Mountain Mamas’ Women’s Jam creates inspiring and empowering musical space

On January 19, Mountain Mamas Music hosted their first Women’s Jam in Quinlan Cafe at Swallow Hill. For founders Kimberly Burke and J.J. Breazeale it was an exciting moment as 30 women joined them to play a mix of bluegrass, folk, and old-time tunes.

“There is something really special and inspiring and empowering when just the girls get together and play,” Kimberly and J.J. told us via email. “We love playing with the guys, but when you’re the only woman at a jam, it’s easy to be intimidated or to get discouraged,” they added.

Ultimately, they say, “Our hope is that women will get to know each other at our events and then start going to other jams together to make those jams more gender balanced.”

We wanted to learn more about Mountain Mamas, how the jam went, and the importance of female-friendly jam spaces. Kimberly and J.J. were happy to answer these questions and in more in our Q&A.

The next Mountain Mamas Music Women’s Jam takes place in Quinlan Cafe at Swallow Hill Music on Sunday, February 16 from 1 to 3 p.m.

Can you tell us a little bit about Mountain Mamas Music and how you got started?

We had taken group guitar classes at Swallow Hill for a few years, but noticed that we always seemed to be outnumbered by the guys in classes, at jams, at open mics, and on stage. We knew that we couldn’t be the only women out there who liked to learn about music and how to play an instrument, and since we’ve had such fun in our classes, playing and singing and laughing with our (new and old) friends, we decided to create Mountain Mamas Music to share our experience with more women. We started with our first Mountain Mamas Music Camp in March 2019 and have since hosted multiple camps and workshops along the Front Range.

Women's Jam at Swallow Hill Music
30 musicians turned out for the first Mountain Mamas Women’s Jam in Quinlan Cafe at Swallow Hill Music in January. Photo courtesy Mountain Mamas Music
What inspired you to start the Women’s Jam?

Colorado has a vibrant and abundant jam scene and there are no shortages of opportunities to pick up an instrument and play music with others, however, men still make up the majority of jam leaders and participants. We love playing with the guys, but when you’re the only woman at a jam, it’s easy to be intimidated or to get discouraged. We started the Women’s Open Jam to give women an opportunity to play together in a low-key and supportive setting. We want to foster a community of women musicians who feel comfortable and confident in participating in and leading any jam, not only ours.

Why is it important for women to create spaces to get together and jam?

Maybe we’ve been lucky, but we’ve found that when we get a group of women together to play, something really special happens. We take more risks, we laugh, we play, and then we do it all over again. We talk about our experience and our fears, and then we go ahead and try something new anyway. It’s kinda magical, actually.

You just held your first jam in Quinlan Cafe at Swallow Hill Music. How did that go? How was the response?

THIRTY women came out to play! We have never been in a jam circle that big before. It was amazing. Different instruments, different ages, and different skill levels from beginners to several professional musicians. The fact that so many women came to the jam proved to us that there is a real desire for women musicians to connect with one another. We have had a lot of women reach out about coming to the next jam on February 16 – we can’t wait!

What advice would you give to someone who is going to attend their first ever jam, whether it is yours or someone else’s?

Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help if you get a little lost. Everyone remembers being the new person at a jam and they are happy to help you. It also helps to find someone’s hands to watch. It’s ok to make mistakes. No one cares if you play a few wrong chords (typically, no one even notices since they’re too busy thinking about what they did last time or what they’re going to do next). Most importantly, keep showing up. No matter how nice and helpful people at a jam are, the first couple of times can be overwhelming and intimidating. But it will quickly all start making sense and you will feel much more comfortable the more jams you go to and play!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Our goal is to support women in music through education and community. We think it is important and fun for women to connect through the joy of making music together. We hope even more women will come play with us! In addition to the monthly Women’s Open Jams we are hosting at Swallow Hill, we have two camps this year that we are super excited about! Our spring camp is March 27-29 in Berthoud, CO and the fall camp is Sept. 6-9th in Dubois, WY. Both camps will be open to multiple instruments (guitar, mandolin, banjo, etc.) and will also include songwriting, vocal, and ensemble classes. We also have a Strings and Songs workshop with Courtney Hartman (from the Grammy-nominated band, Della Mae) on February 29 in Denver. Learn more and sign up at mountainmamasmusic.com.

We would also like to thank Swallow Hill for partnering with us to make the Women’s Open Jam happen. Swallow Hill is a really special community of folks that we love dearly. We would encourage anyone looking to take lessons to check out classes at Swallow Hill!

In addition to the February 16 Women’s Jam at Swallow Hill, Mountain Mamas will host another one on March 15, also at Swallow Hill Music.