First, a few words about a change in mode of transportation. After
18 years of trailer camping, I decided I was through with hitching
and unhitching, and traded in the trailer on a new motor home. I
wanted something small enough that I would not have to tow a car
behind it, although at 28 feet it's not going to go through the
drive-up lane at McDonald's.
is a Coachmen Freelander on a Ford E450 chassis, with a number of
nice features. With the truck and trailer, I had to find room for a
player and generator, all of which are built into the new unit. The
overall length is about the same as the trailer alone, but of
course, it has a full size truck cab, so there are some compromises,
most notably a lack of closet space. One really big improvement is a
good size bunk bed over the cab, in addition to a queen-size bed in
back. To have a second bed in the trailer we had to convert the
table to a bed, meaning everything had to be moved somewhere else.
Also, with a 50-gallon fresh water tank instead of 30, I won't need
to haul additional water in five-gallon containers. And the inside
is made roomier by a 24-inch slide-out which runs the width of
the refrigerator and table.
grandson and I will give it a real test this summer when we travel
across the south, all the way to Florida. However, the Parkfield trip would be a good
shakedown voyage, five
nights with no water or sewer connection, and electrical service
probable but not guaranteed.
many trips, this one started with problems before my departure. The
refrigerator in the motor home did not work on propane, and there
were a number of other lesser but still annoying problems. I took it
back to the dealer a week after picking it up, assuming there would
be plenty of time to get it fixed before my departure for the
Parkfield Bluegrass Festival eight days later. On Monday before I
was to leave I had not heard from them, and it took calls to three
different people at the dealership before anyone called back to let
me know what was happening.
had to get authorization from the factory to make the necessary
repairs, so I picked up the vehicle on Tuesday, with the
understanding that I had to bring it back in again when I returned
from my trip. This is quite a hassle Ė unlike the trailer I
canít drop it off and drive away; I need to get a ride from
someone, and most of the people willing and able to help work full
time, the same hours the repair place is open. However, I managed,
and took the motor home to my house for the first time, parking on
the street near my condo. Thereís a 72 hour limit nearly
everywhere for parking RVs on the street, but this was just
electricity at the festival was not guaranteed and I could not run the
refrigerator on propane, I had to resort to an old-fashioned ice
chest and hope that I would have electrical power at the festival,
which in fact I did.
enough of that; this is about the bluegrass festival.
May 6, 2009
: I got everything loaded up and left home a little after ten, for
my first lengthy drive in this 11,000 pound monster. This is a small motor home, just under 28 feet long, and I canít conceive of driving
one of those big bus-size units that you see everywhere. However, I
was able to drive at a reasonable speed, keeping it just under the
speed limit, and taking it easy on the winding section where the
road enters the eastern side of the Coast
Range. ďThe road,Ē by the way is State Highway 41 south from Fresno,
City, across Interstate 5 and into the Cholame
Valley. Here a right turn puts one on the Cholame Valley Road,
which goes about 15 miles to Parkfield.
first time in my life I had to be concerned with overhead clearance,
since the top of the air conditioner is just over 11 feet from the
ground. A mile or so from town there is a bridge with overhead steel
girders, but the clearance was over 13 feet, so I had no problem
the 110 mile trip in a little over two hours, and enjoyed backing
into my camping spot, a much easier and simpler task than backing a
weather here was quite warm, just as it was in Fresno
yesterday, with the second warming trend of the season. However,
there was a nice breeze, and it was very comfortable to sit outside
in the shade.
camped beside Oak Street, one of the main side roads, leading from the main road to the
rodeo grounds, where about half the people here camp. I also saw an
ďonly in ParkfieldĒ sight Ė a teenage boy riding by on a
horse, totally focused on the cell phone in his hand.
came inside about 45 minutes ago, at , the motor home was still quite warm (the electrical system here
does not provide enough power to run the A/C). I have a small
electric fan that provides some relief, and now itís cool enough
to turn that off. Time for TV and a snack.
The festival is off to a good start, one of the few shows that
begins on Thursday afternoon instead of Friday morning. The six
groups that played today were all ones I had seen except one. New to
me was Kitchen Help, from the Bay Area. Like most regional bands
they are all competent, but rarely outstanding. The Wild River
Ramblers from the Central
Coast opened the show, followed by the Dalton Mountain Gang from the
area. Iíve seen them several times, most recently at the Hobbs
Grove festival in September, and at a one-night bluegrass concert
and dinner in Clovis
A Santa Cruz
area band, Sidesaddle and
Company, have been performing since the
late 1970s, and always put on a good show. Also from this general
area is Bean Creek, who are playing now, but without my presence.
standout group today was John
Reischman and the
Jaybirds, who I
saw in Bakersfield
a few years ago. Although most of the group now lives in Canada, only one is a native; the others are California
refugees. They have a national following and have a number CDs out,
one of which I owned even before I saw the group.
a little strange this morning, not making my regular drive around
the area. Once you get a 28-foot motor home in place, you donít
move it for casual driving around. Instead I took a good walk, which
I try to do most mornings at home, then rode my bike around the town
to see what was going on, and did a bunch of reading.
weather was very warm in the sun, but my chair at the stage area was
in the shade all but about 10 minutes this afternoon, and we had a
good breeze all day. We also have what looks to be a full moon,
which rises from behind the stage, giving the audience an added
The final day of the festival is well underway, and in some ways
itís been my favorite Parkfield festival of the eight Iíve
attended. Getting another negative item out of the way, I noticed
Friday afternoon that a tire that was low at the dealership, and low
after I took delivery, was now completely flat. I attempted to
inflate it with a little 12-volt compressor that I keep with me, and
it was down to zero PSI. I got it up to 50, but it takes a long time, and the compressor
was getting hot, so I stopped for the night. The next morning it had
dropped down to 20
PSI, so I called my Ford roadside service, and a guy came from Coalinga
to put on the spare. The problem tire had a small bolt in it, which
I think was there before I bought it.
else has worked fine, and although there are some minor things that
could be better, for the most part itís a nice improvement over
weíre here for the music, right? Friday brought mostly bands I had
seen before, and some of them were as good as or better than ever.
The only group new to me was Whiskey Chimp from
Ventura, a rare seven-person bluegrass band that proves you can combine
Cajun, Mariachi and Rockabilly with traditional music. In addition
to the usual bluegrass instruments, they used some accordion and
ukulele. Some of their music was hilarious, and overall, their two
appearances (with one more this afternoon) were a highlight of the
festival. In another first, they made and served free grilled cheese
sandwiches during their Saturday appearance, just before the dinner
break. Oh yes, their bass player has a ďday jobĒ as a member of
written about Sawmill Road
before, a group composed of guys Iíve seen in various other bands
over the years. Theyíve been together around two years, and are
really coming together as a tight, high-level band.
Kallick has been a mainstay of bluegrass in the Bay Area for 30
years or so, and has put together a great band, a little different
from the lineup I saw at Hobbs Grove last September, but still in
the top echelon of the music.
the biggest name and one of the best bands at the festival was Special Consensus. Greg Cahill, based in the
area, has led this group for 34 years, and most of the other
members havenít been alive that long, but he always manages to
find outstanding talent and puts on a great performance. Greg's
commitment to the music is further shown by the fact that he is
currently serving as president of the International Bluegrass Music
the average level was Bean
Creek, from the Bay Area, who have
performed here a number of times, and LeRoy Mack and the Bluegrass
Gospel Band. I donít know if LeRoy has a regular lineup or not; he
always seems to have a different set of band mates in the many years
he has played here. This time he was backed up by three members of Sawmill Road, plus Craig Wilson of
Bakersfield, who led his own group a few years ago. Also in this category is a
central coast band, Better Late than Never, who make their mark with
excellent song selection.
favorite group of the entire weekend was Chris Stuart and
Backcountry. Iíve seen him here a number of times, but itís been
at least three years, and he has a slightly different lineup. In my
opinion, Chris Stuart is the best songwriter alive today, and I
donít hesitate to buy each of his CDs as they come out. The only
member of the band whoís been with him every time is Janet Beazely,
an excellent singer, banjo player and songwriter, who has a good
solo album of her own available.
the group since I last saw them is Eric Uglam, a veteran of many
bluegrass groups, most notably Lost Highway
in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Rounding out Backcountry are
Ericís stepsons, Christian (fiddle) and Austin (bass) Ward, who
Iíve written about when they have appeared with Eric as a trio. I
think Christian was 12 when I first saw him with Kids on Stage at
Paso Robles, a shy, nervous kid. I first met Austin
a year earlier when he was a 12-year old, catching lizards in the
rocks back of the Parkfield Cafť. Now they are both accomplished
professionals who have played with some of the big names in
bluegrass, and have traveled overseas with a teen bluegrass super
OK, what Iím trying to say is, I really, really like Chris
Stuart and Backcountry. If youíre not necessarily a bluegrass fan,
but like sharply written songs and acoustic playing, his new CD, Crooked
Man, is long on both, with only a minimal amount of ďtrueĒ
a little before
Sunday, and Iím skipping the third performances by a couple of
bands. Iíll head to the stage area at
for the Kids on
show, then watch the afternoon lineup of Whiskey Chimp, Chris
Stuart, and Better Late than Never. Iíll stay overnight as I
usually do, then head home in the morning, with a stop in Avenal to
visit an old friend.
something amazing happens at the rest of the festival or on the way
home, Iíll end this report here and get busy reviewing the 160 or
so photos I took, in hopes of getting them on line before I leave on
my next trip, about June 15.
A sad footnote:
Ken Orrick, founder and lead singer for Lost
Highway, passed away in
January, 2009 following a massive heart attack.
Lost Highway performed at
the very first festival I attended, and over the years I saw them at
least a half dozen more times, and had several pleasant
conversations with Ken.
The group had its
beginning many years ago, but disbanded in the mid-1980s. Ken
revived the group in 1996, and over the next ten years or so they
appeared throughout the nation and in many foreign countries,
achieving considerable commercial success.
Ken was born in
Smithville, TN, in 1940, and moved to California in the late
The group's web
site is still in existence, but has not been updated since 2006;
in fact, of the musicians pictured, only Ken was still with the band
the last time I saw them, at Bullhead City AZ in March, 2007.