Band of physicians plays on for seniors during COVID lockdown

The Druid Hills Billys, Paul Parker (from left), Jim Culliton, Dave Cooper and Skip Romaner, perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
The Druid Hills Billys, Paul Parker (from left), Jim Culliton, Dave Cooper and Skip Romaner, perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Thanks to a local band and a determined activities director, the music and fun never stopped for some Druid Hills seniors during their long year of COVID-19 restrictions.

At Clairmont Place retirement community, residents regularly gathered on their condo balconies to hear outdoor live performances by Dr. Paul Parker’s bluegrass band, the Druid Hills Billys. One year into the lockdown, Parker blistered his banjo for the band’s 23th performance at Clairmont. This time, mask-wearing residents sat outside on the patio to enjoy the show.

“It’s incredible, just incredible,” said Clairmont Hills board president Gatra Mallard, at times humming along to folk songs like “Dooley” and “Mountain Dew.”

Clairmont Place residents clap to the beat during The Druid Hills Billys band performance. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Clairmont Place residents clap to the beat during The Druid Hills Billys band performance. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Bandmates are musically talented physicians and other professionals primarily associated with Emory University Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Egleston Hospital, and other healthcare facilities in the area. Parker is a pediatric surgeon at Egleston.

The Druid Hills Billys “have been one of our most loyal entertainers,” said Activities Director Lynn Mayer. Parker has been a regular performer at Clairmont for more than a decade and knows many residents by name. His aunt, Jean Harsch, 93, lives there.

“He has a real following. He has groupies,” Mayer said with a laugh.

The Druid Hills Billys band member Jim Culliton laughs after telling a story as they perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
The Druid Hills Billys band member Jim Culliton laughs after telling a story as they perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Eileen Cohen said her mother, a 5-year resident at Clairmont Place, is a big fan of the bluegrass band and rarely misses a performance.

“For residents who have had most other activities including gathering for meals in the dining room impacted, their performances are a highlight,” Cohen said.

The Druid Hills Billys have come more frequently during the pandemic, playing sometimes twice a week. Parker and the band have performed at every side of the Clairmont complex, at times picking up their gear and moving so that everyone had a chance to be entertained. Resident Cindy Runyon said that “was inspirational to all of the residents.”

“It’s been great for me, too,” said Parker, “Clairmont has kept me going throughout the pandemic.”

Because they play so often, the group has had to learn new music to keep concerts interesting, and Parker guesses they’ve played 150 to 200 different tunes throughout the pandemic.

“It’s a sophisticated crowd; they don’t want to hear the same songs over and over,” he quipped.

The Druid Hills Billys band members Paul Parker (left) and Jim Culliton perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
The Druid Hills Billys band members Paul Parker (left) and Jim Culliton perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Other musicians and entertainers have also delighted Clairmont Place residents during the pandemic, groups ranging from the Atlanta and DeKalb symphony orchestras to talented kids who can juggle.

“It’s been a real win-win because we’ve been able to give musicians a chance to perform in front of a live audience, and having them here is a real boost to our residents,” Mayer said.

Mayer found other ways to make sure residents stayed active and engaged during the lockdown. When group activities stopped, she led exercises from the courtyard with residents joining from their windows or balconies.

“I was so concerned in the beginning, how was I going to do this job and keep these people entertained, engaged and actively involved? I want to keep them actively moving and getting stronger,” said Mayer.

She implemented other activities, like a weekly trivia contest and an indoor scavenger hunt. Residents have a new in-house TV channel, with information and entertainment explicit to their community. They also engage with first-year Emory University Medical School students so that these future doctors can learn about aging.

Mayer said she regularly makes connections with the 204 residents who live independently in their condos because there’s a real concern about them being lonely.

“We try to give them special attention continually,” she said.

Board president Mallard said the staff did more than expected for residents throughout the pandemic to keep them safe and provide activities.

Cohen also gives Mayer and other staff praise for adapting to the COVID restrictions and working tirelessly to keep activities and performances going.

She said Tina Arnold, who leads a crafts class, kept coming every other week, hosting some classes outside while providing all materials. And Chef Francina Russ quickly switched from dining room service to delivery for all residents, making it fun and environmentally sound, Cohen said.

These “incredible employees have gone above and beyond to keep residents safe and content during this difficult and lonely time that has hit seniors particularly hard,” she said.

The Druid Hills Billys band member Dave Cooper plays the mandolin as they perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
The Druid Hills Billys band member Dave Cooper plays the mandolin as they perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

ABOUT THE DRUID HILLS BILLYS

A bluegrass/gospel/folk/blues/Americana band started by a group of doctors. Harmony vocals and humor, and acoustic instruments such as fiddle, banjo, guitar, dobro, bass, harmonica and even percussion and rhythm with spoons and a washboard.

Available for BBQs, picnics, parties, church suppers, barn theaters and the like.

www.facebook.com/The-Druid-Hills-Billys-152441564832005/

The Druid Hills Billys, Paul Parker (from left), Jim Culliton, Dave Cooper and Skip Romaner, perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
The Druid Hills Billys, Paul Parker (from left), Jim Culliton, Dave Cooper and Skip Romaner, perform at Clairmont Place in Decatur. The band, made up of physicians in the area, which regularly played at Clairmont Place before the pandemic, kept it up and increased performances during the lockdown. They played outdoors with residents listening from their balconies. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

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