Evie Ladin & Evil Diane

Red Rag Andy

Bean Creek

Kings River & Brown Barn Bluegrass


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Kings River Bluegrass               Brown Barn Bluegrass


Kings River Bluegrass Festival

Since I've driven as far as 450 miles for a bluegrass festival, it only make sense that I should always attend a festival that is only 20 miles from my house. And yet, for various reasons, I've missed a few Kings River (formerly Hobbs Grove) festivals over the years. However, I have been a regular attendee for the last four years, including this one.

Like last year, I was joined by my friend Janell Sidney, and we got started about 2:30 Friday afternoon for the short drive to The Grove near Sanger, home of the Kings River Bluegrass Festival. We did a little setting up after we arrived, then headed to the stage area, in time to see about half the first act, the Grasskickers. This was a local group that we've seen several times before, and that seems to be really getting the right personnel and the right chemistry to be an excellent band.

There were two bands that were new to us on Friday, both competent but not outstanding. First was the Rock Ridge Bluegrass Band, who come from the Chico area. We had been anticipating the other, the Central Valley Boys, because two players were in the Dalton Mountain Gang, our favorite local group which disbanded earlier this year. The Boys were OK, but had not really worked together that much yet; their set Saturday evening, after intensive practice during the day, was better. Their approach is to do strictly traditional classics. These are songs we enjoy, but the variety of contemporary and original material was sadly missed. (Dalton Mountain had been adding more and more intriguing original songs.)

A group that deserves a mention is Red Dog Ash, based in Turlock. They have recently released a CD, which got a good review in the primary magazine devoted to this music, Bluegrass Unlimited. We've also seen this group a few times, primarily at the free Friday Bluegrass in the Park series in Clovis.

Another repeat we looked forward to was The Get Down Boys, who we'd seen at Parkfield. Although they sounded fine, we were certain that at least one and probably two players had not been with the group we saw last May. Their mandolin player was definitely a "fill-in," recruited at the festival. At their second show, the three "regular" member were joined by Pete Hicks of  Bean Creek, and mandolinist Scott Gates, who's been playing professionally in southern California after starting out in the Kids on Bluegrass program.

Bean Creek is a group that I've seen a number of times, over at least the last six or eight years. They are from the Santa Cruz area, highly popular with the crowd, but a bit of an enigma for me - I like some of their stuff, but not all. Pete Hicks was hands down the best fiddle and mandolin player at the festival. Lead vocalist Billy Petrone has a voice that works great for some songs, and less so for others, but overall, I have always enjoyed their music.

Closing out Saturday night, as well as the entire festival Sunday afternoon was Evie Ladin & Evil Diane. Diane is neither evil nor a person, but rather the group name. This  group was mostly new to us, although we recognized Evie as member of the Stairwell Sisters, who we saw at Parkfield. In addition to the usual singin' and pickin', Evie dances on an amplified board. We both enjoyed their performances.

Since the weather was close to perfect at the two bluegrass festivals I attended earlier this year, we were due for some unpleasant weather, and we really got it Friday. Summer said goodbye with a temperature of 101, with lots of clouds and humidity. Walking around the motor home for some minor chore left me dripping, kind of like being in Alabama. Saturday was about 95 degrees, but still very humid, while Sunday brought the weather we like - 85 high, and a nice breeze all day.

On Saturday, shortly after we went to the stage area, Janell went to sit in a more shady area, and almost immediately began feeling faint, to the extent she had to be helped into the hospitality room. She is diabetic and takes several medications, and her doctor later determined the probable cause was too high a dosage of one of the prescriptions. After resting a while and having a few swallows of Coke, Janell was feeling well enough to walk back to the motor home. She spent the rest of the day just taking it easy, and by the time of the evening performances, she felt up to going back to the stage; she was able to enjoy the rest of the festival with no further problems.

Saturday's musical performances included Baloney Creek, a group that seems to fluctuate up and down in my rankings. When I first saw them about 10 years ago I liked them, and was especially impressed with the lead singer/fiddler/guitarist Delisay Richter (now Johnson). Over the years, they have often played with their instruments electrified, which just does not work in bluegrass for me. They now have a new guitarist, who is less of a show-off than the previous one, and at the Kings River Festival they played acoustically, so once again I had to move them up in the rankings. Dee does not do as much of the singing as she used to, which is a loss.

Saturday also brought the first of two sets by the Anderson Family, who I first saw at Plymouth in 2006. They have made great progress, especially with their instruments, but are not quite at the point of being really outstanding like some other family band I've seen. Janell and I agreed that 10-year old Daisy shows promise of being the best singer of the bunch.

The final day of music ended about 3, and was nice and cool (85 and breezy). On our way home, we were tempted, as we often are, by a fruit stand, actually the Simonian Farms complex, more of a full size store than a stand. We both came away with some grapes, and with a desire to go back for more great music next year.

--Dick Estel, September 2011


Brown Barn Bluegrass Festival

Lots of changes at the Brown Barn festival this year - for one thing, the barn is actually brown, although it's not the site of the music. The festival is a month later and three miles south of where it used to be, and it almost didn't happen. The previous location is being sold and it took a lot of work and worry before the promoters connected with the owner of Franklin Ranch in Gilroy, who had been wanting to put on an event of this type. The owners are involved with Music Medics, "a nonprofit corporation created to provide comfort and healing through the use of music for all in need" and a co-sponsor of the festival.

The festival was started by the late Jake Quesenberry, co-founder of the California Bluegrass Association, and has been continued in his honor by his family, with support from other bluegrass organizations. This is the sixth one, and I've attended the last three.

So were are in probably the strangest setting of any festival I've been to. Although it is a working ranch, with hay as the main crop, the area near where I am camped and on two sides of the festival area is some sort of indescribable industrial place with lots of old vehicles (tractors, fire engines, etc); lots of shop-type buildings that seem to be closed up and not in use, storage containers, old mobile homes, and some alpacas. Yeah, alpacas.

The festival area itself is very nice, with green grass, a little shade around the edges, and a stage with a custom-built false-front barn behind it attached to an existing fence. For tent campers, there is a big grassy area outside the main grounds, but those who wanted electricity had to park near buildings with outlets. The building where I am plugged in is a storage room full of computer equipment.

The music was good to great, with quite a few groups that I saw in August at the Good Old Fashioned Festival, or last month at Kings River. The only group that was totally new to me was a band that specializes in old time music, Ragged but Right.

Lots of musicians play in more than one band, and this was well-exemplified by three groups that appeared. Oak Grove is the Schwartz family band, including teenagers Nate and Max who later appeared with AJ Lee and Marty Varner in OMGG. AJ is a regular with the Tuttle family band. And just for good measure, Molly Tuttle played guitar through most of Snap Jackson's set.

The Tuttle boys, Mike (age 12) and Sullivan (age 16) are probably the best young pickers on mandolin and guitar that I have seen. Their performance of El Cumbanchero from five years ago has over a million and a half hits on You Tube, but their updated version is faster, hotter and better. Their CD was reviewed in Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, which also praised the boys playing.

There were a number of groups that take the more traditional approach, including Highway 65 (from Porterville), the Pleasant Valley Boys, Windy Hill, and the Mighty Crows (a band that no longer exists, but re-united for this event).

My favorite old-time band, Red Rag Andy was there, although Barry Schultz, the vocalist who always provided an interesting background on the group's songs, is gone from the group. And I can't help but give another shout out to Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players, a group that is starting to get national attention, and that always gets the crowd excited.

The weather was mostly very good, warming up to 80 or so in the afternoon. With almost no shade available, I was able to stick with my 2nd row seat in the sun all weekend, but had to take a shade break each afternoon. Evenings were cool, but required no more than a sweatshirt. There was some overcast Sunday morning, but it burned off quickly.

Since a good part of the crowd comes from fairly close by, most everyone left Sunday afternoon, but I stayed overnight as usual. I think there were three other parties that also stayed. I got a good early start Monday morning and was home shortly after noon.

--Dick Estel, October 2011


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 

Kings River Bluegrass             Brown Barn Bluegrass


Kings River Bluegrass Festival


The Grasskickers

Rock Ridge Bluegrass Band Uncle Ephus
The Grasskickers Rock Ridge Bluegrass Band Uncle Ephus
Baloney Creek The Get Down Boys The Central Valley Boys
Baloney Creek The Get Down Boys The Central Valley Boys
Bean Creek Evie Ladin & Evil Diane Evie dances
Bean Creek Evie Ladin & Evil Diane Evie dances
Kings River Gospelaires Grass Less Traveled Anderson Family
Kings River Gospelaires Grass Less Traveled Anderson Family
Amy & Paige Anderson Kids on Bluegrass back stage (director Frank Solivan at left) A tiny quintet
Amy & Paige Anderson Kids on Bluegrass back stage (director Frank Solivan at left) A tiny quintet
A trio of kids on bluegrass More kids Janell enjoying the sun and shade and music
A trio of kids on bluegrass More kids Janell enjoying the sun and shade and music

Brown Barn Bluegrass Festival

Oak Grove Tessa Schwartz, 7 year old fiddler Red Dog Ash
Oak Grove (Schwartz Family) Tessa Schwartz, 7 year old fiddler Red Dog Ash
Gary Vessel, Eli Arrigotti, Jason Winfree - the pride of Turlock Pleasant Valley Boys Ragged But Right
Gary Vessel, Eli Arrigotti, Jason Winfree - the pride of Turlock Pleasant Valley Boys Ragged But Right
Windy Hill Ryan Breen, co-founder of Windy Hill OMGG with guest Alex Sharp
Windy Hill Ryan Breen, co-founder of Windy Hill OMGG with guest Alex Sharps
Marty leads the wave Red Rag Andy Andy himself
Marty leads the wave Red Rag Andy Andy himself
The Mighty Crows The Tuttles with AJ Lee Bean Creek
The Mighty Crows The Tuttles with AJ Lee Bean Creek
Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players Snap with guest Molly Tuttle Highway 65
Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players  Snap with guest Molly Tuttle Highway 65
Signs of the group's namesake road California Pearly Blue Kitchen Help
Signs of the group's namesake road California Pearly Blue Kitchen Help
The custom-built barn stage backdrop A VIP Barn (brown this time) Brown Barn program cover
The custom-built barn stage backdrop A VIP Barn (brown this time) Brown Barn program cover
The OFRC Truck Alpaca More alpacas
The OFRC Truck Alpaca More alpacas
    Carl Pagtar - banjo picker, lawyer, co-founder of CBA    
    Carl Pagtar - banjo picker, lawyer, co-founder of CBA    
Related Links
Grasskickers Rock Ridge Bluegrass Band Red Dog Ash
The Get Down Boys Central Valley Boys Bean Creek
Uncle Ephus Baloney Creek Anderson Family
Evie Ladin & Evil Diane Groundspeed Grass Less Traveled
Kids on Bluegrass The Grove California Bluegrass Association
Highway 65 Oak Grove Pleasant Valley Boys
Ragged But Right Windy Hill OMGG
Red Rag Andy Band The Mighty Crows
Tuttles & AJ Lee Snap Jackson & the Knock on Wood Players California Pearly Blue
Jennifer Kitchen Music Medics Franklin Ranch
Gilroy Another Tuttles & AJ song El Cumbanchero 2012
Dick's Bluegrass Odyssey Dick's Bluegrass T-Shirt Photos Dick's Bluegrass Links
The Central Valley Boys

Pleasant Valley Boys

Oak Grove

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