Farmer's Market: Back
in the days when I was working, I tried to avoid what we called a
"two-event weekend." For example, a hockey game Saturday and computer club
meeting Sunday seemed to take up way too much of my brief weekends.
Of course, it was really not possible to eliminate these weekends
and still do what I wanted to do.
that I'm retired, I feel the same way, although I get no sympathy
from working friends and relatives. So when I found that I had lined
up a three-event weekend, I kept my complaints to myself,
especially since I was the one who initiated all three.
started out with a visit to the regular Friday night Farmer's
Market in Old
Town Clovis. This event runs from May through
October, every Friday, and through most of that time there is also a
free bluegrass concert in a nearby park, where groups from around
the valley play for tips. Besides the produce booths, there are a
dozen or more businesses promoting their services, and around eight
food booths. There is live music, including individual performers
here and there, hoping their efforts will draw a few coins.
didn't get to many of these this summer, but I've been going the
last two or three weeks. Usually if you arrive early you can park
close and it's not too crowded, but now it's getting dark by 7 p.m.,
and everyone is trying to arrive early. I've had to park
farther and farther from the main market area each week the last
friend Janell Sidney and her friend Ken Brown came over about 5:30
on September 28. We left immediately for downtown Clovis (a five
minute drive), but still
ended up parking the farthest yet. We know where the stuff we want
is located, so we can get in, grab the few things we want, and get
out pretty fast. We did so this time, with me getting my regular "order" of peppers,
tomatoes, grapes, and blackberries. Janell got a few things, Ken
had a sandwich, and we made our way back to the car.
we visited a while, and looked at some photos of the Plymouth
Bluegrass Festival, to get us in the mood for the next day's event.
River Bluegrass: On Saturday morning Janell and Ken
arrived at my house about 9 a.m., and we took my car for the 25 mile
drive to The Grove near Sanger, the site of the 10th annual Kings
River Bluegrass Festival. I had considering going all three days, as
I have the last three years, but every group I really wanted to see
was playing on Saturday. Some also played Friday or Sunday, but I
decided to limit this trip to the one day. This meant no motor home,
and I have to admit I'm used to having it available for
resting, fixing low-cost meals, and avoiding having to sit down in a
arrived just as the first group was starting, and set up our chairs
in a nice shady spot. There were quite a lot of RV's in the camping
area, but not many people in the audience yet. In the early days of
this festival the trees in front of the stage were new and spindly, and
offered only patches of shade, but they have grown together so that
nearly all that area is shaded.
bands played before the lunch break, all local - Valley Oak Band,
Grassfire and Baloney Creek. The only one I hadn't seen was Valley
Oak, and I had seen most of the members in other bands. They were
all OK, but nothing special.
had eaten a good breakfast, and Ken and Janell got breakfast
burritos as soon as we arrived, so we didn't eat during the lunch
break. Instead we wandered around, sat and rested, and talked to a
few people. I visited with Rad and Tele, people we met at Parkfield
in 2001. They recently had their 5th great grandchild, born six weeks
prematurely. He's six months now and doing great (8 lbs). This
resonated with Janell because she had twins who were born three
months early, weighing just over two pounds each. They are now 21,
smart, healthy, beautiful, and just doing great in every way.
picked up in the afternoon with three groups I had seen before, all of whom
turned in performances that surpassed their previous efforts.
Pineridge was in Plymouth and play a fairly traditional brand of
bluegrass. Their first few songs didn't do much for me, but then they got into some minor key stuff with some great
Rag Andy plays "oldtime" music, and we've seen them many
times. They have a different lead singer from when we first saw
them, but still put on what I think was the best set I've seen them
group before the dinner break was the Alhambra Valley Band, which
has been around since the 1980s. I saw them in 2009 at Brown Barn,
and thought they were highly professional, but lacking that spark of
something special that takes a band to the very top level.
the dinner break we all got food, then listened as Snap Jackson
presented a ukulele workshop. Although none of us have any intention
of playing, it was interesting to watch and hear him discuss playing
techniques, chord patterns, etc. He was accompanied by his
"regular" bass player, Brian Clark, on a Uke-Bass, an
electric bass ukulele, which some bands use as their regular bass. I
put "regular" in quotes because Brian plays a five-string model, putting out 20% more
effort than any other bass player there.
evening program started with another local group, the Grasskickers,
who have shown a lot of improvement over the few years we've seen
them, followed by a bay area band I've seen several times, Windy
Hill. They play an energetic, mostly traditional brand of bluegrass,
although the band members all look to be not much over 30.
pleasant surprise was in store with the next group, Oak
is the Schwartz family (dad, mom, two sons, and sometimes a
daughter). I had seen them before, and I've more or less watched the
boys grow up on stage. I first saw them with the Kids on Bluegrass
show at Plymouth in 2007. Later they joined with Marty Varner and AJ
Lee to form OMGG (Obviously Minor Guys and a Gal), who were at the
2009 Brown Barn Festival. All the kids sounded good on their
instruments by then, and their vocal work was not bad, but now Max at
age 14 (bass, banjo, fiddle) and Nate at age 18 (mandolin) are right
up there with the best of their age group as singers, and fully
professional with the instruments. The father, Bob, sings harmony with
them, and takes the lead on one or two songs, joined on a couple by
mom Gale. The youngest band member, 8-year old Tessa, plays fiddle, and
while she does not have the bowing technique of a more advanced
player, she gets a good clean tone, so overall this was one of the
best, and best-received acts at the show. Alex Sharps, another young
banjo player that I had seen at Brown Barn, joined them for a couple
After their set I talked with Max
for a couple of minutes, reminiscing about the first time I had seen
him and his brother at Plymouth in 2007, and asked if they still
have the OMGG group. He said that AJ Lee has moved on, and the three
guys from OMGG (Nate, Max and Marty Varner) now play with Alex
Sharps as Them Boys. When I mentioned 2007, for a minute he had
trouble believing that he had been performing publicly for so long.
evening concluded with the group we had all come to see, Snap Jackson
& the Knock on Wood Players. I've said in the past that
it's hard to describe their music. They do play some more or less
straight bluegrass, and some stuff with an old-time flavor, but
overall I just call it "Snap Music." Using both
three-finger (Scruggs style) picking and two-finger (clawhammer) on
the banjo, and picking up the ukulele for a few songs, Snap and his
three band mates produce a sound all their own. You can check it out
here and here.
band came back for an encore, playing one of their best-received,
least-bluegrass songs, the Temptations' "Just My Imagination
(Running Away with Me)," and the crowd would have gladly stayed
for a couple more songs - but the band members and many in the
audience were also eager to find a jam out in the parking lot. We
gathered up our stuff, and made the short drive back to Clovis,
getting there about 10:30, plenty of time to rest up for the
weekend's final event.
Town Antique Fair: The next day Janell and Ken came over early
in the afternoon, meaning we arrived in Old Town Clovis at the hottest
part of the day, on a weekend when temperatures were near 100 every
managed to spend most of our time on the shady side of the street,
and enjoyed seeing many items that were nice, but that we could
easily live without. Ken bought some sports cards, but other than
that we resisted temptation, and devoted our funds to food. Ken got
a sandwich at one of the outdoor booths, then we went into Scoop's,
a great ice cream and sandwich parlor, where Janell got a sandwich,
and we all had ice cream. I was not hungry for lunch, having had a
large, late breakfast, but the many delicious flavors made it
impossible to resist having a dish of ice cream.
probably spent a little less than two hours at the fair, then headed
back to my place. The next day would bring a fourth event for Ken and Janell
- work, an event I was glad to avoid.
Estel, October 2012