Kathy Kallick Band

Late afternoon sun on a valley oak in the audience area

Parkfield Bluegrass 2013 


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Since my 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Caroline 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 evening show.

I 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.

First, 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.

Behind 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.

There 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 removed.

Otherwise the usually quiet, sleepy town of Parkfield is about the same as it was, although more wide awake on bluegrass weekend.

The 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.

A 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. All have played with Roland in the past, and Herb was part of the New Kentucky Colonels "Live 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 "Holland.")

The 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 various bands.

Among 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Bands 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.

Saturday 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 "valley oaks."

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.

Caroline 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.

When 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.

We 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.

Caroline 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.

I 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.

--Dick Estel, May 2013


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


Dark Hollow

Old Time Fiddle & Banjo Show Rock Ridge
Dark Hollow Old Time Fiddle & Banjo Show Rock Ridge
Central Valley Boys Roland White Band Roland with Leroy McNees
Central Valley Boys Roland White Band Roland with Leroy McNees
Get Down Boys Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players The Roustabouts
Get Down Boys Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players The Roustabouts
Rocky Neck Bluegrass Kathy Kallick Band Kids on Stage
Rocky Neck Bluegrass Kathy Kallick Band Kids on Stage
The new stage Sam & Mildred Criswell Rad Spurlock keeps the dust under control
The new stage Sam & Mildred Criswell Rad Spurlock keeps the dust under control
Tree house on huge section of cottonwood trunk The tree house is popular with the kids Late afternoon sun on a valley oak in the audience area
Tree house on huge section of cottonwood trunk The tree house is popular with the kids Late afternoon sun on a valley oak in the audience area
Caroline by the Vineyard Canyon Road Caroline is hoping nothing shakes while she stands inches from the San Andreas Fault Even in a very dry year, there's a bit of water by the bridgeThe only water in the creek is right below the bridge
Caroline by the Vineyard Canyon Road Caroline is hoping nothing shakes while she stands inches from the San Andreas Fault The only water in the creek is right below the bridge
2013 Parkfield Bluegrass Festival Program Cover 2013 T-Shirt  
2013 Parkfield Bluegrass Festival Program Cover 2013 T-Shirt  
Related Links
Dark Hollow Old Time Fiddle & Banjo Show Rock Ridge
Central Valley Boys Roland White Band Get Down Boys
Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players The Roustabouts Rocky Neck Bluegrass
Kathy Kallick Band Parkfield Bluegrass Festival V6 Ranch
Parkfield Quake of 2004 San Andreas Fault Dick's Bluegrass Links
Dick's Parkfield Photos    Bluegrass T-Shirts
Tree house on huge section of cottonwood trunk

Central Valley Boys

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