Hooked on Bluegrass

Sally Worland

Well, let’s see

I graduated from college, without a job, without a husband and without a clue.

So I went to work as a waitress at Vegetable Buddies, a live music venue in South Bend.

Some of the bands that came through had names as original as the bar itself – Duke Tomato and the All Star Frogs, Jump ‘n’ the Saddle Band, and Asleep at the Wheel.

I can only imagine, but not recollect, that one of the bands had a banjo. I remember well the deep thrill I got when I saw the stage set up with a fiddle stand; I appreciated that but hoped for a banjo too.

I bought a Harmony Marquis banjo as soon as I could – I thought it was beautiful. It even had a decal on the back!

Many years went by as I funded lessons for my children. As soon as empty nest hit, it was my turn for lessons.

By this time I had owned a banjo for10 years and had absolutely no idea how to play it. I gave up on my Mel Bay Book as soon as it explained the action of the right thumb.

I googled Bay Area banjo teachers and found Jack Tuttle’s wonderful web site, all green and yellow with corn, and reminding me of the Oakland A’s. It said he grew up in a musical family back “home” in a small Illinois farming community. Wow, what luck!

I drove down to Palo Alto and told Jack “I want to learn to play the banjo”. He replied “Bluegrass?”.

It sounded to me as if he knew a smorgasbord of ways to play the banjo, and was suggesting the best kind to me, like a waiter suggesting the crab cakes today, So I said ‘Sure!”.

And off we went, with the rolls that lead to Worried Man Blues. I loved it.

One day when I came down to my lesson, he had a flyer on the music stand for a band called The Pine Valley Boys, with David Nelson in it.

Now I used to be a Dead Head. A good Dead Head felt very superior when they could find a link back to Jerry Garcia, go hear that band and casually drop mention of it at the next show. David Nelson had known Jerry since the beginning of time, so I figured it would be clever to show up!

I put on my best tie-dye and went on down to Mountain View, planning on being early enough to get a good seat, assuming of course that there would be a line of Dead Heads!

There wasn’t.

But as I waited two men came out, and chatted with me. – they turned out to be Steve Pottier and Ed Neff.

This was my very first taste of the niceness of the bluegrass community. Steve and Ed were just as nice and friendly as could be.

Soon the music started! And I was HOOKED.

My next taste came at McGrath’s, a place I haunted during my years in Alameda.

The sign outside said High Country – I thought Jack might have told me this was the mandolin player’s band.

I was so shy I had to convince myself no one would throw rocks at me if I went in. I’d been so lonely and blue through a real hard time in my life, I’d forgotten what it was like to be around human beings.

The band opened with Bob singing “Today has been a lonesome day”. Ah this was music that knew my heart and soul, and offered redemption from the pain inside.

Now my bluegrass life contains a ton of friends, a lot of bands, festivals, jams, the CBA web site, my Deerling banjo and much much more. I am blessed indeed.

(posted 2/18/2008)

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