By Nikki Hedrick
Pelican Pickers are a different type of band. They aren’t cutting a new album or playing the biggest venues. They are cultivating a sense of community and altruism.
“We tend to play for nursing homes, and rehab centers, (and) other churches,” says longtime member Dale Palmer.
The Pelican Pickers began as a dulcimer group, an instrument of European origin but with deep roots in Appalachian music. “Just about every town in the United States has a dulcimer group,” says Palmer. He lists Opp and Mobile, Alabama, along with Pensacola, as towns with active dulcimer groups. “There are festivals every year. We’ve even gone to Mississippi and southern Florida.
“The mountain dulcimer is something thought to be an easy instrument to learn for older folks. People who have retired and want to learn some kind of a musical instrument, mountain dulcimer—also called lap dulcimer, also called a hog fiddle—that’s the thing that they can easily learn on.”
Although the dulcimer may have center stage, the group is open to any acoustic instrument. They even have adapted to recent trends. “With the booming popularity of ukuleles, we’ve decided to do every other week a ukulele week,” says Palmer of their regular jam session schedule.
Nearly 20 years ago, Don Kirby was the music minister at the Shalimar Baptist Church. During that time he shared his love of the dulcimer, and others decided they wanted to learn to play. By Palmer’s account, around 10 church members formed the seeds of the Pelican Pickers.
Kirby then put in an ad in the paper, welcoming any acoustic instrument to join. That’s when Palmer joined the group.
Although the Pelican Pickers have long called Shalimar Baptist Church home to their weekly jam sessions, it’s not a church activity. Everybody is welcome to join, listen or participate.
Currently, the group consists of 11 regular members meeting every Monday at 6 PM to play through a mixture of country music, public domain tunes, hymns, and maybe even Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
Outside of those jams, the Pelican Pickers look to spread a little joy wherever they are invited. On the occasion they receive payment, they turn that over to the church out of appreciation for their ongoing jam space.
Whether you’ve long been playing an instrument or just beginning, the Pelican Pickers are ready to open their weekly jam to you. And it’s never too late to learn.
“It is very relaxing,” says Palmer. “You have to pretty much concentrate on what you’re doing, and so whatever else might be bothering you in your lifetime…you know, you can’t focus on two things at the same time. When you’re playing music, that’s where your brain is. I think that’s very healthy. It’s very relaxing.”
Discover more at Facebook.com/PelicanPickers.