The HUM: Long live The Jam – the past, present and future of an iconic nightspot

The Jam's new (old) bar and refreshed decor. Photo by Bob Doran | Union

The time has come for the Grand Opening of The Jam, or if you’d rather, the Grand Reopening, under a new management. 

If you remember Kevin’s story in the Union from late in January, you know the restaurant/night club was purchased from Pete Ciotti by Mike Munson, who also owns the AA Bar & Grill in Eureka, with the overhaul supervised by G.M. David Pate, who formerly worked at the Benbow Inn.

The overhaul has been truly major, with the new management noting, “A lot of thought and planning has gone into the $100,000 remodel that has been done.” This was said somewhat defensively, after complaints about pretty much any improvement they made. 

“Give us a chance, is all I can ask,” David implored the cranky social mediums, who complained when they tore out the make-shift plywood deejay booth Pete had put in, then complained about the upgrade of the video system. “We’ve installed six brand new 55” TVs, that brings the total to 14 TVs,” he reported, adding “Did you notice the new light fixtures?” 

The response? They were going to turn it into a dreaded sports bar, which frankly was something Pete tried to do as he struggled to keep the club afloat. One overall problem is that the Jambalaya has always had customers who have a sense of ownership. It’s their place, whether it’s a dance club or just a hang out. 

The building actually has a long storied past, starting out as a series of businesses. The late great poet John Ross detailed that history in the mid-’70s in a book of poetry and photos (by Bill Ferry) titled Jam: a random walk. 

John wrote, “The bar is caked thick on underside with decades of stale chewing gum. Bartender Morris Herman, who is responsible for much of this stiffened goo, can recall the various avatars of this venerable institution — first the Balmoral Cigar Store, then Elmer’s Acorn’s, Buck’s Tavern, Sig’s Place, Dan & Jerry’s, and presently, Jambalaya, where once Fred and Joyce Neighbor and now Andy Cairns dispense the guzzle to a crazyquilt crew of antiheroes: Hank Williams fanatics, maudlin poets, musical geniuses, cartoon lovers, TV freaks, and a swell but soggy bunch of softball nuts known as The Golden Rockets who are forever available for parties and other gala occasions.”

My personal history goes back to Dan & Jerry’s days, when Fred and Joyce were the house band before they bought the failing club. Then there were decades as the Jambalaya, through too many changes in management to add to Morrie’s list now, although Barb Robie ran the place for many years, and another major reorganization came under Deborah Lazio. 

In 1999 Deborah Lazio and her professor husband, Jim Crawford, bought the place and transformed it. Little of the old Jam remained: The façade was replaced, the funky interior gutted, the smelly bar removed and replaced with a new one on a different side of the room. The ambience was much improved, but sad to say, the folks who used to hang out at the Jam hated it, mostly because Deborah, who most people knew as a music promoter at Old Town Bar & Grill and Blues by the Bay, had dropped the music part. How dare they turn their funky old haunt into an upscale restaurant?

In 2006, Pete Ciotti’s family took over, with his sister Rose and her husband Ricardo initially running the place, installing a new chef (Alex Begovic, who now runs his own place, Le Monde, in Eureka), and more important, resuming the entertainment with dance music of various types “and more.” Ricardo and Rose eventually moved on, leaving Pete and his father-in-law in charge, with everyone putting in long hours until they passed the torch to the new Jam team. 

The new crew has been working hard. “Remember the old bar top at The Jam?” current G.M. David asks. “It was found sitting in a barn here in Arcata.” We’ll assume they removed Morrie’s chewing gum before reinstalling it, but it’s a nod to the past history. 

“I’ve been telling people that we are fortunate that people are very passionate about The Jam/Jambalaya,” said David. “Some are passionate in a positive way and some are not so positive, because of memories that they have of the place. We need to do what we can to recognize that uncertainty passion and show those people how cool our place is and not to get sucked into debating or arguing with them. 

“All we can do, is just do what we do, to the best of our abilities, and show people who are concerned about the past changing, that change can be a good thing. Stop in and see us before you make your mind up.” 

I’ve always loved the true bar & grill menu at the AA, and can’t wait to see what they’ll offer here. “When we reopen we will offer food and drinks seven days a week from 11 a.m. ’til 2 a.m.” 

To improve the music system, they’ve installed a new PK Sound System. They’ve added new furniture, and last but not least, they officially changed the name of the old Jambalaya Club to “The Jam,” which Pete attempted in his P.R. “He did not change it legally, but we did,” said David. 

So, the Jambalaya is dead, long live The Jam. As they state in all caps, “WE ARE BACK!” 

They opened Monday of this week, with The Jam Grand Reopening starting Friday, March 6, showtime 10 p.m. kicking the music schedule off with “our Deep Groove Society Family,” with EDM with Marjo Lak B2B Bagga Donuts and Derek Watts B2B The Middle Agent, plus “super special guest” N808 (of Dirtybird PDX fame). 

B2B? What’s that? I asked the Brazilian DJ Marjo Lak. She explained it means, “Back to back — me and Bagga Donuts will be playing with each one playing one track at the time: I play one, he plays one, I play one and so on, creating and improvising a set together. (I don’t know what he will play and he doesn’t what I’m gonna play either.) It’s really fun, kind of DJ jamming.” 

Then on Saturday, at The Jam the Grand Reopening Weekend continues with Dr. Squid, a bar band extraordinaire, Humboldt rock ’n’ roll veterans, who have “been playing all your favorite songs for years.” The Squid line-up has changed since the old days with the late Eldin Green out front, but “they will get you up and dancing.”

On Sunday, “come out and enjoy the funky sound of Smokey the Groove at The Jam helping to close out the Grand Reopening Weekend.” The band from Chico offers “jamband\funk\psychedelic\electronic” music, well, again, so you can dance. 

Still to come at The Jam, Karaoke Mondays, more EDM next Friday (March 13) with the ongoing series Mix Tape Vol. 10, “Old School Blues” with Buddy Reed on March 14. (“Buddy is the real deal.”) The Undercovers play covers for St. Paddy’s Day, Deep Groove back March 20, Jimi Jeff plays Hendrix “and more” March 21, The Uptown Kings play uptown blues March 28, and so on. 

Of course, there’s plenty of competition as Arcata’s nightlife scene is going strong right now. Across town at Humbrews Friday night (March 6) there’s a rival EDM thing, Brews’n’Bass Third Anniversary Black and Yellow Party hosted by Who Is She Productions with Cassidy Blaze, Haiku Funkplus and Webster, each doing solo sets then a B2B2B finale. “Dress to impress in your Black & Yellows,” because, well just bee-cause.

At the Miniplex they have Karaoke en Español at 9:30 p.m. “¡Ven a cantar todas tus canciones favoritas en español!”

Earlier that evening. She’s back. “Poet. Writer. Ecstatic earth worshiper.” Jacquelin Suskin. She says, “I’m excited to read from my latest book of poetry [Help in the Dark Season] at my favorite bookstore in Arcata, Northtown Books [Friday, March 6, 7 to 9 p.m.]. You can buy all of my books there. I love that bookstore and it’s so important to support local book sellers.” (If we’re lucky, she’ll hang around until the Farmers’ Market on Saturday for one of her traditional typewriter sets.) 

Same Saturday at Bayside Community Hall, (March 7, 5 to 9 p.m.) the Northcoast Environmental Center Spring Dinner and Dance brings Kingfoot back after a long hiatus for some “modern Americana” with a rockabilly beat. The dinner is a “loaded baked potato bar” with “vegetarian and gluten-free options available.” 

That got me wondering, aren’t potatoes automatically gluten-free. I asked Google. “The simple answer is yes, potatoes are gluten-free. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains. Potatoes aren’t grains, they’re vegetables.” Watch out for gluteny dessert however, and the silent auction.

Outer Space Arcata is at RampArt Skatepark on South G with alt. whatever bands: Cryogeyser from L.A., Sour Widows from Oakland, and locals Sue and the Namies, and Ralph & Claire. Starts at 8 p.m.

Down in the Basement Saturday, 9 to 11 p.m. jazz saxophonist extraordinaire  Francis Vanek jazzes it up with friends, guitarist Jim Wilde and bassist Ken Lawrence. 

On Saturday, March 7, you can see what Pete Ciotti has been up to post-Jam, at Humbrews as Grateful Getdown plays Dead tunes with Pete on drums, Norm Bradford on bass, Jake Burns and Bryan Kraus on guitars, Chris Devlin on keys, and Leslie Ostrom on vocals (and everyone else on vocals). 

At the Arcata Theatre Lounge Saturday (March 7, 9:30 p.m.) Dirtwire offers EDM “and more” with David Satori of Beats Antique, Evan Fraser of Bolo and Mark Reveley of Jed and Lucia, “sitting on the front porch of Americana’s future, conjuring up a whirlwind of sound using traditional instrumentation, world percussion, soundscapes, and electronic beats.”

Saturday the Miniplex becomes Disco Paradise with “shades of disco: electro-disco, Italo-disco, boogie-disco, soul-disco, camp-disco, cosmic-disco, & more, brought to you by DJs Red & Dacin! No cover, 21 & up.”

Saturday at The Alibi, “get dark and dreary, dancey and romancey, gravy and wavey with this month’s installment of Radio Clash” with “special guests” DJ Zephyr, Vulvadon and Breadmachine, a mix of big beat pop, vintage soul, goth, punk, ska, etc. Starts at 10 p.m. 

So far we haven’t strayed from Arcata. As usual, there are other things happening. Saturday is Arts Alive! night in Eureka with my friend Joanne Rand folking at North of Fourth, Arcata-based band Blood Hunny playing at Bandit, and Celtic wonders Good Company are at the Graves with special guest Britt Smith.

There’s more, for example The Wood Brothers and Birds of Chicago in a CenterArts show at the Arkley on Sunday (at 8 p.m.) but as usual, I’m way, way over my word count, so we’ll leave it there. See ya somewhere. 



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