Nov. 28—Books Hoover wants to jam. He just hopes that the rest of Cheyenne does, too.
Over his lifetime, he’s played the blues outside Los Angeles and worked in several local cover bands. Hoover is a songwriter, music lover, multi-instrumentalist and Cheyenne native to his core.
More than anything, he believes in the humanity of music and its ability to connect people to one another. It is a sonic language that, to him, Cheyenne is missing, but as the coordinator of the Lincoln Theatre’s monthly Open Jam Nights, he sees a future for local live music in this relatively new event.
“I don’t think that there’s any other opportunity right now to do anything or create any type of environment or culture,” Hoover said. “That’s why it’s so hard to get the word out there, why it’s so hard to make people understand that this is something that’s important.
“We need the arts, and we need the culture to be thriving in Cheyenne, not dying.”
Open Jam Night was conceived last July when Jon and Renee Jelinek, owners of the Lincoln Theatre, reached out to Hoover with interest in getting an open live music night started with a focus on funk and groove-based music.
The intent was also born out of a love for music, with the Jelineks wanting to create a space for local musicians to practice and play with the rest of the community. Participants simply show up, get their name on a list and pick up the provided instruments to play a night of improvised music with one another.
These styles are traditionally more difficult to improvise, and, as a result, the range of genres is smaller. The focus has been on blues and acoustic covers, but slowly it is beginning to widen in scope.
Hoover knew that you couldn’t dictate the genre that way, and this is what he told the Jelineks. This isn’t a new concept for him, for he was born to jam.
His parents played in their own cover band when he was a young child, performing different genres and combinations of music before he ever received his first guitar at the age of 5. Through his parents, he would meet different Cheyenne musicians in town, expanding his scope of musical knowledge.
In seventh grade, he was proficient enough at jazz guitar to secure a place in the school band, a spot usually reserved for eighth and ninth graders. But one of the biggest influences came at 8 years old, when he taped songs on the radio, making his own mixtapes and learning to play them by ear.
As a guitar teacher for many years, this is still how he approaches every lesson with his students.
“I will show them theory, and I will show them how to read certain notes and stuff, but that’s really not the important thing in the beginning,” Hoover said. “A lot of these kids don’t even know how to listen to music, nor do they listen to music the way I did.”
Hoover was first introduced to the Jelineks years ago through his teaching.
In 2012, the Jelineks started the Alternative Arts Project, which ran for three years. The nonprofit provided free after-school guitar lessons to any junior high and high school students that wanted to participate. They invited Hoover, who was charging for lessons at the time, to help lead the project.
Interacting with the students and leading jam sessions at the end of every lesson became an inspiration for Hoover. It fueled the realization that the future of Cheyenne’s music relied on the involvement of its youth.
“If you can bring a situation like jam night, areas where [kids] can go and thrive, and then invite them, then I think they’ll be more apt to come,” Hoover said.
This isn’t Hoover’s first time coordinating a jam night, so he knows just how difficult it can be for an event like this to gain traction. In the past, he started and ran a jam night for five years at the Drunken Skunk, a bar that used to be where Flippers arcade sits now. After that, he had a run at Peppermill Bar and Liquors on Dell Range Boulevard.
The key to a jam night’s success comes with its environment, which can be a particularly hard balance to strike. The Lincoln Theatre seems to be the perfect fit for multiple reasons, he said.
For one, the stage is unlike anything Hoover had to work with before. Where his previous experiences were set in smaller bars without theatrics, musicians of all ages can step onto the wide stage of the Lincoln and play beneath a full light show and sound system.
All of the instruments are provided, from bass guitars to drum kits. People looking to jump in and play only have to get their name on a list with others who want to do the same.
There is a wide range of skill levels that participate in each open jam, and if Hoover sees anyone struggling, he leaps up from his role curating the whole show and helps them get back on their feet before their allotted 10-minute jam is up.
“I don’t make them feel like they don’t know what they’re doing, I put them in the mix,” Hoover said. “When you’re doing the right thing, you can feel it. Music’s not only language, but it’s a feeling, as well.”
Perhaps the most important change, however, is in the inclusion of the youth. In the previous venues, participants had to be 21 years old in order to even get in the bar. With the Open Jam Night at The Lincoln, anyone over the age of 16 is allowed to participate.
There’s no ego allowed, and as long as participants know their chord changes, they are welcome to get on stage.
The whole experience is tailored to develop a sense of community around the event.
“It’s bringing the community together to participate in the infinite art of improvisation and music as a whole,” Hoover said. “The way that music brings us together as humanity, it’s such a connecting language.”
Open Jam Night, from Hoover’s perspective, is still in the early stages of development, but the hope is that the event will continue to steadily grow. The jam nights that Hoover has overseen always get off to a rough start, but that’s the nature of the event.
Growing takes word of mouth, and requires musicians who don’t usually play live to take a chance and get on stage.
There is no shortage of beginner musicians that have eagerly come out to give the Open Jam Night a shot, but the happy medium is developing a mix of energetic youth and practiced veterans to create some variety in the night.
Nurturing the local music scene is a serious matter for Hoover, and as Open Jam Night continues on, he hopes to see the culture shift in a positive direction.
“I’m sure that there are better musicians out in Cheyenne who just don’t come out and play,” Hoover said. “It’s frustrating to live in small town when there’s no culture in that way.”