Last night the Lamar Neighborhood Watch organized an observation of National Night Out, an evening dedicated to supporting law enforcement and encouraging strong community building. Most communities observe National Night Out in August, but Texas and other States observe it on the first Tuesday in October, when the weather is a good bit cooler. August in the South is rarely a good time to host outdoor events.
My walking buddy neighbor helped organize the event, but he took a unique approach to it: rather than having one person or a committee coordinating all of the participants, he invited residents to host whatever bit of entertainment and fun they could muster. The result was a small but truly grassroots street festival.
When he approached me about the idea in August, he asked if I could play some music on Main Street. He recommended I reach out to the owner of the town’s lone grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, who also owns a small insurance agency across the street. My neighbor reasoned that with the Baptist Church on one end of Main Street doing something and the Methodist Church on the other end, having some music going in the middle of Main Street would be a nice touch.
After some rounds of phone tag, I was able to secure access to the insurance agency’s office (where we just need to plug in power), and my buddy John and I set up his small PA with a couple of mics, his guitar, and my keyboard. We put out a tip jar, which I advertised with a sign reading “Give your coppers for the coppers,” and notifying attendees that all tips would be donated to the Lamar Police Department.
The festival itself was small, but lively. The two candidates for mayor were out campaigning, and the Cajun restaurant down the street had a good crowd. My walking buddy was playing a movie at the library (his wife is the head librarian), and I believe at least one residence had a cotton candy machine going at her home.
John and I had our little spot under the awning of the insurance agency, and while foot traffic near us was not huge, we had a good time (and, according to a student of mine who works at the Piggly Wiggly, we could be heard in the parking lot clearly). We played from roughly 6:10 PM to about 7:50 PM without a break—a solid 100 minutes of music. It was fun being back out and playing in public again, and it was good practice for the Spooktacular.
It’s also cool just getting to play in such an unusual spot. I’ve played gigs in some weird spots—a robotics factory in rural Darlington County, South Carolina; in a church gymnasium; at a hookah lounge in Wilmington, North Carolina—but there’s always something particularly engaging and lively about playing in unorthodox settings.
The fact that we were on Main Street made it even more fun. While Lamar isn’t exactly a teeming metropolis, there is still a pulse to Main Street, the kind of pulse that beats in the heart of any city. Sure, sometimes that pulse was the thundering clatter and rumble of a semi-truck carrying empty chicken crates, but it was mostly the people out and about enjoying the evening.
So, how did we do for the police department? Eh, not great. John and I raised a whopping $6 in tips. I counted out the loose change I already had in my tip jar, and that came out to $6.40, so combined we generated $12.40. That might buy Chief a good lunch, at least.
Still, as my walking neighbor said, it’s all about planting a seed. It was a good start for National Night Out, and I look for it to grow in the future.