Wednesday, September 17, 2008
: For the fourth time in five years, Iím in
Plymouth CA, on Highway 49, the
Golden Chain Highway, for a weekend of bluegrass. Larry and Sondra Baker took over this
festival in 2003, and their series, Bluegrassiní in the Foothills,
has been going for six years now.
usually do, I set out on Wednesday, so I would have a full day
tomorrow to do whatever. I got here around 2 p.m., craving lunch, since I had started the day with
just a couple of
toaster pastries and a small glass of milk. I did a minimal setup,
had lunch, finished setting up, wandered around a bit, did some
reading, and wandered some more. I ran into Mona and Phillip and
their two daughters from Lemoore, folks I have known as bluegrass
friends since the first Parkfield Festival in 2001.
introduced me to a friend of theirs who has a fantastic,
well-restored 1950s era milk truck, which has a sink and sleeping
area, and too many really cool features to describe. It also has a
big block Olds engine with four-wheel drive. Itís a Divco,
standing for Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company, and is the same
design that they initiated in the 1930s, remaining unchanged till
they stopped production in the 70s. This one is actually made from parts
of two trucks, with a lot of hours of welding and other assembly
been a very nice day, around 73 when I left
Clovis, and never over 78, and now at 6:45
itís about 68 degrees. It is supposed to stay in the low 80s all
weekend, so it should be perfect festival weather.
I am a
little bit handicapped in that I did not bring my bicycle. Iím
still in the process of moving, and brought the bike to my new
place. Normally my truck stays at the old place and I go back and
forth in the Honda. I didnít want to drive the pickup across town
just to get the bike to the trailer, so I decided to do without it.
Thatís not really a problem here, since itís a short walk to the
stage area, but at some other locations, such as Parker and Huck
Finn, I would be doing more walking than I like.
September 18: On my first visit to this area in 2004, I went from
the festival to
Indian Grinding Rock
State Park, about 25 miles away, and spent the night. This year I decided to
go there for the day. The park features a reconstructed Miwok
village, including a large roundhouse built in the 1970s. But the
main attraction is a large, mostly flat rock which contains over
1,100 grinding holes where the natives ground acorns into meal over
several thousand years.
fortunate today to arrive just as a ranger was leading a group of
school children on a tour of the park, so I followed along and
listened. After talking about the rock and the cedar bark houses (umuucha),
we went into the roundhouse, which is normally off limits to
non-Indians. We observed the four rules of being quiet and
respectful (quite a challenge for a group of fourth graders), not
touching the four sacred oak poles that support the roof, not
walking on the dance floor, and leaving any negative thoughts
outside, symbolized by a clockwise turn as we entered. Also, no
photos are allowed. This roundhouse is much larger than the original
ones, which were designed for villages of 30 to 50 people, and has a
stone and mortar half wall, which would have been earth in the
originals. Other concessions to safety and modern convenience
include a rear door and a fire extinguisher.
four poles are actually large oak trunks well over a foot in
diameter, and once set in place, are never supposed to be touched
again by anyone. They represent several things Ė the four seasons,
the four ages of man, and the four necessities of life, which the
children were able to name without any prompting Ė food, water,
air and fire.
area is the site of the annual Chawíse Big Time, a native
gathering that will take place next weekend. Although ďrespectful
visitorsĒ are welcome, it is primarily a time of singing, dancing
and other traditional games for the benefit of the natives, and
celebrates the acorn-gathering season.
all it was an unexpected educational and interesting experience, and
I got more than my money's worth for the $6.00 day use fee.
the roundhouse, I visited the museum, which contains among other artifacts a
remarkable collection of woven baskets from various
California tribes. Then I drove to the nearby Black Chasm Cavern, a National Natural
Landmark. I learned from the attendant at the gift shop/ticket booth
that it is a vertical cave with many steps, viewing platforms, and a
temperature of 59 degrees. Since everything but the T-shirt and
shorts I was wearing was back at the trailer, I decided it was not
time for cave tour, and headed back to
an early dinner, set up my chairs at the audience area, and visited
a while with Walt from
Santa Barbara, a regular at most festivals, whom we met at our first Parkfield
festival in 2001.
finishing this dayís entry at about the same time as yesterday,
with the temperature also about the same. It was probably a little
over 80 today, and hopefully the predicted cooling trend will arrive
on time, since my chairs are in a spot that will be mostly sunny. I
say chairs in the plural because I set up a couple for my old
classmates, Bryce and Alma Green, who are planning to come on Saturday, and stay in a motel.
September 20: At this point in time I no longer go to bluegrass
festivals just ďbecause they are there,Ē maybe with the
exception of Parkfield. So I look at the lineup and see if there is
someone I just have to see. In this case, there were four groups
that attracted me.
one was Don Rigsby and Midnight Call. Don has been in a number of
other groups, including
Longview, a so-called super group that draws its members from other active
bands, including James King. I have heard a little of Donís work on Longview CDs and
XM Radio, but have never seen him (still havenít as this is
written, so a judgment will be entered later).
yearís Parkfield festival I talked with a couple who spoke
New Found Road, a relatively new group that I have not seen, and heard very little
of. They appeared last night, and exceeded all expectations, with an
outstanding lead singer.
other two groups are ones I have seen, The Gibson Brothers and
Michael Cleveland. The Gibsons are from upstate
New YorkĖ extreme upstate, within a few miles of
Canada. Theyíve been performing since they were kids, but only started
getting major notice in the last few years. I saw them at Parker,
but from a long distance in a crowded and noisy setting. Here I have
already had two opportunities for a much better experience. All
festivals have workshops conducted by some of the musicians, but I
almost never attend since I am not going to learn the mandolin nor
get better on the guitar. However, the brothers were doing a vocal
workshop, and while I donít think I will become a better singer
unless I find a way to make time go backwards, I thought it could be
interesting. It turned out to be a very intimate setting with a
dozen or so fans sitting six feet from Eric and Leigh and
essentially chatting about music. They sang about four songs, and it
was great to hear them harmonize with just their guitars, no
amplification and no other instruments. Their stage show later in
the evening was also everything I expected.
Cleveland played fiddle with Rhonda Vincent and a couple of other
groups before forming his own band, Flamekeeper, which I saw in
Bakersfield two or three years ago. Michael is the five-time IBMA fiddle player
of the year, and nominated for a sixth award, and earns every one of
them. His band is also top quality, with two excellent lead singers.
the rest, the only other nationally known group yesterday was Carrie
Hassler and Hard Rain, a group thatís just released their second
CD after two years together. The band was good and she has a
powerful voice, but I thought the backup musicians played too much
and too loud during the vocals.
Plymouth festival features four ďemerging artistĒ bands. They donít get
paid, but the winner returns the following year for a paid
performance. One of these bands was not ready for public appearances
(in my not so humble opinion), but the others were all good. The
guys I met and photographed at Parkfield, Gritchy Magrally, were
outstanding and went over big with the crowd, but did not win the
prize, as I thought they should have.
weather was pretty good yesterday, with clouds drifting over all
day, a bit too warm when it was sunny, and just right when a cloud
blocked the sun. This morning it is completely overcast, reminding
me of my first year here when a cloudy morning turned to mid-morning
sprinkles and heavy rain, but I will try to hold on to the positive attitude I developed at the roundhouse.
September 21: Yesterdayís clouds rolled away almost with the first
notes of bluegrass, and the day was sunny and quite warm, as was
today. The music had its ups and downs, but overall was great. Bryce
and Alma and their son and daughter-in-law arrived around noon, and stayed nearly till the end of the day, but did not return
today. Like me, they were all greatly impressed with Michael
Rigsby was not as good as I expected yesterday, but he had an
excuse. They left home (Tennessee, I believe)
at 1 a.m.
eastern time (
Friday night here), had a long flight with a couple of stopovers
before landing in
Sacramento (38 miles from
Plymouth). Then due to a mix-up in directions, they went to the promoterís
home in Copperopolis, making their trip from
Sacramento140 miles long. Although they were late, they switched with another
group, so all was well, except for the fact that they were probably
redeemed themselves today, and sounded better, playing an extra 20
minutes or so at the end of the event, even though the audience was
down to about 30 people.
groups yesterday and/or today: Sawmill Road is a new group of
long-time players that appeared here last year, as well as at Parker
in March. They do a fine job, leaning a bit to the folky side. The
Anderson Family, mom, dad, and four kids ranging from 6 to 14, were
here the last two years. At their first appearance they were very
unpolished, but they have developed quite a bit since then, with the
guitar, fiddle and mandolin playing of the three oldest kids
sounding quite good. The vocals are still not even close to professional,
but definitely improving.
yearís emerging artist winner, Rita Hosking, appeared Friday and
Saturday, and was good but nothing special.
Bluegrass Brothers have been at many festivals Iíve attended, and
while they are a professional group, they are more enthusiastic than
polished. This is not to say that they donít put on an excellent
show, which they do.
Kids on Bluegrass
presentation this morning was the usual mixed bag. The newer
performers all did OK, but the three kids, age 12 to 14, whoíve been here each
year and who apparently play together throughout the year are only a
couple of years or so away from being an emerging artist band. They
did a very strong song that they had written,
and another unfamiliar but very challenging number, making it the
best Kids on Bluegrass
Iíve seen. There was also a teenage girl, probably 14 to 16, who
sang three songs and is ready to be the lead singer for a top level
amateur group. (2015 update: The three boys became 3/4 of OMGG,
a very popular and successful group. They play occasional reunion
dates, but several of the guys have gone off to college).
stage is coming down, the vendors are packing up their goodies,
supper is finished, the dishes are washed, and Iíve done a few
things to get ready to go, which I will do tomorrow at the usual
time Ė when I get around to it.
--Dick Estel, September
Update: The weekend after Plymouth, the annual Hobbs Grove
Bluegrass Festival was held near Sanger, CA, a little over 20 miles
from my house. Despite the proximity, I have not been able to attend
this festival as much as I'd like. Previously sponsored by the local
Kings River Bluegrass Association, this year it was taken over by
the California Bluegrass Association, providing better and more
widespread publicity. When I went for one day two years ago, there
were maybe 15 or 20 RVs; this year the parking lot was full,
meaning 70 to 100 or more.
The festival setting was
fairly sunny in the past, but the spindly little trees we observed
the first time we went in 2002 have filled out and grown up, and now
there is shade over virtually all the audience area all day long.
I was able to attend only
the Saturday afternoon and evening program, but this included the
bands I was most interested in. Only a couple of them were new, and
these were fairly ordinary, although it was fun to see Frank
Sollivan, presenter of the Kids on Bluegrass program, as a performer
with Country Grass.
The big draw for me was
the Kathy Kallick Band. She was a pioneer on the California
bluegrass scene, and a founder of The Good Old Persons, along with
Laurie Lewis. I had seen her at the Mariposa festival in the late
1990s, but not since. A special treat was the sensational
Dobro player Sally Van Meter, who played in Kathy's band in the
I was also glad to see
once again local band Baloney Creek, Eric Uglam and Sons; and the
excellent traditional Del Williams Band, all of whom were at
Parkfield in May.
bark houses (umuucha)
Ancient oak tree
Woodpecker holes in bark of
Gail Fitch's 1955 Milk
Four Finger String Band
Nell Robinson & Red
Carrie Hassler & Hard
Eric & Leigh Gibson
Michael Cleveland &
Marty picks with Michael
New Found Road
Don Rigsby & Midnight
The Bluegrass Brothers
The Youngest Brother
Kids on Bluegrass:
Marty Varner, Max Schwartz