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Tap Your Toes in the Sand at October Sunday Jam

Sept. 21, 2004 – Nearly three decades have passed since some musicians decided it was time to expand their singing circle on St. Thomas. They put up a few signs announcing a jam session—anyone who wanted to play or just listen could gather at the Sib's Restaurant parking lot one Sunday in October. When the designated Sunday rolled around, about 200 people showed up dragging their coolers behind them. That was in 1977.
The event came to be known as October Sunday. Fred and Polly Watts are the founders, and under their care it has grown beyond their imagination.
"It’s been called different things at different times," says Polly Watts. "It’s always been called October Sunday. When it got bigger we called it the October Sunday Festival. Now we call it the October Sunday Beach Jam."
The changing names reflect the changing times. That first intimate gathering at Sib’s eventually turned into a festival with 5,000 participants. Watts says they drew sponsors from beverage companies; the restaurant served all-you-can-eat ribs for $5; non-profit groups set up booths with games, food and raffles to raise money; and there were even festival T-shirts.
After 10 years at Sib's, the numbers were reaching 10,000 people, and they started spilling out into the street. It was time for the October Sunday Festival to find a new home.
"It was gratifying. At that time we were running it from 11 a.m. to midnight," said Watts. "Essentially it was almost like two parties. During the day it was family-oriented. Kids were running around, wholesome music was playing. Then the sun went down and it turned into a different kind of party."
The party moved to Crown Bay for the next several years, then the lower parking lot at the Reichhold Center, and later the ballpark in Frenchtown. "I remember when it was in Frenchtown, seeing Polly and Fred just dancing together. It was really sweet. You could tell music just means so much to them," said one festival participant.
Nothing would stop October Sunday Festival—not even Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. Watts says even then a scaled-down version of the festival played on in Emancipation Garden, raising nearly $4,000 for the American Red Cross.
But in 2000, Watts says October Sunday had to scale back, and a new venue, Magens Bay, was chosen. The "festival" part of the title was dropped, and it would henceforth be called the October Sunday Beach Jam.
The beverage sponsors are gone. So are the T-shirts and fund-raising booths. Where once there were 10,000 revelers, now about 400 people will stop by the jam.
"Now it’s like a big beach potluck," says Watts. "People just bring some food to share. Some people bring a bag of chips or cookies. It's a mellow Sunday afternoon. Sometimes people get up and dance, sometimes they sing along. It's back to its roots. It's come full circle."
The music varies from year to year. Watts says this year's lineup looks promising with lots of fun, toe-tapping music.
The 28th annual October Sunday celebration will take place on Oct. 3 from 1 to 6 p.m., at Magens Bay in Shed No. 4. If you stop by, feel free to bring food and beverages to share.
Local musicians are especially encouraged to attend. Musicians who want to play should contact Polly Watts at pollywatts@earthlink.net , or call her at 775-2814.

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