8, 2013: Believe it or not, I am at a bluegrass festival, and also
celebrating my birthday for the 74th time. The Good Old Fashioned
Bluegrass Festival is a bit younger, celebrating its 20th year. It's
sponsored by the Northern California Bluegrass Association (NCBS).
event is a bit different from most festivals in several ways. At
every other show I've attended, the major groups and sometimes
others play two and sometimes three sets over the weekend. At the
GOF, each groups plays once and once only. The idea, as was
explained to me when I attended for the first time in 2011, is to
have as many musicians as possible on hand, to encourage lots of
interaction between performers and fans, and to have lots of
jamming. Since I don't play in public, this is not a benefit to me,
but that's how it is.
was slightly disappointing last time, because there were several
groups I would have enjoyed seeing more than once, but this
year I am at least expecting it.
also have what is called the "Tweener Stage," a small
stage at the side of the audience. While the sound man is
repositioning microphones and doing a sound check between main stage
groups, any group that wants to sign up can play a couple of songs on
the Tweener Stage. Last time there were a couple of these groups
that were quite good.
is also a low-key festival, with no "big name" national
groups. However, there are several bands that are well known and
very popular in California, including one of my favorites, Snap Jackson
& the Knock on Wood Players. I've seen them at least a
half dozen times at four or more different festivals. This weekend I'll see them just once, but
perhaps I can catch some of the members jamming.
Although I had a pretty good idea
of how to get here, before leaving I entered the address in
two different map apps on my iPad, and in my GPS. This proved to be
an exercise in frustration. The original Google Maps app had been designed for
the iPhone, but still worked fine on the iPad. A month or two later it was
"upgraded" to an iPad version, and now it does not
Apple Maps app was the subject of much negative comment when it came
out close to a year ago, and proved to be not ready for prime time.
People were directed into lakes, the wrong way down one way roads,
and there were many other errors. When I entered the address into it, it
selected a route that I knew was not the most direct, and that would
take me through downtown Hollister. It didn't even show the
"good" route as an alternative.
GPS device, which took me right to the location by the direct route two years ago, insisted that the
address could not be found. So I went old school, printing out the
directions from the festival web site and using my memory from 2011.
left Fresno a little before 11 a.m., after attending the monthly
meeting of our retirement association board, and drove up Highway
99, west through Los Banos and over Pacheco Pass on State Highway
152, then southwest on State 146.
I turned off 146 on to Fairview Road, which took me south for eight
miles through the country east of Hollister, then on to State 25,
AKA Old Airline Highway, and another six miles or so to the San
Benito County Fairgrounds, also called Bolado Park.
the fairgrounds is located at Tres
Pinos, although my map programs had trouble finding this town.
It does exist, because I drove through it on my way to the
festival. It's on Highway 25, less than two miles north of the park,
and is about a quarter mile long, with maybe six to ten businesses
on the highway, and little evidence that there is any more to the
town that what you can see driving through. However, it has a
school, a post office, and a water company, everything a town needs
to qualify as a real place.
is very cool here, especially compared to the hot weather we've had
in the San Joaquin Valley this summer. It was about 70 degrees, and
is supposed to stay that way, with lows about 50. In all fairness to
my home area, the 110 degree days ended weeks ago, and it did not
get over 90 the last two days. Still, the cool coastal breeze is a
nice change. It's a very strong breeze, almost a wind, enough to
cause me to wear a long sleeve shirt when I sat outside reading
earlier. Now at 7 p.m. it's 64 and the breeze has diminished slightly.
are located in a narrow, flat valley between two low ridges, with
the San Benito River on the west side, so perhaps we'll experience the evening
reversal of air flow that is the norm in many areas.
9: This morning at 8:30 it was 60 degrees and overcast, with
almost no breeze. However, as the sun started breaking through, the
breeze picked up. Now at 1:30 it's fully sunny, with less breeze
than yesterday, and about 75 degrees.
I got up I did my usual exercises, including walking to the far end
of the fairgrounds, then out near the entrance, and back to my camp.
I fixed my traditional bloody Mary, and sat outside reading. After
taking my chair over to the stage area (a walk of close to a quarter
mile each way), I fixed breakfast, enjoying toast, cold cocoa, and
berries from the Clovis Farmer's
official stage performances gets under way at 3:00, but from 12 to 3
there is something similar to what I've seen at other festivals.
Usually it's called "open mike," when any group, whether
formally organized or not, can get up and do a few songs. In this
case, it's called "First Stage," with scheduled sets by
three groups. I stopped by for a while, but there was no seating and
I didn't feel like carrying another chair over, so I went to the
main stage area, checked out the concessions, and bought a T-shirt.
Then I came back to the motor home for reading and napping.
book is Colonel Roosevelt, the third volume of Edmund Morris'
3-volume biography, this one covering
TR's life after
the presidency. It starts with his African safari, then goes on to
the unsuccessful Bull Moose party campaign for a third term, and
that's as far as I've got, 1/3 through.
there is no official dinner break, with groups scheduled on the hour
every hour from 3:00 to 9:00. Due to my late breakfast, I won't want
to eat for a while, so I'll take a break when there's a band that is
less than stellar. The final group is one I've heard a lot and don't
much care for, so I will return for the night at 9:00 and watch a
little TV before bed.
p.m.: Day 1 is over for me, although there is one more group.
I've written before about how there is always one group that is a
"revelation" - unknown or mostly unknown to me, but good
enough to stand out above the rest. Today I discovered it works both
ways - a band so bad you want to cover your ears. The MC said that
this group has played the side stage, but this year was promoted to
the main stage. What he didn't explain was why. I guess the most
polite thing I can say about them is that I'm sure the band members are all nice
to children and small animals.
they were followed by a group that erased 99% of the bad memories.
Canyon Johnson have been together for about 18 months, although most
members have played for a number of years. They came together in a jamming
class taught by a professional Bay Area musician, and it's obvious
they paid attention, and they were rewarded with a sincere request
for an encore.
group that followed them defies description, but I'll try. The
magazine Bluegrass Unlimited has a category in its CD review
section called "On the Edge," which I interpret as having
gone so far from traditional bluegrass that they are in danger of
falling off the edge into something completely different. The Creak
is such a band, playing what might be considered
"newgrass" or maybe "jamgrass." In any event, if
you like that sort of thing you'd enjoy this band, because they were
very skillful. It's just not my cup of moonshine, and I went back to
the motor home for a break.
rest of the bands were the usual variation of average to good, with
one very good band ending the evening for me. The first time I saw Bean
Creek, based in Santa Cruz, I didn't care for them much. Over
the years they have grown on me and probably have improved as well, and
now I agree that they deserved their recent honor as co-winner of
band of the year as chosen by the Northern California Bluegrass
Society. This competition is open to bands that are not primarily
touring bands, so the prize will not be going to Kathy Kallick or
Laurie Lewis, but helps to honor somewhat lesser known California
groups. The other co-winner is Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood
Players, who deserve to win every year for the next decade.
Tweener Stage bands were mostly good amateurs, with a couple of
standouts, particularly a trio from Napa Valley that went over big
with the crowd.
10 Lunch Break: The three groups so far today have been
reasonably good, with one that could be called very good. This was
Gold Coast, which played here early in the festival's existence,
maybe ten to fifteen years ago, and have not been here since. They
were solid instrumentally, with several good vocalists, including
the teenage daughter of the group's leader, who has been invited to
perform in the Kids on Bluegrass shows at International Bluegrass
Music Society (IBMA) World of Bluegrass in Raleigh NC next month.
I've seen her with local Kids on Bluegrass, and she is pretty good,
though not a match for Cia Cherryholmes (against whom I judge all
teen singers) or AJ Lee.
weather is quite a bit warmer today, although the breeze is steady
enough to keep it from getting uncomfortable. In the motor home, I
should be in shorts and T-shirt, but I don't want to change for what
will be a fairly short time before it cools off. Since I have 30 amp
electrical power, I can just run the air conditioner for a while.
The Weather Channel app says it's 79 in Hollister (about ten miles
north), but probably a bit cooler here with the air flow along the
Break: The afternoon program was mostly pretty good, starting
with Keystone Station, a traditional style band. I took a break
during the next band, one I've seen a number of times at events near
home. The last band was a substitute for a group that could not make
it, The Naked Bootleggers (actually fully clothed). They are an
energetic band with some non-standard instruments (harmonica and
washboard), sometimes reminding me of Snap Jackson.
have finished my dinner of pizza and fresh vegetables, and have a
few more minutes before the evening show. The first group is
unfamiliar to me, but they are followed by the Central
Valley Boys, Sidesaddle
& Company, and Snap Jackson, all of whom I've seen
multiple times, and all of whom are quite good. I think I may
have seen the other group, Houston Jones, but don't remember
anything about them (meaning they were neither exceptionally bad or
12: Back home and time to finish up, covering Saturday
night and Sunday. After listening to the first song by Houston
Jones, I returned to the motor home to do some more reading.
Jones had electrified acoustic guitars, loud drums and keyboards,
and I was pretty sure they were here two years ago. I looked up my report
from 2011, and discovered that I found them "quite interesting, with lyrics that made you sit up and take notice."
This year they made me stand up and walk away. I think there are two
possible reasons: Possibly last time I was sitting farther back, and
they did not seem so loud; or possibly I am two years older and
to clarify, I don't object to groups like this being on the
schedule. I think everyone, including me, needs to try new things.
Sometimes we'll like them, sometimes not. When I first saw Snap
Jackson, my first reaction was "wow, that's really
different." My second reaction was "wow, that's REALLY
good." I know many people in the audience liked these
non-traditional, pretty much non-bluegrass groups, even if I did
rest of the evening was worth the entire weekend price of admission.
The Central Valley Boys, who can sometimes be pretty average, seemed
to really connect with the audience, and the crowd and the band
clearly had an outstanding time. Sidesaddle &
Co. have grown
on me over the years, and they also put on an excellent set.
Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players put on a show that kept
the crowd glued to their seats. I've seen this group at least ten
times, and I thought this was the best set they have done. Since it
was the last act of the night, instead of the 45 minutes allotted to
other groups, they played a full hour and twenty minutes, and left
with calls for "one more"..."four more"....etc.
Although it was late and getting cooler, I don't think one person
left the audience during their performance.
I first saw them in 2009, I have become ever more impressed with the
bass playing of Brian Clark. He plays like no other bluegrass bass
player, and did some high speed bass solos, something that is rarely
seen. Maybe having five strings instead of four makes him 25%
Sunday bill was mixture of typical regional groups of varying
quality. One high point was seeing Ella Naiman, a member of the late lamented
Gang, filling in with two groups, The String Slingers and
Sidetrack. In fact, three of the four members of the Gang were there
- Yosef Tucker and John Cogdell with the Central Valley Boys and
Ella's Dad, Tom, playing banjo with a group on the side stage.
played music that was more or less "oldtime," but their
most impressive number was a cowboy song, The
Brazos River, which they said mentions every river in Texas. The
link leads to a more authentic cowboy rendition of this excellent
standout group of the day was Carr
Creek Crossing. Although they had a small drum kit, the playing
was unobtrusive, and most of the time the drummer played the banjo.
This group did a number of non-bluegrass songs, in a very
entertaining style, not really converting them to bluegrass. This
included songs by Greg
Earl Keen and the Youngbloods, as well as a heart-breaking song
about the Mann
Gulch Fire, especially poignant in view of the recent
firefighter tragedy in New Mexico.
watched only a few minutes of the next band, which I had seen before,
and missed the last one completely, staring home at 3:30. Stopping
to stretch in Los Banos I was slammed with the valley heat when I
stepped out of the motor home, making me appreciate even more the
great weather at the festival. It was between 70 and 78, with Sunday
afternoon the warmest. There were clouds all but the last night, so
the low was just below 60 Thursday and Friday, and down to 50
back to the motor home each evening I had a good view of lots of
stars, one of the benefits of being at a bluegrass festival, since
most of them are away from brightly lit urban areas. Sometimes there
are too many lights at a fairgrounds, but they didn't turn them on
at this one, making for a good dark sky.
I pulled into my driveway about 6:30, the odometer showed that my
total travel was 248 miles. The trip home would have taken less time
if I had not napped briefly in Los Banos, and stopped for groceries
and gas as I approached home.
Estel, August 2013