Kick out the jams

When the Columbia arts community needs help with anything related to live music, Jay Matheson gets a call.

Matheson, ’82 media arts, has been a staple in the local music scene for decades. That could mean running sound for the art museum’s Arts & Draughts series or recording a who’s who list of local and regional bands over the past 27 years at his Jam Room Recording Studio.

He has seen firsthand Columbia’s arts scene grow over the years and watched it develop into a particularly vibrant community. “I didn’t start the movement,” he is quick to say. “I was just a part of it early on.”

A big part of that movement is Matheson’s own Jam Room Music Festival, begun in 2012 to mark the studio’s 25th anniversary. “I’ve always had the idea that you want to punctuate important dates,” explains Matheson. When the Jam Room turned 15, for example, they had outdoor events at Art Bar all summer. 

“Then for the 20th,” he says, “we had something at what was then 5 Points Pub, and that was really cool. So for the 25th, I wanted to put on a festival.” Matheson knew he could pull off a small festival on a shoestring budget and have a good time doing it.

But the event started to outgrow that simple plan almost overnight as friends in the scene offered their help. “It was going to be a one-time thing,” Matheson says, “but once the whole infrastructure came together, it went from a festival where I was just going to call up some bands I liked and get them to play to this festival that just kept getting bigger and bigger. And now here it is.”

The free fall concert landed national acts like indie rockers The Hold Steady in its first year and alt-country legends Son Volt the next while also showcasing top-notch local talent like Can’t Kids and Josh Roberts & The Hinges.

Holding the festival on Main Street, in the midst of a burgeoning downtown arts scene, was no accident. “I chose that part of town,” Matheson says, “because I wanted to bring people in to see what we had going on.”

Matheson had been working with so many people involved with Main Street’s resurgence and had been active in the community for so long that he felt he needed to take more of a leadership role in helping the scene grow.

“So now we’re helping to fit music with the visual arts and other things going on in Columbia,” he says. “We’re trying to serve the artistic core of the community.”

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To read more stories about alumni helping to revive Columbia's Main Street pick up the October issue of USC Times, on racks now.

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