Del Williams Band

Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice

Eric Uglam & Sons

2008 Parkfield Bluegrass Festival 

  

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May 9, 2008 : It seems like I am running out of things to write about Parkfield and the annual bluegrass festival held here every Motherís Day weekend Ė but that wonít stop me from writing anyway.

Iím not sure if Iíve conveyed just how small Parkfield is. While the sign gives the population as 18, Iíve also heard that the permanent residents number 37. In any case, there are not more than 15 or 20 residences in the town, not all occupied, and if I were not really lazy, it would take about five minutes to walk around town and count them.

The first European settlers arrived in the area in 1854. In addition to agriculture, there was extensive mining, and in 1900 the population was around 900. When the mines gave out, everyone moved away except the ranchers.

The way to Parkfield from the south is the Cholame Valley Road, which heads north from CA Highway 46/41, then becomes the Vineyard Canyon Road and goes on to San Miguel, on US 101. The main road through town is the Coalinga-Parkfield Road, which leaves Cholame Valley Road, crosses the creek (and simultaneously the San Andreas Fault), and reaches the ďcity limitsĒ after a half mile. This road goes on to Coalinga, but the northern section is dirt and impassible when it rains.

There are two streets to the east off the main street and one to the west, plus assorted driveways, pathways, etc. The two eastbound streets connect to form the only square block fully surrounded by roadways. The business district consists of the Parkfield Inn and the Parkfield Cafť. There used to be a gift shop in an old railroad caboose, but the gift shop closed before I started coming to the bluegrass festivals, and the caboose has disappeared since I was last here in 2006.

There is also an elementary school and a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) station, as well as the normally quiet building that houses earthquake measuring equipment.

Of course, there are a number of farms and ranches out in the country along the various roads, and on a hill above town, the Varian residence, a large new home that was built in the last few years. The Varians are the owners of Parkfield; or at least they own the two businesses along with 20,000 acres of ranch land. There is a Parkfield Winery that sets up a booth at the festival each year, but Iím not sure exactly where it is located (perhaps on Vineyard Canyon Road?)

In addition to the annual bluegrass festivals and rodeos, both in May, you can rent the facilities for weddings, biker rallies, and other events, arrange a guided wild pig hunt, or join a cattle drive.

The town is in a flat section of the valley, which varies in width from maybe 100 feet to a mile. The fields and hills are covered with large, ancient valley oak trees, and the principle agricultural activity is cattle and hay. At this time of year, the hay in some fields has been cut and is drying on the ground, awaiting the bailer.

This year the weather is fantastic, probably in the mid 70s in the afternoon, cool enough for a sweatshirt during the evening performances, and down to the low 30s at night, with cloudless skies.

Following my standard pattern, I arrived on Wednesday, and got the trailer set up. Iím in a location that was new to me, behind the Community Center, with electrical hookups available. I went on my usual exploration tour Thursday morning, driving back down the Cholame Valley Road a short distance to the Parkfield Cemetery. There was no one there that I knew, but dates on the tombstones indicate it has been in use since the early 1900s.

I drove a little further down the road to where a creek crosses, and hiked up an old road on the west side of the main road. Between the two roads is a deep, steep gully which I have always thought was Cholame Creek, but from this vantage point I could see that itís a tributary that runs north into Cholame Creek. I believe the sudden drop of this gorge means it is an exposed part of the fault.

At the end of the dirt road was a burned out old house. Although I was unsuccessful in finding any exciting old artifacts, I did gather a section of barbed wire for a friend who has an extensive collection.

This has been a year for some unusual wildlife sightings. There are plenty of animals in these hills, but they stay out of sight most of the time. Driving in I saw two pronghorn antelope, which Iím almost certain are planted, not native. Then while biking just outside of town I saw a large bird in some of the uncut hay. The wings seemed to be staying remarkably still, and I soon realized that my ďbirdĒ was actually the ears of a mule deer, apparently lying down in the field.

Unlike any other festival Iíve attended, this one starts Thursday afternoon, which may be almost more bluegrass than I need. I did enjoy most of the groups, but I felt in general that I was not yet in a ďbluegrass mood.Ē Iíve seen the Virtual Strangers several times, but I found them to be better and more enjoyable than I did in the past. My favorite for the day was Bean Creek, who Iíve seen here several times. I thought their harmony singing was especially tight and their instrumental performance was above par.

Today (Friday) I watched only the first group, then did some visiting and fixed lunch. I chatted a while with Joe and Darlene Quealy, who promoted the festival for the last four years. Anticipating a time when they would be unwilling or unable to continue this task, they helped form the Bluegrass Music Society of the Central Coast, which now runs the festival.

With all due respect to Joe, who always seemed a bit disorganized, this festival is running smoother this year than ever before. For the first time since they started the Thursday performances, it started on time, and everything has gone the way it should. I have a few complaints, but then, thatís part of my job. My biggest one is that they are charging a dollar for the festival program. The amount of money is not an issue; itís just the idea of charging when every show Iíve ever been to provided programs as part of the admission package.

My other big complaint is the usual Ė people talking during the music. Every festival puts in its program, and announces from the stage, that talking during the music should be avoided, but none of them do anything to enforce the rule. My solution would be security staff with small whips.


May 10: The rest of yesterdayís show was quite good, partly because I tried a new technique. Instead of sitting through every group as I usually do, I watched only groups I knew were good, or that I had never seen. This resulted in seeing two new groups, one very good and one outstanding. The usual ďnew to me but very goodĒ group was the Del Williams Band. The band is newly formed, but the members are long-time performers. Del is the son of Vern Williams, who led what was considered the number one California bluegrass group for many years, and Del performed with his father for 30 years or so.

The other group, new to me and pretty darned good, was the Brombies from the L.A. area. Theyíve been together ten years or so, and included bassist-singer Bill Bryson, who has played with many, many artists, including the Desert Rose Band. The other two singers were good, but I was reminded again what an excellent vocalist Bill is, something that often gets lost when he just plays and sings harmony with some of his other groups.

Bill told a great story and performed the song that it inspired. He was watching a TV special about the construction of Route 66, and an old gentleman from Oklahoma talked about working on the road. They would pour a section of concrete, and since it was quite hot, it would set quickly. Then in the evening the workers and their wives would go down and dance on the new highway. ďAll Across OklahomaĒ commemorates this story.

Also appearing twice was the James King Band, which is on the A list of professional, full-time bluegrass organizations. It is unusual to see them at a small, out of the way festival like this, but I believe the former promoter negotiated a special price.

Today I had breakfast, then went for a short bike ride north of town. Iím skipping the first group, even though they are OK, since I want to see all the rest of the program. This festival, unlike most I go to, has an evening program as well as morning and afternoon, so it makes a long day, even with lunch and dinner breaks.

May 11: Itís the middle of the last day, with four more groups to go Ė the festival ends about 6 p.m. on Sunday, no evening program. Once again last night I saw another great new (to me) band, Junior Sisk and Ramblerís Choice. Sisk has been a member of a number of high-profile bands, and fronted his own group in the 1990s. He recently re-formed Ramblerís Choice with a group of highly skilled musicians.

Another group I enjoyed was Baloney Creek from Fresno, whom Iíve seen at the Kings River Festival in Sanger, only about 20 miles from home. They have a young lady singer and fiddler who is of professional quality. Despite her youth (under 25), sheís been playing for close to 20 years.

We also saw Eric Uglam & Sons, always a treat, and repeat performances by a number of bands who performed on Friday or Saturday.

Today started with LeRoy Mack and the Bluegrass Gospel Band. If you were a faithful follower of the Andy Griffith Show, you saw this gentleman (real name Leroy MacNees) when he was 20 years old, appearing in two shows along with the White Brothers. In those days they were known as the Country Boys, and later as the Kentucky Colonels. Like all of us, Leroy is older now, but has continued in music throughout his life, and also delivers a short sermon or inspirational message as part of his performance Sunday morning at Parkfield (I think heís been here every year since the festival started).

A run of the mill regional group, the Salt Martians, also made their only appearance, and we had the first ever kids performance at Parkfield. As at other festivals, they worked with a leader/teacher Friday and Saturday in preparation for their stage presentation, and as usual, the talent level varied widely. The leader asked each child his/her name and what he/she had learned. Eddie Uglam (Ericís son, and no stranger to the stage at age six) had the best answer Ė ďI learned to pay attention.Ē

Returning to my trailer during one of the breaks, I was stopped by a teenage boy with a fiddle who described me as a "professional photographer" (I have a nice camera, but as you all know, I am not now and have never been a pro). Anyway, he and two young adults have a band that will be appearing in the emerging artists program at the Plymouth Festival in September, and wanted some photos. I took a number of pictures to be emailed to them, and listened to their playing a little (which was quite good). So watch for Gritchy Magrally at a festival near you soon. (Click here for a picture of GM on stage at Plymouth in September 2008.)

Iím heading into a period of time when I have too many things to do, especially for a retired person. I am hoping to stop in Avenal to visit a friend on the way home, and if time permits, after I get home and unload, I will take my trailer in to be lubricated, in preparation for a big trip this summer. And on Tuesday, I will go to Mariposa as I continue to take care of things in preparation for selling my parentsí house. Actually it is on the market now; I just need to take out a few final things and follow up on some of the repair and clean-up work. So if you donít get this early May report until almost June, youíll know why.

--Dick Estel, May 2008

  

Photos

  
The $1 program Better Late than Never Southside Band
The $1 program Better Late than Never Southside Band
 
Wild River Ramblers Virtual Strangers Smiley Mountain
Wild River Ramblers Virtual Strangers Smiley Mountain
 
The Brombies The Brombies with Carl Spagter James King Band
The Brombies The Brombies with Carl Spagter James King Band
 
Bean Creek Baloney Creek Del Williams Band
Bean Creek Baloney Creek Del Williams Band
 
Eric Uglam & Sons Gritchy MaGrally Leroy Mack & The Bluegrass Gospel Band
Eric Uglam & Sons Gritchy MaGrally LeRoy Mack & The Bluegrass Gospel Band
 
Salt Martians Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice Kids on Bluegrass
Salt Martians Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice Kids on Bluegrass
 
More kids Dogs waiting for their masters to quit listening to bluegrass Leroy MacNees
More kids Dogs waiting for their masters to quit listening to bluegrass Leroy MacNees
 
Cholame Valley, Parkfield Cemetery in middle left distance Old farm implement by Parkfield Cafe Parkfield Lodge
Cholame Valley, Parkfield Cemetery in middle left distance Old farm implement by Parkfield Cafe Parkfield Lodge
 

Related Links

Parkfield Festival James King Virtual Strangers
Eric Uglam The Brombies Bean Creek
Baloney Creek Del Williams Band (video) Parkfield Photos
LeRoy Mack Salt Martians Junior Sisk & Rambler's Choice
Parkfield CA Bluegrass Music Society of the Central Coast Cholame Valley Earthquakes
Dick's Bluegrass Links CalFire (CDF) Bluegrass T-Shirt Photos
 
Parkfield Lodge

Cholame Valley, Parkfield Cemetery in middle left distance

Old farm implement by Parkfield Cafe

 
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