Musical magic from a bunch of buckets

Strangers connect each week in a live, collaborative, one-of-a-kind music-making event.

Photos courtesy of Chones, Africa Studio, Conkole and Svilen Georgiev/Adobe Stock

For local musician and Nappy Riddem band lead guitarist Gordon Sterling, all you need is love—love of music, that is. Sterling will take it from there.

He will give any musician the space to work their vibe with any other musician, any stranger who walks into the room who has musical talent. He will give you the opportunity to get in a groove and get wound up in a riff as part of a suddenly formed band you find yourself jamming with. You will explore new melodies, new musical inventions, find a new bandmate or even join a band later.

Sterling is the host of a unique music event called the bucket jam, and it’s been going on every Tuesday night at Iota Club & Café in Clarendon for almost a year. “We call it church,” he says.

Around 8 p.m., musicians begin coming in, carrying their guitars or their keyboards or, well, just about any instrument they want.

Sterling sets up a bunch of clear quart-sized containers on the front of the stage labeled with the name of an instrument: guitar, keyboards, drums, etc. A musician, any musician, writes his or her name down on a slip of paper. At 15-minute intervals, Sterling chooses one name out of each bucket, and a new band is formed.

The chosen band members come up on stage and say their hellos, someone decides to start playing, and everybody begins jamming. They watch each other, listen for breaks, allow solos, then regroup and find another melody—whatever—in an amazing display of a live, collaborative creative process that is a wonder to behold.

“This is the greatest,” one fan sitting in the audience says before pulling out a guitar case and making his way to the stage. Another guy nursing a beer at the bar decides about halfway into the event that he’s ready to play, writes his name down on a slip of paper, puts it in the bucket and minutes later is tearing up the drums.

A long-haired 50-something guy with a British accent and electric guitar got up one night and just slayed it. “Awesome,” he says after the 15-minute session.

“These players get on stage, and it’s really just a conversation,” a bass player says during a break. “Can’t wait to see what happens,” another musician tells Sterling as he walks into the club.

Musicians for the bucket jam can be anyone who just wants to play or professionals looking for a fun gig—band members from Thievery Corporation have played at the bucket jam.

How much longer will the bucket jam go on? “As long as it’s possible,” Sterling says. “I get to play music with my friends. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Music man and bucket-jammer Gordon Sterling

Where did the idea for the bucket jam come from?

I have always loved to jam. So when a friend suggested a Tuesday event, we took the idea to Iota, and they said it was a really great idea.

This is more than just an open mic thing, right?

It’s not an open mic thing. It’s a meeting of the minds, very much so. Because of all the people that are embedded in the music scene here, it brings in so many different people that are in established bands. That is a big part of it.

Do you know these musicians?

At first, yes. But now, no. I met them through here. And that is the cool thing about it. You have this place where you kind of don’t know who you are going to play with. That’s the beauty of it. It kills ego. There are no judgments.

(July 2017)

Updated: November 14, 2019