Near the Community Center

Kathy Kallick Band

Dick's 2009 Parkfield Bluegrass Report


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Prologue: First, a few words about a change in mode of transportation. After 18 years of trailer camping, I decided I was through with hitching and unhitching, and traded in the trailer on a new motor home. I wanted something small enough that I would not have to tow a car behind it, although at 28 feet it's not going to go through the drive-up lane at McDonald's.

It is a Coachmen Freelander on a Ford E450 chassis, with a number of nice features. With the truck and trailer, I had to find room for a TV, DVD player and generator, all of which are built into the new unit. The overall length is about the same as the trailer alone, but of course, it has a full size truck cab, so there are some compromises, most notably a lack of closet space. One really big improvement is a good size bunk bed over the cab, in addition to a queen-size bed in back. To have a second bed in the trailer we had to convert the table to a bed, meaning everything had to be moved somewhere else. Also, with a 50-gallon fresh water tank instead of 30, I won't need to haul additional water in five-gallon containers. And the inside is made roomier by a 24-inch slide-out which runs the width of the refrigerator and table.

My grandson and I will give it a real test this summer when we travel across the south, all the way to Florida. However, the Parkfield trip would be a good shakedown voyage, five nights with no water or sewer connection, and electrical service probable but not guaranteed.

Like many trips, this one started with problems before my departure. The refrigerator in the motor home did not work on propane, and there were a number of other lesser but still annoying problems. I took it back to the dealer a week after picking it up, assuming there would be plenty of time to get it fixed before my departure for the Parkfield Bluegrass Festival eight days later. On Monday before I was to leave I had not heard from them, and it took calls to three different people at the dealership before anyone called back to let me know what was happening.

They had to get authorization from the factory to make the necessary repairs, so I picked up the vehicle on Tuesday, with the understanding that I had to bring it back in again when I returned from my trip. This is quite a hassle Ė unlike the trailer I canít drop it off and drive away; I need to get a ride from someone, and most of the people willing and able to help work full time, the same hours the repair place is open. However, I managed, and took the motor home to my house for the first time, parking on the street near my condo. Thereís a 72 hour limit nearly everywhere for parking RVs on the street, but this was just overnight.

Since electricity at the festival was not guaranteed and I could not run the refrigerator on propane, I had to resort to an old-fashioned ice chest and hope that I would have electrical power at the festival, which in fact I did.

But enough of that; this is about the bluegrass festival.


May 6, 2009 : I got everything loaded up and left home a little after ten, for my first lengthy drive in this 11,000 pound monster. This is a small motor home, just under 28 feet long, and I canít conceive of driving one of those big bus-size units that you see everywhere. However, I was able to drive at a reasonable speed, keeping it just under the speed limit, and taking it easy on the winding section where the road enters the eastern side of the Coast Range. ďThe road,Ē by the way is State Highway 41 south from Fresno, through Kettleman City, across Interstate 5 and into the Cholame Valley. Here a right turn puts one on the Cholame Valley Road, which goes about 15 miles to Parkfield.

For the first time in my life I had to be concerned with overhead clearance, since the top of the air conditioner is just over 11 feet from the ground. A mile or so from town there is a bridge with overhead steel girders, but the clearance was over 13 feet, so I had no problem there.

I made the 110 mile trip in a little over two hours, and enjoyed backing into my camping spot, a much easier and simpler task than backing a trailer.

The weather here was quite warm, just as it was in Fresno yesterday, with the second warming trend of the season. However, there was a nice breeze, and it was very comfortable to sit outside in the shade.

Iím camped beside Oak Street, one of the main side roads, leading from the main road to the rodeo grounds, where about half the people here camp. I also saw an ďonly in ParkfieldĒ sight Ė a teenage boy riding by on a horse, totally focused on the cell phone in his hand.

When I came inside about 45 minutes ago, at 8:30, the motor home was still quite warm (the electrical system here does not provide enough power to run the A/C). I have a small electric fan that provides some relief, and now itís cool enough to turn that off. Time for TV and a snack.


May 7: The festival is off to a good start, one of the few shows that begins on Thursday afternoon instead of Friday morning. The six groups that played today were all ones I had seen except one. New to me was Kitchen Help, from the Bay Area. Like most regional bands they are all competent, but rarely outstanding. The Wild River Ramblers from the Central Coast opened the show, followed by the Dalton Mountain Gang from the Fresno area. Iíve seen them several times, most recently at the Hobbs Grove festival in September, and at a one-night bluegrass concert and dinner in Clovis in February.

A Santa Cruz area band, Sidesaddle and Company, have been performing since the late 1970s, and always put on a good show. Also from this general area is Bean Creek, who are playing now, but without my presence.

The standout group today was John Reischman and the Jaybirds, who I saw in Bakersfield a few years ago. Although most of the group now lives in Canada, only one is a native; the others are California refugees. They have a national following and have a number CDs out, one of which I owned even before I saw the group.

It was a little strange this morning, not making my regular drive around the area. Once you get a 28-foot motor home in place, you donít move it for casual driving around. Instead I took a good walk, which I try to do most mornings at home, then rode my bike around the town to see what was going on, and did a bunch of reading.

The weather was very warm in the sun, but my chair at the stage area was in the shade all but about 10 minutes this afternoon, and we had a good breeze all day. We also have what looks to be a full moon, which rises from behind the stage, giving the audience an added bonus show.


May 10: The final day of the festival is well underway, and in some ways itís been my favorite Parkfield festival of the eight Iíve attended. Getting another negative item out of the way, I noticed Friday afternoon that a tire that was low at the dealership, and low after I took delivery, was now completely flat. I attempted to inflate it with a little 12-volt compressor that I keep with me, and it was down to zero PSI. I got it up to 50, but it takes a long time, and the compressor was getting hot, so I stopped for the night. The next morning it had dropped down to 20 PSI, so I called my Ford roadside service, and a guy came from Coalinga to put on the spare. The problem tire had a small bolt in it, which I think was there before I bought it.

Everything else has worked fine, and although there are some minor things that could be better, for the most part itís a nice improvement over the trailer.

But weíre here for the music, right? Friday brought mostly bands I had seen before, and some of them were as good as or better than ever. The only group new to me was Whiskey Chimp from Ventura, a rare seven-person bluegrass band that proves you can combine Cajun, Mariachi and Rockabilly with traditional music. In addition to the usual bluegrass instruments, they used some accordion and ukulele. Some of their music was hilarious, and overall, their two appearances (with one more this afternoon) were a highlight of the festival. In another first, they made and served free grilled cheese sandwiches during their Saturday appearance, just before the dinner break. Oh yes, their bass player has a ďday jobĒ as a member of Social Distortion.

Iíve written about Sawmill Road before, a group composed of guys Iíve seen in various other bands over the years. Theyíve been together around two years, and are really coming together as a tight, high-level band.

Kathy Kallick has been a mainstay of bluegrass in the Bay Area for 30 years or so, and has put together a great band, a little different from the lineup I saw at Hobbs Grove last September, but still in the top echelon of the music.

Probably the biggest name and one of the best bands at the festival was Special Consensus. Greg Cahill, based in the Chicago area, has led this group for 34 years, and most of the other members havenít been alive that long, but he always manages to find outstanding talent and puts on a great performance. Greg's commitment to the music is further shown by the fact that he is currently serving as president of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).

Back at the average level was Bean Creek, from the Bay Area, who have performed here a number of times, and LeRoy Mack and the Bluegrass Gospel Band. I donít know if LeRoy has a regular lineup or not; he always seems to have a different set of band mates in the many years he has played here. This time he was backed up by three members of Sawmill Road, plus Craig Wilson of Bakersfield, who led his own group a few years ago. Also in this category is a central coast band, Better Late than Never, who make their mark with excellent song selection.

My favorite group of the entire weekend was Chris Stuart and Backcountry. Iíve seen him here a number of times, but itís been at least three years, and he has a slightly different lineup. In my opinion, Chris Stuart is the best songwriter alive today, and I donít hesitate to buy each of his CDs as they come out. The only member of the band whoís been with him every time is Janet Beazely, an excellent singer, banjo player and songwriter, who has a good solo album of her own available.

New to the group since I last saw them is Eric Uglam, a veteran of many bluegrass groups, most notably Lost Highway in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Rounding out Backcountry are Ericís stepsons, Christian (fiddle) and Austin (bass) Ward, who Iíve written about when they have appeared with Eric as a trio. I think Christian was 12 when I first saw him with Kids on Stage at Paso Robles, a shy, nervous kid. I first met Austin a year earlier when he was a 12-year old, catching lizards in the rocks back of the Parkfield Cafť. Now they are both accomplished professionals who have played with some of the big names in bluegrass, and have traveled overseas with a teen bluegrass super group. 

OK, what Iím trying to say is, I really, really like Chris Stuart and Backcountry. If youíre not necessarily a bluegrass fan, but like sharply written songs and acoustic playing, his new CD, Crooked Man, is long on both, with only a minimal amount of ďtrueĒ bluegrass. (Buy it here.)

Itís a little before noon Sunday, and Iím skipping the third performances by a couple of bands. Iíll head to the stage area at 12:30 for the Kids on Bluegrass show, then watch the afternoon lineup of Whiskey Chimp, Chris Stuart, and Better Late than Never. Iíll stay overnight as I usually do, then head home in the morning, with a stop in Avenal to visit an old friend.

Unless something amazing happens at the rest of the festival or on the way home, Iíll end this report here and get busy reviewing the 160 or so photos I took, in hopes of getting them on line before I leave on my next trip, about June 15.

A sad footnote: Ken Orrick, founder and lead singer for Lost Highway, passed away in January, 2009 following a massive heart attack. 

Lost Highway performed at the very first festival I attended, and over the years I saw them at least a half dozen more times, and had several pleasant conversations with Ken.

The group had its beginning many years ago, but disbanded in the mid-1980s. Ken revived the group in 1996, and over the next ten years or so they appeared throughout the nation and in many foreign countries, achieving considerable commercial success.

Ken was born in Smithville, TN, in 1940, and moved to California in the late 1950s. 

The group's web site is still in existence, but has not been updated since 2006; in fact, of the musicians pictured, only Ken was still with the band the last time I saw them, at Bullhead City AZ in March, 2007.

Read more about Ken here.


Ken Orrick, 1940 to 2009
Ken Orrick, 1940 to 2009 (with Dick Brown, on stage at Parkfield, 2003)
The MC greets the crowd Wild River Ramblers Dalton Mountain Gang
The MC greets the crowd Wild River Ramblers Dalton Mountain Gang
Kitchen Help Sidesaddle & Co. John Reischman & the Jaybirds
Kitchen Help Sidesaddle & Co. John Reischman & the Jaybirds
Bean Creek Better Late than Never Whiskey Chimp
Bean Creek Better Late than Never Whiskey Chimp
The Chimp with the grilling man in front Kathy Kallick Band Special Consensus
The Chimp with the grilling man in front Kathy Kallick Band Special Consensus
Sawmill Road Chris Stuart & Backcountry LeRoy Mack & the Bluegrass Gospel Band
Sawmill Road Chris Stuart & Backcountry LeRoy Mack & the Bluegrass Gospel Band
Mack w/Gospel Joy Kids on Stage Kids playing in the fountain - a long-time Parkfield tradition
Mack with Gospel Joy Kids on Stage Kids playing in the fountain - a long-time Parkfield tradition
The crowd relaxes Bluegrass sculpture Parkfield T-Shirt
The crowd relaxes Bluegrass sculpture Parkfield T-Shirt
Festival program cover Hay field just north of town The new ride
Festival program cover Hay field just north of town The new ride
Where we get our power The back 40 - near the rodeo grounds Near the Community Center
Where we get our power The back 40 - near the rodeo grounds Near the Community Center

See more Parkfield photos here


Related Links

Special Consensus Chris Stuart & Backcountry John Reischman and the Jaybirds
Sawmill Road Kathy Kallick Band LeRoy Mack
Whiskey Chimp Sidesaddle and Company Bean Creek
Dalton Mountain Gang Kitchen Help Wild River Ramblers
Eric Uglam Parkfield Bluegrass Festival Parkfield Events
Cholame Valley Road Coachmen RVs Parkfield Map
  Social Distortion  
Chris Stuart & Backcountry

Hay field just north of town

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