Recently, discussion on the mandolin mailing list I subscribe to has included Jam Etiquette. Much of the discussion was very encouraging and emphasized that playing with other people in a relaxed jamming atmosphere is a great way to learn. Being energized by the mailing list discussion is one of the reasons I looked to see if I could find a local gathering.
The folks I met last night were extremly nice. I didn't even take my mandolin in with me when I arrived because I was just hoping to listen and learn. I thought I could get an idea about their style and enjoy listening to the music. After about an hour of that, I couldn't stand it anymore and went to my truck to get Loretta. There were people of all skill levels hanging out and jamming. I noticed that they didn't require everyone to take lead on a break, so for the people who were only comfortable playing chords, it was OK. With only a little over a month of lessons under my belt, I had zero intention of playing any of the breaks, but I thought it would be great to be able to play chords with the group. I took Loretta over to a corner away from the circle and made sure she was still in tune (she was), then came back to the circle and took a spot hanging back on the outside, softly playing chords. A couple of the other participants gave me encouraging smiles and nods.
I stayed with the group 'till the end. About a half-hour before the jam session ended, several of the people left. When they did, I took a seat in the main circle instead of sitting outside the circle. Again, I was welcomed with encouraging smiles and words. When it was time to pack up, I was really sad to have to go. I expect I'll be going back for future sessions.
Another cool thing is that I met a dobro player who is taking lessons from the same person who is teaching me mandolin. It turns out that he had to be on a waiting list for this instructor for almost two years before a slot opened up. After hearing that, I really feel fortunate to have only been on his wait list for a few weeks. Several of the other people were talking about the good things they've heard about my instructor, too.