Music has a way of bringing folks together. The strum of strings, the beat of a drum, voices in melody—it invokes something primal in us. Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors used art and music to forge trust in one another and a sense of group identity. The earliest known instruments showed up around 40,000 years ago, and evidence suggests that music itself dates back even further. Music may have allowed our prehistoric relatives to communicate before the invention of language, and it may have provided the social glue for the emergence of mankind’s first largescale societies. Music is deeply significant to our unification as a species. From big populations to small, it binds us and brings us joy.
This concept wasn’t foreign to musicians Harold Matovich and Tom Lowry, but in the early 2000s, they discovered firsthand how powerful music could be.
In January 2001, Harold and his wife, Margie, purchased the Wrangler Bar at Grass Range, a community which (at that time) held 150 residents. Harold and Tom hatched the idea of a local jam session there at the bar, and the first one was held later that month. Harold played rhythm, Tom and Margie played bass, and John Wehren—a friend, local, and accomplished musician—played lead guitar.
Quickly, the event developed into a clockwork tradition, and to this day, on the third Sunday of every month, people from all over come to play, dance, and revel in the music.
“People have come as far as South Dakota and New Mexico for jam sessions,” says Terry Mury, current owner of the Wrangler Bar. “People come here and have a blast. It’s my favorite day of the month.”
“It’s a total phenomenon,” adds Warren Taylor, who has jammed with the best of them since the near beginning.
Hailing from Malta, Taylor began his musical career at the 1991 Phillips County Fair, where he took first prize in a talent contest. Rhythm guitar and vocals are his forte, which serve him well as the unofficial jam session coordinator—a position that he never asked for.
“Nobody is really designated to run this,” he laughs. “Part of the greatness of this situation is it’s a community deal. I’ve played with a lot of good, mediocre, and bad musicians, but we’ve always had fun. We keep it clean and keep it country.”
Music is pretty strictly country Western with the majority of songs coming from the mid to late Twentieth Century. Anyone with an instrument has the opportunity to play… within reason. Music must be performed well and with enthusiasm to keep up the energy of the event.
“It’s kind of like a church session,” says Taylor. “There’s so much warmth and comradery and fellowship. It’s pretty amazing.”
As a venue, the Wrangler Bar feels less like a bar and more like a community center. Jam sessions carry the vibe of a family gathering. People eat, dance, and laugh through the afternoon and evening.
“The jam usually starts at 1pm and finishes about 6pm,
but sometimes it goes longer in the summer,” explains Florence Griffith, a longtime employee and lifelong resident
of Grass Range. “We usually have a dinner special, but we
also have hamburgers and finger foods that are easy to eat while dancing.”
While in town, many stop for homemade cookies and pies at the Little Montana. Others pick up drinks and snacks at the Ole Mercantile for the drive home.
The influx of visitors isn’t just good for the Wrangler Bar, but also for the local economy, and for the morale of the townspeople. Living in a small community can be isolating, and any excuse to mingle is appreciated.
“Consistently, the jam brings people together. If it lands on Easter Sunday, we still have it,” says Griffith. “It doesn’t stop for anything.”