Welcome back, cats and kittens! Last time I told you about the Li’l New Oprys, as I call them, that you can find in various towns around our fair state — including both Garland and Wylie, proud junior members of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. One thing that I didn’t mention, however, is that from April to October of every year (and sometimes earlier or later, if it’s warm enough), bluegrass pickers gather in the Garland town square just outside the Opry at 7 PM every Saturday evening for what’s informally known as “Pickin’ on the Square.”
I’ve mentioned before that I used to own a bookstore (until June 2 of this year) in downtown Garland. In this next picture, I’m standing on the corner of Sixth and Main, looking more or less west. That big red arrow marks where the excellent little bookshop called The Book Basket was housed from February 13, 2006-June 2, 2007. Looking back, the starting date probably wasn’t all that good a choice. But hey, at least it wasn’t a Friday.
Why is this relevant? Well, I have a lot of personal experience with Pickin’ on the Square, because they do their thang less than a block from where my bookstore used to be. Every Saturday night, when I was open late, I’d get to listen to the high lonesome sound of mandolins, banjos, guitars, dobros, and gutbucket basses twanging along, accompanied by plaintive singing that tugs at the heartstrings, too. I used to get some business from the wives of the pickers who were looking for something to do while they listened, and of course they always needed to use my restroom. (For some reason, I never saw any women pickers.) The gentleman in the blue shirt in this next picture is the husband of a lady who was one of my best customers. He plays bass, guitar, and banjo that I know of.
It isn’t all that unusual for 30-50 pickers, sometimes more, to descend upon the square at 6:30 or so. Besides their wimminfolk (as we call them down South), the pickers tend to draw quite a few spectators, who bring their folding chairs and coolers downtown and listen to the action. I never did get much custom from those people, though — they were as interested in watching as in listening. The pickers themselves are pretty darn dedicated. Though I’d usually close my doors at 10 PM, I always stayed until 12-1 AM so I could work on my writing — and it was a rare Saturday that there weren’t at least a few diehard souls still picking away when I left.
Some of the pickers are there just to mingle and jam with other players, and it’s not uncommon to see players drifting from one group of pickers to another, adding in their own licks. It’s fascinating to watch. There are some core groups of pickers that show up every week, though — in fact, some bands put the Square on their rotating schedule and make sure they come every Saturday. I suspect it’s a way to have fun and stay sharp at the same time. Here’s one group that I’m pretty sure comprises a steady band.
So there you have it, folks: live music, every Saturday night from April through to October. If you’re a bluegrass fan and find yourself on the east side of the Metroplex, come on by and bring your cooler. It’s just like the Opry, and you can’t beat the price — it’s free.