: It seems like I am running out of things to write about Parkfield
and the annual bluegrass festival held here every Motherís
Day weekend Ė but that wonít stop me from writing anyway.
not sure if Iíve conveyed just how small Parkfield is. While the
sign gives the population as 18, Iíve also heard that the
permanent residents number 37. In any case, there are not more than
15 or 20 residences in the town, not all occupied, and if I were not
really lazy, it would take about five minutes to walk around town
and count them.
first European settlers arrived in the area in 1854. In addition to
agriculture, there was extensive mining, and in 1900 the population
was around 900. When the mines gave out, everyone moved away except
to Parkfield from the south is the Cholame Valley Road, which heads
north from CA Highway 46/41, then becomes the Vineyard Canyon Road
and goes on to San Miguel, on US 101. The main road through town is
the Coalinga-Parkfield Road, which leaves Cholame Valley Road,
crosses the creek (and simultaneously the San Andreas Fault), and
reaches the ďcity limitsĒ after a half mile. This road goes on
to Coalinga, but the northern section is dirt and impassible when it
are two streets to the east off the main street and one to the west,
plus assorted driveways, pathways, etc. The two eastbound streets
connect to form the only square block fully surrounded by roadways.
The business district consists of the Parkfield Inn and the
Parkfield Cafť. There used to be a gift shop in an old railroad
caboose, but the gift shop closed before I started coming to the
bluegrass festivals, and the caboose has disappeared since I was
last here in 2006.
is also an elementary school and a California Department of Forestry
and Fire Protection (CalFire) station, as well as the normally quiet
building that houses earthquake measuring equipment.
course, there are a number of farms and ranches out in the country
along the various roads, and on a hill above town, the Varian
residence, a large new home that was built in the last few years.
The Varians are the owners of Parkfield; or at least they own the
two businesses along with 20,000 acres of ranch land. There is a
Parkfield Winery that sets up a booth at the festival each year, but
Iím not sure exactly where it is located (perhaps on Vineyard
addition to the annual bluegrass festivals and rodeos, both in May,
you can rent the facilities for weddings, biker rallies, and other
events, arrange a guided wild pig hunt, or join a cattle drive.
town is in a flat section of the valley, which varies in width from
maybe 100 feet to a mile. The fields and hills are covered with
large, ancient valley oak trees, and the principle agricultural
activity is cattle and hay. At this time of year, the hay in some
fields has been cut and is drying on the ground, awaiting the
year the weather is fantastic, probably in the mid 70s in the
afternoon, cool enough for a sweatshirt during the evening
performances, and down to the low 30s at night, with cloudless
my standard pattern, I arrived on Wednesday, and got the trailer set
up. Iím in a location that was new to me, behind the Community
Center, with electrical hookups available. I went on my usual
exploration tour Thursday morning, driving back down the
Cholame Valley Road a short distance to the
Parkfield Cemetery. There was no
one there that I knew, but dates on the tombstones indicate it has
been in use since the early 1900s.
a little further down the road to where a creek crosses, and hiked
up an old road on the west side of the main road. Between the two
roads is a deep, steep gully which I have always thought was Cholame
Creek, but from this vantage point I could see that itís a
tributary that runs north into Cholame Creek. I believe the sudden
drop of this gorge means it is an exposed part of the fault.
end of the dirt road was a burned out old house. Although I was
unsuccessful in finding any exciting old artifacts, I did gather a
section of barbed wire for a friend who has an extensive collection.
has been a year for some unusual wildlife sightings. There are
plenty of animals in these hills, but they stay out of sight most of
the time. Driving in I saw two pronghorn antelope, which Iím
almost certain are planted, not native. Then while biking just
outside of town I saw a large bird in some of the uncut hay. The
wings seemed to be staying remarkably still, and I soon realized
that my ďbirdĒ was actually the ears of a mule deer, apparently
lying down in the field.
any other festival Iíve attended, this one starts Thursday
afternoon, which may be almost more bluegrass than I need. I did
enjoy most of the groups, but I felt in general that I was not yet
in a ďbluegrass mood.Ē Iíve seen the Virtual Strangers several
times, but I found them to be better and more enjoyable than I did
in the past. My favorite for the day was Bean Creek, who Iíve seen
here several times. I thought their harmony singing was especially
tight and their instrumental performance was above par.
(Friday) I watched only the first group, then did some visiting and
fixed lunch. I chatted a while with
and Darlene Quealy, who promoted the festival for the last four
years. Anticipating a time when they would be unwilling or unable to
continue this task, they helped form the Bluegrass Music Society of
Central Coast, which now runs the
all due respect to
Joe, who always seemed a bit disorganized, this
festival is running smoother this year than ever before. For the
first time since they started the Thursday performances, it started
on time, and everything has gone the way it should. I have a few
complaints, but then, thatís part of my job. My biggest one is
that they are charging a dollar for the festival program. The amount
of money is not an issue; itís just the idea of charging when
every show Iíve ever been to provided programs as part of the
other big complaint is the usual Ė people talking during the
music. Every festival puts in its program, and announces from the
stage, that talking during the music should be avoided, but none of
them do anything to enforce the rule. My solution would be security
staff with small whips.
May 10: The rest of yesterdayís show was quite good, partly
because I tried a new technique. Instead of sitting through every
group as I usually do, I watched only groups I knew were good, or
that I had never seen. This resulted in seeing two new groups, one
very good and one outstanding. The usual ďnew to me but very goodĒ
group was the Del Williams Band. The band is newly formed, but the
members are long-time performers.
Del is the son of Vern Williams, who led what was
considered the number one California bluegrass group for
many years, and Del
performed with his father for 30 years or so.
other group, new to me and pretty darned good, was the Brombies from
area. Theyíve been together ten years or so, and included
Bryson, who has played with many, many artists, including the Desert
Rose Band. The other two singers were good, but I was reminded again
what an excellent vocalist Bill
is, something that often gets lost when he just plays and sings
harmony with some of his other groups.
told a great story and performed the song that it inspired. He was
watching a TV special about the construction of Route 66, and an old
Oklahoma talked about working on the road. They would
pour a section of concrete, and since it was quite hot, it would set
quickly. Then in the evening the workers and their wives would go
down and dance on the new highway. ďAll Across
OklahomaĒ commemorates this story.
appearing twice was the James King Band, which is on the A list of
professional, full-time bluegrass organizations. It is unusual to
see them at a small, out of the way festival like this, but I
believe the former promoter negotiated a special price.
had breakfast, then went for a short bike ride north of town. Iím
skipping the first group, even though they are OK, since I want to
see all the rest of the program. This festival, unlike most I go to,
has an evening program as well as morning and afternoon, so it makes
a long day, even with lunch and dinner breaks.
11: Itís the middle of the last day, with four more groups to
go Ė the festival ends about 6 p.m.
on Sunday, no evening program. Once again last night I saw another
great new (to me) band, Junior Sisk and Ramblerís Choice. Sisk has
been a member of a number of high-profile bands, and fronted his own
group in the 1990s. He recently re-formed Ramblerís Choice with a
group of highly skilled musicians.
group I enjoyed was Baloney Creek from
Fresno, whom Iíve seen at the Kings River Festival in
Sanger, only about 20 miles from home. They have a young lady singer
and fiddler who is of professional quality. Despite her youth (under
25), sheís been playing for close to 20 years.
saw Eric Uglam & Sons, always a treat, and repeat performances
by a number of bands who performed on Friday or Saturday.
started with LeRoy Mack and the Bluegrass Gospel Band. If you were a
faithful follower of the Andy Griffith Show, you saw this
gentleman (real name Leroy MacNees) when he was 20 years old,
appearing in two shows along with the White Brothers. In those days
they were known as the Country Boys, and later as the Kentucky
Colonels. Like all of us, Leroy is older now, but has continued in
music throughout his life, and also delivers a short sermon or
inspirational message as part of his performance Sunday morning at
Parkfield (I think heís been here every year since the festival
of the mill regional group, the Salt Martians, also made their only
appearance, and we had the first ever kids performance at Parkfield.
As at other festivals, they worked with a leader/teacher Friday and
Saturday in preparation for their stage presentation, and as usual,
the talent level varied widely. The leader asked each child his/her
name and what he/she had learned. Eddie Uglam (Ericís son, and no
stranger to the stage at age six) had the best answer Ė ďI
learned to pay attention.Ē
to my trailer during one of the breaks, I was stopped by a teenage
boy with a fiddle who described me as a "professional
photographer" (I have a nice camera, but as you all know, I am
not now and have never been a pro). Anyway, he and two young adults
have a band that will be appearing in the emerging artists program
at the Plymouth Festival in September, and wanted some photos. I
took a number of pictures to be emailed to them, and listened to
their playing a little (which was quite good). So watch for Gritchy
Magrally at a festival near you soon. (Click here
for a picture of GM on stage at Plymouth in September 2008.)
heading into a period of time when I have too many things to do,
especially for a retired person. I am hoping to stop in Avenal to
visit a friend on the way home, and if time permits, after I get
home and unload, I will take my trailer in to be lubricated, in
preparation for a big trip this summer. And on Tuesday, I will go to
Mariposa as I continue to take care of things in preparation for
selling my parentsí house. Actually it is on the market now; I
just need to take out a few final things and follow up on some of
the repair and clean-up work. So if you donít get this early May
report until almost June, youíll know why.
--Dick Estel, May 2008