Pickin’ Driver

Published 12:50 am Monday, November 19, 2012

From left, John Hall, Kenny Hill and Nancy Gordon jam at Arthur's General Store in Driver.

Story and photos by Matt Hartman

On Friday nights in the village of Driver, Arthur’s General Store comes to life with the sound of sweet music.

Pulling into the parking lot, one hears guitar plucking and percussion beats radiating from the circa-1920s wooden building.

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The bell on the door and the creaking floor announce a new musician or a curious listener, and one never can tell just how many folks will be playing on any given Friday.

Store owner Greg Parker, who started messing about with bands at age 14, says he likes being able to kindle unique music among likeminded people.

He says it’s a welcome change from, during his gigging years, having to be at a certain place in a certain amount of time.

“That happens to anybody when you’re young and out playing,” he said of the days when he would play gigs in the Carolinas, Maryland and many places in between. “The chances of lightning striking are pretty small, but you do it because you love it.”

Parker “pulled the plug” on the store’s outdoor sessions at the end of last year’s season, but then he decided to restart them inside in January.

“It sounds really good in this old wooden building,” he said, adding that during the warmer months it’s also a treat to sit out on the porch and play.

Sometimes it’s just five musicians, other times as many as 25 show up, Parker said. The tradition began about three years ago when he and friends started playing music on the porch every other Wednesday.

“The first year, it seemed like every other Wednesday it wanted to rain,” he said.

The core performers at Arthur’s General Store — the house band, if you will — are Jim Masters, Nancy Gordon, Alex Woodland and Parker himself.

They love to see some others get up, and many do when they feel the mood grip them. They turn from audience members into part of the music making, taking it in unanticipated directions, and that’s when the spirit of the gathering really builds.

Jim MacCord, whom Parker said hasn’t attended lately, sometimes turns up with his bongo drums, when his work schedule with local ban ds permits.

“If I am free, I can come out and join in,” MacCord said.

Parker said that after living the life of a regular gigging musician for years, he has decided those days are over.

“I don’t want to strap into that again,” he said. “I need to focus on my business, so I decided to bring it right back home.”

Folks who show up at the Driver store to play or just listen feel like they are part of something special.

They never know what song will be struck up next. There are no set lists or mandatory genres — people just get up there and play what they know.

Parker keeps the store open during performances, offering subs, snacks and beverages. As a businessman in a struggling economy, the music both helps his business and brings the community together, he says.

Parker’s son Jordan and friend Kyle Mosley often play guitar — strictly instrumental. Together for only a few months, they’ve landed a couple of paying gigs from playing at the store.

Jordan Parker said, “It’s something good that needs to be done. It’s fun to have music here.”

He enjoys fostering the sense of community, he says, and sees the potential for people to come together and build new friendships.

Greg Parker says he wants to develop themed nights based on specific musical genres, such as bluegrass Wednesdays and songwriters’ workshop nights.

As it stands, the Friday evening sessions start at 6 p.m. and usually run about three hours, drawing people from as far as Arkansas, with regulars coming from Newport News and Virginia Beach.

“I think I’m enjoying the music and the simplicity more than I ever have,” Parker said. “There is nothing better than just being able to perform. It’s just a gift.”

— Staff Writer Matthew A. Ward contributed to this story.