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.
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
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 way (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?).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Glory. This is a new combination of veteran
players, three of whom I've seen a number of times. Bill
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 artist 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
annual kids presentation offered the usual combination of beginners
and more skilled players, with a couple of kids showing great
promise for future success.
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
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
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
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.
give a salute to Janell's twin daughters, Nichole and Jessica, who
welcomed us home with chocolate chip cookies.
Estel, May 2011