Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players

Alma, Lemuel, Dick Estel, Bryce


The Brombies

Dick's 2009 Bluegrass Tour

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Brown Barn Bluegrass Festival

September 10, 2009: I had never heard of the Brown Barn Bluegrass Festival until last May, when I won free tickets at the Parkfield Festival. The festival was founded in 2006 by the late Jake Quesenberry, and continues in his honor. He was one of the founders of the California Bluegrass Association. Never one to turn my back on free stuff, I left home about 9:30 this morning, and headed north on California 99. About ten miles past Madera I turned west on Highway 152, the Pacheco Pass Highway, which goes through Los Banos, then over the coast range to the Santa Clara Valley, joining U.S. 101 at Gilroy

On the western side of the route, I stopped at Casa de Fruita, and got some apricots and prunes. This spot used to be a roadside fruit stand, but has grown to a complex that includes a large produce store, restaurant, RV park, gas station, and other facilities.

The festival is in San Martin, just a few miles north and west of Gilroy. Unlike most festivals, there's no camping till opening day (Friday), so I am camped at the Gilroy Garlic USA RV Park (this is the Garlic Capital of the world). It's plenty warm, but I have full hookups, so I can use the air conditioner. This will change tomorrow, since there are NO hookups of any kind at the festival.

I arrived at the RV park in Gilroy about 12:30 and got set up, and now I have the rest of the day to rest, read, work on this report, eat, and swim. I have a pool at my condo complex at home, and I try to go swimming every day as part of my exercise program, so I'm glad that I will be able to do it today - pools are unheard of at bluegrass festivals.

The annual Bluegrassin' in the Foothills at Plymouth is the next weekend, and I already had made plans to attend. So I decided there was no point in going home in between - instead I would become one of those "drifters" you hear about, and drift north and east from here to Plymouth in the four days between festivals.

6:30 p.m.: I had my usual daily swimming routine today, in which I swim across and back seven or eight laps. When I get out, my  drink and book are waiting for me, and I sit and read long enough to finish the drink and dry off a bit. After that, I had lunch and a nap, then sat outside reading. Because the sun is on the patio side of my motor home, I had to move my chair around to the "wrong" side to get in the shade. It was about 97 when I first went out, but as the sun has dropped down, it's cooled down to about 85.

When you drive through Gilroy, the scent of garlic hits you as Highway 152 passes Gilroy Foods, a large packing plant. I expected to smell it constantly, but it was not noticeable until about 45 minutes ago when the breeze shifted. It's not overpowering and not really unpleasant.

Checkout time here is 11 a.m., and you can't get into the area where the festival is till noon, so I will have to find a way to spend an hour going less than 10 miles. At least I can have a leisurely breakfast and take my time getting ready to go in the morning.

Gilroy is located in the Santa Clara Valley, which was once famous for its orchards, and is now famous for Silicon. In the last few decades much of the agricultural land has been paved over and turned into San Jose (now the state's third largest city) and a string of towns that run into each other all the way to San Francisco and Oakland. Even so, there are still orchards and other crops and some livestock. There is plowed ground, with orchards beyond, on two sides of the RV park. There's a big shopping mall on one side, and some industrial buildings with U.S. 101 just beyond on the fourth side.

September 11
: Although I had plenty of time before my departure, I managed to fill all but the last 20 minutes - first by sleeping till about 8:45. I did my stretching exercises and walked a little over a mile around the park, had breakfast, washed dishes, took a shower, and was ready to go by 11:10. I had asked for and received permission to delay my departure to 11:30, which worked out well, since I arrived at the "brown barn" right at noon, following a quick grocery stop.

The festival is being held at San Martin-Ludewig Ranch Park, a privately owned park. There is a large grassy area where I am camped, along with about 20 other parties. For those who arrive too late to claim a spot on the grass, there is a dusty, rocky plowed field across the road which has room for a few hundred RVs. (Although they had the best attendance in the festival's short history, no one had to camp in the dirt.)

San Martin is a small town of about 4,500, but it's really part of a more or less continuous stretch of town and country that extends from Gilroy to Morgan Hill. Just east of us is the main road, Monterey Road, which has a lot of traffic. U.S. 101 is only a half mile or so past that. On the west side is quiet, small town residential development, with low hills not far beyond that. I rode through this area on my bike and saw large yards, a couple of places with horses, a small orchard, and a tiny pumpkin patch with some very large pumpkins.

The barn is actually red, although there is a small brown shed with a barn-style roof that serves as the ticket booth. But of course, it's not about the barn, it's about the music. This appears so far to be a small, low-key event, with no national groups, and no formal program today. There is an open mike event at 7, meaning any group of pickers who want to can get up and play. Scheduled performances run from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 9 to 5 on Sunday.

The weather is quite warm, although there has been a steady breeze, and I think a cooling trend was predicted. The show is inside the barn, which is almost surely not air conditioned, so it could get a bit warm in there when it fills up with people.

It turns out there actually is a swimming pool here, but it's full of cracks, and no water. However, kids soon discovered that it was a great place to ride scooters, play soccer, and just climb around.

September 12
: The first part of the festival was an open mike presentation last night, during which impromptu groups that had formed during the day performed three songs each. Although there was some good musical talent, there is a world of difference between a group that has practiced a few songs for an hour and a group that plays together regularly. There's also the matter of being used to performing on stage with a microphone, versus just playing in a small circle in camp. So it was a mixed bag, but entertaining just the same.

Today was a whole 'nother story. There are seventeen different groups on the schedule, only five of which I've heard or even heard of. Well, that's not 100% true - when I checked in the lady at the desk told me to be sure to see OMGG, a group of young kids that are very good. The name is an acronym for Obviously Minor Guys and a Girl, and it turns out that I have seen the three boys in the Kids on Bluegrass presentation at Plymouth, and the girl at the Mid-State Festival in Paso Robles. They've been playing together for a couple of years, and the girl is amazing - a 19 year old voice in an 11 year old body. And the "old man"  of the group, age 15, is a much better than average singer for his age. They have been invited to the International Bluegrass Music Association convention in Nashville next month, and I predict they will surprise a lot of people. 

Of the other groups so far, all were new to me except Sidesaddle and Company, and you'll find them all named and pictured below, plus links to their web sites if any. With so many, I won't mention every group in this narrative. Only one was what I call average or below; all the rest were very good. My favorite today was Angelica Grim, who is more or less a solo act, but had OMGG as her backup band. Tomorrow she will have some other friends backing her. She has married into the Doerfel Family, and will be leaving us for Branson MO - our loss.

It's break time now, and since I already ate supper, I am using this time to have tea and work on this report. Music starts up again in a half hour, with three groups scheduled, and music on tap till about 10 p.m.

September 13
: The rest of the festival maintained the high quality established Saturday morning, and a few deserve mention. Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players went over big, even though they did some stuff that was definitely not bluegrass (a bit of gypsy music, with ukulele and harmonica to add spice). The Notorious Shank Brothers have been around a long time, and gave us a powerful program of traditional bluegrass. And Eddie DuCommun & Bluegrass for the Record mixed the sounds of grass with the classic country songs they grew up with (Marty Robbins, Stonewall Jackson). The guitar duo (with occasional mandolin) of Dix Bruce and Jim Nunally proved you don't need a fiddle and a banjo to entertain a bluegrass audience, just good pickin' and good harmonies.

Other groups were equally good, maybe with less of an individual style to stick in the memory, but I would attend this festival again if they presented the exact same lineup, and I guarantee I can't say that about every show I attend.

The weather cooled off quite a bit after Friday afternoon. We had a few drops of rain early Saturday morning, but it cleared off. The breeze continued both days, and on Sunday I wore long pants all day. On Friday night I slept in summer pajamas with a light blanket; Saturday I needed flannel PJs and got inside my sleeping bag. AND - we have some rain falling right now at 7:45 p.m.

Before I left home I tried to make reservations at several state parks in the Napa area, but all showed no availability. I was able to make phone contact with someone at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, who said there are plenty of campsites on a first come, first served basis. Due to the state budget situation and the planned closure of a number of state parks, the company handling reservations decided not to accept any more. So tomorrow I will head north on US 101 and various other Bay Area freeways, and spend a couple of days in the hills of Napa County.


September 14: Unlike most festivals, nearly everyone left last night, partly because so many of them live fairly close. There was possibly one motor home and definitely one van that stayed overnight besides myself. I got started about 9:30 this morning, heading north on US 101, then I-680, parts of which are a designated scenic route. This may seem odd for a Bay Area freeway, but a lot of the highway goes through hills, with very little development visible from the freeway. The surroundings become much more urban after it crosses I-580 at Pleasanton, but farther north are some areas where the development is out of sight from the freeway, and you mostly see wooded hills to the west.

After a few miles on various other highways, I got on State 29 at the city of Napa, and headed up the Napa Valley, the most famous wine grape region in the state. The highway soon became a two-lane road, with heavy traffic and slow going through towns, particularly St. Helena. After that the traffic became very light. About five miles past St. Helena, and about the same south of Calistoga, I arrived at the state park, which is located in the hills on the west side of the valley.

Even though it's only a short distance from my campsite to the highway, it is quiet here, and there's nothing to remind you of how close "civilization" is. The campsites are located along a small creek, on the dry eastern slope, which is covered with manzanita, madrone, and oak trees, mostly live oak, blue oak and black oak. There is also tan oak, which is not a true oak tree. On the cooler, wetter western slope above the creek there are evergreens, primarily Douglas fir and coast redwoods. There are no giant trees here, but there are lots of tall redwoods, one to three feet in diameter. There are also many small shrubs, including bay laurel, poison oak, wild grape, wild rose, chaparral, and some I can't identify. I saw two volunteer fig trees, as well as a very out-of-place eucalyptus tree near an old, boarded-up house.

There are a number of trails around the park, along the creek and up into the hills. So far I've walked downstream along the creek, and later the opposite way on the same trail, which followed the creek for a while, then went up a hill and past the old abandoned house. At this point I took a fork that brought me back to the upper part of the campground. Tomorrow I will take a one mile trail to the Bale Grist Mill, a nearby state park that allows day use only.

After I got set up I took my short walk, and dropped off my payment, a rather steep $33 for one night with no hookups. I guess they are trying to make the state parks self-supporting. I talked with a ranger who said they don't know what's going to happen. Their budget was reduced by about $14 million, so there will be closures and layoffs, but if anyone knows where and when, they are not saying. Needless to say, park closures have drawn lots of organized opposition. (2012 UPDATE: The threatened closures of 2009 were avoided, but California's continuing budget crisis caused a number of closures to be planned for July 2012. Many parks have been kept open through volunteer efforts, along with some special state funding. Bothe-Napa and Bale are now operated by the Napa park district, with no state funds or staff). 

When I got back I read for a while, had a nap, and fixed lunch. So my schedule is pretty much open for the rest of the day.

The rain Sunday night continued off and on till after I went to bed, and I fell asleep to the sound of rain on the roof. The weather here was warm when I arrived, but there has been a good breeze all day, so it was not too bad walking, and very nice just sitting around. By 7 p.m. it had cooled down below 70 degrees, although the breeze seems to have died down.

September 15
: I started the day with a bloody Mary and a snack of granola bars, then set out on the hike to the Bale Grist Mill, built in 1846, and restored in recent years. Although the mill is just over a mile from the trailhead, the trailhead is at least a half mile or more from my camp, so it was a pretty good hike, with about a half mile of uphill travel. A school group was getting a tour when I arrived, so I tagged along and learned much more than I would have by just looking around on my own. I'll let those readers who are seriously interested in the grinding of grain into flour research the subject on their own, but I will say a couple of things.

The operation of the mill was extremely interesting, involving various power transfers through gears from the big wheel which turns from the weight of water flowing onto it from above. Although the water is now pumped from a well and re-circulated, it originally ran 1,100 feet through a flume from a pond on the creek. Part of the dam is still in existence, but the creek is dry at this season.

Dr. Edward Bale was somewhat of a scoundrel, and also unsuccessful as far as making a profit goes. He died relatively young, leaving his widow Maria responsible for thousands of dollars in debts. She hired a competent millwright, and was so successful that she not only paid off the debts, but was the richest person in the Napa Valley when she died.

They grind several kinds of grain at the mill, including wheat, buckwheat, and corn, and give away the flour (a donation is appreciated). There are lots of old mills still operating; in the gift shop they hand out a free copy of a magazine published by the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM). In 1840 there were over 24,000 mills operating in the United States. Mrs. Bale's millwright relied heavily on a book first published in 1777, The Young Millwright and Miller's Guide. If you plan to operate a mill, this publication still has much to offer.

On my way back from the mill I saw a rattlesnake, about 30 inches long. He was in a dry creek bed that crossed the trail, and slowly crawled under a rock. I've also seen many lizards, ground squirrels, gray squirrels, and some Steller's jays.

The weather seemed a bit warmer today, but hiking three miles will do that. When I got back and sat outside reading, it was very comfortable, with a slight breeze.

Tomorrow I am going to move to an RV park, probably in Vacaville, where I can take a shower, refill my water tanks, and empty the holding tanks.

I don't always tell my readers where to go, but I do recommend this park as a pleasant and somewhat different place to visit (assuming it stays open). Each campsite has a table, raised barbecue pit, and cabinet, and there are garbage cans and water hydrants for at least every two sites. If you go to the mill, I recommend driving, and saving your hiking time and energy for the other trails. Beware of ticks, and of course, rattlesnakes, and be prepared for warm days and cool nights. There are about 50 sites, all suitable for tents, and many suitable for RVs up to about 30 feet in length.

September 16
: Today was another "drifting" day, although I had chosen a destination before I started out - an RV park in Vacaville, just off I-80, about 80 miles from my final destination on this trip at Plymouth. I started the day with my usual exercises, including a nice walk of a mile or so, a loop trip around some of the trails. There is one trail that goes at least 3.5 miles, but I skipped that one. I got started about 11:30, with only 60 miles to travel. I did not go the "right" way to Vacaville from where I started, instead taking a scenic route. Despite the small number of miles, it took quite a while.

South of St. Helena I turned east on California 128, a narrow road that winds up into the hills, passes by Lake Berryessa, and joins I-505 at Winters, about ten miles north of Vacaville. I only saw one small branch of the lake, but the drive went through very nice country with lots of oak trees, bull pines, and scrub brush. I had considered Lake Berryessa as a destination if the state park had been unavailable. I was aware of this lake, but did not know till my recent research how big it is - 1.5 million acre feet (for my San Joaquin Valley readers, that's 50% bigger than Pine Flat and three times as big as Millerton).

I stopped in Winters, a small, quiet town, for gas and groceries, then had only about five miles to go to my destination, the Midway RV Park. It's located on Midway Road, which runs from I-505 to I-80, so I will avoid downtown Vacaville, though I will have to go through the heart of Sacramento tomorrow.

Despite the claims of the park manager, WiFi has eluded me here. I was able to log onto a wireless network a couple of times at the Brown Barn Festival, but there was no access at the state park, and will probably be none at Plymouth, so I will have a ton of Email to contend with when I get home.

I did find the other main amenity that I look for, a swimming pool, so I was able to do all three parts of my daily exercise program for the first time since leaving home.

Plymouth Bluegrass Festival

September 18: I made the trip from Vacaville to Plymouth with no problems, arriving here just after noon. From Sacramento I took California 16, which goes through farm land and into the foothills, joining Highway 49 about a mile from Plymouth. Along the way I saw and photographed an unusual barn complex; photos appear below.

I was able to get a spot in the livestock barn, which means electric and water hookups, although the electric is 20 amp, which does not allow running the air conditioner.

I rode my bike around the fairgrounds and around town a little, then visited with my friends and former classmates, Bryce and Alma Green from Cathey's Valley in Mariposa County, who had arrived about 2 p.m. They were joined by one of their sons, Lemuel, and his wife Sue, and have their 5th wheel trailers set up side by side out near the entrance.

Thursday night they always have a bluegrass-related film presentation, and this year it was a PBS special on the Carter Family, considered one of the pioneer groups in country music.

Friday morning the festivities got under way about 10:30, with the emerging artist program. This allows four newer and lesser-known groups, usually from California, to compete for the chance to play here for pay next year. Two of the groups were new to me, one was here last year, and one was the Dalton Mountain Gang from the Fresno area, whom I've seen a number of times. In my opinion, they were significantly better then the other three groups, and for a change, the judges agreed with me and declared them the winner.

All the groups at the festival are listed and pictured below, plus links to their web sites if any. The revelation this year was a group from western North Carolina, Town Mountain, that I had not heard of before. They had played in California before and were impressed by a young Bay Area fiddler, Annie Staninec, and since they have no regular fiddle player, they decided to use her for their California appearances, and also had her play on their latest CD.

There were two groups from the east that I was aware of but had not seen, and both lived up to expectations. I had read about Steep Canyon Rangers in Bluegrass Unlimited and bought one of their CDs a few years ago. Grasstowne formed about three years ago after the breakup of the very popular and successful Mountain Heart. Lead singer Steve Gulley formed this group along with one of the world's top dobro players, Phil Ledbetter; Alan Bibey, a founder of IIIrd Time Out and veteran of a number of other bands, and two other musicians with lengthy resumes.

During the dinner break I joined the Greens for a very good barbecued lamb dinner, and following their usual pattern, they insisted I return tonight for steak. I warned them that a return invitation from me would probably involve peanut butter sandwiches.

September 19
: Today was a great day of bluegrass. Some of the groups from yesterday played again, and I saw three bands whose presence helped convince me to attend this year's Plymouth festival. Two members of the Navy Band, which I've seen a number of times, have left the service, and now have their own bands. First up was Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen. He was the fiddle and mandolin player, and did an occasional vocal, but with his own group he's the lead singer, and does a great job. He's still quite young, so I suspect he served a single four year hitch. He's originally form Modesto, and his father, Frank Sr., manages the Kids on Bluegrass performances in northern California; Frank Jr. was the "original kid on bluegrass."

The Navy Band's lead singer, guitarist, and chief was Wayne Taylor, who served a four year hitch in his youth, then came back as a full-time musician, spending a total of about 25 years. His band is called Appaloosa, and they also did a great job.

Closing out the day was Audie Blaylock and Redline. He's been performing for several decades, starting out with the late Jimmy Martin at the age of 19. I had seen him before singing with Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, and his own band is equally hot.

September 20
: The festival is over, and once again it was excellent. Today's program started with the Kids on Stage presentation, always well received. There were a few kids who had been here before, including the notorious Marty Varner, who is part of OMGG, who appeared at the Brown Barn festival. New to me was a young man about 14 or 15, Cameron, who sang very well, and Josh Gooding, who played some hot mandolin. The Anderson Kids, who've performed with the kids and with their parents as a "regular" group, finished out the show, except for two kids that producer Frank Solivan Sr. "forgot." After the Andersons, he brought on stage his son, Kid Number 1, Frank Jr., along with Angelica Grim, who has performed with the kids on stage for about ten years, and like Frank Jr., is now a grown-up "kid" and a pro.

Once again I am being forced to have dinner with the Greens, whose hospitality is legendary. Actually it does not take much force when the smell of Lemuel's barbecue drifts across the fairgrounds.

8:30 p.m.: It turned out no one felt like cooking, so Lemuel drove to a nearby town and got tacos and other Mexican food from Jimboy Taco. This is a fast food chain, but much better than some of the better known chains. We had a good visit before and after dinner, and now I'm settled in for the night, ready to get home tomorrow after eleven days on the road.

The Weather: This was the warmest it's been at a Plymouth festival, although we had a nice breeze some of the time. I like to sit in the center, between the 5th and 10th rows, and I had an ideal spot, in the 7th row. Usually I can sit there most of the day, but this time I had to move into the shade about half the time. The shady spots are too far from the stage, and mostly occupied by people who talk during the music, so for the groups I was most interested in I put up with the sun. The evenings have been pleasant, cool enough to get under a blanket toward morning, and last night I wore long pants and put on a light weight long sleeve shirt for the evening program.

The Sound Crew: I don't think I have ever mentioned this subject in my reports, but no festival, bluegrass or otherwise, could happen without them. Although the music is acoustic (and because it is), performances before large groups require amplification via microphones. In bluegrass you will rarely see anyone playing an instrument that is directly connected to an amplifier (like an electric guitar), with the occasional exception of the bass. Every festival promoter has to provide for people to set up and operate the sound equipment, and there are a number of companies that specialize in this service. The two that I have seen at most festivals are John Senior Sound, which has worked the Plymouth festival for several years, and Old Blue Sound, which in my opinion does the best job of any of them. (September 27 Update: Sound at Hobbs Grove was handled by Paul Knight, who did an excellent job - in fact, avoiding some problems that cropped up at the much larger Plymouth festival.)

I've been to festivals where the sound operator was not at the level of competence of these three, and the result can range from instruments being too loud during vocals to poor balance between instruments, to the annoying howl of feedback. Many of the musicians obviously work with a variety of sound companies, and never fail to commend those who do a good job.

Volunteers: Another group of people who are essential to every bluegrass festival are the volunteers. These are the people who meet you at the gate, check your ticket or sell you one, hand out wrist bands, guide you to a camping spot, and dozens of other essential "behind the scenes" tasks. At Plymouth, we noticed volunteers in golf carts providing transportation for people who had trouble walking, and they go the extra mile in providing help and information to the customer.

Back Home

September 22: I got started home yesterday about 9:30, after a brief final visit with the Greens. I followed the route I usually take to and from this festival - a mile or so on Highway 49, about a dozen miles on Highway 124, passing through the old gold rush town of Ione, around 40 miles on Highway 88 to Stockton, and south on Highway 99 to Fresno. My total mileage on this journey so far was 550.

I say "so far" because there is one more festival, the Hobbs Grove event near Sanger. This one is 20 miles from my house, but I still plan to take the motor home there Friday through Sunday, so I will have all the comforts of home.

Hobbs Grove

September 25: The Hobbs Grove Festival started out as the Kings River Country and Bluegrass Festival, a very small event with all local bands. I recall one early festival I attended where the country overshadowed the bluegrass, and the country music fans became a bit rowdy. Eventually it went to bluegrass only, with a corresponding improvement in the overall atmosphere. The audience was also mostly local. There were rarely more than a dozen motor homes or trailers here.

In 2008 the regular promoter was unable to do the festival, and the California Bluegrass Association took it over. With their wider coverage and better publicity apparatus, they greatly increased attendance, and brought in some bands with a bigger following. Last year there were dozens of RVs and tents set up, and this year is shaping up to be similar.

I left home about 2 p.m. this afternoon and made the 19.5 mile drive in good time. I got set up and got to the stage area just in time for the first band, a recently formed oldtime music group, Uncle Ephus, which I greatly enjoyed.

Oldtime differs from bluegrass in several ways. It has also been called mountain music, hillbilly music, and in the pre-bluegrass days, country music. Bluegrass developed from this style, and bluegrass bands often perform a few numbers in a style that is closer to oldtime. The banjo used is a simpler instrument, and is played clawhammer style, instead of the more modern and familiar three-finger or Scruggs style. The fiddle playing is different also; to my ears it sounds closer to the Irish roots both forms share. Maybe the best explanation was that given by Ron Thomason of Dry Branch Fire Squad - "Oldtime music is better than it sounds."

For more about this subject, check out this site

The remaining bands today were all ones I have seen, including two that performed at Plymouth. Actually the full Anderson Family did not appear there, just the kids. As a band, they have significantly improved since I first saw them several years ago at Plymouth. My favorite was a group I saw at Parkfield in 2008, The Brombies, whose bass player is the ubiquitous Bill Bryson.

Bill is worthy of a few sentences - you may have heard this name in connection with a book titled A Short History of Nearly Everything , but that's a different guy. Bluegrass Bill was a long-time member of the popular and successful Bluegrass Cardinals, a west coast band whose most prominent graduate is David Parmlee, who now heads Continental Divide.

Bill was a member of the country-rock group Desert Rose Band, along with Byrds alumnus and long-time bluegrass-country-folk musician Chris Hillman. Chris and Bill have appeared in recent years along with another Desert Rose compatriot, Herb Pedersen, also a member of many groups and sought-after session musician.

I've also seen Bill with The Grateful Dudes and the Laurel Canyon Ramblers, who mainly perform in southern California, and with Bluegrass Etc., who played at Plymouth last week. Bill is also a songwriter whose "Girl at the Crossroads Bar" is a bluegrass standard. My new favorite song by Bill is "All Across Oklahoma," which you can read about here. (Sadly, Bill passed away in 2017 at the young age of 70.)

September 26: Today's festivities started off with a San Joaquin Valley band, Groundspeed, which is distinguished by a very hot banjo player. The other groups this morning were Bluegrass Conspiracy from Turlock (part of the Emerging Artist program at Plymouth), and Country Grass, a mostly instrumental group headed by Frank Solivan Sr. (Bluegrass Conspiracy later became Red Dog Ash.)

The rest of the day brought a mix of bands that were new to me and bands I had seen numerous times. There were two standouts - first Deep Elem, a Santa Cruz band that played some old time material mixed with more typical bluegrass. I had seen all the members of this band in other groups, notably Annie Stanineck, who plays with several groups. The other group was the Barefoot Nellies, an all-female group, also from the San Francisco area. I have seen them at Plymouth, but did not recall how good they were. Their guitar player, 16-year old Molly Tuttle, appeared with Angelica Grimm at the Brown Barn festival, and was excellent.

I was hoping to get an early start home, not due to the distance but because so much has piled up while I've been gone a lot this summer. However, these two groups will play again to finish the festival, so I will see all of Deep Elem and at least part of the Barefoot Nellies set.

September 27
: The day started with "bluegrass church," which I can do without, followed by a local gospel group, the Kings River Gospelaires. They've been here most years, but I have never seen them before this year. Actually, I think they are rehearsing right now about 20 feet from my front door.

Back home at 9:30 p.m.: The Gospelaires are an eight-man group, at least four of whom performed here with other groups this weekend. They were not bad, but not great either. Of course, I judge bluegrass gospel performances against Doyle Lawson, and only the very top bands can come even close.

The afternoon started off with the Kids on Bluegrass program, and as usual results were mixed. There were some above average players, including a 13 year old boy who did a good job on the fiddle, and a 16 year old boy who sang very well.

During the lunch I got everything ready to go. I watched all of Deep Elem's set and part of the Barefoot Nellies, then headed west on Goodfellow Avenue, and then Central Avenue, turning north on Clovis Avenue to Shaw, and in a few more blocks I was home. I got very hot unloading and cleaning out the motor home, so I headed for the swimming pool, and got cooled off enough to finish up this report.

This is the first time I have ever attended festivals three weekends in a row, and it's not something I would make a practice of, but I have to say I enjoyed each event, and was glad I decided to do it.

: Bluegrass audiences are probably the best-behaved, most courteous of any kind of audience anywhere. I never worry about anything being stolen. People set their chairs out the first day, and leave them there till departure time. Still, there are occasional security issues, and people to handle them. Usually this is done by designated volunteers, sometimes wearing vests or T-shirts that identify them. However, for whatever reason, the CBA decided to have two uniformed security officers, provided by a local service, at this event from 6 to 10 p.m. The good part about this was that one of them was Ike Grewal, a former colleague from the Department of Social Services (who still works full time for the county), that I had seen only once since my retirement. In fact, he was the first new eligibility worker to join my unit shortly after I became a supervisor in the early 1980s. I had a good time visiting with Ike and his partner Mike, and kidded them about the "difficulty" of controlling our "rowdy crowd."

On the second night, Ike was deployed elsewhere, but Mike's partner did have to investigate a rock-throwing incident, probably kids tossing the pea gravel that has been spread on some of the non-grass areas of the grounds; and Mike dealt with a "dog incident," presumably someone's pet left locked in an RV to bark and annoy his neighbors.

: Without a promoter, whether it's an individual or a committee, bluegrass festivals could not happen. In some cases, an organization, such as CBA, provides the financial backing; other times an individual risks his investment, not in the hopes of making a killing, but for the love of the music. I've posted photos of some of the promoters of festivals I've attended to my Bluegrass Odyssey page.

At Hobbs Grove I had a nice talk with Jerry Johnson, who used to run the Kings River Festival, and was introduced to Doug Cornelius, who started the show, and Patrick Tenyenhuis, who was second to take it over. A group photo appears below.

The Setting:
More than just a grove, Hobbs Grove is actually a large park with a number of old and new buildings. I get the impression that it's the remnants of an old farm, since it has a barn, a shed, and other unpainted buildings that appear to be from a bygone era.

Hobbs Grove is best known in the Fresno area as the location of a major Halloween event, more than just a "haunted house." But you can also rent the grounds for weddings, bluegrass festivals and presumably other wholesome activities.

The main stage area has a wide expanse of grass for audience seating, almost entirely shaded. There are several large concrete fire pits for cool-weather events. Along the entrance road, there are several acres of grass for camping.

When I first came to the 2nd annual festival in 2001, there was a large walnut grove east of the entrance road, but it's entirely gone. South of that in more recent years was a sod farm, but it's overgrown with weeds, probably a sign of the times when anything related to construction is a bad business to be in.

North of the camping area there are still some orchards, including persimmon and peach; while south of the stage area is a plot of thick trees and old buildings.

--Dick Estel, September 2009


Photos (Photos open in a new window)

Brown Barn          Drifting          Plymouth          Hobbs Grove
Brown Barn Festival
Nitecrawlers (open mic band)

OMGG (Obviously Minor Guys & a Girl)

Nate, age 15
AJ, age 11 Max, age 11 Marty, age 13
Angelica Grim Angelica & Friends Sidesaddle & Co.
Mineral Kings Earthquake Country Notorious Shank Brothers
Savannah Blu Natural Drift Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players
Alhambra Valley Band Dalton Mountain Gang Jennifer Kitchen & Kitchen Help
Bean Creek Dix Bruce & Jim Nunally Smiley Mountain Band
Eddie DuCommun & Bluegrass for the Record The sound crew An appreciative audience
The (red) brown barn Inside construction detail Festival grounds
The old (dry) swimmin' hole Hills north of festival grounds

A photo of Jake watches over the event

    Brown Barn Festival program cover    
Redwoods by Ritchey Creek,
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Mossy tree by the creek Looking across the Napa Valley
Gnarled but still living manzanita More manzanita Madrone branch
Bale Grist Mill Water turning the wheel at the mill Gears inside the mill
Steller's Jay at State Park Old barn complex on Highway 16 Another part of barn complex
    Windmill Farm on Highway 88 near Stockton    
Plymouth Bluegrass Festival
Jennifer Kitchen & Kitchen Help Bluegrass Conspiracy Dalton Mountain Gang
Savannah Blu Town Mountain Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition
Audie Blaylock & Redline  Fiddler Patrick McAvinue & Audie Steep Canyon Rangers
Grasstowne Nell Robinson & Red Level Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
Close harmony in the "kitchen" Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa Wayne Taylor & the Anderson Kids
Bluegrass Etc.

Kids on Stage producer
Frank Solivan Sr.

Veronica & Marty Varner
Josh & Marty Cameron sings lead The Anderson Kids
Kids on Stage encore "Old kids" Frank Solivan Jr. & Angelica Grimm Promoter Larry Baker
2009 Plymouth T-Shirt Plymouth Program cover

1930 Ford Model A at annual car show

Sue & Alma Green Lemuel & Bryce Green Alma, Lemuel, Dick Estel, Bryce
Hobbs Grove Bluegrass
Uncle Ephus Bluegrass Conspiracy Groundspeed
Grasskickers Anderson Family The Brombies
Country Grass Smiley Mountain Red Rag Andy
Deep Elem Dalton Mountain Gang Baloney Creek 
Kings River Gospelaires Grassfire Barefoot Nellies
Kids on Bluegrass More kids The encore

Jerry Johnson (top), Doug Cornelius,
Patrick Tenyenhuis, past promoters
of the Kings River Festival

Hobbs Grove Program Cover Hobbs Grove 2009 T-Shirt
Sound man Paul Knight Mikie & Ike, on guard Audience area
The old barn Camping area View east of camping area

 Related Links

OMGG Angelica Grim Sidesaddle and Company
Savannah Blu Natural Drift Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players
Alhambra Valley Band Dalton Mountain Gang Jennifer Kitchen
Bean Creek Oldtime Music Eddie DuCommun
Notorious Shank Brothers San Martin Pacheco Pass
Bale Grist Mill Baloney Creek Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Lake Berryessa Town Mountain

Red Dog Ash

Bluegrass Etc. Steep Canyon Rangers Ronnie Reno & Reno Tradition
Audie Blaylock and Redline Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen Grasstowne
Nell Robinson & Red Level Jake Quesenberry Wayne Taylor & Appaloosa
Kids on Bluegrass Grasskickers Northern California Bluegrass Society
The Brombies Dick's Bluegrass Links Anderson Family
California Bluegrass Association Dick's Bluegrass T-Shirt Photos Hobbs Grove

Audie Blaylock & Redline

Barefoot Nellies

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