Water we living for? Opportunities to play and sing!

That’s not the official motto of the St. James Jammers, but most would resonate with that sentiment. So when we were asked to play for the Watermelon Festival, the general feeling was “Water you waiting for, sign us up!”

After rehearsing diligently and debating at length what to play, we packed up four guitars, a mandolin, a bass and a pile of mics and amps. And we headed for Winterville, determined to make it the new Branson, Missouri, with our voices and our instruments. If you’re gonna come, come big.

When we got there, I admit that the blistering heat was discouraging. The stage was in the shade, thank you Jesus. But the area in front of it was in the direct sunlight and you could have baked chocolate chip cookies on the grass. It was hard for anyone to sit there for very long, so the audience was sparse. Still, a lot of people passed through and smiled or waved or gave us the thumbs up.

I thought of all the times that I went to public events and I didn’t stop to listen to the live music that was provided. I still was glad to have music playing in the background as I wandered about, looking at exhibits, talking to friends. It can be fun to provide the background ambience for everyone even if they don’t stand right in front of you and cheer.

Needless to say, we had a good time playing. We did some gospel music, some secular. We did everything from “I’ll Fly Away” to “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Not to imply, of course, that I’ll fly away on a jet plane.

However, I worried about beds, of all things. In addition to playing the music, we raise money for Community Crossroads, which is the homeless shelter in Greenville. We put the traditional open guitar case out there and all donations go to that ministry. One person for one night costs $25, so sometimes we count the dollars and sometimes we count the beds.

Earlier that morning I had played at the Farmers Market, where we usually get a healthy number of donations. But not many people were at the market that day — no doubt they had all gone to the Watermelon Festival. So I had netted a whopping $2. That’s enough, I guess, for one person to prop one foot up on a cot for the night.

You can see how I would be worried that the heat would burn away the generosity of people as the rushed on by to get out of the sun. But this turned out to be the kind of situation where I love to be wrong. As we packed up to leave, someone counted the money and we had received over $200. Or, counting by beds, it was a place to sleep for a night for eight people.

We always end by singing “Amazing Grace,” which is one of my favorite things to do, but I felt a little bad this time. While we were singing, a woman came by with two little boys. I love the look on a parent’s face that says, “Help me get my kids interested in music.”

So when we finished the song and said, “Thanks, everybody, we enjoyed it, hope you did too,” she looked really disappointed: “You aren’t through singing, are you?”

What else could we do? One of the band members grabbed a guitar and said, “Hey, let’s sing while we pack up.”

He started strumming and we sang “This Little Light of Mine.” Then we did “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart.” After that, the lady asked us to sing Jesus Loves me and of course we obliged.

And we sang it, consistently with enthusiasm, occasionally on key, always enjoying the memories from when we were kids and from when we sang with our own children and grandchildren.

And after the last “Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so,” we added a special ending to the song:

He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,

He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,

He loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Harvey Estes is a nationally published puzzle master whose Pitt County Crossroads alternates with his column in The Daily Reflector every other week. He lives in Pitt County north of Greenville.