KILGORE — Local guitar, fiddle and bass players gathered around in a circle Saturday at Kilgore Mercantile & Music for a jam on a rainy evening.

The “pickin’ circle” began with one guitar starting the tune and the others joining in as they picked it up. The group meets at the shop in downtown Kilgore on the second Saturday of each month for Bluegrass & Blue Bell Acoustic Jam.

“We’re about music,” Kilgore Mercantile & Music Owner Fred Gebhardt said. “These jams go on all over the place.”

His wife and fellow owner, Vivian, sat behind the food counter with a mug of hot tea on the damp, cold night. She said she does not play music but loves listening to the group come together.

All are welcome to join in or listen, but the event also has a few regulars.

“You just never know who’s going to show up,” Gebhardt said. He said professionals have come through as well.

“It’s always great, never a bad time,” he said.

Between songs, the group members chatted. Some laughed about how they had no idea what song they had just played, though no one could tell.

“It’s more about the fellowship than it is about pickin’ anyway,” JoAnn Wilgus said.

The group played bluegrass, gospel and some country.

Carolyn Johnson of Longview sang and played bass. She has been playing in “pickin’ circles” for about 45 years, she said.

“I love it,” she said.

Eldon Hamilton, 71, said he has been playing a stringed instrument since he was 5 years old.

“We’re generation after generation of church musicians,” he said. “Most of us here have been playing for a long, long time.”

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.