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March 18, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
The musicians play, chuckle and tap their toes to create a friendly and informal atmosphere for the audience. The band plays cohesively, quieting down or swelling to a crescendo when the moment feels right. “Happy Birthday” is played for an octogenarian.
These are the OAK Jammers, a group created by the Fifty Plus Program at the Stephens Lake Activity Center to cater to those who want to participate in age-appropriate recreational activities. The dance hall at the Activity Center hosts the OAK Jammers’ Friday performances and feels like an old rehearsal room. The space between the tables and band provides a dance floor that could easily fit a dozen couples.
Sitting in the middle of the musicians, Connie Smith, the leader of the Jammers, looks like a blond Reba McEntire. Her red bead earrings dangle as she croons old gems. Connie sings with a peaceful grin on her face. She wears a blue jean jacket and faded blue jeans and doesn’t apologize for her wardrobe. Her Southern twang and sweet disposition make people like her the moment they meet her.
Right before the band starts playing the next song, Connie reaches over to her husband and asks, “Mike, do you want to take the next song?” Mike looks at her with a sly smile on his face as he replies, “Do I have to?” They both laugh as Mike leads the band in a rendition of Eddy Arnold’s “I’m Sending You a Bouquet of Roses.” Connie takes requests for the next tune and ultimately decides that Mike should continue with “Engine Number Nine” by Roger Miller. Connie has a toothy grin as a couple in the crowd cheers for the timeless tune.
In the middle of “Walking After Midnight,” Connie calls over, “Can you take that, Beth?” The new member looks over at Connie and then down at the piano keys, her eyes in a trance as if she’s planning a whole symphony. With a slight look of nerves, Beth starts playing a riff that is perfectly in tune with the melody. Beth says that playing with the Jammers is like on-the-job training; you have to learn immediately and use your skills to blend with the song at hand.
Connie, Beth and the rest of the Jammers jam for more than two hours, yet none of them is tired. In fact, they look as though they wouldn’t be satisfied until they’ve played another set.
“We need to play music to survive,” Connie says. “I am determined to keep us going.”
The Jammers always entertain, no matter the crowd’s size. Not only because they have to, but because they flat out want to.