Dan Barrow Memorial Bluegrass Jam continues Fern Forest’s lively tradition

In a YouTube video recorded in 2011, Dan Barrow, the founder of South Florida bluegrass band the Shade Tree Pickers, leads a group of musicians in a lively jam session at Fern Forest Nature Center.

It captures the essence of the monthly Jammin’ event, which kicks up for its third decade, starting Oct. 8. It’s also a bittersweet reminder that Barrow wasn’t there last year to lead what has become a Coconut Creek tradition. He died in February 2016 after battling cancer.

“We continue to carry on what Dan started,” says Gerry Tamber, a mandolin player from Boca Raton and a member of the Shade Tree Pickers.

Now called the Dan Barrow Memorial Bluegrass Jam, in honor of the bass player with the big personality, the music festival promises to be as spirited as the man himself.

“He had a smile, and a way about him, and he spoke to the audience like they were his best friends, and, indeed, they became his best friends,” Tamber says.

Barrow’s wife, Jane, remembers the beginnings of the acoustic music gathering, when people would bring instruments to Fern Forest and play. It started as The Sunday Jam, initiated by Fern Forest staffer Susan Koontz, in 1987. Barrow took it on and made it his own.

Participation grew, among musicians and music lovers alike, and the session’s bluegrass, folk and mountain roots took hold. Tamber says it isn’t unusual for the crowd to be more than 100 strong.

There will be sing-a-longs of old favorites—“This Land Is Your Land” and “You Are My Sunshine”—and the Shade Tree Pickers will pull a tune or two out of their repertoire. The band still performs the one that’s preserved with Dan singing and playing on the video—a bluegrass standard, “I’m on My Way Back to the Old Home.”

Jane remembers how her husband would encourage anyone who wanted to join to feel comfortable coming on stage.

“People would sit in the crowd with instruments and be shy about getting up to play, but he would show everyone what fun he was having, and, eventually, they’d be up there, too,” says Jane about her husband of 50 years. “Fern Forest was Dan’s home away from home.”

Dan Barrow Memorial Bluegrass Jam

When: Second Sunday of the month through May, starting Oct. 8; 2-4 p.m.

Where: Fern Forest Nature Center, 201 Lyons Road S., Coconut Creek

Info: 954.357.5198

Price: Free