A group of us get together most weeks and play music. I believe I’ve mentioned this before in this space, the joy of getting together with friends and folks from around and taking turns leading songs, acoustic songs, the kind which aren’t that technically complex.

Lots of songs about Jesus, trucks, prison and country life. Needless to say the pandemic has put a quash on this kind of thing – shoulder-to-shoulder and signing and all being a great way to pass around an infection.

I play with various groups like this when times allow it, gatherings, but there’s one group I’ve been with for awhile doing this. A group of us in Conway were getting together in the back of a local music store going on nine years ago, just people from around getting together once a week to play music.

After awhile we were the ones who were always there week in and week out and after a couple years kind of formed up formally (using the term advisedly) as a group. And with that we started going out on Saturday mornings and playing at area nursing homes. It’s been great fun. We have a regular circuit showing up once-a-month at various ‘homes and have been playing together long enough where we have a pretty good idea who’s going to do what and how. And it’s a chance for a bit of ham bone, of performance for the residents which as far as we can tell appreciate us being there.

We used to play at a Farmers Market on weekends, before leaving for that Saturday’s ‘home, under a shade tree there with a (rarely used) tip bucket out front and somebody asked us if we had a name. “Shade Tree Jammers” somebody said, and that’s what we’ve gone with ever since. The Shade Tree Jammers, appearing somewhere near you at some point. We’re not just limited to nursing homes. Farmers Markets, of course, and we’ve shown up at fish fries, charity events, street fairs, all sorts of odd places where they were wanting someone to add music to what was going on. We’ve even put on a couple/few concerts at this point. But mostly, week in and week out: Nursing homes. Well of course there’s this public health thing going around, and going into nursing homes and singing loud with all that breathing going on just isn’t done these days.

So since mid-March we haven’t been getting together. (Actually some of the braver ones have been getting together and jamming/playing for the past month or so. I haven’t been joining. My heart isn’t everything it could be and being in a small room singing is risky in light of the current infectious disease thing.) And we got a call last week. One of the regular ‘homes on our circuit was wondering if we could come by and play on Saturday morning, just like old times.

Well, almost like old times. The plan was instead of us getting in the same room as the residents they’d put us on a porch just off the main sitting area and we’d play facing the building, with screen windows between us and the residents who were seated back from the windows.

So we did, we played. It was brutally hot. (Arkansas in July, after all.) They had an awning set up for the seven of us, and a fan, but still, it was pretty brutal. I kept a small towel over one leg as I played (we play seated) and between songs would wipe me and the banjo down. And we took turns. Again, it had been awhile, but we all had a pretty good idea how to cover each other’s turns at different songs so it was like visiting old friends, friends playing music, friends listening, and familiar songs. And then you could see, kinda’, through the screens and there were the residents, a number of whom were from back in those pre-pandemic days, enjoying the music.

We played for a little over an hour, just like always, like old times. And out there, baking in the Arkansas summer sun, singing songs about Jesus, trucks, prison and country life for an appreciative audience it was nice to recall a pre-pandemic life, of people getting together and caring about each other as best they could.

Kienlen is the Editor of The Van Buren County Democrat and The Sun-Times

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