Pickin' & Grinnin'

O'Hurley's General Store is Shepherdstown's spot for music every Thursday evening

O'Hurley's General Store is Shepherdstown's spot for music every Thursday evening

January 09, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Anna Binkley lives two miles down the road from O'Hurley's General Store.

She's heard music coming from the establishment's "Great Hall" when the doors have been open.

"I've always wanted to come," says Binkley's daughter Amber, home on winter break from college in Michigan.

A week ago, Binkley and her daughters finally stepped inside the large room for "Pickin' and Grinnin'," the Thursday evening session of music.

A fire - watched over by Rufus, a small gnome carved in the mantel - is as toasty warm as the evening.


And, taped to the back of a chair, the establishment's only rule - "Talking permitted between tunes" - sets the tone for the evening.

After more than an hour, the Binkleys headed for home, smiles on their faces.

"I like it," says 11-year-old Jacqueline Binkley.

"You close your eyes and you feel like you're back in a time long ago," Anna Binkley says.

O'Hurley's General Store is an establishment that specializes in a wide variety of long-ago merchandise - handmade rugs and hand-crafted furniture, pottery items, cookware and toys. "Pickin' and Grinnin'" carries a turn-of-the-century - the last century - feeling into the realm of sound.

It has been more than 20 years since O'Hurley's owner Jay Hurley and other musicians began gathering for weekly jam sessions of music. "Pickin' and Grinnin'" is a circle of musicians on dulcimers, fiddle, guitars, Celtic harp, banjo, cello, flute and bodhrans - shallow, hand-held drums.

The format for Thursday nights is closer to an Irish than a jazz jam session says Genevieve O'Loughlin, who's played Celtic harp for 12 years.

Assembled in a circle, each musician takes a turn choosing a song. The players played traditional tunes, "The Water is Wide" and "Whiskey Before Breakfast/Flop-eared Mule," as well as newer songs like "San Francisco Bay Blues" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Although a few have books of music, most play by ear or memory.

Don Moore plays without written notes. "It limits you from playing with your heart," he says.

On Jan. 2, Moore, who plays guitar, autoharp, banjo - and even an empty plastic water jug - is often the one to holler "One More Time," or raise his leg to signal "going out" - the end of the tune.

"It's just plain fun," says Judi Springer, who has been coming to the sessions to play her cello for a year or two. The evenings are relaxing - not competitive, Springer says. They provide a chance to try new things, she adds.

The nature of the evenings is a tribute to the community feel of the sessions, Moore says. That's just the way Hurley and his friends want them to be.

"The mark of a really good musician is one who does not dominate the session - even though they can," Hurley says.

How did "Pickin' and Grinnin'" begin?

Hurley, who was born in the store's second floor, had lived in Michigan several years ago and played music with a friend on Thursday nights. Continuing to play with a few friends in Shepherdstown during the early 1980s "just seemed like the natural thing to do," he says.

At first it was just two, three or four players in the small store with hardly anybody listening, Hurley says.

But "build it and they will come," he says, referring to the spacious "Great Hall," a room of high ceilings and rugged beams on the first floor. He did, and they do. A commemorative datestone says '96, and Hurley is coy about which century.

Hurley has never advertised or instigated any publicity to draw an audience, but it's often "standing room only" by about 9:30 p.m.

"I try to make it as often as I can," says Fran Huesman, who moved to the area a couple of months ago. She was sharing a rocking chair for two with friend Nancy Cooney.

"It's great," Cooney says.

"It's lovely," says Lily Steenblik, 22, visiting her grandparents who live nearby. "It's not something that's common, unfortunately," she says.

Jan Scopel, who moved to the area in 1995, started coming to listen to the music. He's been clogging for 20 years, and his dancing works well with the music of the sessions.

Last week he and dance partner Kim Forry, with ever-present smiles, stepped and stomped to lively reels. They glided gracefully together on the waltzes.

Dress is informal - except for 7-month-old Hannah Kelly Glennon's red velvet frock, a gift from Hurley.

Hannah made her first visit to O'Hurley's eight hours after she was born. Her parents, Karen and Thomas Glennon, met a few years ago at O'Hurley's - April 9, 1998, to be exact, says Thomas Glennon.

"We're kind of part of the O'Hurley's family," he adds.

If you go

"Pickin' and Grinnin'"

7:30 p.m.


O'Hurley's General Store

205 E. Washington St.

Shepherdstown, W.Va.

For information, call 1-304-876-6907.

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