By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
things in life are free,” goes one old saying, but here’s one that’s even
folksier: “Love don’t pay the bills.”
And paying the
bills is what has preoccupied Gary Patterson since in August he was named
commander of Trenton’s American Legion Post 106. Patterson was, in fact, hard
at it behind the checkbook when the Sentinel popped in on Saturday to ask him
about the recent demise of what had become one of Dade County’s favorite free
entertainments – the Legion’s Thursday-night “Pickin’ at the Post.”
sessions started roughly a year ago and became steadily more popular until, a
couple of weeks ago, they were abruptly canceled. Patterson says the reason why
boils down to the usual suspect: money.
“I guess because it had always been free, essentially, that everyone thought it
was supposed to be free,” he said.
It was when the
Post made the decision to charge admission that things went south, explained
Pickin’ at the
Post Thursdays sometimes featured other bands, but the staple act was always a
loose association of local musicians who called themselves the Dade County
Boys. These included talented amateurs – Dade County Executive Ted Rumley
recently filled in on guitar for Chief Magistrate Judge Joel McCormick, who
usually played every week – as well as the occasional seriously big gun: In
earlier months, the Boys were sometimes joined by Norman Blake, the Rising Fawn
legend who shot to international fame with the soundtrack of Hollywood’s O
Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Boys played
for fun, and audience members got in for free. The American Legion sold hot
dogs and hamburgers to generate revenues – but never, said Patterson, enough
was actually doing very well, except that, based on the numbers our finance
officer came up with, we were losing close to $2,000 every month overall,” said
Patterson. “So we were going through every event, every fundraiser, everything
we do, and trying to find ways to raise revenue and cut expenses.”
It was the
popularity of the Thursday night performances that led Patterson and the Post’s
financial officer, Peter Cervelli, to come up with the idea of charging
admission for them. “Honestly, we thought that the music that they played was
good enough that people would be willing to spend $5 a head to come in and
listen to it,” said Patterson. “But I think that when people get something for
free, they don’t value it.”
What he and
Cervelli proposed, said Patterson, was that the pickers pay the Post $75 a
night, the typical rental fee for the building, then charge admission at the
door to recoup that cost.
said they would do it,” said Patterson. “Then, the following Thursday, they had
a smaller turnout than they had the previous Thursday, and they all talked
about it and decided they didn’t want to do it – so they parted ways with the
dropped abruptly from 60-plus nightly to 20 to 25, said Patterson.
point for the band, from Patterson’s as well as Ted Rumley’s account, was that
$75 rental fee. “Of all the places I’ve played, sometimes they don’t pay you
but they don’t usually ask you to pay them,” said Rumley, asked about it later.
much the same. “Carl basically told me they didn’t think they should have to
pay and they didn’t want to charge people,” he said, referring to Dade County
Boys’ mainstay, Carl Towns of Acoustic Outlet. “In a perfect world, that might
be the way it works, but unfortunately things cost money. The heating and air
cost money. The electricity running the coffeemaker costs money. Everything
costs money, and if we’re not charging people for it, it’s coming directly out
of the money we have in the bank.”
added ruefully that ending the Thursday night Pickin’s would make the Legion’s
pecuniary picture worse rather than better. “I think we’ll wind up losing a
couple hundred dollars more a month,” he said.
that since he replaced Bill Lockhart as commander, the Legion’s grim financial
situation has demanded more of his attention than makes for a happy term of
office. “The first thing when I took over, I came in here and there was a stack
of mail over there,” he said. “I started going through it and they were all
unpaid bills, past-due bills.”
slightly improved now, he said: The past-dues are dealt with, and the Trenton
post sold its mortgage to Ringgold Post 40, which charges a much lower interest
rate than the bank did. “We are now paying them $800 a month instead of Bank of
Dade $1,200 a month,” he said. “It will actually allow us to pay down the
principal instead of what was happening at Bank of Dade, which was nothing was
ever getting paid off.”
At last week’s
Dade County Commission meeting, Ted Rumley – joking that his brief stint
pinch-hitting behind the guitar had shut the gig down – appealed for citizens
to support the Legion. The Sentinel asked Patterson how they could do that,
especially now that the popular Thursdays are a thing of the past.
“They can come out and play Bingo,” replied
Patterson. “They can come out for Gospel Night. They can come out for any other
fundraisers that we have.”
doors open at 5:30 or 6 p.m. each Monday for Gospel Night, at which admission
will remain free, and on Friday and Saturday for Bingo, which Patterson says
remains the Post's most dependable moneymaker.
Shows begin at 7 p.m., and the Post Café sells food before and during.
the Post Café, which since Patterson's tenure has closed for breakfast except
for on Saturdays, will once again extend its morning hours. "Beginning
this week, we're going to be open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for
breakfast," he said.
Dade to come to the Legion not just for breakfast but to help brainstorm. “We
need the community to support the Post, and unfortunately the support we need
really is financial,” he said. “But it would be nice to have some people come
in and say, hey, let’s get together and see what kind of events we could put
on, what kinds of fundraiser we could do – not just members but people in the
As for the
Pickin’ nights, Patterson said that he loved them and will miss them as much as
anybody, and that he wishes the musicians had tried a little harder to make the
admission fee plan work. “I think if they had stuck with it, it would have
worked out, because the music was good,” he said. “There was never any
complaint about the music.”
Post 106 can be reached at (706) 657-5275.