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New Program, Volunteer Opportunity: Bluegrass Jams

people playing various instruments at a blugrass jam at Trailside Museum

Nature has long inspired artists of all mediums, from watercolor painters and sculptors to photographers and musicians. The Forest Preserves of Cook County enables the public to experience the peacefulness of wind blowing through the trees, the explosion of natural colors as seasons change, and the chorus of sounds generated by local wildlife. This undeniable connection between nature and the arts is the basis for one of the Forest Preserves newest volunteer and programming opportunities: Makin’ Music Bluegrass Jam!

During Makin’ Music Bluegrass Jam, attendees come together with volunteers to learn about invasive plant species while creating simple instruments using plants like Japanese honeysuckle or common buckthorn. Once the educational program concludes, attendees are then invited to take their newly made instrument to join in on a jam session.

“During Makin’ Music Bluegrass Jam, we really want to facilitate a conversation about invasive species while introducing people to the concept of land management and the removal of those species,” said Adam Kessel, a naturalist at Trailside Museum of Natural History. “When originally brought to our area, some invasive plant species served an important role to the ethnic communities that brought them here at that time.”

The programs offer two different opportunities to volunteer as well: Bluegrass Jams Program Assistant or a Bluegrass Musician. Program assistants lead the discussion and creation of the musical instrument using repurposed invasive species, while musicians use their ability to play an instrument to inspire attendees to explore the arts and nature.

While attendees are learning the history of invasive species and the importance of removing them from local habitats, they will create a variety of sound sticks using Japanese honeysuckle, which is a relatively hard wood. Attendees may also play cigar box guitars which use the Japanese honeysuckle as the guitar’s neck.

“Music has been really powerful in starting to build this community of musicians and people who are interested in conservation. By doing this, we might be able to connect people to a workday to do stewardship that otherwise wouldn’t have volunteered,” explains Kessel. “Now we have people that come for the music, but they’re leaving with the idea of what we do here in the Forest Preserves around land management.”

Beginning in spring, Makin’ Music Bluegrass Jam sessions will happen on the second Sunday of every month.

For more information on volunteering for Bluegrass Jams, check out the Forest Preserves’ Online Volunteer System.