On a breezy Friday evening, on the front stoop of a house across from Sloan’s Lake Park, you can hear jazz musician Rico Jones practicing on his saxophone.
Jones has been playing since he was 11, so practicing is a daily thing but on this occasion he was practicing for a little “concert.”
The venue: the front yard of his parent’s home.
Rico Jones and Friends has been putting on performances in Sloan’s Lake since summer 2020, because the pandemic had shut down everything else.
No bars. No gigs. No live music. No social interactions.
Until Jones’ brother had a bright idea.
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“One day my brother suggested, ‘Why don’t you invite some friends over to play in the front yard? You can do it socially distanced and it’ll be outside,'” Jones said. “I thought about it for a bit and decided to invite some friends over. We just played outside on the front lawn of my home.”
Jones said at first, a few people in the park would stop and watch before going about their day and cars would slow down and give the group a honk before driving off.
But soon, curiosity won and people started staying put. Equipped with blankets and chairs, Jones said residents from the neighborhood started sitting in the park to watch the mini jazz fest.
“Once that started happening, we said why not do this every week and play for the people in the community,” Jones said. “We kept playing and doing it for the joy of making music together, along with some human interaction.”
Jones said park goers would adhere to social distancing rules. Viewers could leave tips via cash jars or Venmo but Jones made it clear that money wasn’t mandatory.
It was a free event during a time where people craved something other than the confinements of their homes.
But not everyone enjoyed the shows.
It’s unclear whether multiple households were not OK with a jazz concert happening steps from their home, but one neighbor a block away did not like it, according to Jones.
Attempts to reach the neighbor through Jones for a comment were unsuccessful.
The concerts were coming to an end because of the cold, so the issue was dropped, until Jones made a post in the NextDoor app asking if people would like to see the shows return.
Jones said about 800 people wanted the music, and the neighbor was not one of them.
The neighbor complained on NextDoor that the show was too loud and that they would get the city involved if the music continued.
Cue the neighborhood drama.
A back and forth ensued, according to Jones, with the neighbor sending a nasty message to him and with residents responding with their own rage toward the neighbor.
Jones said a few times he had to step in and ask folks not to be rude or harass the neighbor.
In the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association’s Facebook group, recent posts regarding the squabble were sprinkled with name-calling and arguments on who was right and who was wrong.
A mediator from the city was brought in to settle the dispute, and the shows were canceled in the interim. Jones said the mediation didn’t go far.
“You know, when there’s some people who do not want the (show)… I don’t want to dismiss that,” Jones said. “I really wanted to make as many adjustments as possible. Everyone in the community has a right to live happily and have a sense of security and peace when they’re home.”
Larry Ambrose, a neighborhood association member, stepped in to help the Joneses.
Ambrose said he went to the neighbors home to capture the sound levels with a professional decibel meter.
At first, he and the neighbor argued but afterward, the neighbor allowed Ambrose to capture the levels in the backyard. The sound didn’t register according to Ambrose.
Eventually, the neighbor and Ambrose came to a verbal agreement that Jones could play Friday and Saturdays, ending before 8:30 p.m. Jones could also play on holidays, including the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
“There was a lot of miscommunication,” Ambrose said. “But we found a common ground. We want to work with them and make sure that the music isn’t too loud for them or any other neighbors. Any type of problems should be communicated directly without any hesitancy in a professional and civil manner.”
So Rico Jones and Friends is officially back. Friday’s show was as smooth as the music itself.
About 75 people showed up to the park with food, drinks, chairs, kids and dogs. After each song, the crowd faintly clapped with a few cheers.
“We moved here a year ago and when it was COVID there was nothing to do and this was a free fun thing to do while social distancing,” said Amy Gross and Frank Miller, who were hanging out in the park.
“I think it brings a lot of joy to the neighborhood,” Gross said. “We’ve been telling all of our friends that (Jones) is back this summer and it’s really cool that they are willing to do that for free.”
Jones would agree. In the middle of the madness, he contemplated whether allowing the concerts to continue, despite one person’s displeasure, was worth it.
“It’s strange. I never anticipated this becoming what it has become… and I didn’t want to cause any distress,” Jones said. “People in tough situations opened up to me and said, ‘hey, this was really meaningful to me when I didn’t have a lot else going on.”
And ultimately, the show will go on. Jones said you can keep tabs on the shows through NextDoor, Facebook and Instagram. He said they’ll play Friday and Saturdays, weather permitting. The shows will also remain free. But tips are always appreciated, which Jones said he distributes to his rotating group of friends.
“It feels silly playing in your front yard for an audience,” Jones chuckled. “But being able to play at a place as humble as your home is very pleasant.”