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,
year's festival had some negative aspects, mainly the very hot
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
San Francisco band, Front
Country, has been together just since 2011, but has won awards
at major festivals, including Rockygrass
group was easily number two of the bands that were new to me.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
vocal harmonies: Steep Ravine, Cache Valley Drifters
lead vocal: Snap Jackson, Greg Blake (of Jeff Scroggins band)
mandolin: Tristan Scroggins
non-bluegrass song: Minor Swing by Steep Ravine
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.
Rest of the Story
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.
old wooden Shell water tower has been converted into a rental
room, to supplement the limited space available in the lodge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Estel, May 2014