Behind the Music…in the Streets

Published 12:57 am Tuesday, November 15, 2011

LaVon Drake, head of the music committee of Music in the Streets. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

It’s Friday, the beginning of the weekend, maybe in the cool spring, or the hot summer, or on a brisk fall evening. The crowd flows from band to band, down Main and up Market, listening to the music in the streets of Washington.

Music in the Streets runs from April to October and on any given third Friday of those months, by 6 p.m. bands are set up and playing, the music is loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to drown out the next musician a little ways down the street.

The monthly mini-music festival rolls along as smoothly as the people from one song to the next, making leisurely stops to get their fix of bluegrass, gospel, and good, old American rock and roll. A stage dominates the intersection of Main and Respess Streets and while one band is featured on the big stage each month, the people “backstage,” those behind the music, are rarely featured at all.

LaVon Drake is one of those people – moving through the crowd, often with a decibel meter in hand, keeping a firm rein on volume. She’s making sure the musicians have everything they need, helping them set up and break down. Drake arrives at 4 p.m. and doesn’t stop moving until 10 p.m., long after the streets have emptied.

She’s not Alone. Other music committee members work with her, but Drake’s dedication to organizing Music in the Streets month after month comes from an abiding love for music, as well as an appreciation for the rare venue that allows both professional musicians and amateurs to perform.

“It gives musicians a place to grow,” Drake said. “There aren’t a whole lot of places to perform where they’ll let you improve as you go.”

Drake knows from experience, as both her sons, Nathan and Hayden, began playing for the public during the early years of Music in the Streets. It gave them a place to start.

Drake’s family has a rich history of musicianship, from pickers and strummers, and even an opera singer from the turn of the last century, that is entwined with another history of civic-mindedness.

“I grew up in a family, that no matter what, you jumped in and helped and did what you could do,” Drake said. “It was a way of life in my family, and since we all like people, it was a natural fit.”

The combination of the two qualities has made Drake a natural fit for organizing the Friday night line-ups. In between Music in the Streets, she and friends, family members, are often out at various venues in the county, scouting talent for an upcoming Friday night. She uses her free time to bring music to the residents of Beaufort County, but Drake doesn’t view it as a chore, but as an opportunity.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s not like work,” Drake said. “I feel like for everything I put into it, I get so much more out of it … it’s important in life to interact with other people. (Music in the Streets) allows us an opportunity to get out and meet each other.”

Drake has done her share to make Music in the Streets a consistently successful event, but she is quick to share credit, pointing out the many other volunteers, and the local organizations that have worked to combine and schedule events in downtown Washington.

But it is to the musicians that Drake gives the biggest credit—they are all volunteers, too.  One Friday night a month, she shows her appreciation by making those musicians feel as welcome and comfortable at Music in the Streets as possible.

“They are truly the center of Music in the Streets,” Drake said. “They are the reason we can do this.”