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A song in the air at Baker Park

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Avery Perry of New Castle loves playing bluegrass music on his banjo. He plays other instruments as well. Everyone is invited to the Monday-night jam sessions, now through Oct. 7.
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From left, Bruce Roberts and bluegrass musician Avery Perry. The two are highly involved with the Monday-night jam sessions at Baker Park.

By DONNA CRONK - dcronk@thecouriertimes.com

From now through Oct. 7, bluegrass musicians from professionals to newbies, along with folks who like to hear them, gather from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays at the big shelter in Baker Park.

Even though organizers caution that the nights take place “weather permitting,” they don’t let a little rain stop them, but only wind and storms.

Coordinating the free jam sessions and community nights out is Bruce Roberts of New Castle. Not a musician himself, he’s a big fan who enjoys the music, dating back to when he and his dad, John Roberts, would go listen to local favorite Homer Pass play bluegrass many years ago.

Roberts says he’s never missed a Monday in 14 years at the Baker Park gatherings. He said when interest has waned in the past, he would try to re-energize it.

“We’ve got it (the interest) picked back up and there’s some younger people getting involved,” says Roberts. At the same time, the older set enjoys coming out and making it a social time.

“It’s turned into a retirement gathering,” says Roberts. “They look forward to Monday night.”

Early on in the spring season, Roberts says about 50 attend but by July the number will swell to perhaps 80 or more. He says July is the best month of the five-month run, and on the second Monday in July he serves free watermelon as a treat to the crowd.

Another special event for the group is a pitch-in dinner at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9 before the jam session. 

Roberts is grateful to the city of New Castle for allowing the music sessions to take place in Baker Park free of charge.

Some of the musicians who take part regularly or occasionally include Glen Thurston, Denver Jesse, John Zapf, Brian and Molly Wallen, young musician Derek Carrera and the senior of the bunch, Joe Herndon who is approaching 91, to name a few. Always there is a musician whom Roberts describes as “king” of the gatherings, Avery Perry of New Castle.

Perry plays a variety of instruments, especially banjo at the Baker Park sessions. He got started on banjo when the late Venard Bailey taught him. Perry learned to play guitar at age 13, taught by his dad and neighbors. During the late 1960s, he says there wasn’t a demand for bluegrass so he played lead guitar for country tunes. 

But bluegrass is his favorite and he says, “I just like the camaraderie of it.”

Perry finds the music and lyrics relatable and says they speak to ordinary people about things they know or their family have or are going through. He enjoys the gospel songs as well. Some of the instruments used in bluegrass include guitars, banjos, mandolins and fiddles. 

A Chrysler retiree, Perry loves jamming with the other musicians and Roberts says they particularly enjoy playing  with Perry.

Says Roberts, “It’s like a big family is what it is.”

The public is welcome to attend. For information call Bruce Roberts at 765-686-0056.