September 13, 2006: Itís bluegrass time again, so Iím in
Plymouth, on state highway 49 in
Amador County. Itís a tiny town, about a thousand people, one of the smallest
incorporated cities in the state. Itís also the site of the Amador
County Fairgrounds, which is laid out on a gently hilly section of
land, with plenty of electrical hookups, and some very nice
landscaping Ė a pond with a waterfall, wooden bridges, covered
archways and of course all the usual buildings needed to have a
here two years ago, and was camped in a livestock barn, with a
cement floor. This time Iím out in the open, with patchy dried out
Bermuda grass, but overall a good spot. The barn was very useful
last time, because it was very hot the first day, and pouring down
rain the last day.
again it is hot Ė 88 at , but starting to cool down. However, itís supposed to be ten to
fifteen degrees cooler tomorrow, and even cooler Friday Ė down in
the low 70s (today it was around 95 at the hottest).
home a little after ten, and arrived here around 2:00
. I came up state highway 99, then took state highway 88 at
Stockton. With a few zigs and zags on Highways 126 and 16, I got to 49, with
about two miles to go.
got set up, I relaxed and cooled off a bit, then had supper. Since
then Iíve done some reading, rode around the grounds on my bike a
couple of times, and took a good ride into and around the town
(quite a bit of uphill). The music doesnít start till Friday, so
tomorrow I will head down the road to Amador City and possibly one
or two other small towns nearby to do some Christmas shopping in the
antique and miscellaneous shops that are thick in this area.
are a lot of people here already, but of course, many more will come
in tomorrow and Friday. These early days are for those of us who
donít work, wonít work, canít work, and have nothing to do but
set up camp and hang out.
14: Now this is more like it. Yesterday when I was working on this
report, it was 88; today itís 72, so the promised cool-down has
come through. We even had a short sprinkle around the middle of the
music doesnít start till tomorrow, so this was my day to explore
the area, read, and just generally take it easy.
breakfast I headed south on state Highway 49, stopping in Drytown,
and Sutter Creek. Drytown was the first location for gold mining in
County, and was founded in 1848, but just about everyone has left town by
now. There is a post office and about three stores. I like
better; itís also very small (population 150) but has several nice
antique shops. There are also restaurants but unfortunately I was
not hungry. I did get some Christmas shopping done, at Millerís
Antiques, and Lanza Imports, both of which I recommend.
Creek is quite a bit bigger Ė still small, but it has automotive
shops, a place to buy granite counters, etc. It also has really bad
traffic, not because there are so many people and cars, but because
there is one stretch of the highway through town that is very
narrow. Parking is allowed on both sides of the street, and even
when parked right at the curb, cars extend out past the parking
space marks. There are also quite a few large trucks going through,
so everyone slows way down to squeeze through the narrow bottleneck.
They are building a bypass that will go around
and Sutter Creek, but that might not be a good thing for the economy
of these tiny towns. If they can direct the trucks around and entice
the tourists to take the old road, that will be ideal.
got back to
I sat in my chair reading, fixed corn on the cob and a barbecued
pork chop for dinner, and wandered around a little. The grounds are
filling up, with lots of trailers, motor homes large and small, and
quite a few tents.
I had a
nice talk with my immediate neighbors, who live nearby, at the 3500
foot elevation above the town of
Volcano. They moved here from
San Jose, so they are enjoying the slower pace of
a break from this report to write a few paragraphs in my ďLater
TripsĒ and ďMore Early TripsĒ essays, which will be coming
your way one of these days. Itís now , nearly dark, and cooling down a lot Ė 62 outside, and cool
enough in the trailer that I will need to put on a long-sleeve shirt
soon. Last night it was too hot to type inside, and when I did come
in, I had a fan going late into the night.
16: The first day of the show had the usual highs and lows, although
there werenít any really low spots. There were several groups I
had seen before, the biggest being Special Consensus and
Cherryholmes. I sat next to a gentleman who had not seen this group
before, and he was blown away at the first song. Those of us who
have been watching this group at Parkfield and southern California
since their beginning as a very amateur band have a sort of
proprietary interest in their amazing success, and itís always
nice to see our opinion validated by someone who has no prior
history with the group. (Click
here to see Cherryholmes on YouTube)
other big name group I had heard but not seen was Dan Paisley and
Southern Grass. Danís father Bob led the group for many years
until his passing in 2004, and they are known as a very hard-driving
traditional band Ė loud, fast and good. Another band member is
also a Paisley son, and there are two brothers from another family
with a long history in bluegrass (fifth generation in hillbilly
music). Finally, the fifth memberís father played in the group, so
they have a solid background in the music. All of their fathers
festival features an ďemerging artistĒ program Ė four newer
and/or lesser known bands that compete for the chance to move on
through further levels of competition. If my memory is correct the
winner will compete at the Huck Finn festival for a chance to
perform at the International Bluegrass Music Association convention
next year. This yearís winner was also the crowd favorite, The
Mighty Crows from the Bay Area.
ďemerging artistĒ group was unable to attend, so their place was
taken by a very new family band, not included in the competition,
Andersons. None of them have been playing longer than three years, and I
believe the younger kids have only been at it about a year. The kids
range from five to twelve, so there is a very high cuteness factor,
and the band went over very well. Twelve-year old Paige plays guitar and
sings lead, and handled all the MC duties, with considerable poise.
The kids do all the singing. An objective analysis would say that
their voices are very much childrenís voices, with limited range
and timbre, but they can carry a tune and also did well at
harmonizing. Seven year old Ethan plays the mandolin adequately
and ten year old Aimee did OK on the fiddle. Mom (Christy) on bass
and dad (Mark) on banjo round out the group. The best picker of
the bunch (including the adults) was Paige, who shows
real promise on the guitar. All in all they have basic skills and
lots of potential, so weíll see what the future brings.
show ran from 10 a.m.
to 10 p.m.
with breaks of an hour to an hour and a half for lunch and dinner,
and todayís schedule is similar. There is a car show today, with
prizes for the best classic or antique vehicle. I donít think
Iíve mentioned these before, but there are such shows at all of
Larry and Sandraís festivals (this one and
on the River at Parker), as well as the Huck Finn festival.
one also features Kids on Stage with Frank Sollivan, which I have
mentioned before. Starting Saturday morning Frank works with any
kids who want to play and sing, works out several songs with them,
and presents them on stage Sunday morning. This has been going on
for many years, and some of the kids who started out this way have
ended up in the professional ranks, including Frankís son, who
plays with the Navyís top country and bluegrass group.
5:45 p.m.: We have a short dinner break, less than an hour, and Iíve
already squeezed in a shower, so I have to write fast. There were
several groups new to me on todayís program, with Bound to Ride
probably the one that stands out. It includes Phil Cornish, a
fixture on the Bay Area bluegrass scene for many years, as well as
banjo player Patrick Ickes, whose brother Rob is one of the top
dobro players in the world, and plays with Blue Highway. The group
also includes their mother on bass.
Run Bluegrass from
was new to me, but two of the members are old favorites Ė Ivan
Rosenberg, who appeared with various configurations at several
Parkfield festivals, and who I saw at the Top Hat saloon in
(youíll be able to read about it on line in my report on The Journey of 2002). The group also included Lorenzo Gangi, who was in most of the
groups with Ivan. As Ivan put it, Hit & Run is 40% Iron Lasso.
Paisley, Special Consensus, and Cherryholmes all appeared again this
afternoon. Tonight weíll see one group thatís new to me,
Wildfire, as well as groups I saw in
Arizona, the Bluegrass Brothers and the Chapmans; and Cherryholmes again.
weather was much warmer, shorts and t-shirt temperatures. I was in
direct sun much of the day, but it was not horrible, just plenty
warm. It should cool down quite a bit again, although I think itís
warmer now than it was at this time last night.
festival is now more than half over, and the crowd is still going
strong, myself included. Of course, I didnít stay up late picking
like some did, including some of the performers.
17: Well, itís all over but the taking down and cleaning up, and
thankfully, thatís someone elseís job. The festival ended about
two hours ago, and most of the sound and lighting equipment is down.
There are probably still two or three hours of work in that area.
music last night and today was enjoyable, sometimes spectacular and
sometimes ordinary. The great revelation at this festival was
Wildfire, whom I had heard of but not heard. They are a great
hard-driving band, with their latest CD and a song or two on the
bluegrass charts. I was also greatly impressed by Dan Paisley and
Southern Grass. As I mentioned, I have one CD from when his dad was
the leader, but it did not prepare me for how good they are in
as always put on a crowd-pleasing performance, auditioning several
of the new songs that will be on their next CD, and performing some
unexpected types of music. I talked briefly with Sandy (the mom)
about their beginning days when they felt ready for their first
public performance after they had learned five songs. She said they
really canít even do those songs anymore, because they were such
basic simple arrangements, and theyíve moved far beyond that now.
This does not mean they canít and donít do some old bluegrass
standards; just that they take a much more complex approach to them.
quite warm today; enough so that I moved into the shade for the last
two performances. I can usually put up with the sun for two days,
then it starts getting to me. The final performance was plenty hot
in its own right - the Chapmans, a group of three brothers and their
father who have been very successful the last few years. I saw them
probably in 2004, and they have released two more CDs since then.
I did a
few things to get ready to go, taking up my ďpatio,Ē which is a
vinyl carpet that I put out when itís dusty or there is a lot of
dry grass. I also took down my awning, since we have not had any
dew, so Iím not worried about protecting the few things that are
outside Ė bike, a chair, and a small table.
been getting up around , so I will probably do the same tomorrow, and get a fairly early
start. Unless something unusually exciting happens on the trip home,
Iíll end this report here and get it sent soon after I get home.
to do with bluegrass: When Iím not listening to the music I read
or watch TV. Iíve been working on Edmund Morrisí The
Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. I had already read his second
volume, Theodore Rex,
dealing with the presidency; this follows TR from birth up to his
fateful selection as William McKinleyís vice president. I started
this book during the Stargazer Rock campout in early August; I will
need about two more trips to get it finished. Itís very
interesting, but there is just too much else to do and read when
watched two movies. The first was Diner, a somewhat highly acclaimed film from 1982. I give a movie 10
to 15 minutes to grab my interest, and if it has not done so, I move
on. This one kept my interest but I would probably not watch it
again. It was a bit disjointed, and didnít have that much of a
enjoyed the other movie, Get Shorty, much more. It is based on an Elmore Leonard novel, and I
became a big Leonard fan when I started reading his books in about
1992. Since then I think Iíve read all his new ones, as well as
many that go back into the early 80s. Although he focuses on crime
with a wicked touch of humor, most of his early works were westerns,
including Hombre, which was made into a movie starring Paul Newman.
took along several DVDs of favorite situation comedies that Iíve
been watching again, including Grounded for Life, Titus, Arrested Development and Good
Times. I had not seen any episodes from the latter for a decade
or more, till I received the first season DVD for my birthday. I
suspect the show would not win any awards from the NAACP for its
portrayal of black people.
and Titus were two series
that were very different from the usual, which probably accounts for
the fact that they were only on for three seasons. Both are
excellent. More in the mainstream is Grounded,
which I thought was one of the funniest shows of the last ten years.