in Dahlonega and they both made money so he purchased a ukulele with that,” Alli said. “(Cash’s) been teaching him some and hoping to come here and he’ll learn some.”

At the July 16 jam session, it wasn’t just Dylan’s first time playing with the group. Dawson County native Ruth Burrell, who had only picked up her ukulele five days prior, decided to give it a try.

“My grandmother played and I have her ukulele and I always meant to learn it,” Burrell said.

The ukulele is a Hawaiian string instrument in the guitar family that gained popularity in the United States in the 20th century. It typically has four strings and is much smaller than a guitar.

“It’s really a big thing, ukulele playing,” Booth said. “There are ukulele groups all over the place.”

Many of the Thunder Road Strummers have only recently picked up ukulele playing, having played guitar and other string instruments for years.

“I knew guitar before too so it’s a little bit easier to pick up,” Burrell said.

Founding member Dan McLaughlin agreed, saying that he enjoys playing guitar with a group but loves the small size and versatility of the ukulele and being able to play in a group setting.

“It’s a good place to meet new people and have some fun and learn a new instrument and learn how to play music in a group,” McLaughlin said.

“I play at the house, but it’s easier to play with a group,” Smith said. “It’s more beneficial to play with a group too.”

The Thunder Road Strummers meet at 6:30 p.m. on the first, third and fifth Tuesdays on each month at Because Coffee, at 240 Dawson Village Way North STE 100 in Dawsonville.

For more information on the Thunder Road Strummers, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/thunderroadstrummers

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