Laughter and conversation mixed with bluegrass music flowing from fiddles, banjos, mandolins, guitars, and an upright bass filled the air last Monday, Feb. 22 at a packed Coffee Mill. Every seat was filled as a range from toddlers to seniors clapped their hands and stomped their feet to the music. The energy inside the Coffee Mill made it easy to see it was a special night on Main Street, and it may be the last special night on Main Street for a long time to come. After eight years of serving the City of Radford, the Coffee Mill is closing its doors for good.
“I, personally, am very sorry to see the Coffee Mill close,” fiddle player and a founder of the jam Ralph Berrier said. “Not because of the jam, but because the Mill has been such a wonderful gathering spot for downtown Radford.”
The Coffee Mill has been a popular hangout for both natives of Radford and Radford University students.
“I like the community,” junior Mark Samudre said. “I like getting away from campus and doing my work and stuff.”
Graduate student, Jon Murrill, likes the atmosphere of not just the Coffee Mill, but of the jam sessions as well.
“I try to come as often as I can for [a] couple of months now,” Murrill said. “I saw it from the road and it felt like a fun atmosphere.”
Radford University students don’t just come out to watch the jam; some participate. Banjo player Jason Wheeler comes out to the jams every Monday night and participates with the rest of the group.
“When I first started playing the banjo I was in tenth grade in high school,” Wheeler said. “I started going to the Coffee Mill jam shortly after I started playing. I did not know many songs, and was a newbie when it came to playing, especially in public. The group of musicians welcomed me and allowed me to sit down and learn from them. I learned a great deal from that jam, and I credit it with the quickness of my development on the banjo.”
With the closing of the Coffee Mill, the Radford Fiddle and Banjo Jam loses the place it called home for the past seven years.
“It seems ironic that two weeks ago we were celebrating our 10 year anniversary, and now, two weeks later, we’re having our last jam,” Berrier said to an attentive audience.
It may be the last jam at the Coffee Mill, but that doesn’t mean it’s the last jam.
“The jam will survive,” Berrier said. “It’s lasted 10 years and has been held at other venues.”
The jam will move to the cafe area in Wades Supermarket every Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. until it finds a permanent location. This isn’t the first time the jam was forced to change locations. When the jam first formed in 2000, the group wandered between several locations such as Mocha Joe’s and BT’s, until they settled down at Joe’s Diner for three years. The Coffee Mill has hosted the jam since they opened their doors eight years ago. The move is necessary, but the group made sure to pay homage to their home of over half a decade.
“We’ve been guests in their house for seven years, so we thank them,” Berrier said.
Cover and story photo by Thomas Bowman