One has only to scan the headlines of the newspaper, turn on the TV or scan the headlines of news Web sites to know that we are deep in the midst of the political season. The American political process is one of the most vibrant and intriguing in the world. People love it or hate it. Some local residents who are on the “love it” end of the spectrum hope to share their love of the process and their passion for the system with the community on Friday, July 18, at the Obama Jam at Festival Park.                                                                 The event, organized by the Cumberland County Obama Grass Roots Committee, is designed to keep folks involved in the process and to keep their interest up, particularly in the dog days of summer before the political conventions. And while politics is usually a more serious subject, the organizers of the Obama Jam want to make it fun, so they’ve brought together some of the area’s top musicians to perform a free concert for the community.
“The grass roots focus is really aimed at keeping people involved, encouraging voter registration, reaching out to volunteers and asking people to pledge to vote in November,” said Grainger Barrett, a member of the grassroots committee.
    Barrett definitely falls on the love it end of the spectrum when it comes to the political process. He has been and will continue to watch the unfolding presidential election with a great deal of interest. He sees the race between Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain as a turning point in the political process, noting that both candidates are working toward a move civil discourse. “They want to disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “I think that’s marvelous. It’s what citizens are asking for from our leaders.”
    He said that choice by the candidates is making a difference in citizen participation in the process. “Participation and interest (in the political process) is higher than ever before, and I think it is attributable to that attitude that both candidates offer us,” he said.
    It is in that same vein that the committee put together the Obama Jam. It is not designed to be the political rally of the past. Candidates won’t be stumping, and there won’t be a lot of speeches. What there will be is information. Voter registration booths will be set up on the grounds of Festival Park. Organizers say they will gladly register anyone — no matter what party they choose. Democratic and nonpartisan candidates for office will have the opportunity to set up booths to hand out information. There will also be booths designed to highlight volunteer opportunities in the upcoming election. And, since it is an Obama Jam, there will be information about the candidate available, as well as vendors selling Obama gear. But again, it’s not a political rally. There will be food, and there will be music.
    “The goal of the event is to get people involved, informed and excited,” said Sharon Barrett.
    Both Barretts pointed out that there is no prerequisite to come to the jam. You don’t have to be a Democrat or even an Obama supporter. “Just come out and have fun,” said Grainger. “Get involved in the process and get a little information.”
    In Cumberland County, the need for involvement in the process is crucial. During the primaries, voter participation was high; but sadly, it still didn’t reach 50 percent of the registered voters. Peaking that interest takes more than speeches, it takes an informed electorate.
    Barrett chronicled his own interest in politics from the time he was a child watching the Nixon/Kennedy debates and later the campaign of Robert Kennedy. “There was a level of investment then that a lot of folks don’t have today, but it’s getting better and that’s great,” he said. “We’re not all supposed to be all the same or have the same ideas,” he said. “But if we can get folks talking, that talking is what makes our country greater. And we want to do our part in our community.”{mosimage}

The Particulars

    The Obama Jam will start at 6 p.m. in Festival Park, as Rahmeka Cox, Miss North Carolina Junior Teen, sings the National Anthem. Nothing gets a political function going faster than the National Anthem, and from there, the music just keeps flowing.
    One of the bands signed on to play the event has been a Fayetteville favorite for a number of years. The Parsons, who categorize their music as “uptown hillbilly swing,” will be sure to get the party rolling. Their music is, in their own words, “just as comfortable in overalls as it is dressed up for a night on the town.” It’s a mix of ragtime, blues, bluegrass, swing and folk music. The band maintains it puts a spring in the step of its audience by offering two- and three-part harmonies, complemented by guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, lap steel, ukulele, spoons and the harmonica.
    {mosimage}The band is comprised of Caroline Parsons, who has been involved in a number of organizations in the city ranging from the animal protection society to the symphony; Jon Parsons, the director of Sustainable Sandhills; David Burke and Jerome Hawkes. They say they have gained their seasoning through “decades of festivals, concerts, club and radio performances, not to mention years of contented picking on the porches, tailgates and barn floors of America.”
Their listeners couldn’t agree more. “Quality performances. True and sincere. Toe tapping and knee slapping. This is what characterizes the art of Jon and Caroline Parsons. They delightfully blend education and entertain to the joy of all audiences,” noted Leisa Brown, director, Museum of the Cape Fear.
    Dan Speller and His Bluespell will also be sure to get the audience rocking. Speller, a retired Army noncommissioned officers, plays all around the region and the local area. In June he headlined at the Pate Room at the Headquarter Library during Fourth Friday. He played to a packed house.
    Speller, a native of Flushing, N.Y., has been playing music all of his life; he maintains it all started with the “beat of his mother’s heart.” He developed an interest in music while listening to his older brothers’ records and attempting to sing and play along with them in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He moved to the mountains of North Carolina at the age of 13, where he developed his musical craft, learning to play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and the harp.
    In 1975, he joined the Army, and spent some time seeing the world. That time was put to good use, acquiring musical inspiration from different countries and cultures. Upon retirement from the military in 1996, he committed all his time and energy to his music. His musical taste is as varied as his background — he likes blues, rock, jazz, country, beach, reggae, funk and classical. He is currently recording, composing and producing his own CD on his Bluespell record label. You’re definitely not going to want to miss his set at the jam.
    Jeff Patterson and Company, a gospel group, is also appearing at the jam. Patterson has been performing gospel music his whole life, and has traveled extensively throughout the South and on the east coast. He has performed on the Bobby Jones Gospel hour on BET and has performed in the theatre.
    Organizers believe there is a little bit of something to please everyone. So bring a blanket or a chair. Don’t worry about dinner, vendors will be on hand to feed you, and children’s games and a children’s area will be set up to keep your little ones happy.
    In case we forgot to mention it, the event is free. So bring an open mind and prepare to become informed, involved and excited!!

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