The idea for the Bliss Train Coffee House was developed at the program committee of the Blissfest Music Organization, Bob Fawcett explains, Jim Gillespie (executive director of Blissfest) came up with the name. At that time, around 2003, I was treasurer of BMO, a board member, and part of the program committee, as were Jim, Kirby, and Mitch Weber.
Initially, Fawcett says, the groups newbie jam sessions were held at the old Blissfest office on Lake Street in Petoskey. But it wasnt long before more space was needed.
As it grew, the venue was moved to a coffee house on Howard Street in Petoskey, Fawcett recollects, When that coffee house closed, we moved to the Grain Train four or five years ago.
CIRCLE OF TUNES
Currently held as a circle-based jam session with each performer doing one song and then moving on to the next person, the Bliss Train meets regularly on Sundays from 1:30 to 4 p.m., welcoming musicians of all levels and going on with the show no matter how many people arrive.
Sometimes only two or three people show up, other times a dozen, Fawcett says, but we try to be encouraging and instructive to beginners.
While some people play their own original songs on their own, others welcome a more group-based jam, with the other musicians in attendance picking up the chord progressions and joining in. Roots and folk music classics, as Fawcett calls them, are often played as well, in which everyone is encouraged to sing along or pick up an instrument.
In the past, I or others acted as a host, Fawcett says, but the Bliss Train has taken on a life of its own, so the format is informally explained to new folks by those who have previously played. Now there is no formal host.
Host or not, the Bliss Train Coffee House is a regular stop for many local roots/folk music fans - and a welcome diversion for those who may happen to wander into the Grain Train on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon in Petoskeys downtown.
We have appreciative patrons who sit down and listen for a while, Fawcett says, and we have a few who come in regularly to hear us.
In addition to the audience regulars, there are regular performers, too, an eclectic range of recurring musicians who show up more often than not.
We have had some great Northern Michigan musicians join us at various times, Fawcett says, like Jim Gillespie, or John Richey on fiddle. As far as fairly regular standout performers, I would mention John Hoaglund who also works at the Grain Train - he plays guitar and likes to sing old country blues songs, like Jimmy Rodgers hits. Laren Corie is a multi-instrumentalist who currently plays in a duet - he plays guitar, a giant mandolin-like instrument, and harmonica, and he likes folk rock songs as well as his own originals. Melissa Welke is a talented lady, a nurse at Northern Michigan Regional Hospital, who sings her own original songs and plays guitar. And Gordon Howie is a retired gentleman with a great voice who plays a tenor guitar or a baritone ukelele to accompany himself.
All of this diversity and dedication plays well for the Bliss Train, which Fawcett says will continue through the near future in its present format, taking a break once spring arrives (in May, Fawcett confirms), and starting up again around October.
The Grain Train gets busier in the summer, so the space we occupy gets used by people having an on-site snack, he explains, last year the group continued to have some summer gatherings in parks or other spots.
But overall, Fawcett says, the Bliss Train Coffee House will stay on track, taking its place in the off-season as one of the few steadily continuing open mics in Northern Michigan, and as a place for musicians both new and accomplished to show off their skills.
The Bliss Train is a great format in which to learn a repertoire of tunes, and to learn to jam and improvise on an instrument, Fawcett says, its also a great venue to become comfortable playing in public, playing with other musicians and learning the acceptable boundaries of being an accompanist. My role has been as one of the originators of the Bliss Train, one of the most consistent and persistent attendees through its existence, and someone who is glad to welcome newcomers.
The Bliss Train pulls into Petoskeys Grain Train (220 East Mitchell St.) every Sunday from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. For more information, call the Grain Train at 231-347-2381.