Good times, good music in North Richland Hills

08/31/2014 2:54 PM

09/01/2014 8:17 AM

Visitors who come just a few minutes late to the Saturday Jam Session had better be prepared to park on a street.

The parking lot at the Dan Echols Senior Center will be jammed.

What started about 15 years ago with about five men who met to play music at Chisholm Park in Hurst has turned into a weekly event that people in the area plan their days around. It’s a time for conversation, snacks, coffee and old-time country music.

“It’s the camaraderie,” Margie Crunk of Bedford said. “It’s the music. It gives you an uplift.”

Hazel Lowrance, 70, of Colleyville said she knows she will be safe if she stays after dark. And she loves country music.

“You can come here by yourself,” she said. “Sometimes I’m kind of amazed at their talents.”

Bill Byrd was among the original players at Chisholm Park. Soon more people joined the cadre of harmonica, guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin players. And then more people. Some came to just listen.

They moved to the food court at North Hills Mall. When the mall closed in 2004, they moved to the Birdville school district’s Shannon Center Auditorium in Haltom City, and then to the city owned Dan Echols about eight years ago.

During a recent Saturday evening, about 100 people showed up to listen to the 20 musicians play guitar, fiddle, harmonica and resonator guitars. Some got up and danced. Others spent time meeting and greeting at the center, on Glenview Drive.

The music begins at 6 p.m. and continues for three hours.

Some families sit in the audience, and most sport white hair. The emphasis is on the casual. And no one gets booed.

“All their lives, they have been doing what they’re told,” Byrd, 76, said of the participants. “They don’t need anybody hassling them. We have a good, positive environment. It’s kind of like one big family down there.”

Mona Harmon, a real estate agent from Fort Worth, is a crowd favorite. She keeps her age private but is clearly younger than a senior.

She credits the audience and fellow performers for giving her the self-confidence to sing in front of people. She was recently selected to play at a Texas Country Music Hall of Fame show in Carthage and sings at several venues in the region. Her husband, Shawn Smith, is master of ceremonies.

“For a lot of these folks, you’re playing their memories, helping them remember those times and reliving those times,” Harmon said.

Between acts, prayers and words of encouragement for the sick, birthday announcements and a little humor help keep up the community atmosphere.

“It’s been a great blessing in our lives,” Harmon said. “It’s a fun, wholesome, friendly event.”

Wade Leggett, 84, of Azle plays resonator guitar. He has been playing professionally at gigs across the country since the 1950s, including for the Texas Trailblazers. He plays at the North Richland Hills jam session whenever he gets the chance.

“It’s a friendly bunch of people,” Leggett said. “Everybody is having a good time.”

So the evening goes, with another act. And a chance for a community to bond once again.

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