The 1400 block of Main Street in downtown Columbia was transformed into a combination open air market and concert venue for the annual Jam Room Music Festival during the first weekend of October.
The festival, a free all-day music festival hosted by the Jam Room Recording Studio, The Whig and the City of Columbia, returned for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jay Matheson, owner of the Jam Room, was one of the founding members of the Jam Room Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs the festival. He was very excited about the musical acts they were able to book.
“This is the biggest lineup we’ve ever had,” Matheson said. “Really good representation of the local indie scene.”
The Jam Room Music Festival (or Jam Fest for short) was started in 2012 as a celebration of the Jam Room Recording Studio’s 25th anniversary. Matheson saw other big events on Main Street like Jingle on Main and Arts and Drafts were beginning to take off, and he felt that he needed to step up as a community leader and do something similar.
“I started running the idea by different people that I knew … got some feedback, and then I kept moving forward,” Matheson said. “The bands that we thought we were gonna get were all regional bands that would just play for a couple hundred bucks, and I had no idea how I was even going to get that all raised.”
Matheson said it was a struggle to keep the foundation alive during the pandemic.
The tax committee that funded the nonprofit disbanded in 2020. When the committee tried to do the festival in 2021 with residual funds from past festivals, COVID-19 outbreaks forced them to shut it down.
Even when the foundation got the go-ahead for a 2022 festival, many of its previous members did not return, so they had to increase their numbers with new recruits.
David Stinger, a member of the Jam Room Foundation’s marketing team, said that the split between old hands and new blood was about half and half.
Stinger said that this festival, along with other festivals like ColaJazz Fest the previous weekend and JerryFest on Oct. 2, is a welcome sign of things returning to normal.
“It’s like a ball rolling down a hill,” Stinger said. “It’s kind of happened gradually ... now, we really feel comfortable doing the festival, it’s outdoors, we don’t even have to think about it anymore.”
Dylan Dickerson, the frontman of the local band Dear Blanca, went to many of the previous iterations of the festival, either as an audience member, a volunteer or one of the musical acts. His favorite part of the festival is how easy it is on the audience.
“I feel like a show that’s all day but free means choose your own adventure. No pressure on the crowd,” Dickerson said. “It's just an easy, artist-friendly, audience-friendly kind of thing, which is definitely my speed.”
Dickerson and his band were part of an eclectic selection of musical acts, which ranged from heavy-hitting rock bands like Titus Andronicus to experimental hip-hop groups like Mourning [A] Blkstar to old-school jazz ensembles like the Sun Ra Arkestra.
Jam Fest brought a diverse group together. Tattooed punks mingled with old jazz fans, families brought their children and many brought their dogs.
“It’s a good vibe,” T Adams, an incoming USC transfer student attending the festival for the first time, said. “There’s a lot of cool people, very diverse community.”