Ire Over the Erie

Max at the wheel on the Erie

When Max was in middle school I sometimes would take his textbooks to my office and photocopy the pages blocking out distracting charts, images, sidebars, etc. One night I was too tired to trek across the yard to open my office, so I volunteered to read out loud a chapter on US westward expansion in the early 19th century. The mere paragraph this text devoted to the conception, construction and historical importance of the Erie Canal, left me slack-jawed.

Gabe and I are both native New Yorkers and a substantial segment of our American history education was devoted to this pivotal accomplishment. If you know us, you can just picture what happened next. We spent the winter researching the entire 373-mile route from the Waterford Flight to the Tonawanda terminus. By summer we had purchased a second-hand 25′ power boat and trailer, recruited a traveling companion for our son, loaded up our truck with photo gear and supplies, hooked our dinghy to the other car, and headed north up the Hudson Valley.

I won’t go into detail about the boat taking on water within moments of being launched, but picture a boat still tied to the trailer winch floating downstream in the pitch dark while the water-logged engine refused to start. Thankfully, that was the low-point of the entire summer. The rest of the season was spent advancing two vehicles and two boats lock-by-lock, sharing sleeping quarters among four people, eating alfresco, and bathing in the canal. Ah, what an experience!

Currently, we have 30 titles in Erie Canal Edition I. Future publishing plans include featuring some of the often-overlooked communities that grew up along the canal’s route; like Holy Trinity, a Russian Orthodox Monastery; Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the Women’s Suffrage Movement; and the middle Mohawk Valley with its prospering Amish dairy farms. The region has served as an able caretaker of the history that emerged as society pushed westward, made more comfortable and affordable by the Erie Canal. Read about this astonishing accomplishment at

John Hayden

If you can picture an Andean family sitting in their yard in the mountains of Bolivia making goat hoof shakers, you’ve got to marvel at the logistics that finds these indigenous instruments being offloaded from a container ship in the Port of Seattle. And with great regularity, too!  When asked about this, John Hayden, founder and owner of Jamtown, admits to often being equally amazed.

Sixteen years ago John decided to get off the corporate ladder and onto a path that he believed would reveal a purpose as he went down it. A lifelong passion for music had left him with a collection of musical instruments from various far-flung locales that he would periodically drag out for an impromptu jam session with friends. Now he looked to these instruments to suggest destinations for his travels.

John in Accra Ghana with the producer of the drum bags.

John states that in the beginning he was entirely adventure-driven rather than profit- or goal -driven, literally doing some minor research and then following his nose into a region in a take-me-to-your-music-maker fashion. Besides English he only spoke barely passable Spanish, so these early direct dealings with artisans were limited, as well as rare.

As his global pursuits grew into a vision and then an actual product line, John was invited to join the Fair Trade Federation. This provided access to cooperatives and NGOs (non government organizations) that could assist with sourcing product, native language communications, exportation requirements, currency exchange, and all manner of coordinating activities. As he suspected, his path had a definite destination, and he had arrived.

John with artisans and village kids in Rebana, Java, Indonesia

Jamtown is all about what we have in common on this planet – a love for music! It’s dedicated to partnering with low-income families and cooperatives to improve their lives through the fairly traded fruits of their labor; and to providing an unplugged experience for American families and groups through access to these remarkable instruments; and the workshops, classes, and educational materials John has developed.

Do you suppose that Andean family sits around after supper wondering where their goat hoof shakers end up, trying to picture them in an US urban setting? I’ll bet they’re saying, “¿No tienen sus propias cabras en los Estados Unidos?” Well, perhaps because of John and your support of the principles of Fair Trade, that family even had a meal to “sit around after.” Please take a moment to watch this video: ‪Bolivia in 14 Days

PS. The goat hoof shakers are our best selling Jamtown instrument!

Collection by John Hayden of Jamtown

Instruments, mainly percussion, are from seven countries on three continents.  Fair Trade principles assure the artisans are paid a fair, living wage for their labors.

Pictured: Water Drum, Djembe and Caxixi from Ghana; Gourd Shaker,Gourd Scraper and Panderetas from Peru; Nipple Gong from Vietnam; Frame Drum from Indonesia; and Goat Hoof Shaker from Bolivia.

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