Oak Grove (Schwartz Family)

Dick models his Snap Jackson T-Shirt

Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players

A Three-Event Weekend


Photos           Related Links          More Travel Reports


Clovis Farmer's Market          Kings River Bluegrass          Clovis Antique Fair


Clovis Farmer's Market: Back in the days when I was working, I tried to avoid what we called a "two-event weekend." For example, a hockey game Saturday and computer club meeting Sunday seemed to take up way too much of my brief weekends. Of course, it was really not possible to eliminate these weekends and still do what I wanted to do.

Now that I'm retired, I feel the same way, although I get no sympathy from working friends and relatives. So when I found that I had lined up a three-event weekend, I kept my complaints to myself, especially since I was the one who initiated all three.

It started out with a visit to the regular Friday night Farmer's Market in Old Town Clovis. This event runs from May through October, every Friday, and through most of that time there is also a free bluegrass concert in a nearby park, where groups from around the valley play for tips. Besides the produce booths, there are a dozen or more businesses promoting their services, and around eight food booths. There is live music, including individual performers here and there, hoping their efforts will draw a few coins.

We didn't get to many of these this summer, but I've been going the last two or three weeks. Usually if you arrive early you can park close and it's not too crowded, but now it's getting dark by 7 p.m., and everyone is trying to arrive early. I've had to park farther and farther from the main market area each week the last three times.

My friend Janell Sidney and her friend Ken Brown came over about 5:30 on September 28. We left immediately for downtown Clovis (a five minute drive), but still ended up parking the farthest yet. We know where the stuff we want is located, so we can get in, grab the few things we want, and get out pretty fast. We did so this time, with me getting my regular "order" of peppers, tomatoes, grapes, and blackberries. Janell got a few things, Ken had a sandwich, and we made our way back to the car.

Afterward we visited a while, and looked at some photos of the Plymouth Bluegrass Festival, to get us in the mood for the next day's event.


Kings River Bluegrass: On Saturday morning Janell and Ken arrived at my house about 9 a.m., and we took my car for the 25 mile drive to The Grove near Sanger, the site of the 10th annual Kings River Bluegrass Festival. I had considering going all three days, as I have the last three years, but every group I really wanted to see was playing on Saturday. Some also played Friday or Sunday, but I decided to limit this trip to the one day. This meant no motor home, and I have to admit I'm used to having it available for resting, fixing low-cost meals, and avoiding having to sit down in a port-a-potty.

We arrived just as the first group was starting, and set up our chairs in a nice shady spot. There were quite a lot of RV's in the camping area, but not many people in the audience yet. In the early days of this festival the trees in front of the stage were new and spindly, and offered only patches of shade, but they have grown together so that nearly all that area is shaded.

Three bands played before the lunch break, all local - Valley Oak Band, Grassfire and Baloney Creek. The only one I hadn't seen was Valley Oak, and I had seen most of the members in other bands. They were all OK, but nothing special.

I had eaten a good breakfast, and Ken and Janell got breakfast burritos as soon as we arrived, so we didn't eat during the lunch break. Instead we wandered around, sat and rested, and talked to a few people. I visited with Rad and Tele, people we met at Parkfield in 2001. They recently had their 5th great grandchild, born six weeks prematurely. He's six months now and doing great (8 lbs). This resonated with Janell because she had twins who were born three months early, weighing just over two pounds each. They are now 21, smart, healthy, beautiful, and just doing great in every way.

Things picked up in the afternoon with three groups I had seen before, all of whom turned in performances that surpassed their previous efforts. Pineridge was in Plymouth and play a fairly traditional brand of bluegrass. Their first few songs didn't do much for me, but then they got into some minor key stuff with some great harmonies.

Red Rag Andy plays "oldtime" music, and we've seen them many times. They have a different lead singer from when we first saw them, but still put on what I think was the best set I've seen them do.

The final group before the dinner break was the Alhambra Valley Band, which has been around since the 1980s. I saw them in 2009 at Brown Barn, and thought they were highly professional, but lacking that spark of something special that takes a band to the very top level.

During the dinner break we all got food, then listened as Snap Jackson presented a ukulele workshop. Although none of us have any intention of playing, it was interesting to watch and hear him discuss playing techniques, chord patterns, etc. He was accompanied by his "regular" bass player, Brian Clark, on a Uke-Bass, an electric bass ukulele, which some bands use as their regular bass. I put "regular" in quotes because Brian plays a five-string model, putting out 20% more effort than any other bass player there.

The evening program started with another local group, the Grasskickers, who have shown a lot of improvement over the few years we've seen them, followed by a bay area band I've seen several times, Windy Hill. They play an energetic, mostly traditional brand of bluegrass, although the band members all look to be not much over 30.

Another pleasant surprise was in store with the next group, Oak Grove, which is the Schwartz family (dad, mom, two sons, and sometimes a daughter). I had seen them before, and I've more or less watched the boys grow up on stage. I first saw them with the Kids on Bluegrass show at Plymouth in 2007. Later they joined with Marty Varner and AJ Lee to form OMGG (Obviously Minor Guys and a Gal), who were at the 2009 Brown Barn Festival. All the kids sounded good on their instruments by then, and their vocal work was not bad, but now Max at age 14 (bass, banjo, fiddle) and Nate at age 18 (mandolin) are right up there with the best of their age group as singers, and fully professional with the instruments. The father, Bob, sings harmony with them, and takes the lead on one or two songs, joined on a couple by mom Gale. The youngest band member, 8-year old Tessa, plays fiddle, and while she does not have the bowing technique of a more advanced player, she gets a good clean tone, so overall this was one of the best, and best-received acts at the show. Alex Sharps, another young banjo player that I had seen at Brown Barn, joined them for a couple of songs.

After their set I talked with Max for a couple of minutes, reminiscing about the first time I had seen him and his brother at Plymouth in 2007, and asked if they still have the OMGG group. He said that AJ Lee has moved on, and the three guys from OMGG (Nate, Max and Marty Varner) now play with Alex Sharps as Them Boys. When I mentioned 2007, for a minute he had trouble believing that he had been performing publicly for so long.

The evening concluded with the group we had all come to see, Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players. I've said in the past that it's hard to describe their music. They do play some more or less straight bluegrass, and some stuff with an old-time flavor, but overall I just call it "Snap Music." Using both three-finger (Scruggs style) picking and two-finger (clawhammer) on the banjo, and picking up the ukulele for a few songs, Snap and his three band mates produce a sound all their own. You can check it out here and here.

The band came back for an encore, playing one of their best-received, least-bluegrass songs, the Temptations' "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)," and the crowd would have gladly stayed for a couple more songs - but the band members and many in the audience were also eager to find a jam out in the parking lot. We gathered up our stuff, and made the short drive back to Clovis, getting there about 10:30, plenty of time to rest up for the weekend's final event.


Old Town Antique Fair: The next day Janell and Ken came over early in the afternoon, meaning we arrived in Old Town Clovis at the hottest part of the day, on a weekend when temperatures were near 100 every day.

We managed to spend most of our time on the shady side of the street, and enjoyed seeing many items that were nice, but that we could easily live without. Ken bought some sports cards, but other than that we resisted temptation, and devoted our funds to food. Ken got a sandwich at one of the outdoor booths, then we went into Scoop's, a great ice cream and sandwich parlor, where Janell got a sandwich, and we all had ice cream. I was not hungry for lunch, having had a large, late breakfast, but the many delicious flavors made it impossible to resist having a dish of ice cream.

We probably spent a little less than two hours at the fair, then headed back to my place. The next day would bring a fourth event for Ken and Janell - work, an event I was glad to avoid.

--Dick Estel, October 2012


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 

Valley Oak Band Grassfire Baloney Creek

Snap Jackson guests
with Pineridge

Red Rag Andy
The Alhambra Valley Band The Grasskickers Windy Hill 
Oak Grove (Schwartz Family) 3/4 of Them Boys Snap Jackson & the
Knock on Wood Players
Just Snap Tom Naiman's Banjo Workshop
(Tom left, back to camera)
Bill Hunter's Fiddle Workshop
(Bill in red shirt)

Dick models his Snap
Jackson T-Shirt

Festival program cover Janell helps Ken enjoy his
first bluegrass festival
One of dozens of booths at the Antique Fair You might need help identifying
this if you're under 30
Related Links
Grassfire Baloney Creek Pineridge
Red Rag Andy Band Alhambra Valley Band Grasskickers
Windy Hill Snap Jackson & the
Knock on Wood Players
Oak Grove
Them Boys Dick's Bluegrass T-Shirt Photos California Bluegrass Association
The Grove    Old Town Clovis
Just Snap

Windy Hill 

Baloney Creek


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Updated October 1, 2020