Hooked on Bluegrass

John Hettinger

I grew up in Tennessee. That should have been enough to hook me, but it wasn’t. My mother was passionate about formal church music and opera, but my father had a complete disdain for all music and musicians. If I had tried to sing anything then, I would have had a choir robe on me by the third bar and a disgusted father. As a teen in the 50‘s, my favorite kinds of music were rock-and-roll and country; we called it “hillbilly” back then. My favorite musical group was the Louvin Brothers; I didn’t know why because I didn’t understand the nuances of brother harmony then. I played in the band in junior high and high school where learned to read music and appreciate all kinds of music, from marches to pop to classical.

I was more focussed on my education then, in line with my father’s wishes, so it wasn’t until I got to grad school in Madison, WI, that I heard a real live bluegrass band, Flatt & Scruggs. I nibbled but wasn’t quite ready to be reeled in. Marriage and parenthood intervened. Later when I took a job in the Bay Area in the 70’s, I searched for bluegrass music and finally found some with the Good Ol’ Persons. I was getting more and more interested. When I took some group guitar lessons from Carol McComb at Gryphon in Palo Alto, I finally learned of the festival scene and went to the Mid-Summer Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley and the Strawberry Music Festival where I later met my wife Loretta in a Fiddle for Adults workshop (one of the major highlights of my life). I had also found the CBA Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley where there was music everywhere. I marveled at how the people were so friendly and even though they didn’t often play together, they could make such captivating music on the fly. I was now HOOKED on bluegrass and took a few fiddle lessons from Jack Tuttle before I retired and moved to the Sacramento area.

Once in Sacramento, it wasn’t hard to find bluegrass music. I started taking fiddle lessons from Eric Anderson and became a regular at a slow jam hosted by Eric and Barbara West. For quite a while I thought I could never get away from the sheet music, but I gradually came to playing mostly by ear or memory, which you have to do in a jam anyway. I’m still struggling as a fiddler but play in a band, SimpleFolk, that plays nursing homes, church picnics, etc. In addition to the CBA Father’s Day Festival, one of the highlights of each year for me has been the CBA Music Camp - awesome instructors and more fun than you can imagine. Thank you, Ingrid!

My involvement in the CBA has grown over the past ten years. In my role as the CBA Sacramento Area Activities VP I publish the Sacramento Bluegrass Newsletter started by Bob Thomas, and I organize a weekly jam, the successor to Eric and Barbara’s slow jam. Loretta and I are backstage volunteers at the Father’s Day Festival and have produced a number of house concerts as well as larger venue concerts. We also host a large jam / potluck event every August at our home in Folsom, August 25 in 2012. Read the Sacramento Bluegrass Newsletter on the CBA website for details. Y’all come!

Music aside, the greatest treasures for me in my involvement in bluegrass music are my wife and the host of true friends I have gained in the process. I wish everyone could be so fortunate.

(posted 8/21/2012)

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