Just one week after moving to Dunn to begin my journalism career, I was sent off to the slightly smaller neighboring town of Benson to cover a free concert sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. I was impressed.
Kristen came along for company. I snapped pictures, chatted up the event organizers and got to know the residents of the new community I would be covering; all the while enjoying the not-too-hot-yet spring air and the cool tunes that carried on into the sunset. In short, it was one of those moments where I questioned reality: “Am I really getting paid to be here?” I asked my wife as we grabbed a cup of homemade ice cream churned out by a John Deere engine.
We went to nearly every public show the town put on that summer and each time walked away more than satisfied with the free entertainment, but also awed at the sense of community the outdoor event created. Here in a municipal park in the center of the town, around 350 people (more than 10 percent of Benson’s citizenry) came together, put aside the cares of their days, sat, listened, talked, danced and relaxed. Many people drove from nearby towns to enjoy the show. Others simply walked a few blocks down Main Street, plopped down in the thick grass and soaked up the rich sounds of beach music. It was then, during my first full week of work at The Daily Record and less than two weeks since we’d unpacked our first box into our rental townhouse in Dunn, that we decided Benson was were we wanted to lay down roots.
Last Thursday night the first Sundown in Downtown concert of the season got into full swing just before 6 p.m. This was the first show since Kristen and I bought our house in Benson; we had been waiting for a night to walk to the park, setup some lawn chairs and pass the evening in classic Southern style ever since we signed the dotted line. Expectations were high but The Coastline Band didn’t disappoint. Ben Murphrey, Benson’s downtown development coordinator, was more than pleased with the attendance at the first show of the summer. The park was packed. The music was good. The weather was perfect. I brought a book to read while the band played in the background. Kristen graded papers in between sets and Dulles tried to make friends with every child and dog that passed his way.
By 8:10 Dulles — a friendly but overly energetic Doberman — was getting bored with sitting and we had to head home. The music followed us. Dulles got to stretch his legs in the backyard, but Kristen and I hung out on the sofa in the living room, opened the windows and, on this perfect evening, the simultaneously soothing and energizing beats of beach music wafted into our home alongside the familiar sounds of night.
I can’t help but ask, why don’t other communities stage monthly events like this? By ‘other communities,’ I mean every other community. Sure it takes some planning on the part of a town employee and sure someone has to foot the bill (in Benson, a long list of local businesses sponsor the concerts, getting a quick plug-in halfway through and gaining access to pedal balloons, t-shirts and other freebies emblazoned with their logos to the crowd). It really is a small price to pay for seven high-quality monthly concerts, all free to the public. But the real benefit is the sense of community the events create and the neighborly relations they help build. It’s tough to put a price tag on these things. Especially during a recession.