Listening to live music is one of the most enduring sources of joy for humans but even though its roots are just as deep and its rewards every bit as satisfying, participatory music-making by non-professionals is hard to find in most communities. Not so in Olympia, where the sheer number of informal music circles—open to anyone with an interest in music, regardless of training—sets it apart from other towns of comparable size. Here are some of the regular opportunities for music lovers to sing, play and have fun creating tunes and tones.
O’Blarney’s Irish Pub
4411 Martin Way East, Olympia
Tuesday nights, 7-10 pm
Not many towns the size of Olympia can boast two weekly Irish music sessions. After a pandemic hiatus, the Tuesday night sessions at O’Blarney’s are about to resume (and great is the rejoicing). The Tuesday night sessions at O’Blarney’s were set to resume on April 26, and will run from 7—10 pm. All instruments are welcome. These sessions can go late and anyone who likes to play an instrument is invited to attend.
2100 West Bay Dr. NW, Olympia
Wednesday nights, 6:30—8 pm
The jam sessions at this Olympia institution on West Bay Drive are raging on Wednesday evenings again after being interrupted by the Covid virus. Come to eat and listen to ballads, jigs, reels and drinking songs or bring a fiddle, guitar, button accordion, Irish flute, mandolin, tinwhistle, or hammered dulcimer. Whatever you’ve got, including your voice—bring it any Wednesday evening.
For information on either Irish session,call Tom at (360) 280-4240.
Sacred Harp Singing
800 Wilson St. SE
Lions Park, SE Olympia
There is a strong community in our region of singers who gather to raise their voices in this early American music form. In Olympia, bi-weekly meetings are held outdoors, usually on weekends and usually in Lions Park in SE Olympia. New participants are most welcome. It is very helpful to have basic music-reading skills. Loaner books will be available. For information on upcoming meetings, see the Olympia Shape Note Facebook page.
805 4th Ave. E, Olympia
Sundays, 5-7 pm
Many Olympians know Samba Olywa from their vibrant and joyful performances at Procession of the Species. Although we have had (somehow!) to live life without Procession for three years now, Samba Olywa has carried on with Brazilian drumming and dancing throughout the pandemic. New participants are always welcome. The group practices at Eagles Grand Ballroom on Sunday evenings. A Facebook page and website give up-to-date information about any changes in the rehearsal schedule, and upcoming performances. Samba Olywa asks that participants be covid-vaccinated, plus one booster shot, at this time.
Fridays at the Kissing Statue
Percival Landing, Olympia
Fridays, 5-6 pm
The Artesian Rumble Arkestra meets each Friday in support of the weekly peace vigil there. If you care about peace and play a band instrument (using the most insanely expansive definition of “band”), you will be welcome there, except in the most hideous weather.
Oldtime Music Festival
February 2023 (?)
In the Before Times, the Oly Old Time Festival lit up the middle of February with a weekend’s worth of jams, concerts, dances, and workshops. Participants came from far afield: Alaska, Canada, Appalachia, New England, and of course closer to home. Just prior to the pandemic, the 2020 Old Time Festival went forward in grand style (and then… you know what happened). There were no Old Time Festivals in 2021 or 2022, but hopes are high for a Festy in February 2023.
Ukulele Song Circle
New Traditions Café
300 5th Ave. SE, Olympia
Mondays, 7-8:30 pm
A circle of uke-thusiasts of all levels of expertise gathers at New Traditions once a month. Whether you’ve been honing your skills for years, or just picked up a ukulele for the first time last week, you’ll find a warm musical welcome here. Much of the music is drawn from The Daily Ukulele, Vols. 1 and 2, but owning the books is not necessary—bring your instrument, a music stand, and copies of songs, words, and chords you wish to share (note: this is optional if you’d rather not lead a song). The uke group asks that you be vaccinated and boosted to attend.
The Olympia Peace Choir
Westminster Presbyterian Church
The Peace Choir is an inclusive community chorus. They are not currently able to accept new members but those interested are encouraged to check the website at the beginning of September 2022 for information on joining. Rehearsals will be Mondays at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Juli Kelen, a New York native, has lived in Olympia for nearly 40 years. She had a long career at KAOS radio, and doing PR for the Mud Bay Tiki Lounge. She plays music in her spare time. Since she is retired, all her time is spare.