Barn Bluegrass Festival
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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. 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
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
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
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.
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 area in the
state. This soon becomes a two-lane road, and traffic was heavy and
slow through towns, particularly St. Helena, but north of there it was not
crowded. About five miles past St. Helena, and about the same south
of Calistoga, is 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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of St. Helena I turned west 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
and his wife Sue, and have their 5th wheel trailers set up side by
side out near the entrance.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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, 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.
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.
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.)
been to festivals where the sound operator was not at the level of
competence of these two, 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.
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
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.
September 25: The
Hobbs Grove Festival started out as the Kings River Country
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
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,
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
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,
whose bass player is the ubiquitous Bill
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
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
I've also seen Bill with
Grateful Dudes and the Laurel
Canyon Ramblers, who mainly perform in southern California, and
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
you can read about here.
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
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,
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.
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
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
Lawson, and only the very top bands can come even close.
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.
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 added photos
of some of the promoters of festivals I've attended to my Bluegrass
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
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
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 an plot of thick trees and old buildings.
--Dick Estel, September