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Parking Lot Easter Service with the Waddingtons

Courtey of Seth Waddington

Bill Thomas: It's the spring of 2020 and a pastor in Southwest North Dakota wants to do a safe Easter service. He calls on a band for help, a band of brothers. Here's Matthew Musacchia, who looked into what happened for the North Dakota Council On the Arts.

Matthew Musacchia: When Easter Sunday rolled around this year, corona virus restrictions caused church services across North Dakota to become silent. However, musician Seth Waddington of Regent, North Dakota, and his brothers still found themselves playing church music and hymns to a large crowd using a radio transmitter and a parking lot. A bluegrass musician, Waddington, 32, plays the guitar in a regional band, the Waddington Brothers, and describes the music as both traditional, but with western music influences closer to both the cowboy songs that became popular in the 1940s and 1950s and bluegrass rather than to the country western genre.

Appropriately enough to the name, this group consists of himself and his brothers twins, Ethan, banjo, and Jacob, mandolin, both 29, and Job, 15, on bass. Originally from Montana. The band has toured parts of the United States and Canada. But before that, they traveled extensively with his family's band, often playing churches and bluegrass festivals.

Waddington said he was initially skeptical of playing when local pastor Corey Warner asked him to perform a drive in concert on Easter Sunday. Originally the idea was pitched that they would play with speakers and cars would roll down their windows and listen. However, given his long experience on stage, Waddington thought that idea would not work because without an incredible amount of speakers, they could not get decent coverage for the entire crowd. The idea inspired by Christmas time and suggested by Washington's wife, Rachel was based on lights, synchronized to music so that a listener could tune in using his or her car's radio.

"So we were pondering it. We liked the idea, but I didn't really think it was feasible until the idea of the FM transmitter came up," Waddington said, "I'd never seen one. We looked around a little bit online and sure enough, they were pretty readily available."

The service took place on Easter Sunday at the fairgrounds at Mott, North Dakota. Based on photos and estimates from a friend Waddington believes that about 60 to 65 cars were present and could have equaled about a crowd of 125 people. The event generally followed a similar format to most Sunday Easter services. In this case, two pastors gave the readings and the sermon and Waddington said that he and his brothers played about 30 minutes of music featuring hymns such as As He lives and Where is the Lamb, and The Gift to Believe.

Instead of applause, cars would honk their horns, even the ones about eight to 10 feet from the stage, which Waddington described as pretty loud and kind of funny. "That was one that kind of caught us off guard as a surprise," he said. "It lightened the mood and was a nice way for the crowd to respond, to let us know they were enjoying or approving of what we were doing. I told my brothers we should do this all the time. I kind of liked that."

Parishioners at the Easter Service

Waddington said the turnout was better than expected and the positive response included many phone calls and text messages. After having to cancel their own concerts, Waddington said the concert was a very good experience. "I was very honored, I guess, that that many people would want to come out to listen to us saying while they sat in their cars," said Waddington. "It was an honor to be able to play for people, even though they couldn't come sit in a chair and I couldn't see them right in the face and speak to them, I guess it was a blessing to be able to go out and still share our music and get to have an Easter service with the community and fellowship, which is what everyone enjoys and is used to."

Waddington Brothers: (singing)
Bill Thomas: And this is some music by the Waddington Brothers. You can find this online, Less Traveled Road. And that was Matthew Musacchia talking about the Waddington Brothers and their participation in that Easter service in the spring of 2020. Now this intrigued me enough that I wanted to talk a little more about it. So I got hold of a Waddington. I reached Seth Waddington the guitar player. And he told me that the day of that service, they almost weren't able to go on.

Seth Waddington: Yes, just before people started arriving the upright bass that my youngest brother, Job, plays the end pin, the stick that the base stands on, essentially, and that's what holds the tailpiece on, which holds the strings. It just broke into and so we, essentially, had a useless bass. But I had a really good friend in town and I called him and I told him, I need a pair of pliers and a broomstick and a pair of spaghetti tongs.

And he rounded up this kind of mismatched array of tools and brought them to me. And we were able to take the broomstick and insert it in the hole for the base to stand on again and wrap the cable for the tailpiece around it. And my brother, Jacob, took the spaghetti tongs and went through the F hole, the

Credit North Dakota Council on the Arts

sound hole there, and was able to, to kind of wedge the sound post. There's a post that goes under the foot of the bridge to help the top deal with the string tension. And we were able to kind of jimmy rig everything back together and get it back tuned up and onstage just barely in time to do the show.

Bill Thomas: I asked sets if he knew of anyone else who'd used this mini FM transmitter technique.

Seth Waddington: I haven't heard of anyone else doing that. It just kind of came about by accident. When pastor Corey called, we thought this sounds like a great idea, but you know, there's no way. You'd have to have an amazing amount of speakers to cover a parking lot like that with people in the vehicle. I think it was my wife who suggested the radio and I said, well, that would work. But then we'd have to be in a studio somewhere. And a good friend of ours from Bismarck was the one who actually told us of the existence of these little transmitters. I didn't know they had such a thing. And we hunted around the community and a guy in the neighborhood had one and loaned it to us. And I don't know, it was kind of a neat thing because it was really a community effort. Pastor Corey had the idea and it just sort of evolved into the FM transmitter concert.

Bill Thomas: And they have continued to use that?

Seth Waddington: I don't believe they are now, but when restrictions were a little stiffer, Pastor Corey did continue having church services in the park and using the transmitter so they were able to continue their regular Sunday morning services.

Bill Thomas: The Lord helps those who help themselves. Well, it seemed like such a good idea. Of course, I asked Seth if they've done it again.

Seth Waddington: We haven't. We would have liked to, and we actually had some interest in some invitations, but unfortunately two of my brothers at this point live in Northwestern Montana, and they had to return home for work. And so we weren't able to pursue the FM transmitter concerts anymore after that initial Easter service.

Bill Thomas: Seth Waddington explained to me that when they were younger, their parents had had him in a family band and now the brothers were spread apart, not able to play together that much, but...

Seth Waddington: But just to feeling like it's time to start doing music again, and really miss getting to go out and see our friends and meet people and to share the music. I don't know. I think, it's kind of funny, but I think sometimes people don't realize how much the musicians need the audience less than the audience maybe needs the musicians. Just a very rewarding thing to get, to go out and share this sort of thing with people.
Bill Thomas: Well, and that's just regular performance having to scramble to meet the needs of a crisis to present a beloved service adds another dimension.

Seth Waddington: I guess I feel like with this whole corona virus that we've been dealing with community is what's really suffered. It's just hard to get out and see people and everybody has cabin fever at this point, I think. And I don't know, it was just really nice to be able to be involved in some sort of a community event where people were still able to come out and participate in at least a small way. And we were able to be a part of that and just very grateful for that.

Bill Thomas: That's Seth Waddington of the Waddington Brothers band and the story of he and his brothers and that unusual service out in Mott, North Dakota. It's part of a series called "Little Stories" at the Arts Council.  They commissioned writers to tell some little stories about how people in the arts were responding to these challenging times and finding new ways to do things. You can see more of them at https://news.prairiepublic.org/programs/little-stories or you can go the North Dakota Council On The Arts website, https://www.arts.nd.gov/.
This project is supported in part by a grant from the North Dakota Council on The Arts which receives funding from the state legislature and the National Endowment for The Arts. I'm Bill Thomas.

See the Smithsonian Institution’s feature of this project,