It wasn’t long after guitarist Taylor Alonso joined a regular jam session at an Eastport luncheonette that the musicians were forced to move to the Speonk Inn. Then they had to leave there, as well.
Without a home, it was suggested the guys play in Alonso’s Bellport Village restaurant, The Bellport, which he owns and serves as head chef.
And so they did.
That was February 2007, and for months, even years, the place stayed mostly empty on Thursday nights as the musicians played well into the early morning hours in the heart of an otherwise quiet Bellport Village.
“We were basically playing for ourselves,” said Alonso’s friend and fellow jammer Tom Lindin. “It took about three or four years before it actually started to get crowded in here. Now we’re getting 30, 40 people on some nights.”
“It’s really not a band; it’s just a bunch of guys” Alonso said. “A lot of regular people play, maybe about 22 or 24, but there’s a lot of other different configurations. There’s horn players that show up every once in awhile. Drummers. Bass players. There were about five or six people when we first started. It’s grown.”
Whatever the configurations, there’s never a shortage of people looking to play guitar at The Bellport.
“It seems like half the population of the country plays guitar,” Alonso quipped. “Do you know anyone who doesn’t play guitar?”
“There’s always too many guitar players,” Lindin said. “We call it guitar-mageddon.”
At about 11 p.m. on a recent Thursday, three guitarists, a drummer, bassist and saxophone player crowded the front of the restaurant to play, with a couple other musicians seated and waiting their turns.
They were joined by three ladies who would often get up to dance. Among them was Nancy Norman, a Bellport yoga instructor.
“Everyone who comes here says the same thing – that this is the best-kept secret on Long Island,” Norman said. “No one can believe there’s this level of talent here. It’s amazing.”
“Johnny Cash?” one of the musicians asked into the mic between songs.
“It’s been a long time,” another replied. “It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled.”
They began playing “Folsom Prison Blues,” with a few claps sounding out from the dimly lit restaurant.
“I’ve been playing music for over 50 years and I think the level of musicianship is really high,” Lindin said earlier that night.
“When we first started there was nobody here,” he said. “Now, when there’s an audience, it becomes more of a performance. Everybody likes to play for an audience. If they say they don’t, they’re lying. And we always like it when people start dancing.”
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Dave Green, a bass player. “There’s a certain consistency and a certain level of spontaneity, too. There’s always a core of dependability and sometimes it can get really good. And it could also get really bad. But there’s always a core of talent here that can be depended on, which I think sets it apart from other jams.”
Photo caption: Taylor Alonso (from left), Bobby Wallen and Tom Lindin.