ad you strolled through the McMullen Museum of Art on Sept. 6, you would have been treated to a rare and fleeting exhibit for the museum. It wasn’t hanging on the wall, and it wasn’t resting on a pedestal under bright lights. It was alive—strumming, playing, jamming.
As a part of the student opening for the museum’s Art After Dark series, Jammin’ Toast, a music club on campus, brought its folksy sounds to the first floor. The concert wasn’t just a rare occurrence for the museum: It was a rare public showing for the club, which usually performs within the private confines of its own weekend meetings. Aside from Art After Dark, members of Jammin’ Toast have previously performed at the Acoustic Brunch and a café hosted by the Boston College chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms, a national organization dedicated to raising awareness of people struggling with depression, addiction, self-harm, and suicide.
Alex Eichler, one of two co-presidents of Jammin’ Toast and MCAS ’20, described the group as a music club that alleviates performance pressure and instead focuses on having “wholesome, low-key fun.” Rachel Chan, the club’s co-president and MCAS ’20; and Kaitlin Meeks, the vice president, a former Heights editor, and MCAS ’20; agreed with Eichler. Meeks went on to add that Jammin’ Toast is a club that offers a space for musicians to step out of their comfort zones and learn new instruments.
At a typical Jammin’ Toast meeting, members will trickle into a classroom for the first 15 or 20 minutes, grab donuts—not toast—and discuss the songs they’d like to learn and perform that day. At the club’s Sept. 1 meeting, the first meeting of the semester, the members broke into four groups to practice their songs. The groups then went to different areas to practice for an hour.
During the hour, Eichler’s group worked tirelessly to find a place for a bassoon in a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Meanwhile, Meeks led her group onto Bapst Lawn, where she and two other musicians sprawled out in the plushy grass with an acoustic guitar and ukulele in their laps. While Meeks’ group practiced The Band’s “I Shall Be Released” after deciding Mt. Joy’s “Silver Lining” would have to wait for another jam session, a special guest presided over the rehearsal: Jerry the dog, who accompanied James Donegan, MCAS ’21, to the meeting, perused the green expanse around the musicians.
Chan’s group took to a small informal lounge in Gasson, where they debated potential songs to perform. The trio settled on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” and Vance Joy’s “Georgia,” a song that sent their soft voices drifting through the ornate window and into the Gasson rotunda as they rehearsed for the first and only time.
bout an hour into the meeting, pained screams of “Take my tears and that’s not nearly all,” reverberated through the wainscotted hallways of Gasson Hall’s third floor. The screams originated from Sam Frechette, a general e-board member of Jammin’ Toast and MCAS ’22, who was leading his group through a rendition of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” that integrated tambourine and acoustic sounds into the techno ’80s hit.
For the final 30 minutes of the meeting, the four groups reconvened in Gasson 305 to eat more donuts and see the fruits of their fellow members’ labor. In front of the lecture hall seats, all four groups performed the pieces they prepared in the hour prior.
An hour of rehearsal culminated in a performance that, although unpolished, was a spectacle to behold for Frechette’s group. After performing a spirited rendition of “Tainted Love,” Frechette and four other club members—only one of which was a returning member—launched into a cover of Post Malone’s “Stay,” a performance during which five occassionally-harmonious voices recited the heart-wrenching words while glancing at phone screens to make sure they were getting the lyrics right. Although the performance wasn’t pristine, it was perfect according to the standards set by Jammin’ Toast: The performers laughed when lyrics were botched and chords were jumbled, and finished with smiles on their faces.
The privacy of the affair is ultimately what distinguishes Jammin’ Toast from other music-oriented clubs on campus. Avid Listeners of Boston College (ALBC), a music listening club, does not perform at its events. A cappella groups host cafés and shows that fill up auditorium seats. Music Guild members compete for spots to open at Modstock. Jammin’ Toast simply jams.
Given that Jammin’ Toast doesn’t typically perform in front of the general student body or in public forums like other music organizations at BC, it is one of the lower-profile groups. Outsiders often mistake Jammin’ Toast to be part of Music Guild: Eichler recalled that the organizer of the Art After Dark performance thought this to be the case when reaching out about student performers. The mistake is easy to make, however. Eichler is also the co-president of Music Guild, and the two clubs share a lot of executive board members and performers.
Although the performances at the club’s general meetings are not attended by spectators outside of the club, nonmembers do have access to the performances. Meeks records each performance on her personal camera and uploads the videos to the Jammin’ Toast YouTube channel after the meeting. Videos dating back 6 years reside under a banner that reads “Jammin’ Toast: Don’t Be Jelly … Spread The Jam.”
The first video dates back to Sept. 22, 2012—the same year the club was founded—and depicts a performance of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” that only utilizes two female voices and two acoustic guitars. Thunderous applause follows the performance, indicating that the club’s first meeting was well attended. The first meeting for this year’s fall semester was attended by 16 people, many of which were attending a meeting for the first time.
Like many of the clubs at BC, Jammin’ Toast relies heavily on the student activities fair to recruit new members and uses a listserv and GroupMe to spread the word about meeting times and locations, which typically fall on a weekend afternoon in a Stokes Hall classroom. In the past, Jammin’ Toast has also created Facebook events for its meetings on its club Facebook page.
Additionally, the club has used Instagram to increase awareness of its comings and goings. With no office and little consistency, as far as meeting logistics go, it is crucial for the club to communicate with its members through these various platforms, although its social media presence on the latter two has dwindled in the past couple of years. Eichler, Meeks, and Chan hope to revamp Jammin’ Toast’s social media presence in order to reach new potential joiners in the coming year.
While Meeks recalled the warm enthusiasm of the Jammin’ Toast members manning the activities fair booth her freshman year, the listserv is ultimately what got Chan to join.
“I remember seeing the first two emails and being like ‘meh,’” Chan said. “But then I decided to go for fun…”
“And now here you are,” Eichler finished.
For Jammin’ Toast, new members often mean new instruments. The bassoon that made its way into the “Landslide” cover on Sept. 1 is one recent example, but, in the past, members have also lugged saxophones, violins, cellos, and mandolins to meetings. Acoustic guitars and ukuleles are staples of the meetings as well. Aside from member-owned instruments, Jammin’ Toast also has its own guitar, bass, a couple of percussion instruments, and a cowbell, all of which it purchased with club money in years prior and it stores in Carney Hall for most of the week. The club often borrows two amps from Music Guild, which also stores its club belongings in Carney.
temming from the low-stakes nature of Jammin’ Toast’s meetings, the club also encourages students to join at any time. While other student organizations often have audition or sign-up periods, Jammin’ Toast meetings are always open to unfamiliar faces. Even the process of becoming an e-board member mirrors the club’s general casual approach: Aside from the two co-presidents and the vice president, all other e-board members are general e-board members who were asked if they wanted a board position after consistently attending meetings for a few months. All three executive officers joined the club when they were freshmen and eventually found a home within the organization.
“It’s like my favorite thing at BC,” Eichler said. “Nothing beats a good Jammin’ Toast.”
It is highly unusual for a club to exist at BC without consistently working toward something. Dance groups work towards Showdown. Comedy troupes constantly write new material for shows. Student publications plan for poetry readings and cram for deadlines.
The Art After Dark show presented a rare opportunity for Jammin’ Toast to work toward something. To prepare for its performance, the club sent out a message in the GroupMe letting members know about the opportunity, and all who were interested were invited to practice for a couple of hours on Monday night. It was a process that was as inclusive as the organization’s general meetings, and yielded a performance that was highly collaborative and tranquil.
For the event, Jammin’ Toast brought a keyboard, a ukulele, two guitars, a tambourine, and a cajon. The sound of the instruments, combined with seven voices, made for a three-song set that was reminiscent of some of the performances of—or at least the principles behind—Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Aside from the folksy selections, the point of the performance was not to establish a reputation or inspire awe through musical talent, but to bring people together through the bonding powers of live music.
Staging The Lumineers’ version of Tom Petty’s “Walls,” the seven-piece band’s stylings exuded a robust, hearty sound. The set carried on with covers of Brandi Carlisle’s “Heart’s Content” and “Landslide.” While Jammin’ Toast played, the audience became its eighth member, clapping and singing along with the rag-tag band.
The bright lights and cavernous room of McMullen Museum was a space slightly different than those in which Jammin’ Toast usually performs, and the set was admittedly more polished than those that typically end up on the club’s YouTube channel. But like the club’s general meetings, the members jammed, and there wasn’t a single piece of toast in sight.
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor