TRILBY — The hand-lettered sign on the table in the back room in Trilby United Methodist Church says "Reserved — Ladies of the Corner."
The seats are set aside for Martha Smith, Mary Widener and Lovea Thomas, who gather every Saturday afternoon to hear guitars, banjos and Dobros play traditional country-western and gospel songs.
Cars and trucks park under the big oaks, instrument cases are unloaded and handshakes exchanged. There are no bright lights, no glittery costumes, and no agents with recording contracts. It's just a group of people who enjoy playing and hearing the music they love.
Some have been coming for a long time; others are newcomers.
Usually, it's Gerri Farris who arrives first, her enthusiasm hiding her 80 plus years. She's sort of the co-coordinator, the one who keeps things moving. She's also the one who got the music group up and running at Trilby.
"Musicians have your instruments tuned and ready to go," she directs.
Joseph Lilly comes in with his finely tuned and polished banjo. Lilly, 82, is originally from Milton, W.Va., and he's been playing at Trilby about two years.
"I messed around with a banjo when I was about 9, playing church songs. I got started back playing about three years ago," Lilly says, his fingers tickling the banjo strings.
Earl Carver enters, guitar case in hand. At 77, he's full of laughter and good natured teasing. Home for him was once Macon County, Tenn., but now his days are spent in Florida, mostly around Zephyrhills where he entertains at nursing homes.
Jean and Ed Maciejewski arrive, trim and neat in western wear. They live in Zephyrhills now, but Jean, 73, comes from Springville, N.Y., and Ed, 71, once lived in Buffalo. Jean was a widow and Ed had never married. They met in a guitar class.
"I really liked the way Jean played a guitar," Ed says, grinning.
They've been married six years. Jean plays the Dobro, Ed the guitar and both sing.
Ken Kepner, 72, is there, offering Denise Waldrup impromptu guitar lessons. Kepner who once claimed Youngstown, Ohio, as home says he's been playing at least 50 years.
"I cut my teeth on bluegrass music," he says, adding that he now prefers traditional and classic country.
Waldrup, 56, drove an 18-wheeler on long hauls but now she's content to drive from Brooksville to Trilby on Saturday afternoons. She's been playing with the Trilby group about a year and figures it's a good way to use the eight guitars she's collected.
"They bear with me and let me play along," she says, noting she and her sister grew up singing gospel with their family.
Charlie Drew, 78, originally from Fryeburg, Maine, shows up. He's been away a short time and he and his guitar are welcomed back. He's been playing about 11 of the 13 years he's lived in Zephyrhills and claims gospel as his favorite.
Elizabeth Bodden arrives, dressed in bright purple. At 47, she's the youngster of the group, and is hopeful for success with the gospel and inspirational songs she recently recorded in a Dade City studio. She's been singing since she was 12 and is a regular with the Trilby performers.
Busily setting up the sound system is Harold Thomas, at 84 the senior member of the group. A Dade City native, he's been playing Dobro about 40 years and has claimed wins at the Old-Time Music Championship that takes place in Pasco County annually the first weekend in April.
A crowd of maybe 30 gathers and on the front row are Opal and Troy Robinette from Dade City. They come every week, Opal says.
"I just love pickin' and singin'," she says and waits eagerly for Ed Maciejewski to sing her favorite song, The Bluebirds Are Singing for Me.
The musicians, usually eight of them but often as many as 15, sign up for stage time. Farris keeps watch, allowing equal time for each performance.
"Anybody who wants to can come and join in. Everybody gets a chance to perform," says Martha Smith, adding that during the winter with more northern visitors, the room is often packed and sometimes performers only get to present one song.
On this day there's plenty of time, the audience grows, and even musicians who aren't on stage play along with the performer.
"If you like good country-western and gospel this is the place to come on Saturday afternoons," says Lovea Thomas.