Hooked on Bluegrass
In February of 1978, my wife and I decided to take a Sunday afternoon drive up Highway 101. We set out from Vallejo across Highway 37, then over the Lakeville road to Petaluma where we got onto 101 heading north, with no particular place to go. We passed through Cotati, Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa. We passed tree-lined hills, mountains, valleys and vineyards as we headed north. Passing through Healdsburg only seemed to take an instant. Eventually the four-lane highway came to an end as we approached Cloverdale. Back then 101 wound its way through downtown Cloverdale past stores, shops and drive-ins.
As we continued on, we saw the Cloverdale High School on our left. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot for a Sunday afternoon. On a sign in front of the school, in big letters it said, “Annual Cloverdale Fiddle Contest.” We decided to stop and see what a fiddle contest was about. As we entered the high school auditorium, we could hear the sounds of music and people having a good time. We found a couple of seats and sat down to listen to young kids of varying ages playing their hearts out. Some were good, and others were really good. But all of it was enjoyable.
The music was instantly familiar to me. I had grown up in southeastern Ohio, and the music being played brought back old memories of my childhood. My wife, Margaret, asked me what kind of music it was. I couldn’t remember the proper name for it, but I said, “Back home we used to call it ‘Hill Billy’ music.” Someone sitting next to us politely corrected me by telling us it was Bluegrass music.
Later on, we were walking by some tables that had flyers about other contests, concerts and festivals. One table had a flyer about the third annual Fathers’ Day Bluegrass Festival. Whoever was at the table that day began telling us about this festival. It sounded pretty neat. We took one of the flyers home with us.
On the way back home, we started talking about the music and how beautiful and earthy it sounded. We also got to talking about going camping and taking our boys with us. We thought this would be a good way to introduce the boys to camping. At the time, Tim, Jr. was 6, and Mike was 3. So in June of that same year, we packed or rather stuffed our Mazda two-door hatchback and a U-Haul roof carrier with all the camping gear, food and clothes we thought we would need, squeezed the boys, Margaret and I into what little remaining room was left in the car and took off for Grass Valley.
Out of town, up Interstate 80 we went heading towards Sacramento. The kids were asking all kinds of questions about where we were going and when will we get there and what will we do when we get there. I hunched over the steering wheel and put the peddle to the metal letting Margaret answer their questions. We pulled into the fairgrounds, paid for our tickets and found a spot to park the car and set up camp. In those days it was easy to find a place to camp.
Our first campsite was in the meadow near the pond. The boys found that pond in 8.2 seconds of getting out of the car. Between keeping an eye on them, unpacking the gear and putting up the tent, Margaret and I had our hands full, but we got it done.
Our tent was a big old canvas 10x10. It served our camping needs for more than ten years. We had small, two-burner propane stove and a couple of folding tables to cook and eat off. When I look back on how we went camping that first year, I’m simply amazed that we pulled it off.
Nowadays it’s just Margaret and me with a pick-up truck towing a folding tent trailer, a big stand alone three-burner stove, coolers, chairs, tables and God only knows what else we pack in every year (including my mother-in-law).
In the early years we sat on the ground while listening to the music. The stage was also at ground level. 1978 was the beginning of the end of the hippie era, but most of us still had long hair and beards (the guys, that is). Everyone was wearing tie-dyed shirts, hip-hugger pants and sandals with tire treads for soles. Once in awhile, funny smelling smoke would drift through the crowd (What was that stuff? Don’t tell me). There weren’t any no-smoking rules back then. But the music was pure and sweet. I loved to hear it echo through the tall pine trees in the fairgrounds. I still do.
We had a ten-year break between 1983 and 1993, when we took the boys other places to camp. In those early years, there was no Children’s program to entertain the kids. But when the boys were big enough to go out on their own and thought it wasn’t cool anymore to be seen with their parents, Margaret and I headed back to Grass Valley and that high lonesome sound.
Margaret and I don’t wear tie-dyed clothes anymore or sandals. Forget about the hip-huggers. I still have my beard, but no long hair. I’m lucky to have any hair at all. Neither Margaret nor I sing or play instruments. We hang out and listen to those wonderful people who do. I just tell stories and tall tales. But we sure love camping and that Bluegrass music - all because of a Sunday drive up Highway 101.
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