Lost & Found

Bill Bryson

Parkfield Bluegrass 2011


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May, 2011 marked the 13th year of the Parkfield Bluegrass Festival (originally called the Camp Rude Festival), and I've been there for ten of them. This year I was joined for the entire festival by my friend Janell Sidney. Before last fall she had attended a couple of festivals for a day or two, but no complete ones. She took off a day of work to attend the entire Hobbs Grove Festival in September, and realized how much better it was than working, so she requested two days vacation to attend all four days of the Parkfield Festival.

We got started about 10 a.m. on May 5, heading southeast on Highway 99, then taking Highway 41 just south of Fresno. Since you can read a detailed description of the route in last year's report, I'll skip to our arrival. I had paid extra for an electrical hook-up, which also guarantees that we won't be stuck in the boondocks camping area by the rodeo grounds. We got set up in a place very close to where I was last year, about 100 feet from the audience area.

After a short walk around town to see what has changed (quite a bit, but I'll get to that later), we put some pizza in the microwave. About five seconds in, the power went out. Eventually the electrician decided that there were too many people plugged into the power block that we had been directed to, and had us move our cord to another one farther away (requiring two extension cords). Meanwhile I started up the generator long enough to heat the pizza, and we enjoyed a late lunch or early supper (slunch? lupper?).

The stage performance got underway at 2:30 on Thursday, instead of the more civilized 10 a.m. Friday start. Some people would be content to spend all their days at bluegrass festivals, or more accurately, partying and jamming at bluegrass festivals, but the extra day is almost more than I want.

Due to our late lunch we missed all but the last two songs by the Wimberly Bluegrass Band, but very much enjoyed what we heard. This band is a group of siblings ranging in age from 12 to 17, and hold out great hope for the future of the music.

Next was a southern California group, Grasslands, which brings a collective 100 years of instrumental experience to the table. They play a mix of traditional and contemporary bluegrass, with a mix of country, swing, and western influences.

Third was a rather unusual group, in that several of the members have had formal training at the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City (although such backgrounds are not as rare in bluegrass as you might think). They appeared to be all in their 20s, and brought a very contemporary touch to the proceedings.

The evening's program brought two groups I've seen before, Better Late than Never from the central coast, and Windy Hill from the Santa Cruz area, both of which are typical good regional bands. It also brought the "pleasant surprise" group of the festival, Loafer's Glory. This is a new combination of veteran players, three of whom I've seen a number of times. Bill Bryson, an excellent singer, song-writer, and bass player, has played in a number of bands, as well as doing session work, and I've seen him with at least five different groups. Herb Pedersen sang and played guitar with this group, but he's better known for his banjo work, and as a member of the country rock Desert Rose Band with former Byrd Chris Hillman. Herb has done instrumental and vocal harmony work on dozens of albums for big name artists including Linda Ronstadt and John Denver. Patrick Sauber plays banjo and sings with several other groups that I've seen, and played on the sound track of A Mighty Wind, a satire on the folk revival of the 1950s. Rounding out the group is Pat's father, Tom on mandolin and vocals. He is also an excellent banjo player in the old-time style, and did several numbers with his son. Happily, this group was scheduled to perform a total of four times. Glorious indeed, but definitely not loafers.

The rest of the festival was the usual combination of familiar and not-so-familiar bands, excellent and average bands, plus plenty of relaxing, eating and talking. The biggest name band present was Lost and Found, which started in Virginia in 1973. The anchor man in this group is Allen Mills, lead vocalist and bass player, who has been joined by a number of top level players over the band's nearly 40 years. I've seen them several times, and they are always excellent.

The other "headline" group was Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands. Laurie has been a fixture in the Bay Area bluegrass scene since the 1970s, and normally tours in one of two formats - the full five-person bluegrass group that appeared at Parkfield (including Patrick Sauber); and with singer-mandolin player Tom Rozum, who's been part of Lewis' musical efforts for many years.

Another outstanding group was Belle Monroe and her Brewglass Boys, who were at Parkfield and Hobbs Grove last year. Born in England as Pamela Brandon, Belle is a strong singer, and has put together a talented group.

Our favorite "group that we already know" was Snap Jackson and the Knock on Wood Players, who can't be described, but must be experienced. It is correct to say that they combine elements of old-time, bluegrass, jazz and other musical influences, and always get a positive crowd reaction. We're looking forward to seeing them again at the Kings River festival in September.

Next Generation is a group that is sort of new, but who appeared as a nameless ad hoc group at the Summergrass Festival in San Diego County last summer. This group of teen players, all children of established musicians, played between sets at Summergrass to demonstrate instruments that were being raffled off. They were well received there, and got a lot of positive reaction now that they're an "official" group. With their regular bassist absent, singer-guitarist Zack Caplinger brought along his dad, Dennis, a member of Bluegrass Etc.. and a noted singer, multi-instrumentalist and session player.

New to me, although I had heard of them, was the Stairwell Sisters from San Francisco. This normally all-female group had one of the members husbands as substitute bass player, and provided some great harmonies and playing.

High Plains Tradition is a band from Colorado, that I saw a few years ago, and as their name implies, their approach is mainly traditional. Rising from the ashes of a "once a year" group were the New Parkfield Pea Hens. The original group included the promoter's wife and other women associated with the festival, and the new group draws from the same source, although with different people running the festival, I believe the members are all new to this configuration.

We missed LeRoy Mack and the Bluegrass Gospel Band, featuring top level dobro player LeRoy McNees, who was in the first group to play bluegrass music on the Andy Griffith Show. He and his wife present a combination of music and preaching, and the band includes several players who appear in other groups around California, including Yvonne Tatar of Virtual Strangers and Craig Wilson, who I've seen in several bands.

The annual kids presentation offered the usual combination of beginners and more skilled players, with a couple of kids showing great promise for future success.

The weather was very pleasant most of the time. It was a bit warm the first day, and I wore shorts for a couple of hours for the first time this year. Each day after that was a little cooler, but even at the end of the evening, we were comfortable with just an extra jacket. It was overcast Saturday and Sunday morning, but cleared off each day.

Several years ago I realized I needed to take more photos around town, because there were changes every year, in what most people would see as a small, sleepy town. Since last year the town residents have put a new roof on the community center. There is a new building on one lot (apparently part of a ranching/farming operation). A row of mail boxes along the main street now boasts a cover. And near the lodge there is a small swimming pool. An old building a block off the main street burned down earlier this year. In the 1890's this was the original Parkfield Hotel, and it was memorialized in a drawing by Sally Vedder that graces the cover of the 2011 festival program. Some of these photos are displayed on my Parkfield Photo page.

Things that have stayed the same include an elderly basset hound that wanders into the audience area (ignoring the "no pets" sign), jumps up on the bench that surrounds the fountain, and gets a drink.

Normally I stay till the end of the festival and go home the next day. Janell had to go back to work Monday, so we got a lot of stuff ready to go during the Sunday lunch break. We skipped the last two groups (which we had seen earlier during the festival), and got started home around 4 p.m.

I must give a salute to Janell's twin daughters, Nichole and Jessica, who welcomed our return with home-made chocolate chip cookies.

--Dick Estel, May 2011 


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


Wimberley Bluegrass Band Grasslands The Get Down Boys
Better Late than Never Loafer's Glory Herb Pedersen
Bill Bryson Windy Hill Lost & Found
Allen Mills High Plains Tradition Stairwell Sisters
Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players Snap Belle Monroe & Her Brewglass Boys
Belle & a couple of boys Next Generation Sebastian Green
Zack Caplinger & dad Dennis Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands Laurie
Kids on Bluegrass
The New Parkfield Peahens Program cover The new swimming pool
Related Links
Wimberly Bluegrass Band Laurie Lewis & the Right Hands  The Get Down Boys
LeRoy Mack Loafer's Glory Windy Hill
Lost & Found High Plains Tradition Stairwell Sisters
Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players

Belle Monroe & Her Brewglass Boys

New Parkfield Peahens
Julliard School of Music Parkfield Bluegrass Festival Bill Bryson
Herb Pedersen Desert Rose Band Tom & Pat Sauber
Loafer's Glory on You Tube Parkfield Photos Parkfield V6 Ranch
  Buy music from Amazon  
Stairwell Sisters

Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players


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Updated December 26, 2021