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October Sunday Scales Down to Its Roots

Oct. 12, 2008 — The familiar sounds of local musicians rang out Sunday afternoon at Magens Bay, beckoning anyone with a love of fun, food and music for the 32nd celebration of October Sunday.
The gathering was intentionally smaller than it was, say, nine years ago.
"It's back to where we started," said Polly Watts who, along with her husband, Fred Watts, form Harmony Dem, the duo that started the celebration in 1977.
The event had grown so much over the years that it demanded months of organization from a busy group of volunteers, and the crowds were in the thousands, she said. It is actually second only to Carnival in terms of longevity. The small gathering that began at Sib's Bar 32 years ago had grown to a huge event. Too huge, the Watts decided.
Now it's back to its original spirit — a bunch of musicians playing for each other and playing for the love of it. With a proprietary glance, Watts indicated the musicians on the stage at Shed No. 3 — Nicky "Mighty Whitey" Russell and Janet Reiter singing, Paul Dirks on the guitar, Morgan Rael on drums and Danny Silver on keyboard.
"These are professional musicians," she said. "Anywhere else they would be paid for this."
Russell has been an integral part of local entertainment history since he started making it himself about four decades ago. His voice, his guitar (and his jokes) are pure St. Thomas.
No musical event on St. Thomas over the past 40 years or so would be the same without the wide smile and booming talent of Larry Benjamin. He embodies local spirit. He has sung and conducted everything from the Caribbean Chorale to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
As master of ceremonies Sunday, Benjamin took great joy in announcing the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Jazz Band. His enthusiasm was as great as the teenagers before him, performing a lively version of "Mack the Knife."
"Come on," Benjamin said. "Aren't they great?"
The audience agreed with shouts and whistles.
The celebration raises money for programs of the Family Resource Center as part of its observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. About a dozen teenagers in FRC T-shirts — ninth graders from Charlotte Amalie High School — passed out chunks of what Polly Watts calls the "island's biggest birthday cake." Student Delma Mathurin said the best part of the day was "helping." Jerrisha Rawlins voted for the cake: "It was scrumptious."
The musicians mingled with the crowd Sunday, playing little riffs here and there if the moment struck them. Old friends, new friends, musicians and admirers happily nibbled on a potluck lunch, keeping time to the beats of the non-stop sounds, which included Rob Kunkle, Jason Jones and Alicia Cardina, Harmony Dem, Nicky Russell and Janet Reiter, Lonesome Louisiana Dave, the Sun Kings, Tim West and the Barefoot Davis Band.
The Women of Note sang a lively African folk-song that caught the attention of Judge Thomas Moore. The retired judge is not a musician, but his wife, Judith, sings with the group, which formed about five years ago under Polly Watts.
Fred Watts looked relaxed and happy, chatting with fellow musicians and old pals.
"It just works," he said, smiling, "and that's the nice part about it."
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Oct. 12, 2008 -- The familiar sounds of local musicians rang out Sunday afternoon at Magens Bay, beckoning anyone with a love of fun, food and music for the 32nd celebration of October Sunday.
The gathering was intentionally smaller than it was, say, nine years ago.
"It's back to where we started," said Polly Watts who, along with her husband, Fred Watts, form Harmony Dem, the duo that started the celebration in 1977.
The event had grown so much over the years that it demanded months of organization from a busy group of volunteers, and the crowds were in the thousands, she said. It is actually second only to Carnival in terms of longevity. The small gathering that began at Sib's Bar 32 years ago had grown to a huge event. Too huge, the Watts decided.
Now it's back to its original spirit -- a bunch of musicians playing for each other and playing for the love of it. With a proprietary glance, Watts indicated the musicians on the stage at Shed No. 3 -- Nicky "Mighty Whitey" Russell and Janet Reiter singing, Paul Dirks on the guitar, Morgan Rael on drums and Danny Silver on keyboard.
"These are professional musicians," she said. "Anywhere else they would be paid for this."
Russell has been an integral part of local entertainment history since he started making it himself about four decades ago. His voice, his guitar (and his jokes) are pure St. Thomas.
No musical event on St. Thomas over the past 40 years or so would be the same without the wide smile and booming talent of Larry Benjamin. He embodies local spirit. He has sung and conducted everything from the Caribbean Chorale to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
As master of ceremonies Sunday, Benjamin took great joy in announcing the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Jazz Band. His enthusiasm was as great as the teenagers before him, performing a lively version of "Mack the Knife."
"Come on," Benjamin said. "Aren't they great?"
The audience agreed with shouts and whistles.
The celebration raises money for programs of the Family Resource Center as part of its observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. About a dozen teenagers in FRC T-shirts -- ninth graders from Charlotte Amalie High School -- passed out chunks of what Polly Watts calls the "island's biggest birthday cake." Student Delma Mathurin said the best part of the day was "helping." Jerrisha Rawlins voted for the cake: "It was scrumptious."
The musicians mingled with the crowd Sunday, playing little riffs here and there if the moment struck them. Old friends, new friends, musicians and admirers happily nibbled on a potluck lunch, keeping time to the beats of the non-stop sounds, which included Rob Kunkle, Jason Jones and Alicia Cardina, Harmony Dem, Nicky Russell and Janet Reiter, Lonesome Louisiana Dave, the Sun Kings, Tim West and the Barefoot Davis Band.
The Women of Note sang a lively African folk-song that caught the attention of Judge Thomas Moore. The retired judge is not a musician, but his wife, Judith, sings with the group, which formed about five years ago under Polly Watts.
Fred Watts looked relaxed and happy, chatting with fellow musicians and old pals.
"It just works," he said, smiling, "and that's the nice part about it."
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.