Jeff Scroggins & Colorado

Rowan and the band

Parkfield Bluegrass 2014


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This year was the 16th annual Parkfield Bluegrass Festival, and my 13th time to attend. I was looking forward to the trip more as a getaway from the usual routine, because last year's festival had some negative aspects, mainly the very hot weather.

As it turned out, it was one of the better Parkfield festivals in several years, especially the weather, which remained cool through the weekend. There were also a lot of groups that were not there last year, although I had seen most of them somewhere. In fact, only two groups that played in 2013 returned this time, and both were bands I wanted to see again.

The festival started on the afternoon of May 8. I had a meeting of my retirement association board that morning, so I drove the motor home to the meeting location, and left for Parkfield as soon as we adjourned.

We've had a very low rainfall year, and the hills west of the San Joaquin Valley and Kettleman City were dry and brown like late summer. In some areas it looked as if hardly any grass had grown at all, unlike the Sierra foothills, which ended up with a decent amount of grass and flowers despite below average rain.

I arrived about 20 minutes before the show was to start. As soon as I had backed into my parking spot, I took my lawn chair to the audience area, and got one of the best spots I've had for several years, right in the middle, about eight rows back, and with an unobstructed view of the stage.

I didn't care much for the first group, so I took my time getting the motor home leveled and set up for camping, and got to the stage area in time to see the last song of the opening set.

There were scattered clouds, keeping the temperature comfortable throughout the afternoon. In the evening it cooled off enough that I added a long sleeve T-shirt and eventually a sweat shirt. The clouds continued into the evening, but there were bright stars visible from my chair, and a half moon.

Most of the bands were good to excellent, including some I had seen and some I had not. The "revelation band," one that was unknown to me but turned out to be excellent, was Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. Jeff is a national banjo champion, playing in a unique style. His 20-year old son Tristan is the mandolin player, and he was one of the best and most powerful players I've seen - he should be winning "player of the year" awards soon. The lead vocalist and guitar player, Greg Blake, was also outstanding, and the bass and fiddler players were equal to the rest of the band.

Two other bands would have qualified as "revelations" with lesser competition. Steep Ravine is a Bay Area group whose strongest feature was great vocal harmonies. The lead singer has a nice tenor voice, not a traditional bluegrass style, but very still good.

Another San Francisco band, Front Country, has been together just since 2011, but has won awards at major festivals, including Rockygrass and Telluride. This six-member group was easily number two of the bands that were new to me.

There were a number of groups that I've seen several times, at Parkfield and other festivals, but of course, none of them could top my favorite California band, Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players, making their fifth consecutive appearance. Like at least half the bands there, they are not strictly bluegrass, but are 100% entertaining and exciting from the first note. They were recording both their sets for a live CD, so if you buy it, you will hear me applauding.

I also enjoyed the Cache Valley Drifters from the Santa Barbara area. I saw them at the first Parkfield festival I attended, in 2001, then again in Paso Robles in 2004. I've enjoyed them a little more each time, and this was no exception. They are a three man group, with electric bass, guitar and mandolin, and certainly not bluegrass, but they have one OK and two excellent singers, and do some nice harmonies.

Finally there was the headliner, Peter Rowan. Rowan is widely known and well respected in the world of bluegrass and acoustic country music. He was a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, and played with many other bands, leading his own group at various times. In the 1970s he was part of Old and in the Way along with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, and wrote many songs, most notably "Panama Red" and "Midnight Moonlight."

He came on stage alone and did a couple of songs accompanying himself on guitar, then was joined by Patrick Sauber who played bass and sang harmony. After another two songs, Patrick moved to banjo and three other top level California musicians joined them to make up the standard bluegrass configuration of guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bass, and they played for a full hour.

Frankly I was a little under whelmed. Peter was in good voice, but they didn't play with the energy I'd expected, even on some up-tempo bluegrass standards. Still, it was good to see a true legend of the business, keeping it going at age 72.

Many festivals, including this one, ask attendees to fill out an evaluation form. Those who know me well are aware that if you ask me a simple question, I will respond with a long, complicated answer, so a short form just doesn't do the job. Usually I send a long detailed email to the festival promoter, written in a way that is intended to be positive and constructive.

This year for the first time they asked us to rank the bands. I started doing this, then realized how silly it was. Snap Jackson was #1, but Jeff Scroggins was a close #2 and could have easily been #1. The Creak, a talented group that plays something that is not bluegrass, and something I can't listen to, was #14. If I ranked another band #13, it would imply that I liked it just a little more than The Creak, but in fact, I liked every band a lot more than The Creak.

Also, somewhere in the middle there were about eight bands that were pretty much equal. To rank them would take hours of careful concentrated listening, something that's not possible in a festival setting. And to rank one of these band #4 and another #11 would be just ridiculous. Therefore, I came up with the first annual Rick Mason Awards. I will not make my long-suffering readers suffer any more by repeating the entire list, but I'll provide a brief excerpt:

Best vocal harmonies: Steep Ravine, Cache Valley Drifters

Best lead vocal: Snap Jackson, Greg Blake (of Jeff Scroggins band)

Best mandolin: Tristan Scroggins

Best non-bluegrass song: Minor Swing by Steep Ravine

And so on....

I arrived at the festival in a slightly negative mood, because last year's event had not been up to par. I was even thinking that I might not attend after this year. Thankfully, the weather, the band lineup, and the camping conditions caused me to change my mind, and I'll be back next year. Incidentally, this year's event had possibly the largest attendance ever. This was in spite of the fact that we've lost a lot of the regulars who used to attend from southern California. They are probably not thrilled about driving 400 miles in a vehicle that gets eight to ten miles per gallon.


The Rest of the Story

Every year there are changes in Parkfield, and this year they were all positive. The property owner (Varian Family) has put up lanterns all around the concrete platform in the audience area. They are on metal poles, with pick heads as bracing. I could not see any wiring, and never did figure out how they work, but they came on as soon as it got dark.

The old wooden Shell water tower has been converted into a rental room, to supplement the limited space available in the lodge.

My favorite new thing was a reservation system for those who paid for electrical hookups. A few years ago when I arrived and told the check-in crew I was signed up for electricity, they seemed confused as to where I should park. With numbered reserved spaces, everything went very smoothly.


When my daughter Teri, grandson Mikie and I went to our first Parkfield festival in 2001, we made the acquaintance of Rad and Tele Spurlock of Tulare, and their friend Mona from Armona. Rad and Tele were missing their own grandchildren, and adopted Mikie as their bluegrass grandson, and he adopted them. We saw them at Parkfield and other festivals several times after that, and after Mikie and Teri stopped coming, they would always ask about him. Meanwhile we both became great grandparents, so we share stories of how the grandkids and great ones are doing. I did not see them Thursday or Friday, and was afraid they were not there, but on Saturday morning I saw them. They had arrived Tuesday, but drove their car back Thursday to attend a granddaughter's graduation, then returned late Friday, so we had a good visit. I had not seen Mona, and when I asked about her, I learned that she was visiting a daughter in England.


For the last few months I have been trying to do more walking, and at Parkfield there are plenty of places for easy walking. If you want, you can walk down the middle of Parkfield-Coalinga Road and not have to worry about traffic. The first morning I walked over to the rodeo grounds and out to the far end of that area, where lots of people camp under the big valley oak trees.

My Saturday walk was fairly short, but Sunday I went out toward Coalinga about a mile, as far as the green bridge, stopping to take quite a few photos, and getting some good exercise. I met five walkers, three bicycles, and four motor vehicles on the trip.

The kids performance ended at noon on Sunday, and the groups scheduled for the afternoon were all ones I had seen and all ranked below #2, so I decided to get an early start. The drive home was very stressful, with strong, gusty winds as soon as I hit Highway 41, all the way to Lemoore. The road goes over three low passes, so where it wound through hills, I really had to concentrate on keeping the motor home on the pavement.

I got home in plenty of time to unload the vehicle, clean it up a bit, and return it to the storage facility, then headed for In-N-Out for a burger and fries as a reward for my difficult trip.

--Dick Estel, May 2014


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


The Creak

Little Black Train The Naked Bootleggers
The Creak Little Black Train The Naked Bootleggers
Virtual Strangers Yvonne & Mike Tater, head Strangers Steep Ravine
Virtual Strangers Yvonne & Mike Tater, head Strangers Steep Ravine
Jeff Scroggins & Colorado Greg Blake; Tristan Scroggins, and Jeff Scroggins Canyon Johnson
Jeff Scroggins & Colorado Greg Blake; Tristan Scroggins, and Jeff Scroggins Canyon Johnson
Old Time Fiddle & Banjo Show Honeysuckle Possums Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players
Old Time Fiddle & Banjo Show Honeysuckle Possums Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players
Cache Valley Drifters Front Country Peter Rowan
Cache Valley Drifters Front Country Peter Rowan
Patrick Sauber and Peter Rowan Rowan and the band Kids on stage
Patrick Sauber and Peter Rowan Rowan and the band Kids on stage
More kids The official Kids on Stage portrait The Lone Picker
More kids The official Kids on Stage portrait The Lone Picker
Program cover 2014 Parkfield T-shirt logo Camping under the oaks
Program cover 2014 Parkfield T-shirt logo Camping under the oaks
Panoramic view of audience
Panoramic view of audience
Nighttime in Parkfield A favorite for hunger fans, Southern Delight Catering
New this year around the platform - a circle of lanterns Nighttime in Parkfield A favorite for hungry fans, Southern Delight Catering
The hay is short and the grass on the hills is brown Rugged but practical lawn furniture The old Shell Oil Company pump house is now a rental cabin
The hay is short and the grass on the hills is brown Rugged but practical lawn furniture The old Shell Oil Company pump house is now a rental cabin
A partial cloud cover helped make this one of the coolest festivals ever
A partial cloud cover helped make this one of the coolest festivals ever
The view looking east and north from the edge of town
Related Links
Parkfield Bluegrass Festival Parkfield Quake of 2004 Dick's Parkfield Photos
Dick's Bluegrass Links Bluegrass T-Shirts V6 Ranch
Parkfield, CA The Creak Little Black Train
The Naked Bootleggers Virtual Strangers Steep Ravine
Jeff Scroggins & Colorado Canyon Johnson Old Time Fiddle & Banjo Show
Honeysuckle Possums Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players Cache Valley Drifters
Front Country Peter Rowan Old and in the Way
You Tube Videos
Midnight Moonlight Steep Ravine The Creak
Naked Bootleggers Virtual Strangers Jeff Scroggins & Colorado
Canyon Johnson Old Time Fiddle & Banjo Show Honeysuckle Possums
Snap Jackson More Snap Front Country
Peter Rowan Tristan Scroggins on Mandolin Cache Valley Drifters
   Jack Varian's Blog   
Steep Ravine

Cache Valley Drifters

The old Shell Oil Company pump house is now a rental cabin

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Updated February 9, 2018