Every song circle is different, but the ones we have after the Charlotte Folk Society's monthly Gatherings go something like this:
The concerts generally run from 7:30 till about 9:00. The Song Circle starts right after the concert, in the back hall -- from the sanctuary/auditorium, go straight toward the back of the building and you'll see us. We start with a handful of people and everyone grabs a chair off the stack as they arrive after having refreshments or sampling the other jams.
We go around the circle and take turns deciding which song to sing next. It's perfectly OK to pass, and just let the next person pick. Most songs are singalongs, but there's generally at least one solo a night, and sometimes more. There's no pattern or theme; we'll sing some gospel, then a Peter, Paul & Mary hit, then a cowboy ballad, even the occasional showtune.
We learned quite early that relying on our memories for lyrics was going to make for a lot of short songs, so the Folk Society invested in a set of songbooks for us. Rise Up Singing is the one we use; it doesn't have everything (not much holiday music, for instance) but if you have a singalong song to share that isn't in it, just bring copies to pass around. Often someone will choose a song from the book that not everyone knows, but if they start us off, we always give it the old college try and we generally pick it up.
Our guitar stalwarts are Mark Clemens, who has that oldtime folksinger style going on; and Tom Kelleher, who can play everything exactly like it sounded on the record, which makes all the difference on songs by the Beatles, James Taylor, John Denver, etc. We never know who else will join in on guitar, banjo, fiddle, pennywhistle, but we welcome them all and once in a while we'll do a verse a cappella if the spirit moves us.
We always wind things up with "Goodnight, Irene," around 10 p.m. so we can stack the chairs and make our way out by the time they have to close up the building.
Often a newcomer will say nervously while taking a seat, "I'm not much of a singer." We always answer, "Wait and see. It doesn't matter!" That's partly because there are so many voices and guitars for a shy singer to hide behind. But it's mainly because the song circle is really about the joy of singing, not about talent or technique. Come join us! There's always room for more joy.