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Pickin' and Grinnin'

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Good friends Nina Dishman (left), Shirley Raines and Ina Roberts pictured with Bluegrass at Baker Park organizer Bruce Roberts.
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Bluegrass musicians gather round to jam out during the weekly Bluegrass at Baker Park event Monday evening. The musicians are from all over East Central Indiana and beyond. Ben and Tina Hamman, for example,are from all the way out it West Virginia.
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Bluegrass at Baker Park happens every Monday throughout the summer. The big pitch-in dinner is a special event that only comes around once a year in September.

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

You’d be forgiven for thinking there was a family reunion Monday evening at Baker Park.

Cars, trucks and mini vans circled the Dick Leitch Shelter House. Tables were laid out with pitch-in ham, mashed potatoes, veggies and pies.

Hugs and hellos and good-natured, back-slapping jokes greeted every new arrival.

An AM/FM cassette player on the wall brought Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs to the party, too.

The event was the weekly Bluegrass at Baker Park jam session. For many of the bluegrass fans, it may as well be a family get together.

“It’s like one big family,” said Jack Jarvis.

Jarvis is a New Castle native who moved to the Muncie area some years back. He makes sure to come back to town for Bluegrass at Baker.

Organizer Bruce Roberts coordinates the free jam sessions and community nights every week from the first Monday in May to the first Monday in October.

Roberts has been in charge of organizing everything for the past 13 years. Bruce doesn’t play, but he sure enjoys listening from the packed picnic tables with other bluegrass fans.

Monday night was the annual pitch-in dinner. Everybody grabbed a plate of something tasty before the musicians started making that downhome music.

Ezra Smith has been coming to the summer concerts for years.

“I play a little bluegrass myself. I enjoy it and the fellowship and the crowds that come out,” Smith said. “We’re all just good friends.”

Friends Nina Dishman, Ina Roberts and Shirley Raines could barely stop laughing as they chatted with each other Monday.

The ladies have been coming out for years of good times, good music and good people.

Smith likes seeing people come in from Connersville, Muncie, Richmond and Ohio to enjoy Baker Park.

There was even a couple from West Virginia in Monday’s jam session.

Ben and Tina Hamman travel around the country in their motorcoach for work. They always keep an ear open for local bluegrass jams in whichever state they are in.

The Hammans have been in Muncie for the past year and just heard about the Bluegrass at Baker Park concerts. Tina was excited to play with the regulars. 

“We’ve made a lot of friends in bluegrass. The people are the best,” Tina said. “They’re down to earth, and they’re real people.”

As plates started getting cleared Monday, the conversations quieted and everyone spun around to face the corner where Avery Perry was tuning his banjo.

One by one, the other musicians picked up their stringed instruments and started plucking and strumming in time with Perry.

Guitar player Ted Bullen has been playing with the bluegrass jams for two or three years. He likes the opportunity to play with and learn from more experience bluegrass guys.

Derek Carrera, the youngest musician there at only 16, also learns something every week from the other players. Carrera said the experience over the years has taught him to share the spotlight and understand when it’s someone else’s turn to be center stage.

Norma Hayworth likes the people she gets to spend time with each Monday at the bluegrass jams. It’s not just about the music, although that is a beautiful part of each evening.

The sounds of the banjo and standup bass and the warbling of voices could still be heard at Baker Park as the sun began to turn the sky gold with dusk. Those same sounds of family and friendship and bluegrass can be heard from 6-9 p.m. each Monday from May to October.

For more information on Bluegrass at Baker Park, contact Bruce Roberts of New Castle at 765-686-0056.