September 12, 2007
: Here I am at the 5th annual “Bluegrassin’ in the
Plymouth, on highway 49 in
County. This is my 3rd time for this festival; I was here last
year and in 2004.
cousin Don from
Oregon came by the house last evening, and we went out to dinner with my
daughter Teri and her family. Then we sat around talking a while
this morning before he left, so I didn’t get as early a start as I
thought I would. Even so, I got here in plenty of time, since my
schedule is mainly “when I get around to it.”
a little before 11 a.m., came up Highway 99, and took Highway 88 at
Stockton. Then it was short jogs on Highways 124, 16 and 49, getting me here
around 4 p.m.
After I got set up I walked around a little, rode my bike, sat
outside reading, and had supper. The weather was quite nice, never
over 80 on the way up here. Now at 7:30
it has cooled off to the point where I would be wearing a long
sleeve shirt if I were outside (I set the thermometer out after I
wrote this and it was 65 degrees).
and circumstances permit, I like to go somewhere else in the area,
either on the “dead day” before the show starts, or after the
festival is over, or both. Music does not start till Friday, so I
will go somewhere tomorrow, and I have tentative plans for after the
festival. Rather than say what I might
do, I will wait till I have done it and tell you what I did.
up required a little more effort than usual this time. I’m a bit farther up
the hillside than last year, so I had to block up the wheels on one
side. A 2 x 6 or a 4 x 6 are the most I’ve ever needed before, but
I had to put two more 2 x 6 boards on top of my 4 x 6’s to get the
trailer level this time.
13: The other two times I was here, on the off day I headed
south on State Highway 49 to Drytown and
Amador City, two tiny towns occupied by a number of antique stores. This time I
decided to retrace my route here and head back to Ione, 11 miles
lesson: State Highway 12 leaves US 101 at Santa Rosa, goes through
Napa, and heads west through the Central Valley north of the
Stockton Delta. It crosses Highway 99 at
Lodi, and eventually goes into the foothills, meeting Highway 49 at San
Andreas. My preferred route to the festival calls for leaving
highway 99 at
California 88. A few miles east of
Stockton, Highway 12 comes in from the northwest and the two routes are
contiguous for several miles. About two miles past Lockeford, 12
continues on toward Highway 49, and 88 takes a hard left, crosses
Mokelumne River, and heads into the foothills.
few more miles, state highway 24 leaves 88 and soon passes through
the old gold rush town of
. About seven miles from Ione, the bluegrasser gets on Highway 16
for about 100 yards, then immediately on to Highway 49, two miles
where I spent a couple of hours today, window shopping and
sightseeing. Actually, the first thing I did was check for a
wireless Internet connection, and I was able to get a free
connection and check my Email (there is an unreliable connection at
that requires a payment of $5 per day).
walked around the three-block main business section of Ione, and
checked out the town park and a thrift shop. I only saw one antique
store, and it was closed. Next I ordered a pizza at the Pizza
Factory. If you ever find yourself hungry in a small town, look for
this franchise. With rare exceptions, they all provide excellent
pizza and good service.
population of the town is listed on the sign as 7,000, but it had
the feel and appearance of a much smaller town – probably they are
counting a lot of people in the nearby countryside. After passing
through several much larger-appearing towns with populations of
2,000 to 4,000, I decided I must have misread the sign and Ione’s
people number a little over 700. However, the California Department
of Finance, Demographic Research Unit, lists Ione’s population as
still full from breakfast when I got my pizza, so I brought it back
Plymouth, and by the time I stopped to take some pictures, got gas, and got
settled back into camp, it was time for lunch, followed by a nap.
weather has been excellent. It was 52 during the night, so it was
nice to snuggle down into the sleeping bag, quite a change from
sleeping without even a sheet all summer in
Fresno. The temperature today was around 80. It was almost completely
overcast this morning, causing a bit of worry since I got rained on
severely at this location the first time, but the clouds cleared
away by the time I left on my little trip.
are going to be showing a movie of a 1970s era bluegrass festival at
the stage area tonight, so I will probably wander over and check
that out, getting in the mood for serious bluegrass music for the
next three days.
15: A day of music is behind us, with the second day starting in
about an hour and half. As always there were highs and maybe not
lows, but certainly mediums. The first four bands were part of the
“emerging artist” program – usually new young bands that play
for free. The reward for the winner is the opportunity to come back
next year and get paid, and to compete in the regional program at
the June Huck Finn festival for the chance to present a showcase at
the national IBMA convention in
emerging bands were OK, some more than others. The best was the
Barefoot Nellies, who have played extensively in the Bay Area. The
one needing the most work was the Itchy Mountain Boys, four high
school seniors who have been playing together for only two years.
However, their female singer was the best female vocalist of the
whole bunch – she just did not sing lead enough. She could carry
the band until the others learn their instruments better.
professional bands included some that were new to me and some I’ve
seen before. My favorite of the day was Nothin’ Fancy. I had read
about the band buthad
not heard them that I know of (I have bluegrass on XM going in the
background a lot, but I’m not necessarily aware of what band is
playing). Anyway, they put on an entertaining show with music and
humor. Equally good was the Williams & Clark Expedition. They
are all long-time musicians, including a banjo player who worked
with Lester Flatt, and for ten years with Bill Monroe, and for a
number of years with Mike Snider.
U.S. Navy Band was at the top of the pinnacle as always, although we
got some sad news – a couple of its members are getting ready to
retire. Hopefully, the second
best bass and guitar players in the Navy will step into their shoes.
weather was cooperative, a bit warm during the middle of the day,
but with a good breeze all the time, and cooling off slightly by
In the evening, several layers were needed by the end of the show,
but it was never unpleasantly cold.
been up long enough to shave, exercise and write this entry, now
I’ll have breakfast and be ready for much more music.
16: It always seems I do pretty good writing every evening the
first couple of days, then get busy with the music, eating,
miscellaneous camping chores, etc., and don’t write again till the
festival is over. This time is no exception. Saturday started out
with The Mighty Crows, last year’s emerging artist winner. They
were good, nothing special.
bands for Saturday were The Bladerunners, IIIrd Generation,
Sawmill Road, and Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. The Bladerunners are from
and are all second generation performers. Pat Sauber of this group
was in the movie A Mighty Wind, and appears on the soundtrack
of Wild Hogs.
My favorite was
Sawmill Road, which includes several musicians I am familiar with. Lead singer
Steve Spurgin is a well-known singer-songwriter. Banjo player Dick
Brown was a long time member of one of my favorite bands,
Lost Highway. I’ve seen fiddler Bruce Johnson in other bands, although I
don’t recall which ones. And singer-guitarist Charlie Edsall
played with Ron Spears and Within Tradition for a number of years
– sort of a mid-level bluegrass supergroup.
Carolina Road is
from – obviously – the Carolinas, and
are a great traditional band. IIIrd Generation falls into the
category of good, not spectacular.
(Sunday) highlight was Kids on Bluegrass, one
of the best performances in this program that I’ve seen. Of
course, what the younger ones lack in skill, they make up in
cuteness, so their performance always goes over big with the
audience. This is a project directed by Frank Sollivan Sr. Working
with the kids on Friday and Saturday, he does not teach them to
play. His contribution is to teach them to work together as a band,
help with song selection, and schedule who will sing what and when.
It’s a great program, and more than anything, helps to ensure the
future of the music. The success of the program can be judged by the
fact that his son, Frank Jr., is a member of the Navy Band.
had a pleasant surprise yesterday. I was watching the morning show
when I heard my name called – and there was Bryce Green, a member
of my high school class. Like most of my classmates, I’d seen him
only once or twice over the 50 years since we finished high school,
but we’d talked briefly at a funeral several months ago, and
discussed bluegrass at our 50 year reunion in June. He and his wife,
Alma Rhoan Green, had gone to their first bluegrass festival in
February, and had a good time. I told them about this festival and
encouraged them to attend. Their schedule made it impossible to
decide in advance, and they were able to come only for Saturday. We
had a good visit, had dinner together, and agreed that we should
return next year.
More geography: California Highway 49 is known as the Golden
also as the Mother
more or less parallels the Mother Lode, which is a mile wide network
of gold-bearing quartz that runs from Mariposa, 120 miles north to Georgetown.
area in the Sierra foothills produced millions and millions of
dollars worth of gold, starting with the California gold
rush of 1849. Most of the towns along the highway originated as gold
mining camps, and many got their start with names somewhat more
colorful than they carry today. Placervillewas
Pokerville; Bottileas (named for the empty beer bottles scattered
around) became Jackson; and
Jimtown was formalized into Jamestown.
Once the wild and wooly miners of gold rush days were replaced by
civilized folks and the bawdy houses and saloons by churches and
schools, the citizens felt that those early names were no longer
traveled most of Highway 49, never all at once, and most of it not
recently. Until about 1960 the southern terminus was Mariposa; at
that time the road to Oakhurst was improved and became the final
segment of the Golden Chain.
49’s northern beginning is at Vinton on Highway 70 in PlumasCounty,
few miles west of US 395. However, this is quite a ways north of Georgetown and
well past the actual Mother Lode. Georgetown
not actually on Highway 49, but is about 25 miles northeast of
Coloma, the original gold discovery site, on Highway 193.
I went south on Highway 49 from Plymouthto Columbia,
state park and one of the state’s best preserved gold rush towns. Columbiais
also not actually on the highway; it’s about two miles to the
northeast, and less than ten miles from Sonora,
county seat of TuolumneCounty
arriving here I went through the AmadorCountyseat
about ten miles from Plymouth
through Mokelumne Hill, the original county seat of CalaverasCounty,
through the current county seat, San Andreas, and through the town
Camp, home of the celebrated "Jumping Frog of Calaveras
highway bypasses the main street of many of these towns, and there
is a new bypass that completely misses AmadorCityand
Sutter Creek, two towns I’ve visited before during the bluegrass
stopped in Mokelumne Hill and walked down the old main street, but
this is pretty much a ghost town. I chatted briefly with an old
gentleman who seemed to be the proprietor of a junk shop; he and a
man working in his yard were the only citizens visible. There were
some men working with a backhoe, and a CalaverasCountysheriff’s car drove around the town several
times. The junk wrangler and I concluded that he was probably lost.
Actually there is a small commercial section right on the highway, a
quarter mile from the old town center.
San Andreas I stopped and got lunch at a Subway, then drove on down
the road to a better stopping place to eat. I finished the day’s
drive, about 60 miles, just at ,
check-in time at the RV park where I had made a reservation.
getting set up, I drove the half mile to downtown Columbia,
did the tourist thing for a couple of hours. There are several
eating places, souvenir shops, and a candy store now operated by
fourth generation owners, where I invested in some almond bark and
made a few other purchases, mostly edible, had an ice cream while
sitting on a shady bench, visited the old school house (a half-mile
drive up a hill) then came back to the trailer for some reading, a
short nap, and work on this report. We have free wireless internet
access here, so I shall now go on line and delete the dozens of junk
Emails that have no doubt piled up since Thursday.
Today I continued down Highway 49 to Mariposa, where I’m camped at
the fairgrounds (they offer RV hookups when there are no conflicting
events). I was going to go home, then go to Mariposa from FresnoThursday, but decided to come straight here and get in an extra day
of work in Mother’s house. Tomorrow my younger daughter and her
husband, Rod & Jennifer, will come over after work and we’ll
have Jennifer’s birthday dinner, five days early.
49 is never a high speed road, but the middle part of today’s trip
has the reputation of being exceptionally slow, narrow, and winding,
and it certainly was that. Of course, I have driven over it before,
but never with a trailer.
I left Columbiaand
got past Sonoraand Jamestown,
went through the smoothest part of the entire trip as far as travel was
concerned – there is a stretch of about ten miles that goes
through a wide, rolling valley, with gentle curves and speeds of 55 MPH even
with a trailer.
once the road descends to the TuolumneRiverand
Lake Don Pedro, all bets are off. It climbs a steep section from the
Moccasin Creek complex (power house and fish hatchery), then drops
down into Coulterville, a once bustling, now very sleepy gold rush
town that is the “capitol” of northern Mariposa County. The road
climbs up from there, and drops down the steepest and deepest
stretch of all into the Merced
crossing the upper part of LakeMcClureat
was once a station stop on the long defunct railroad from
El Portal, just outside of Yosemite
Valley. It was also a popular
fishing, swimming and camping spot, in the days before Exchequer Dam
was raised, and the upper end of the lake was still downstream a few
miles. My aunt and uncle and their kids used to come from San
camp there, and we made a number of fishing/picnicking trips during
my early childhood.
the dam was raised, the old bridge was flooded out, along with what
little remained of the town, and a bridge now crosses high above the
water. It's impossible to even tell where the camping area was. On
the south side of the bridge is the start of
Bagby Grade, the steepest and most winding section of all, a few
miles up out of the canyon to BearValley.
However, I took it easy and made it with no trouble.
made a number of stops along the way, the most interesting of which
was near the top of Bagby Grade. When I was a kid I had been told
that there was a place on the grade where you could see into Yosemite
About a year or so ago Leroy Radanovich, historian and keeper of all
Mariposa information told me how to find the spot – a short walk
past a gate across from where the Pine Tree Mine used to be. I found
the gate, and in less than 100 yards I was looking at a very hazy
and distant view of El
my dad worked at that mine in the 1940's, I walked down the
weed-grown dirt road to the mine site to see what I could see.
Nothing remains but some concrete foundations and piles of dirt, but
in its day, it gave up a large amount of gold. It was originally
owned by John C. Fremont, who had his headquarters nearby at Bear
traveled the much straighter and faster final 15 miles or so to my
destination with no further stops, arriving around .
Since the rest of my time here is mainly business, I will end this
--Dick Estel, September
Itchy Mountain Boys
Rita Hoskings & Cousin Jack
Julay Brooks & the Nightbirds
Williams & Clark Expedition
The Mighty Crows
Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road
Flint Hill Special
Charlie Edsall & Dick Brown of
Sawmill Road & the Anderson Kids
U.S. Navy Band
Navy Band with Carl Spagter
Kids on Stage (Meagan)
Kids on Stage (Marty)
Marty & Nate tear it up
Kids on Stage encore
City of Plymouth sponsorship sign
Big Block Trailer
Old shed on Highway 24 northeast of
Countryside between Ione & Plymouth
Old fence at the edge of
beside Highway 49
Old Dodge Brothers truck finds the
of the road in Mokelumne Hill
Columbia opts for a slower pace
Inside the Wells Fargo office in
The Fallon Opera House
Mariposite rock outcropping by
49, between Coulterville & Bagby
Dick's truck & trailer by Highway
View of the Merced River Canyon,
Yosemite Valley in the distance
Concrete & rock work at the site of
the Pine Tree Mine
The notorious Bagby grade;
visible in the distance