Hooked on Bluegrass

Jon Schaffer

At around ages 7, 8, and 9 my family took me to the Strawberry Music Festival. My family consisted of two uncles and aunts, a set of wonderful grand parents, and my parents. My grandfather and uncles played music and listened to the bands and I was much more interested in playing with other kids and really not paying any attention to what riches were going on around me. But the memories are there.

My family went for a few years and drifted from going. My grandpa Chris played a 1923 Gibson mandolin and guitar with one of my uncles playing six stringed guitar and the other a twelve string. They played through the years at family gatherings and holidays.

When I was thirteen my grandfather Chris fell terminally ill. One day when I was at their house as usual my grandma and grandpa brought me in the back bedroom and presented me with his Westbrook guitar. They wanted me to have it and to carry on the musical tradition in our family. I took the instrument and really thought a lot of it but still didn't apply myself while my grandpa was alive. He passed on about six months later. A few months after his passing I got bit by the bug. I got some chord charts and began learning the cords. I would sit in my room for hours on end switching from one chord to another or learning new one's. I did it on my own. My parents weren't very musical and really didn't encourage it but I've stayed with it ever since then.

When I was about sixteen years old I was actually staying for a time with my grandmother. She went on a vacation to Arkansas for about three weeks. While staying at her house I peeked up in the closet in the room I was living in and found my grandfathers Mandolin. I got it down from the shelf and opened it up. It had the smell and the oldness that I remembered. I went down and bought some strings for it and a chord book and began learning what I could. My grandma got back from vacation and I put it up where it was supposed to be. When she left at times I would get it down and practice on it and put it back before she got back. Well, one day I got caught red handed as she came through the door. I knew I was going to be in trouble. She asked me what I thought I was doing. I replied that I was just pecking at it and that I would put it back immediately. She stopped me then sat down and asked me to play what I had learned. I began to strum on it and I saw her eyes close as if she was remembering my grandpa. After I stopped strumming she openned here eyes and said that she was going pass on the mandolin to me to play. I still have it and cherish it to this day. My grandmother passed in May of this year and as she would say....I wouldn't give up that Mandolin for all the tea in China.

When I was about 21 or so I was in a rock n roll / country band that usually played gigs in bars. I had a friend in the band that said she was thinking of going to the Strawberry Music Festival. I got interested and we decided to go up there for the day. The only person I knew that might be there was someone from my childhood, Frank Solivan, who I remembered my grandpa camping and playing with. I remembered "Uncle Frank," as they used to call him, playing with my grandpa at his house when I was small. When I got to the festival I discovered it was quite a huge deal. We went and listened to the music for a time then I started my quest to see if I could find Frank Solivan. It didn't take long. When I found him I walked up to him and asked if he remembered Chris Christian. He said yes he remembered. I introduced myself and his eyes got big and his smile got wide. We went up for the day and ended up staying the weekend. Frank cleared us a spot to camp and welcomed us completely and to tell you the truth I felt a sense of belonging like I had never felt before. The people were so nice and the pickin was awsome. That's where the hook got set for me.

From there I tried other festivals...Grass Valley, Plymouth ect. The feeling I got was the same at all of them. I hope my grandparents can see how much joy they've passed on to me from heaven. My family has drifted apart over the years but I have great memories. Now I am building my own great memories with my bluegrass family and I wouldn't trade all the tea in China for it!

(posted 8/13/2006)

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