long time traveling companion, Janell Sidney, is getting married in
2014, I'm accepting applications for a replacement. Candidates
should be willing to travel in a large, noisy vehicle and live in
moderately primitive conditions for a weekend or a week. Bathroom facilities are small but
modern, showers somewhat limited, and electricity is usually
available, but not guaranteed. Frequently it is insufficient to
power the air conditioner.
Sleeping arrangements include a double-size bed with a roof three
feet above you, so if you have a tendency to sit up in bed suddenly,
bring aspirin for headaches. You must be agile enough to climb into
the upper deck via a small ladder.
successful applicant must have a valid credit card - not to pay for
anything, but to qualify to drive a rental car (driver's license is
a big help also).
Your traveling companion is old, opinionated, and likes to do things
his way. He will insist on selecting the destination, the route, and
the dates of travel.
first candidate, who is still being evaluated, is a former classmate
from Mariposa elementary and high school, Caroline Wenger Korn, who
joined me for her first-ever bluegrass festival, the 2013 event in
Parkfield, May 9 through 12.
is one of those people who is busier after retirement than she was
while working, and one of her interests is the Old School House in
Cathey's Valley, on Highway 140 in western Mariposa County. She was
going to come to Clovis and ride to Parkfield with me, but found
that she had a couple of tours scheduled, so
she drove over on Friday, arriving about 6 p.m., in time for the
had departed from home about 10 a.m. on Thursday, arriving at
Parkfield around 12:30. I got set up in about the same spot I had
last year, took my chairs to the audience area, and took a look at
the changes that have been made since last year.
there is a new, permanent
stage, and it's on the opposite side of
the grassy area from where the stage was in the past. A number of
people agreed with me that we didn't like change all that much,
especially since we could see that the sun would be in our eyes in
the late afternoon. However, the new arrangement is better for the
performers, and maybe gives more people more shade more of the time,
so I decided to declare that particular glass half full.
where the audience used to sit there was a wooden platform. A few
people could place their chairs on it, but the view was mostly
blocked by trees. It has been replaced with a larger concrete
platform that has more room for chairs, as well as a place for the
sound man. On the side away from the stage there is a whimsical tree
house, based on a gigantic section of cottonwood trunk.
have been a few other changes, harder to describe. There is a lot on
the street north of the restaurant that is now vacant, but I don't
recall exactly what was there. I looked at a photo that shows part
of this area, and it looks like a shed of some sort has been
the usually quiet, sleepy town of Parkfield is about the same as it
was, although more wide awake on bluegrass weekend.
music got underway at 2:30 Thursday, and this year there were a few
more groups that were new to me than usual. As always there was a
group that stood out that was either new to me or I had heard of
them but not seen them in person. In this case it was the Roland White
Band, which included two
guest artists that I have seen at a number of festivals.
few words of explanation: If you watched the Andy Griffith Show,
you may remember the musical hillbilly family the Darlings, actually
the Dillards. But before the Darlings, there were the Country Boys,
later known as the Kentucky
Colonels, which consisted of the three White Brothers, Roland,
Clarence and Eric, along with Leroy McNees. They made one appearance
on the Griffith show. Clarence performed with
the Byrds for a while, but he and Eric are gone now. Roland has a
band based in Nashville, but for this performance he used three top
level California musicians, Blaine Sprouse, Herb Pedersen and Bill Bryson.
played with Roland in the past, and Herb was part of the New Kentucky Colonels
in Holland" album, recorded in 1973, more or less
as a White Brothers reunion band. (Some web sites say "in
Sweden," but the CD cover and Roland himself said
band also included Roland's wife, an excellent singer, and Leroy joined them on stage for a few songs during one of
their sets. At age 74 Roland still sings well, but the highlight for
me was the vocals by Herb and Bill, who I've seen many times with
the more familiar bands, none could top Snap Jackson and the Knock
on Wood Players. It seemed like they played fewer of their own songs
and more covers, but they are outstanding at whatever they do.
Equally good was the Kathy Kallick
Band, which I've seen in concert
in Fresno and at several festivals. Kathy was one of the founders of the
Good Ol' Persons
in the Bay Area in the 1970s, and has been writing
and performing great songs ever since. Her current band has been
together with only one change for at least five years, and features the
highly acclaimed and very popular Annie
Staninec, a Bay Area fiddler
who has been playing since she was four years old.
Central Valley Boys include a favorite from the sadly-departed
Dalton Mountain Gang, Yossef Tucker, as well as John Cogdill,
another DMG alumnus recently added to this group. In fact, three of
the members were new since the last time I saw the band, including
Pete Hicks, who plays with many groups in the Monterey/Santa
Cruz/Bay Area, most notably Bean
Creek. The Valley Boys play straight traditional bluegrass, much less
adventurous than the DMG.
Get Down Boys have been at Parkfield several times, and they seem to
be fairly popular. Although I thought they have improved, their
overall presentation just doesn't captivate me.
that were new to me included Rock Ridge from the Sacramento area, a
good traditional band, Dark Hollow, fairly average, Rocky Neck
Bluegrass Band, and the Roustabouts, a Bakersfield band that played
very well in the traditional style. The Old Time Fiddle and Banjo
Show plays "oldtime" music and was pretty good, but in my opinion not as
good as a couple of local groups in that genre, Uncle Ephus and Red
Rag Andy. The thing that stood out was their female singer whose
vocal style has a slight resemblance to Iris DeMent.
evening, before the regular program began, Sam and Mildred Criswell,
long time performers in the valley, sang a new song written by a
Parkfield regular in tribute to the Varian family and the festival.
It was very well written except for the inexplicable reference to
"camping under the sugar pines," a species that does not
grow below 5,000 feet. I guess he couldn't find a rhyme for
Caroline arrived during the Friday dinner break, and brought along
some very good pot roast, with gravy, potatoes and vegetables. I had
eaten a sausage sandwich from Southern Delight Catering some time
that day, so don't recall if I ate with her Friday, but enjoyed her
cooking several times during the weekend. Since my own cooking
mainly consists of pushing the right buttons on the microwave, it
was great to enjoy actual home-cooked food.
is familiar with bluegrass music, but had never attended a festival.
She is always open to new things, and enjoyed the event, finding a
couple of favorites among the many bands. A retired teacher still
involved in education, she also observed some of the kids workshops,
with the idea of introducing some musical training at the Sierra
Foothill Charter School, which she was instrumental in founding
and where she volunteers.
I traveled with a pickup and trailer, I explored some of the roads
leading out from Parkfield, but with the motor home, I've been
limited to the distance I'm willing to ride on a bike. With Caroline
bringing her car, I left the bikes at home, and we walked for
exercise. On Saturday during the dinner break we took her car and drove out the
Parkfield-Coalinga road, a very scenic route which passes a few
ranches. At the end of the pavement is the V6 ranch, headquarters of
the Varian family patriarch, Jack Varian. We drove about a half mile
up the dirt road, where we had a good view of the ranch and
back down the valley.
took a walk each morning (Friday it was just me), going down Oak Street
and into the "boondocks camping" area by the rodeo grounds
the first two days. On Sunday we walked out to the bridge and north
on Vineyard Canyon Road a short distance. This hike takes us across
the creek and from the North American Plate to the Pacific Plate, so
if the "big one" comes during our walk, we might not make
it back to town. Fortunately the only shaking all weekend was from
people stomping and hollering in approval of the music.
had a four-hour drive to get back home, so she left after the kids
performance, about 1:30 on Sunday. I was considering staying
overnight, but definitely wanted to stay for Kathy Kallick's final
performance at 3:30. The weather had been warming up day by
day, and was pushing 100 degrees at this time. Since we don't get
enough power to run the air conditioners, I calculated I would have
to sit outside for two hours after the festival ended before I could
go inside the motor home, so I got everything ready during the lunch
break, and was on the road at 4:30, ten minutes after Kathy's last
notes died away.
arrived home around 7 p.m., turned up my air conditioner, and
brought in the stuff from the motor home, already thinking ahead to
my next festival, which might be in August.
Estel, May 2013