and Sondra Baker have been presenting Bluegrass in
the Foothills at Plymouth
CA for ten years.
I've attended five of these, and on September 13 I left home for my
sixth one. I had a meeting that morning, so drove the motor home to
the meeting location, and left from there, about 11:15, heading up
CA Highway 99.
Stockton I went east on Highway 88, then via several short runs on
three other highways, arrived at Plymouth on Highway 49 at 2:45.
About ten miles from Plymouth I stopped and called the local Pizza
Factory, planning to pick up a pizza to eat over the next couple of
days. I could not tell if it was the phone, or they just didn't
answer, but two tries were unsuccessful, so I continued my trip.
the south end of town, I saw the Colina
de Oro restaurant, so decided to stop for Mexican food instead. This
place is kind of a dive, with most patrons at the bar at that time
of day, but the food was very good. I got a taco and enchilada to go, then went
to the fairgrounds, checked in, got set up, and ate dinner.
The location I
has 20-amp power, which runs everything but the air conditioner.
However, the cellular service here is very shaky. My phone appears to
work OK (I didn't actually make any calls), but getting Email on the iPad
was about a 50-50 proposition.
When messages did come in, no graphics were displayed, and when I
to go on the Internet, I was successful about half the time.
Then when I came inside to watch TV late Thursday night,
even my TV said "no signal." The TV had been taken out and
replaced when the motor home was in for repairs recently, so I
assumed they did not reconnect the cables correctly. With the dim
light at night I could not really look into the problem very well,
so I turned off TV and VCR and read until bedtime.
morning, with plenty of daylight coming in, I soon diagnosed the
problem - cables plugged into the TV's OUT jacks instead of the IN
noticed that the man in the trailer next to me was running his A/C,
so I asked him about it; he said it runs fine on 20 amp power as
long as his battery is connected. This inspired me to try my A/C,
and it ran OK for about an hour. I turned it off and went to the show, then turned
it on again later, but it eventually tripped the breaker. There was
no way to re-set it, but the junction box had other outlets, so I
plugged in to one of those and all was well. I suspect maybe the breaker
tripped when the hot water heater came on. Next time in a situation
like this I will try the A/C with the electric water heater off, but
I used the last available outlet here, so I didn't want to experiment
we're here for the music, so all that other stuff is secondary. The show started
unofficially Thursday night with a one-hour, mostly one-man show by
Ron Spears. I have seen him a number of times, first with his own
group, Within Tradition,
then for a while with
Consensus. He's working a
"normal" job now, one that lets him go out and play when
the chance comes up. He is playing here with a group from Arizona,
but for his own show he did mostly country songs, plus a ventriloquist
act. This was very professional, and the entire
audience enjoyed his act. At the end he played a few songs with
Copper River, the group he is appearing with as a guest fiddler.
morning's show started at 10:30, and ran till after 10 p.m., with
breaks for lunch and dinner. There are only a couple of big name
touring groups on the schedule, but several lesser known groups from the east and of course
locally. Nearly all of them were excellent. There were a couple of minor exceptions,
about which more later.
of the groups that was familiar was Red Dog Ash, who won last year's
Emerging Artist Competition here, meaning they get paid for
performing this year. I have seen them at other festivals, as well
as the Bluegrass in the Park program in Clovis.
seemed to be the year of the long names - among the unknown but
excellent groups were Thomas
Porter & Copper
River, Mark Phillips
& IIIrd Generation, and Travers Chandler & Avery
Bucking the trend was Nu-Blu. And of course, you can't beat the
elegant simplicity of a group called The
James King Band. Nor can
you easily beat their music - James is one of the big stars of
bluegrass, and I've seen him four or five times. Mike Morrison,
guitar player with IIIrd Generation, has a "real" job,
playing in the Zac Brown Band.
the "unknown to me" bands, one of the best was Thomas
Porter & Copper River. I was very familiar with their banjo
player, Dick Brown, whom I've seen at seemingly half the festivals
I've attended, starting with Mariposa in the late 90s when he was a
member of Lost Highway. Copper River is based in Arizona, and had
another familiar face as a guest, Ron Spears, who I mentioned
earlier. As it turned out, I discovered after I got home that I had
seen this band before, but most of the personnel have changed.
closing act Friday was another group I've seen a few times, The
Brothers. This band has absolutely the highest energy
level of any in bluegrass, and with a few new members, they're even
better than before. One of the new guys is an experienced musician who is
the hottest dobro player I've heard in over ten years.
next day brought more performances by many of the same bands, with a
closing event that was new for this festival, and something not seen
at many festivals. The final set was Cash'd
Out, a Johnny Cash
tribute band that is endorsed by the official Johnny Cash web site
(whatever that means; Johnny hasn't expressed his views). They were
very good, with the singer sounding enough like Johnny to fill the
bill, but with enough difference that no one dozed off and woke up
thinking they were listening to the real thing. My only complaint
with this group is that they did a lot of songs that Johnny did, but
that were originally done by others, and not enough of his original
songs. Why do a cover of a cover?
was a shorter program than usual, with things being done a little
differently from past years. The opening act was Kids on Bluegrass,
with the usual mix of beginners all the way to a very good 15-year
player, who has been invited to the kids showcase at the IBMA World
of Bluegrass later this month.
rest of the day was given over to the emerging artists program. In
the past, most of these groups have been average or better, but one
of this year's groups should be sent back to wherever it emerged
from. The others weren't bad, just not as good as I remember
most of the groups in this program being - certainly not as good as
Red Dog Ash was a year ago when they won the competition. These
bands play for free, and the winner gets a paid appearance next
entire weekend was probably the hottest it's ever been at any
festival anywhere. I had a spot that was great for watching and
listening, but hot as H. I sat in the sun for the better groups, and
cooled off in the shade during lesser ones. The motor home does not
cool off till late; it was just getting bearable when I came back
from the show a little before ten the first two nights.
decided to experiment with running the A/C again, with the water
heater off. However, when I came back just before the last group
the electrical boxes had been gathered up, and there was no power of
any kind. I debated whether I wanted to run my generator for five
hours or so, for cooling and watching TV, and instead decided to
move to the RV park next door. I got set up, took a much needed
shower, and did most of this report, all in cool comfort at last.
were several changes at this festival this year, all probably
designed to reduce costs. There were fewer groups, fewer vendors,
and I think fewer fans. In the early years of this event, we used to
get quite a few people from southern California. With gas at $4 per
gallon, people are thinking twice and probably three times before
driving 400 miles in a vehicle that gets 10 miles per gallon or
less. There was only one really big name band, James King, although
the quality was as good as ever, the groups that were booked probably
get less money than their better known counterparts. Hopefully these
measures will keep the festival going a few more years.
Estel, September 2012