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Continued...

and when they actually went on vacation, and for a period after they returned to their jobs.

The study found that happiness grew significantly once the vacation was planned, and continued to grow until the vacation began. Then it leveled off a bit - possible due to the stresses of traveling. It remained fairly high for the first part of the vacation, then began to dip somewhat, but was still higher than baseline.

When they returned to work - and this will surprise no one who’s had a vacation - their happiness level returned to baseline just a few days after they returned to work. So, planning the vacation began a slow, steady increase in happiness, which plateaued during the vacation and the level crashed shortly after the return to work.

Of course, those of us who play music get to experience endorphin increases on a more regular basis. The enjoyable nervousness immediately preceding a jam or a performance (“Will I do well? Will I make a fool of myself?”) builds an anticipation reaction analogous to someone planning a vacation. Then, the experience itself is like a mini-vacation. It’s a heady mixture of stuff you know, interspersed with (usually) pleasant surprises. The best news is, going back to work after is not such a letdown!



Countdown to our new web site
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where every other summer Amber, otherwise known by my wife as the “llama girl” comes to our place and shears the llamas. This being an odd year, it’s also a shear year and Amber, seven months pregnant, nonetheless came by last Wednesday night and clipped all but one of our five camalids. Olive, by far the smallest of the herd, was spared because she’s half llama and half alpaca, and hence very, very much opposed to any activity that involves llama-human contact. So, anyways, Claire and Gwen and Chelsea and Dulcinea get sheared and Olive does not…and the results are hysterical. Overnight, Olive has gone from being the smallest girl in the herd to far and away the largest…at least visually speaking. One never fully appreciates just what an extraordinary head of hair llamas have until it’s removed. Gwen, who is the boss of the outfit, is visibly annoyed by the temporary juxtaposition. Maybe it’ll teach her a little humility.

So here’s a funny story. Three years ago at Grass Valley, on a lazy Sunday afternoon before the Music Camp and Fathers Day Festival, I was sitting in camp when I heard the strains of Old Joe Clark coming from a not too distant location. I grabbed my fiddle, discovered the old-time jam just a few campsites away and before I knew it I was happily ensconced in the music making. About half an hour in, between songs, someone asked if the workshop schedule for the fest was on the CBA web site. The question was asked of the entire group and not directly of me since no one in the jam was aware of the role I played with cbaontheweb.org. The schedule was, in fact, on the site, but before I could answer a woman sitting opposite me in the circle, a fiddler, spoke.

“Well,” she said with a pained expression on her face, “I’m sure it’s there somewhere, but good luck finding it. I go to the CBA web site as little as possible.”

“Why’s that,” I asked.

“Because it’s a monumental hassle to find what you’re looking for without a whole lot of work and, to be honest, the web site sort of, well, it sort of depresses me.”

“Depresses?”

“Yep, hate to say it but, yes. Steve (the woman’s husband who was sitting next to her) and I are long-time CBA members; we love it and we’re proud of it and all it does. But, my God, that web site, it’s just…so…so…”

“Just so what?” I asked, immediately wishing I hadn’t.

“It’s so…How about Red Haired Boy? Key of A.”

The next time I saw this woman, whose name was Beverly Tracy and about whom I’d made sure to do my research, was at the Hollister festival. What I’d learned was that she and her husband Steve ran a business in Santa Cruz called STG Creative Group. Inc., an online marketing and web design business with a client list as long and as impressive as Whitey Bolger’s rap sheet.

And she, in turn, had learned something about me—I was the CBA web master, the man responsible for the train wreck called cbaontheweb.org, the idiot who for fifteen years had almost single-handedly made the California Bluegrass Association look like an unsophisticated second or third tier player on the national bluegrass scene. Beverly looked a little uneasy as I strode up to her camp.

“You know,” she said with just a trace of anger, “you could have told me you were…”

“Sorry, I just didn’t figure the time was right. But I think it is now. May I sit down? I’d like to ask you some questions about the CBA web site.”

And that’s how I became friends with Steve and Beverly Tracey. Most every time we bumped into each other from that point on we’d find time to talk a bit more about the web site, what was wrong with it, what were its strengths and most importantly how it would be re-designed when the Association finally had the bucks to pay for a re-build.

From that first lengthy conversation at the Good Old Fashioned I knew that we would hire the Tracey’s to design Version 2.0 of cbaontheweb.org. The two were not only world-class pros in their field; they truly loved the California Bluegrass Association. Now, I ask you, what more could one ask?

The new CBA web site, designed by Beverly and Steve Tracey and coded by my long-time business partner and entrepreneur John Argules is completed. This afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Bev and Steve and Johnny will teach me how to use the new site, and when I’m ready, or as ready as I’ll be, we’ll launch the site and you will have your socks blown off.



Another one in the can
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Monday, June 29, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where since last Thursday when my wife came home from the hospital after shoulder surgery, the whole lot of us have shifted into a parallel universe, one in which I am the care giver, animal feeder, straightening-upper of the house and bandage changer. Since Lynn and I got together 35 years ago, I’ve had seven surgeries; she had NONE until last week, which means as you might imagine, that we’re both struggling some with the reversed roles. My dear girl has it way, way worse than me, of course, because she’s the one with the severe unrelenting pain and she’s the one who cannot abide the sight of an out-of-place pot holder or, heaven forbid, a throw pillow on the floor. It’s a goooooood thing we love each other so much.

Each year for a long, long time I’ve written a Welcome column sharing my thoughts about our recently concluded Fathers Day Festival. I’ve always tried to organize my thoughts into some coherent narrative, you know, with a beginning, middle and end; I’m struggling with that this year some unknown reason and rather than fight it I’ll just spill the contents of my brain, to wit…

Sitting on Friday night right smack in the front row (yes, I’m a lifetime member of the Association so they let me into the special “reserved seating) I watched the entire Good Ol Persons final set and that hour or so long experience will forever be what I remember and cherish most about the 2015 Grass Valley festival. The GOP was among my favorite acts back in the 1980’s, which was a little strange given the fact that I’m an adamant lover of all things traditional in bluegrass music, but nonetheless, Kathy and Jon and Bethany and Paul and Sally were always right near the top of my list. So what has 30 years done to, or for, the Good Ol Persons? For me, at least, the years have made them stronger and more compelling. Each has grown musically but, thankfully, each brought their new, more mature and experienced selves back to the wonderful material of the ‘80’s. I could go on, but suffice it to say that nothing at the FDF this year comes even close to those up-close minutes I spent with the Good Ol Persons.

I arrived at the fairgrounds the Saturday before the festival started and as the week progressed I studied intently, as I have each year, the gradual filling of the several acre complex. So what were my findings? I thought you’d never ask. First, it was quite clear that the number of early arrivals continues to increase. I believe this is because, as our membership ages and more people retire, greater and greater numbers of attendees are able to get away for an entire week. But that said, a more interesting observation, and ultimately hopeful one, is that we’re witnessing a much-accelerated turnover in our membership, which is to say, older folks are dropping off our membership roles and are being replaced by younger people, many of whom have young families. And somehow these younger folks are figuring out ways to ditch work for an entire week. Good for them.

The mix of music at the ’15 festival was, in my estimation, precisely what it should have been given the anniversary dynamic of the event, as well as the changing demographics cited above. With regard to the music we’re bringing to Grass Valley, I feel a need to publicly acknowledge and thank Steve Goldfield for everything he’s done to bolster the Association’s focus on old-time music. Without being demanding or whiny, Steve set about three years ago to usher in a return to O-T by proposing and then implementing a series of actions aimed at bringing new people into the fold. And he’s succeeded brilliantly. One more thing I’ll say about this year’s line-up. I hadn’t planned to catch the Grisman set because, frankly, I was disappointed that the CBA contractually limited his offering to bluegrass and I’d have loved to hear he and his troupe play straight Dawg music for minutes. But the fact is that I DID see the DG Bluegrass Experience and was thoroughly entertained. Naturally Grisman surrounds himself with world-class band mates but beyond that, getting to watch and listen to one of the all-time greats play and sing and talk bluegrass was, for me, truly a treat.

My last observation’s a brief and simple one. No one, and I mean no one, not even our excellent Festival Director David Brace, can take as much credit for a truly outstanding 40th anniversary than Board Chairman Tim Edes. Every undertaking that depends on a massive deployment of volunteer and paid workers needs a single, easily identified and broad-shouldered person where the buck stops. And every single buck stopped right outside Tim’s rig.

So, that’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about FDF ’15, but it’s getting late and I have chores to attend to. Please have a terrific week and please mark your calendars for the fall camp out.



On The Road
Today’s Column from Jeanie Ramos
Sunday, June 28, 2015


I guess by now, many of you are pretty much recuperated from the 40th Father’s Day Festival. We didn’t make it this time but I was able to keep up with many of the highlights as my friends were posting comments and photos online. I appreciated the “missing you” messages from my friends. Thanks to Social Media, I was able to celebrate with my friend Diana Donnelly as she received her CBA Lifetime Membership award, as well as send her my heartfelt prayers and condolences when her brother Eddie DuCommun passed away. I was saddened also to see Montie’s post regarding the tragic loss of his grandson. We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We are family.

I’m writing this column from Susanville where the temperature is hovering around a hundred with no sign of relief in sight. I have no complaints though because we are surrounded by people we love and doing what we love to do.

At the beginning of June, Terry and I loaded the camper and toy hauler and set out for a month on the road to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We didn’t have an itinerary or any definite plans when we left but we’ve had a memorable adventure. We were able to spend time with some relatives that we don’t often get to see. I had a little reunion with a childhood friend whom I’ve known since 1950 and we were able to visit with Dale Johnson and Lorraine Paris (bluegrass friends) in Castle Rock, Washington. It’s sad that Lorraine is terminally ill and Dale is no longer able to pick his banjo due to an accident with a power tool. Music was such a big part of their lives. Lorraine and I sang a couple old gospel songs together, without instruments, just for old times sake.

While in Oregon, we spent one day in McMinnville at the aviation museum where the “Spruce Goose” is on display along with many other aircraft that span the history of aviation beginning with replicas of Orville and Wilbur’s first airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis and every kind of civilian airplane as well as military aircraft from every war period on into the Space Age. There’s nothing related to bluegrass there but I always thought “Orville and Wilbur” sounded like a bluegrass duo, sorta like Homer and Jethro.

We had our own little airborne adventure while visiting my brother in Vancouver. We set out on a day trip to Mt. St. Helens and stopped for lunch at a place where you could get a helicopter ride and view the area that was devastated by the last major eruption of the volcano. When I climbed into the front seat of the copter I didn’t know that we would be flying right into the crater and circling the smoldering cone in the center. What a thrill!

We spent several days on the Oregon Coast, one of the prettiest places you’d ever want to visit. You could point a camera in any direction without even aiming and take a prize-winning picture. We had brought our RZR with us to do some trail riding, playing in the dunes and riding along the surf. Terry could have opened his own tow service there. He had fun pulling people and their buggies and quads out of some difficult spots.

The only thing missing from our first three weeks on the road was music. I didn’t cross paths with any other pickers or singers. My Martin saw the light of day only once during that time. Consequently, the usual callouses on my left hand had nearly disappeared. I knew I was in for some sore fingers when I met up with our picking friends at Susanville. We arrived on Monday and have been jamming every day and every night. In addition to my usual “Country Boys,” Frank Brewer, Jesse House, Jimmy Johnston, Cowboy Bob and others, I had the pleasure of jamming with Charlie Edsel, Jerry Logan, Don Timmer, Jake Johnson, Tommie Thompson, Shut Up John, and other bluegrass pickers. Of course, our buddy Lou, master of the cheap shot, is here to keep us all in line, rhythmically speaking and otherwise. I’m looking forward to the music from the stage. Terry has already found a shady spot for our Festival chairs.

After I get home, I am facing some surgery to remove some growths on the roof of my mouth, so once again; I will have a sabbatical from singing. I’m looking forward to having this procedure behind me. I should be in good shape for the next CBA event, the Fall Camp-Out in Lodi. Hope to see you all then.


A Different Kettle of Fish!
Today's column from Prescription Bluegrass Radio Host, Brian McNeal
06-27-2015


I Don't Like Fish! I don't like their slimy feel when catching them out of a stream. I don't like the smell they generate when being cooked. I don't like the taste of fish. Any fish, all fish, EVERY fish. Seafood too! My dad didn't like fish either so I guess I come by it honestly.

Now don't hold that against me. If you like fish, or like to catch fish, that's fine. Have at it. Do it all you can, eat all you can. I harbor no ill feelings toward you for being a fish eater.

What I don't understand (and don't care for) is the number of fish eaters in the world who think it's their calling to convert every non-fish eater. For many years, friends, acquaintances and even total strangers would try to convince me of the error of my opinion whenever the subject would come up. Heaven help me if it happened to be over the dinner table or at a restaurant. “Here, just try a small bite.” “You'll like this, I'm sure.” “How do you know you don't like this fish if you won't try it?” I've heard it all as they shove their fork full of fish across the table and aimed directly at me. I've heard it for years.

It seemed as if everyone who liked fish was bent on being the ONE who could master my refusal and get me converted to their culinary persuasion. I've had more forks of small bites of fish shoved in my face than anyone should ever endure.

That is until I came up with a couple of lines to replace my polite attempts to back away. When someone would try to convince me me of just how good fish really was, I'd say, “if it's that good, then why do you want to get rid of it? If I said that I didn't like hundred dollar bills would you be just as determined to give me some of yours just to prove you're right and I'm wrong?” That shut 'em up. After a few go-rounds with that attitude, it wasn't long before they stopped trying … and I haven't had to battle that front for quite some time now.

Some time ago I read an article from a guy who was reviewing a Yonder Mountain String Band concert. However, he didn't contain himself to just the Yonder boys and, although he didn't really get into hate speech, his words painted a demeanor of disgust for anyone who didn't agree with him that Jamgrass was much better than Bluegrass. He had a look-down-the-nose approach to anyone who didn't think that he was absolutely and without question the only right thinking person and if you didn't completely agree with him then there must be something wrong with you … like all your strings weren't tuned and maybe even some were missing.

His article was obviously so one-sided and narrow-focused that I almost had to laugh at his ignorance. But, his words were so well strung together in support of his belief that he was boiling up the reactionary in me. Here he was shoving his Jamgrass in my face just like the fish people used to do. Not that I don't like Jamgrass … I just didn't like his approach to convincing me that it was good, no, strike that, better than anything else.

After a few days of thinking it over, I began to wonder just why we can't be content with liking whatever it is we like and allowing others to do the same. For some reason it seems that some of us have a need to push our beliefs on to everyone else we meet whether it be fish or music. As if in some way the conversion of another will validate our own belief.

I also got to thinking ahead and trying to envision just where this debate will go. Personally, I'm very tired of hearing about it. I'm tired of hearing that Traditional Bluegrass is the only REAL Bluegrass with “traditional” being defined as only that which came from the first generation, when there are plenty of new songs being recorded in the style. I'm tired of hearing that we should keep pushing out the boundaries to be more inclusive. I'm tired of so many new names like Jamgrass, Pink Flamingo Grass, Welkgrass, Sinatra Grass, and the all-time favorite “BlueBrass” – each attempting to be whatever it is they think Bluegrass is not. I'm tired of defending my right to like a little of this, a little of that and walk both sides of the line. I wonder if there are others just as tired as I am?

I predict that if we don't find a way to agree to disagree and each side leave the other alone that we'll both end up driving away many new fans on both sides. We'll drive away millions of dollars of revenue too that will go elsewhere because we couldn't agree to keep still.

Well, if the bluegrass family and all it's relatives can't seem to get along within the family, maybe what we need is an attack from the outside. Just like the old feudin' hill families. Let a flat-lander come in and start tellin' 'em how it's gonna be and watch 'em join forces.

However it happens, it's time we all join forces for the good of the family. At our huge bluegrass family dinner table, there are plenty of and a great variety of dishes from which to choose. There is so much on the table that not one of us will ever go away hungry if we'd just help ourselves to those dishes we prefer and stop criticizing the others for the ones they choose. If you want fish, eat 'til you're full but don't condemn those who prefer beef or those who eat vegetarian diets.

Fiddle Birthday
Today's column from Ellie Withnall
Friday, June 26, 2015


Last month was my Fiddle Birthday. To me this is my real birthday, it’s the one I celebrate these days instead of the traditional anniversary of my birth. Firstly to be honest, because the number of candles is getting a bit depressingly high on the ordinary birthday cake and secondly, this is the anniversary of when I became who I think I really am. A fiddler. A mediocre one at best but that is still a fiddler! 5 years ago on May 31st I went down to the music school In Saskatoon clutching my freshly-rented instrument to start what I thought would be violin lessons. I think I imagined myself as going to some sort of self-funded rennaisance finishing school. By an amazing amount of grace, my teacher spent 5 minutes talking to me and announced he thought I would hate violin, but that he was going to teach me to play fiddle instead. All downhill from there really! So to celebrate, here are some things I didn’t know 5 years ago: 1)I would rather go blind than deaf. 2)I would rather lose my right hand than my left hand-even though I am right handed. 3) I know that bluegrass ain’t country, and that ain’t old time, and that ain’t celtic, and that ain’t Canadian, or cajun or klezmer or……etc. But I know that I love them all. 4) I know that Nashville is my happy place and I should just stop procrastinating and move there. (Anyone hiring vets??) 5) I know that it is quite reasonable to be in a class with 75 yrs olds and 8 year olds and for us all to converse on an even playing field about what we are learning. 6) I know those 8 year olds are usually being kind and bringing their conversation down to my level. 7) I know what a Hog-eyed man is. 8) And I’m pretty sure I know what Sally was doing in the bedroom with one. 9) I know that although instrumental technique might be fiendishly difficult at times, that music itself is easy. 10) I know its hard to remember 9) sometimes. 11) I know who Peter Francisco was. 12) I know that many (or sometimes all) of the notes you play in a tune are optional, but that playing with feeling is not! 13) I know that good strings, and special rosin and expensive instruments do not make you a better player. But I also know that internet shopping for them does keep you off the streets and out of trouble. 14) I know that banjo music can be beautiful and tender and gentle. But often isn’t. 15) And that ukelele music can be hard-core. But often isn’t. 16) I know that I love my Fiddle Family with all of my heart. 17) I know that sometimes you do just have to take all of your clothes off, get drunk, dance around the living room and have a phat time playing fiddle by yourself. 18) And I know that sometimes you have to sit quietly in your living room and play fiddle by candlelight. 19) I know that if they don’t play fiddles in heaven I will politely decline the invitation. (Though I have always known I am unlikely to get invited in anyway.) 20) I know that it is fine to talk to your long-dead music heroes while you are dancing and having a phat time. I know they probably don’t mind. (Especially Old Bill, especially if you’re naked. ) 21) I know that musicians are not lazy dead-beats who can’t get a real job, but are in fact intensely passionate, hard working, clever, fascinating, astoundingly generous people. Who happen to play music. 22) I know that a fourth is not the same as a quarter. And that although I have played many perfect fourths, I am unlikely to play the same number of perfect quarters. 23) I know you have to listen for the third note. 24) I know clean clothes and private bathrooms and comfy beds, and even sleep all pale into insignificance compared to learning even one new tune. 25) I know I can learn one new fiddle tune every day for a month. 26) And I know it is exhausting to do so. 27) And I know that won’t stop me trying again soon. 28) I know vibrato is not really there to hide your poor intonation. 29) I know that bananagrams is similar to crack. 30) I know that my best friend is made of spruce and maple and that that is not as weird as it seems. 31) I know there is always that one weird sister. And that I am usually her. 32) I know that my many many wonderful new fiddle sisters love me anyway. 33) I know that you don’t actually have to wash your hair every day. Or ever. (Thanks Sammy Lind!) 34) I know that although a fiddle is defined as a violin you are ok with spilling beer on, that that would be a terrible waste of beer. 34) And I especially know that without fiddle I wouldn’t die. But I might feel as though I had since my life would not be anywhere near as full of joy and fun and love and music as it is these days. So, thank you Fiddle Family. Especially those who have suffered through teaching me stuff and shared their bliss with me. You are my heroes and I am extraordinarily lucky to get to play music with my heros as often as I do. Happy birthday to me!


Exploiting New Opportunities
Today's column from Don Rigsby
Friday, June 26, 2015


I have been a professional musician or more than 30 years. I that time, I have traveled the world and played music for many people from all walk of life and every persuasion and political affiliation. I have discovered that music truly is a universal language that crosses language barriers, ideology, income level and various other obstacles. For this reason, I am always amazed at a difficult situation we entertainers encounter all too often; why is it so difficult to find quality places to perform and generate the necessary income to make a living and continue to provide entertainment to the fans?

Time and time again, I meet people from coast to coast and for that matter, globally that say, “If I’d known you were playing here, I would have come to see you perform!” I am guessing that ninety percent of the time, this is simply a statement either made to absolve them from guilt for failure to come watch or maybe it is to make us entertainers feel necessary. Either way, this is erroneous. ,

Here is a noble idea. Instead of saying something empty like that, how about helping sponsor a show in your hometown or area where you reside? The first promoter had to take a leap of faith too. If you truly have the love for this art form engrained in you as you say, what better way to show it than to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak?

There are so many ways to do so without much commitment beyond time and effort. These days, a well hosted house concert can be just the ticket (No pun intended) to provide a touring act with an opportunity to make some money and for the host to make some good friends and contacts even in the business world or community in which they live. Networking is a way of life nowadays and this provides a golden opportunity to do so.

Join an organization like CBA to become involved and more in the loop for upcoming events in your area. This also provides support for all touring acts even if it is indirectly.

Become a member of the fan clubs. By meeting other people with similar interests and an affinity for the same artists you like best.

After research, take the plunge. Rent a hall and host a show. Be a light to your friends, family and community. Become a friend to your favorite artist. They will most certainly appreciate it and never forget you for it.

The bottom line is become engaged. Help be a light to the industry. It takes everyone to have music. We love to play, but in order to do so, it takes money. Most of us workaday musicians are not greedy at all. We simply want to make enough money to support ourselves and our families. It is a hard, crowded business. But if those who love to listen most will pitch in and advocate with those they know, there is no reason why growth and popularity can’t be achieved. After all, Bluegrass fans are not born, they are made. And who is more influential in the process than those who are already hooked?



”A man only learns in two ways; one by reading, and the other one by association with smart people.” Will Rogers, 1879 – 1935

How the Kentucky Colonel's reunion came about
Today's column from JD Rhynes
Thursday, June 25, 2015


Last weekend at the 40th annual Father's Day Festival produced by the California bluegrass Association, featured the first ever in the whole wide world, the reunion of the legendary bluegrass band the Kentucky Colonel's. Featured in the band were four of the original members, Leroy Mack on dobro, Roland White on mandolin, Roger Bush on bass, Herb Pederson on banjo, and sitting in for Clarence White on guitar was Patrick Sauber.

Back in 1995 previous to the mud fest as we referred to it now, Leroy called me a couple of months before the festival and pointed out that 3/5 of the Kentucky Colonel's would be at the festival that year. We talked about the possibility of a Kentucky Col. reunion if Roland was amenable to it, and if he could get Roger Bush to come play the bass, and maybe talk Tony Rice into filling in for Clarence White on guitar, because Tony and his brothers would be at the festival too. So without further ado, I contacted Roland and ask him if he would like to do that? Roland told me that as much as he would like to do it, he just could not do it at that time because it brought back so many bad memories of losing his brother Clarence.

I could certainly understand his feelings, so it was another four or five years before I asked him again it got a reunion of the Kentucky Colonel's at our festival. Each time the answer was the same, but last year at the 2014 Father's Day Festival Roland and I were sitting backstage talking, when he told me; JD we are not getting any younger and I would really like to do a Kentucky Colonel's reunion show at the Father's Day Festival next year in 2015. So, as they say now you know the other side of the story, and I would like to say that it really came out fantastic and the audience really loved it.

But, all the credit should go to my dear friend Leroy Mcnees for thinking of this back in 1995. The only thing I did was to keep bugging Roland to do it, and I'm glad I did and I'm glad he did. For you folks over there this year you definitely witnessed some major bluegrass music history! I told Roland that he needs to take this band on the road and share the music with the rest of America and the world. Music like this only comes along once in our lifetime, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to witness it and share it twice in my life, although it was 65 years apart. God bless you Roland White, and God bless the Kentucky Colonel's reunion band. I know your brother Clarence would be extremely proud of you.


Can't Be Everywhere, or Metaphysics Get in the Way
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Man, I hate to miss anything. But sometimes I do miss things. Anytime I do anything, I’m not doing something else. It’s metaphysical. I didn’t make it to Grass Valley this year, and it pains me. I fully intended to go, but I ended up with commitments that chipped away at my availability.

From the photos I saw online (“Facebook - It’s like being there!”), it looked like the 40th anniversary Father’s Day Festival went very well indeed. I bet the Vern Williams Band alumni reunion was fantastic, as well as...well, just about everything.

I can almost hear, in my mind’s ear, some of the things I missed: Tom Kingsley tearing it up. Paul Sato picking and cracking everyone up around him. Dave Gooding’s solid bass, punctuated by his rapidfire commentary and storytelling. The nonstop clamor at Camp Spam. My buddies in the A lot, the K lot and all over the place.

Some of the people interaction I missed, I will get elsewhere within the next 6 months, but I don’t know if my path will cross Sato’s or Kingsley’s anytime soon, and that makes me rueful.

Every year at Grass Valley is special, so any single one missed is an opportunity lost forever. But thanks to tireless, dogged and ongoing efforts of the CBA, I can expect a Father’s Day Festival next year, and put a padlock on my calendar for that Father’s Day weekend.

The Father’s Day Festival doesn’t happen automatically, though, nor by accident. It takes a lot of work, and I look forward to participating in the process. If you have any time or skills to share, you can help. too. Check the website, Facebook or the message board.

CBA Interview with Kate Brislin
Today's column from Dave Berry
Monday, June 8, 2015


CBA Interview with Kate Brislin – Dave Berry 2015-3

Updated Byline

Porch Talk is a new column by Dave Berry, a San Francisco-based CBA member, singer, and mandolin player. Dave grew up in Ohio River valley bluegrass country right smack dab in the middle of the Big Sandy and Scioto Rivers. When not playing with Toshio Hirano in the duo Mountain Dojo, he can be seen riding his scooter to jams in and around the Mission District. Special thanks to copy editor extraordinaire Jeanie Poling.

Kate Brislin
This month we are lucky to have Kate Brislin on the porch. Kate has a rich bluegrass and old-time history and is a frequent guest on CBA event stages, often with duet partner Jody Stecher. She will be playing with Blue Diamond Strings at the Fathers Day Festival this year.

DB: Hi Kate, thanks for your time. Was your family musical when you were growing up?
KB: My family was very musical. My mom sang on the radio in Virginia as a young woman. They say I sound like her. My parents sang duets, we always had a piano, my dad had a uke and got me one of my own when I was 5, and there were a lot of records always. My mom led a choir. I sang in the choir and also sang Everly Brothers duets with my older sister as we did the dishes. In college I took up the guitar, and my younger sisters and I sang and played folk songs on guitars, in two and three-part harmony. I thought all families were like this.

DB: What about later, as you strayed from the house?
KB: In college I became interested in the banjo. I heard a recording of Earl Scruggs and knew I had to learn how to do THAT! I started out with the Pete Seeger book and later learned clawhammer-style banjo from other players. I stuck with clawhammer, as it was better for accompanying singing — always my main interest. I listened to many recordings of bluegrass and was most drawn to the singing of the Stanley Brothers for their depth and soul. Those harmonies thrilled me. I felt that way about Hazel and Alice too. Other favorites were Jimmy Martin, the Louvin Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys. I listened to as many recordings of the old players as I could get my hands on.

DB: What bands did you play with in those days?
KB: I was enlisted into the Arkansas Sheiks in the ‘70s, and toured and recorded with them for a few years. Then I helped form the Any Old Time String Band with Suzy (Rothfield) Thompson, Valerie Mindel, and Genny Haley. We made two albums and did some touring. Later I was in the Blue Flame String Band with Suzy and Eric Thompson and Alan Senauke. We toured a lot and made one album. During this time I had also been singing and recording with Jody Stecher. Our friendship turned into more in the 80s; we married and began touring and recording as a duet for the next few decades. We made at least seven albums, five on the Rounder label, two of which were Grammy finalists.

DB: Wow, that’s quite a resume. Bring us up to date on the band you’re playing with at the CBA Fathers Day Festival.
KB: Here we all are again in a new band, with me and Jody, Suzy and Eric, and Paul Shelasky and Paul Knight - Blue Diamond Strings. Paul Shelasky was once in the Arkansas Sheiks as well, so it’s come full circle in many ways. I love being in a band, and this band is a dream come true. We get to do a lot of the Jody and Kate repertoire with a full-on band behind it, as well as all sorts of other songs and tunes that I’m really enjoying. I haven’t had so much fun in years!

DB: When did you know music was your calling?
KB: The funny thing is that in college I took a vocational preference test and my highest score was musical performer, and coming in second was office worker. At the time that seemed off the wall to me, as I had no idea I’d ever end up performing music. That wasn’t why I played…to perform. I played because I loved the music so much. I thought you had to have a ‘job’ to make a living. I did have computer skills that got me jobs, but I kept playing and started performing, at first roped into it by music friends. It wasn’t too long before I dropped out and became a full-time musician. It’s impossible to tour a lot with a full-time job, and touring was where my bands were taking me. Later I opted to have a part-time computer job so that I could stay home more. The road life was hard for me. I like my nest.

What interests you when you’re not playing music?
KB: I’m an avid knitter. I’d be an avid gardener if I had the land for it. I read all the time and love movies. I also do some jewelry making and ceramics and dabbled in various mediums of painting. Many musicians I know have a keen interest or skill in visual/tactile arts of one kind or another.

Do you teach music and if so, what do you consider the best qualities of a teacher?
KB: I used to teach all the time. Now I just do it occasionally, at a music camp here or there. I particularly like teaching part-singing and I especially like teaching singing with Jody. He’s a fabulous teacher and can really see what a person needs in order to make progress. He’s amazing.

DB: Can you share some general advice for beginners or even experienced players to continue to improve?
KB: Learn to play by ear if you haven’t already. That’s crucial. Listen a lot to people who inspire you, and in private try to imitate them. You can’t really sound like someone else, but the endeavor will help you improve. Then do it like yourself when you perform it. This is especially true for singers. Don’t think you need to sound like someone else!

DB: You’ve worked in smaller ensembles — duets and such. Is that a preference or just happenstance?
KB: There’s something very special about my duet with my husband Jody. It’s a sound that was there when we first tried singing together. He’s a very deep and focused musician, and he pulls me into that with him and I love the result. And it’s easier for us as a couple to be in a band together. It’s less pressure.

DB: Do you have any thoughts on why your voices worked so well together?
KB: Well, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but since this is an interview about me, what the heck! I seem to be able to easily find the part of my voice that goes with another person’s voice; it’s a special skill I’ve been told I have. In the case of Jody, and me it’s also because our ranges aren’t that far apart. He can sing high for a man and I can sing low for a woman. We find our sound in that blend in the middle. For the kind of music we sing together this is ideal. We’ve listened to a lot of the same music, so our approaches are compatible.

DB: Duet harmonies seem to give more flexibility in vocal arrangements. Do you find that some “duet” songs are harder to make work or more limiting when you add the third voice?
KB: I don’t find anything harder or more limiting about three versus two-part harmonies. There are some songs that I’d rather hear as a duet and would be annoyed if someone added a third part. There are some intervals Jody and I are deliberately going for that are better stark, with just our two notes. We both love singing as part of a trio when that’s what the song can accommodate. It’s all about what serves the song; just because you CAN do another part doesn’t always mean that you should!

DB: What shows events or venues that you have played are most memorable for you and why?
KB: I really loved playing in Dublin, Ireland with Jody and in Nova Scotia at a music festival. In both situations, the audience cheered when the harmony came in on the chorus!! It doesn’t get much better than that in terms of feeling appreciated!

DB: Do you think it is viable for artists like yourselves these days?
KB: Things are always changing. You just never know what’s around the corner.

DB: Tell us about other musical genres that you like to play.
KB: Some other styles I play have been peripheral to my main performing life, such as singing in a shape note choir. I’ve always loved blues piano and have dabbled in that over the years, and lately have applied serious time to it. It’s a joy and purely for myself. I also love learning bass lines for old rock and soul songs from my sixties youth. I enjoy singing some of these songs in jam sessions with like-minded musicians, especially songs with good harmony parts. I think it would be fun to be a backup singer in a band that did covers of old New Orleans rock songs, Motown, the Beatles, the Stones, doo wop, girl group songs, etc.

DB: You’re accomplished in both old-time and bluegrass genres. Share your thoughts on how they’re alike and different.
KB: I think the answer to this deserves a book. I couldn’t answer it in the scope of an interview.

DB: Have you played the CBA Fathers Day Festival before?
KB: Yes, many times: with Jody, the Any Old Time String Band, the Golden Gate Quartet, and perhaps the Arkansas Sheiks, but the latter would’ve been a long time ago.

DB: Thanks so much for your time. We all look forward to seeing you at Fathers Day Festival with Blue Diamond Strings.




THE DAILY GRIST…”What was the best gift you ever received?” – Close friend

THE BEST GIFT
Today’s column from Yvonne Higby Tatar
Monday, June 22, 2015


My father , Merle Higby, gave me many gifts in life, but probably the best one was the love of music. As a young boy growing up on a rural Kansas farmer, the family created many good times with the music they played together. My dad learned to play the fiddle from his father. And his father had learned to play from his father. That made Dad a third generation fiddler. And, hot dang, he was proud of that! And back in his early years, there weren’t any Mel Bay books, or online music lessons or apps like we have available for teaching music today. Historically, acoustic music was usually passed down through families – parents teaching their children. No charts or written music used.

Learning music was a family endeavor. And this made for some wonderful family gatherings for my dad’s family. All the kids played an instrument or sang. I have a great photo of them after my Dad returned from WWII, about circa 1946. The grown siblings had gotten together and played for a dance, as they had done many times before, and they happened to take this photo outside by their car (they were taking a break probably between sets). There they are holding a fiddle, 2 guitars, banjo, mandolin – it’s a treasured family photo. When Dad returned home from fighting over in Germany, he couldn’t get back to playing fast enough. Playing music was his relaxation and his therapy or sorts. Side story here - he bought a Stradivarius violin while over in Europe, but during a battle it was destroyed. He was pretty sad about it, but glad he escaped unhurt.

After the war, he met and married my mother Doris. After I was born, they moved to Californ-i-A! The hard years on the farm did not appeal to my Dad. He was a car man. His other love besides music was automobiles. And California shone like a bright star with so many possibilities for working on cars, not tractors. They became Californians and loved it, settling in Newark, just north of San Jose. He opened an automobile repair shop there that he ran for 35 years. He worked 6 days a week and rested on Sunday, but he still found time for his fiddling. At family dinners and such he’d play his fiddle. When my sis & I were old enough, we started piano lessons as one of his customers was a piano teacher. That instruction was a good foundation for us both. And when we got into middle school, we were recruited into orchestra and band classes because the music teachers were also his customers. As his children, there was no escaping the music education. It was back then that I was pulled from the violin section in orchestra class and drafted to play the acoustic bass. And that’s when my bass playing started. Way back in sixth grade. Mercy!

Dad & Mom always had music on the record player at home, too. But not just bluegrass. They listened to all kinds of music. Bluegrass, country & western, polkas, show tunes, pop and alittle classical. Dad had a special entertainment unit built to house all his music recordings and such. He played the dickens out of his 8 tracks and LPs. And all the cars had multiple recordings of his favorite music.

Later on when I got married and had my children, my hubby Mike gave me a standup bass as a birthday gift. I admit I hadn’t played one in a few years, but the ability came back pretty quickly. This made my Dad real happy because he saw an opportunity. He got us all together to play some of his favorite fiddle tunes from long ago – just like he used to do with his brothers and sisters. He played the fiddle, Mike was on the banjo, my sis was on the piano and I played the bass. We practiced a few times and the very next family gathering we had he quickly had us perform for everyone. And the family loved it! I remember my Grandmother getting up and doing the Schottische on a couple of tunes. That was the first time I had seen her dance like that. The music had taken her back to those early farm days and her family performing, and the music had given her new energy! Powerful stuff, music. I can still see her eyes twinkling!

Through the years, my folks were avid Old Time Fiddlers and CBA members. Locally, he really liked hearing Laurie Lewis play and took his fiddles to her to work on up in the North Bay a few times. One year Dad went up to Weiser, ID, to compete in their national fiddle contest. He knew he wouldn’t win or place, but he wanted to do it anyway. I remember how nervous he was before he got up on stage. But once he started playing, it was like always. He was lost in the music. What a smile he had on his face when he walked off stage, too! It was there he first saw Mark O’Connor as a very song contestant with his remarkable ability. His favorite fiddle player was Chubby Wise and he saw him once at Grass Valley. A memorable moment for Dad.

When Mike Jr. was learning Suzuki fiddle at about 7 years old, he noticed that the Suzuki music was different than what his Grandpa played. He told Grandpa that he wanted to play “his kind of music.” That started some first fiddle lessons as Dad taught Mike Jr. a couple of introductory fiddle tunes. The torch was passed again. He did the same for our daughter Nikole.

And like I mentioned in the beginning, my folks took us to our first Grass Valley festival back in 1979. And we’ve been coming ever since. They loved the festival, the music, and Dad loved playing that fiddle. He passed on his passion of playing to his kids and grandkids. Thank you, Dad, for keeping the passion of playing music alive in our family. So many precious memories we have experienced because of this gift. I’m thinking of you and your music this Father’s Day, Dad. Miss you.


GATE TICKET PRICES (WE NEVER SELL OUT

Thursday: Adult $35 / Teen $15

Friday: Adult $50 / Teen $20

Saturday: Adult $55 / Teen $25

Sunday Adult $35 / Teen $15


WE’RE GONE!
Sunday, June 14, 2015


Fifty-one weeks a year when you click over to cbaontheweb.org you’re sure to find something new…a new Welcome column, fresh news items, an updated photo of the lovely President Brandli, a bit of CBA insider information from the charming Chairman Edes. But one week, the one leading up to Fathers Day…what we joyously call FESTIVAL WEEK…you’ll find a skeleton crew here. We’ll try to get some images posted from Grass Valley, and no doubt there’ll be a little action on the Message Board, but for the most part the web site of the California Bluegrass Association will be quieter than usual. Whereas the Nevada County Fairgrounds will be way, way, way louder than it has been all year long.



Come join us, please.

So Out’a Here
Today’s column from Bert Daniel
Sunday, June 14, 2015


Today is a day for shirking! Grass Valley and the hallowed Father’ Day Festival awaits and I don’t plan on wasting any time before I pack up the car and putter down the road to the 40th annual addition. Who cares if I’m supposed to write a thoughtful column for the second Sunday of the month? My word count is already getting up there and many CBAers who will not bother to read the welcome column this week because they’ve got better things to do.

Tomorrow is the third Monday of the month, also my day to write. I told my editor in chief, Rick Cornish, that’s not going to happen this month. I’m shirking. I’ll be at music camp trying to learn some banjo picking from Bill Evans. Many people tell me that Bill is simply the best banjo teacher out there so I’m looking forward to it. We’ll find out. If Bill expects to teach me anything on that contraption he'd better be the best (notorious shirker that I am).

The car is half loaded already and it’s almost time to put the instruments in. But before I do that, let me remind this year’s trivia contest champs that winners of the tee shirt drawing can stop by the mercantile booth at the festival and collect their prize. They are:

Bill Rogers (July and Dec)
Bob Palasek (September)
Steve Hall (October)
Dave Williams (November)
Randy January (January)
Slim Sims (February)
Esther Anderson (March)
David Brown (April)
Jeanie Ramos (May)
Randy Pitts (June)

I can’t remember who August was. I think perhaps Jack Frost but I’ll check.

I hope to see as many of you as possible next week. I’ll be in the tenting area near the lower gate to the stage area. Wander by and bring a funny story and a song or two to share. Drive safely. Grass Valley, here we come!

This Bluegrass Life: A Country for Old Men
Today’s Column from John A. Karsemeyer
Saturday, June 13, 2015,


Picture the CBA’s Fathers’ Day Festival in the early 1970’s. We were young, we were strong, and the three pound lump in our heads we call the brain was super-charged and ready to tackle anything. We were learning our bluegrass instruments and absorbing how to sing bluegrass lead and harmony. We were motivated to consume all things bluegrass. We were ready to leave rock-n-roll behind, and we did.

Tents, tents, tents! Back then we reclaimed our primitive, primeval rights by sleeping in tents on the ground. Maybe a sleeping pad or a cot, but not many comforts of home could be found. It was okay. It was good. And we were the better for it. A return to nature of sorts. Maybe there were a few RVs scattered around the many acres of pine trees, but we young tent campers took vows not to enter or entertain buying one.

And then the years went by. And by, and by, and by. Too quickly it seemed when we reached the ages of Medicare, monthly social security checks, and conversations regarding high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and unwanted diagnoses by our doctors. At some we level we knew that all the years go by in the same amount of time, but on another level we didn’t buy it. And now, today, we are sure that the years go slowest when we are young, and fastest as we join the ranks of those over age fifty.

One way to look at the FDF festival in Grass Valley every year is like a small, temporary, disposable, mini-country. You have possession of the land, you have the like-minded people, a government (CBA Board) that provides structure, rules/laws, a vision for the future, a president (Darby Brandli) to watch over everything, and taxes (fees to hear the bands and fees to camp). There are police (security), restaurants (food vendors), stores (buy an instrument?), transportation, and entertainment. There are expensive “homes” (high-end RVs), and homes that barely provide for existence (pup tents).

This “country” can be an attraction for folks of the older persuasion. Many of us are slower now, not as strong as we used to be, and our brains have traveled many-a-mile with many a wrinkle. But not to fret, this is a gentle country, one where an older person can feel safe and temporarily share real estate with like-minded folks who have a passion for all things bluegrass. Interesting musical things happen during the day, and at night you can wander around in the relative darkness and not have to look over your shoulder to make sure that things are okay. You can go back to “school” by attending various music mini-workshops, and not be worried about having tests!

The long and short of it is that the 2015 Fathers’ Day Festival is being held from June 18th through June 21st at Grass Valley, California, celebrating the 40th year since its birth. And it is a good “country” to visit for people who find themselves in “Senior-Status.” A country for old men (and women) to behold familiar and new bluegrass musical wonders, meet new people, and become immersed in bluegrass bliss. Oh, and there is plenty of room for young people. You remember young people don’t you? It’s almost like we once were one of them….


Mona's chocolate cake.
Today’s column from Cliff Compton
Friday, June 11, 2015
Mona’s Chocolate Cake


Mona made me a cake. From scratch. In the oven of her R.V. enough chocolate to send a woman’s endorphins into a dream state. Enough chocolate to make a bitter man sweet.
Just because it was my birthday and she likes me, bless her heart.
And Renee brought me a piece of cake. And my wife brought me a cake and they had to roll me back to my tent.

And that’s the way it is at fathers day. I keep planning my birthday the same week. When I first started coming here I was getting older. I’m getting older still, and so are my friends, but I keep coming back here anyway. I figure getting older is worth all the fun I have while here. The late night jams aren’t lasting as long as they used to. I never made it past 4:30 a.m. on any of the nine nights I was here, and Nevada county red never crowed at me while I was still on the outside of my tent this year.

I don’t like to think about time when I’m at grass valley. I let my blackberry’s battery run down, and only recharge it when I’ve got to make a call and that‘s the only clock I‘ve got. I’m never really sure what time it is. I miss more stage acts than I see because those people are still punching a clock, and me, I figure if Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and it did, maybe I can at least pretend it’s slowed down a little, and when somebody says they’ve got to stop jamming and go to bed because it’s
3: o’clock, I’m usually surprised.
And time is not nearly as friendly as it was a few years ago. I’ve got five friends that were all in the hospital right before, during, or after grass valley, and time has a lot to do with that. It keeps pecking away at the fabric of our lives unraveling all our possibilities and leaving holes in our dreams.

And I picked with this kid named Cameron, full of all that life that I’m still hanging on to, and he’s got that joy thing going on. Singing good, picking good, making his mamma proud. And we’re gonna see him picking like a freight train if our arteries hold up and our heart keeps pumping and just watching him, and Alex the new fiddle player, and A.J. Lee and Marty V. is like a transfusion of life adding a few more clicks to the clock.

And I’m sitting in chef Mikes camp with all the usual suspects and Snap Jackson’s’ bunch is jamming and reminding us of how it was when our hearts beat in double time and sleep was something you did when you were dead, and we were picking with them ripping off their energy and storing it in our hearts to help us through Friday nights jam. And gotta admit, it made me feel young enough to prowl, which I didn’t do, because feeling and doing ain’t always the same thing. But anyhow….you can’t stop time. You just file away the memories and pull them out when you can’t do it anymore.

And my hand hurt like the dickens. I couldn’t play for a couple of days. Spent the night playing the Harmonica. Had more fun than two nineteen year olds.

And anyway, Thank you Mona for the Chocolate cake. And don’t let time catch you. Run fast as your scooter will go, and keep watching your rearview mirror. If time starts to pass …..run over him.






THE DAILY GRIST..."If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you've got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference. -Robert Fulghum, author (b. 4 Jun 1937)


The banjo bible
Today's column from George Martin
Thursday, June 11, 2015


Did somebody just say, “What we need around here is a book about banjos: how to buy one, how to tune one, how to care for one and -- oh, yeah -- how to play bluegrass music on one?”

Such a book has just been published: Bluegrass Banjo for Dummies by longtime friend of the CBA Bill Evans. Bill as most of us know is a great player, teacher, writer, composer, musicologist, etc., etc. Anyone who has watched his one man show “The Banjo in America” is aware of his virtuosity. He can play the old African gourd akonting banjo, thumpy Civil War era minstrel banjo, “classic” 1890s style, old-time clawhammer, bluegrass and jazz.

He teaches at music camps around the country, makes instructional DVDs, writes for Banjo Newsletter, and gives private lessons at his home in Richmond.

And now he’s written his second book, a semi-sequel to the 2007 Banjo for Dummies that covered not only Scruggs style picking but frailing as well. This new volume drops the chapters on old-time picking and adds new material on three-finger playing. The other major change is that where the first book included a CD with audio tracks, this new one contains URLs to a bunch of on-line video and audio clips that allow you to see some of the techniques described and to hear all of them.

Evans is a very clear writer and does not assume his readers know anything, really, about banjos except that they like the sound and want to play one. He starts with a little history lesson and proceeds through how to find and buy a banjo, how to tune it, first chords, first rolls, and on through classic banjo licks, the first, classic, songs that every student learns, how to combine licks to play new tunes, basic down-the-neck backup techniques and then basic up-the-neck backup techniques.

By Chapter 11 he’s introducing melodic playing, and in Chapter 12 Don Reno fans will find an explanation and examples of single-string playing.

The book winds up with chapters on setting your banjo up right, choices of bridges, heads and tailpieces, then some profiles of some of today’s top banjo players, and closes with “Ten Strategies to Make You a Better Banjo Player (Right Now!)

There is an enormous amount of information in this book. One can read it in a few hours, but I think going through it with your banjo and learning the various tablatures and watching the videos and listening to the audio clips should occupy a beginner or relative newbie at least a year. And having a teacher of some sort, either a banjo-picking friend or an actual teacher would be an immense help.

Evans is very supportive and continually emphasizes how fun and “easy” these small steps are to learn. True, everything is presented in neat, relatively easy-to-digest bites, but playing banjo isn’t as easy as one would like it to be, nor as quick to learn as he suggests.

The information is in there, though. If a person really wants to learn to play the banjo he or she would do well to spring for a copy. I’ve been playing for years and I found some stuff I want to try to work out.

And might I suggest Bill’s own web store for the purchase? As we all know, the best way to support bluegrass is to buy CDs directly from the artist. The same thing applies to books. Bill charges $27.74, which includes shipping, and he throws in a free CD of your choice.

It’s at www.billevansbanjo.com

Pickin' Parties - The Ideal Social Event
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I like parties - ask anyone. I like playing music, too - ask anyone about that, too. My wife likes parties, maybe even more than me. But while I enjoy schmoozing with folks and “chewing the fat”, it’s not long before I wish I was playing some music. This creeps into my head during an awful lot of my life. That scene in Amadeus, where some lady is chewing out Mozart and he’s staring at her and hearing opera music? That’s me.

But here’s the thing - I love doing social things with my wife, and i want her to have fun along with me. Enter - the pickin’ party!

Remember the cocktail parties that Darren and Samantha Stevens would throw on Bewitched? That’s a good party - you want enough people so that the party dynamic will break up into multiple conversations and the folks in those conversations will rotate as folks drift from one conversation to the next, or get refresh on their beverage, or load up some food.

So, for me, often (but not always) a jam is my perfect conversation. At a good pickin’ party, I can enjoy myself for 20-30 minutes at an impromptu jam, then drift away and take part in the rest of the social interaction at the party. For those who only want to pick, they can keep busy doing just that. For those, like me, who want to mix time between jamming and jabbering, I can split my that way. For people like my wife, who doesn’t play music, but loves socializing, she can catch up with friends and make some new ones, too!

I like variety, and I seek it out when jamming at a festivals. I want to play with old pals, as well as meet some new folks. I want to get into some jams that are out of my league. I want to do some jams with less experienced players, too - everybody has something to offer. A picking party of a sufficient size will provide this variety too, and it sticks with everyone. You could bump into someone years later and say “Hey, remember picking at that party?”, and relish the memories.

The dynamic required for a successful picking party can be elusive. If the event has too few musicians, it may be tough for sustained jamming - it can be a little awkward if the “picking party” really only has 2 or 3 people laboring away. Conversely, if it’s too crowded, you are subjected to unwieldy jams with 4 guitars, 3 banjos, 2 basses, 4 fiddles and a pennywhistle. Tough to soar with a group like that.

Those are loose rules, however. I’ve had fun at pickin’ parties of almost any size - it really takes good people to make a good time, right?




Comin' Your Way – The Lonely Heartstring Band
Today's column from Ted Lehmann
Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Sorry to be a little late with this, but you've got a great new northeastern band coming your way from New England this week. The Lonely Heartstring Band is in California from yesterday, Monday, through the weekend. Consisting of five young men who came together at Berklee College of Music as a Beetles cover band and morphed into one of the best young bluegrass bands to come around recently, The Lonely Heartstrong band was at the Amnesia Music Hall in San Francisco on Monday, will be at The Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA today with Molly Tuttle and friends. On Wednesday they'll appear at the Coffee House Gallery in Altadena. Their week in California will culminate with three days spent at the Huck Finn Jubilee in Ontario, CA where they'll be on the Jammer's Stage and working at the Kids & Education Program.

The Lonely Heartstring Band is made up of five talented and inventive from all over the country, who came together as a band at Berklee College of Music. They were formed as a wedding band hired to play Beatles covers on traditional bluegrass instruments. Soon they were exploring other musical traditions that would make good transitions to bluegrass, writing their own songs, and playing conventional bluegrass with enthusiasm and a deep understanding of the wellsprings of the genre. Darol Anger, a world renowned fiddler and Associate Professor at the Berklee College wrote “The Beatles and Bill Monroe would both be proud of the Lonely Heartstring Band. [They are] always true to the soul of music played with imagination to detail in every way.” I first heard them at the Pemi Valley Bluegrass Festival in New Hampshire last summer Their plaintive version of the Beatles “Something” was soulfully beautiful and ear catching. Two weeks ago, at the Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival in Preston, CT they had added a cover of Paul Simon's “Graceland” to their program that simply took my breath away as I listened to it.

George Clements plays guitar, sings lead and writes songs for Lonely Heartstring. A Massachusetts native, he's a graduate of Berklee College of music, where he studied classical guitar, jazz, pop, but always returns to his first love, folk music. Patrick M'Gonilgle hails from Victoria, British Columnia, where The Lonely Heartstring Band will be playing during the week after Huck Finn before heading for The River of Music Festival in Owensboro, KY, home of the International Bluegrass Music Museum. Patrick, like many of today's young fiddlers, began with Suzuki method and studied classical violin for a decade. He's now working towards a master's degree in contemporary improvisation at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Banjo player Gabe Hirshfeld comes from suburban Boston. Pete Wernick, Dr. Banjo and Hot Rize, remembers him as a very young player who “already had a good right hand, which is even better now.” His subtle yet powerful banjo style adds color and depth to the band's own songs and covers while chiming in with real Scruggs style power on the traditional pieces. Matt Wittler, who should be familiar to many southern Californians,grew up in Los Angeles, initially playing the fiddle. Now a virtuoso mandolin player, he won the Rockygrass mandolin and flatpick guitar contests in 2012. Charles Clements, the band's bass player, studied music at the New England Conservatory of Music and is now, when he's not playing bluegrass, a bass player with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This is not a band which would answer the question “Do you read music?” often asked of bluegrass pickers with the conventional response, “Not enough to hurt me.”

Here's their cover of “Somewhere,” George Harrison's great song for the Beatles:


The band, as near as I can reckon, does about 25% classic bluegrass, 50% songs written from within the band, and 25% covers of classic rock and roll songs. By providing this balanced proportionality, they demonstrate their love and respect for the tradition they come from, their ability to produce interesting and varied new songs, and the directions bluegrass can head without doing injustice to its structure and tone. The band is very much song-based and very strong. They're young and vital. You can get more information about their present tour here and the band generally on its web site. The band has recently completed their first full-length recording, funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, and you should be able to purchase their work soon, as well as find lots of it on YouTube. Even if you can't get to one of their performances this week, give them a look and a listen. I think you'll find them rewarding and enjoyable.
--
tlehmann@ne.rr.com
www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com




It’s festival season in Europe!
Today's column from Loes van Schaijk
Monday, June 8, 2015


One day I decided to get rid of my TV, because it annoyed me that I was addicted to watching hours and hours of sitcoms that weren’t even funny. And after all these years, I’ve never for a single instant missed it… though I’m afraid that’s mostly because now I’m addicted to the Internet. Whenever I’m not stuck in the endless loop of checking my email and checking Facebook, I’m watching series on Netflix. I recently finished watching all 7 seasons of The Mentalist. This dectective drama/comedy series is set for the most part in California. That might be nothing special for you guys, but for me, that was a huge part of the fun. Every time the CBI-team and their pseudo-psychic consultant would be called to a crime scene in the vineyards of Napa Valley or on a rocky sea shore on the sunny day, I’d sigh and secretly wish I could teleport myself there. Preferably without the dead bodies, of course.

I’ve heard from American bluegrassers that in the USA, it’s bluegrass festival season all year long. If you’d be really hardcore it would be theoretically possible to visit a bluegrass event every single day of the year. Though I have the feeling that bluegrass is getting more accepted and widespread in the Netherlands, it’s different here. First of all, we have a different climate. We have all these sayings, like “Maart roert zijn staart” (“March stirs its tail”) and “April doet wat hij wil” (“April does what it wants”), in an attempt for people to deal with the desillusion of the weather being totally unpredictable. Sometimes it’ll snow and freeze in February (Snowball fights! Snowmen! Ice skating on natural ice!), sometimes it’s so sunny it feels like summer (Blowing off work and sitting in the garden with a cold beer!). Sometimes June and July bring tropical temperatures (Swimming in the ocean!), sometimes it will rain and storm incessantly (Uh… staying inside and playing cards!). But all year round, there’s always the chance that it will be: slightly windy, slightly greyish, slightly rainy. Not exactly the kind of mood you want at outdoor festivals.

So, why don’t we organize indoor festivals all the time then? There’s the slight problem that we have a very high population density. Wikipedia told me that an average square mile in the Netherlands holds 1,054.4 people. For comparison: the state of California has a density of 246 people per square mile. So we have some issues with sound hindrance. It’s hard to find venues where you can make music without bothering the neighbors. I think that simple logistic setback has its effects on the whole bluegrass culture. In the Netherlands, you always have to know in advance how many people will come, arrange permits, alert the neighbors, rent venues, etc. Things like spontaneous all-night jam sessions are very rare. And that’s a pity, because all those rules and regulations (“You can only improvise freely in this particular area between 3 and 4 PM. Here’s a coupon for 1 cup of coffee, no refills. Have fun!”) can kill the enthusiasm of aspiring (young) players who just want to experiment on their (potentially loud) instruments (and with their voices!) without being stifled or criticized. I don’t have any solution to this problem other than a serious suggestion that we should just collectively move to the USA. Don’t you guys have a town called Nederland somewhere, in Colorado? They might still have room for 17 million of us, no…?

All that being said, summer is bluegrass festival season in Europe, and there are plenty of worthwile events in all the corners of the continent. It makes you just want to rent an old hippie van with all your friends and visit them all. Visiting bluegrass festivals in different European countries is a great way to get to know all the different cultures. If you’re ever planning on coming to Europe and you want to meet the “real people” instead of the tourist clichés, contact the European Bluegrass Music Association and ask them about the festival calendar. In some countries, many people might be shy or hesitant to speak English, but they will always welcome you with open arms. It’s a small, but very warm community and almost everybody in it enjoys meeting new people, especially from other countries or cultures. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to the Boet’n Deure festival in the middle of the forest in Odoorn (the Netherlands). I will be meeting many friends there and I hope I’ll dare to pick some tunes on the mandolin. I hear the weather’s going to be pleasant tomorow… I’m looking forward to it! I’ll write about the bluegrass festivals I visited this summer in my columns for the next couple of months.


Chuck and Alice
Today's column from Marc Alvira
Sunday, June , 2015


I hadn’t had a a student all day. I teach eighth graders and they had graduated the evening before. While most the other teachers were corralling seventh and sixth graders all the last day while they ahas “Field Day”activities in the broiling 90 degree heat, I hadn’t supervised a single kid this Thursday. Instead I packed thirty years of accumulated teacher junk into some boxes in preparation of a classroom switch during the summer. It had been a mellow day— just listening to my music, sipping tea and packing, but I was getting antsy. Ten minutes until the final bell, and I would be free—or at least in another twenty minutes after that since parents don’t allow their kids to walk even four block to school and will clog the school’s neighborhood streets like fried foods plug arteries. I could take it anymore. I bolted for the door and back gate where my Expedition was waiting for me. I had been at the school until 10:00 PM chaperoning the final dance the night before and the school owed me. I was at the stop light down the block with my windows rolled down when I heard the ring of the final bell. The light turned green. I reached over and turned up the Buck Owens currently playing on my iPod, punch the accelerator and made what for J&R Tacos and the the 17th Street Public House in downtown Merced. The students hadn't been out of school for twenty minutes when I was munching on two tacos al pastor (the best you can find) and downing a pint of delicious summer IPA. Before I was half way done with the ale, I discovered that there three other teachers in the pub saluting their summer’s beginning with a pint.

It had been a pretty good year: test scores would be high as usual, the kids for the most part were very behaved with periodic lapses into hyperactivity—all modeled by their teacher. I was already thinking about my summer to-do list which included some new base boards, paint, brushing up on my Spanish, and reading at least one classic that I should have already read, but hadn’t. (Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby had been the previous two summers reads).

People often ask me if, or more precisely—suggest, that kids today are different today. Kids are actually just the same as always, but the world around them has changed….well…kind of. During the last couple years, I’ve noticed kids doing some, odd annoying things that I’ve never noticed before in large doses. One of then is incessant knuckle cracking. Let the class fall quiet for a moment, and i guarantee you will see a half dozen adolescents perpetually yanking, bending, and twisting their fingers and necks, filling the the room with snap, crackle, and pop than a box of Rice Krispies. Don’t they know that’s makes their joints bigger?!

I’ve also noticed a trend for kids to end every sentence with up-speak—that is., raising the pitch of the voice at the end of each sentence, thus making each utterance into an interrogative statement (question). There are a few other weird things youth do today that seem to be entirely novel. And what’s up with all the soft spoken kids these days? I mean is it something new just to bug me?! They’re barely audible to anybody without a dogs hearing. And can’t anyone control their bladder for more than 43 minutes?

Indeed, I was anxious to get out of Dodge before the parents blockaded my exit. I had to move quickly—the only power on Earth at the moment greater than my urge to depart was the kids’ desire to not see their teachers for another two months. Before leaving, I passed the office to check my mailbox one more time. Just three things were in it: a pine cone and two large envelopes. I reached for the largest one first—about the size of a sheet of paper.—and opened it. It was a certificate commemorating my 25 years of service in Merced City Schools. I glanced at the impressive list of signatories— superintendent, Board members, an elected city official. I realized that none of these people had visited my classroom in about three years. I’m not sure if they knew what they were commemorating. It could have been Charlie Manson teaching the class and I’m sure if they wouldn’t notice. Almost as quickly as I opened the envelope, I crumpled the certificate and made a nifty little three-point toss to the waste paper basket.

The second envelope obviously contained a card. Probably an invitation from the credit union to borrow more money. I vaguely recognized the name on the return address as I sliced open the envelope with the small blade on my pocket knife. On the card was a picture of a kid in his high school cap and gown accompanied by another couple shots of him as a preschooler and a middle schooler. Oh ya…I remembered this kid. A good student with a million questions. Sometimes picked on by the others. Neatly written in the students’ own cursive was a note thanking me for all that I had done to motivate him and prepare him for his life’s journey.

I paused to allow the tingle of pride to filter through for a moment and then began the march to the back gate. And in the back of my mind I began to make plans for next year…just wait and see—they ain’t seen nothing yet.



Hot Rize album review
Today's column from Marty Varner
Saturday, June 4, 2015


I did not know Hot Rize released an album last year. Hopefully, I am the only one because ‘When I’m Free’ shows Hot Rize seamlessly fitting themselves into the top echelon of bluegrass bands that can fit both the traditional bluegrass scene as well as the jam grass scene. Tim O’ Brien producing the Infamous Stringdusters Album, The Infamous Stringdusters, is very important to the sound of the album because it led to O Brien’s song writing for Hot Rize now being modernized more than anyone could have predicted. He has left his old song writing style behind for one that is similar to the Bluegrass Artists who are trending more towards Americana and Jam Grass than the traditional bluegrass format. This is a necessary step for a band like Hot Rize who has not made an album in eight years. This is not anything against traditional bluegrass, but Hot Rize was never “Traditional” bluegrass. Tim O’ Brien is not one to rest on his laurels and make similar music for an extended amount of time; he is always doing new projects whether it be playing mandolin for a Flatt & Scruggs tribute band or modernizing Hot Rize’s sound for their next reign. On this album he has decided to mix what made Hot Rize great in the past, with what is making bands great currently: arrangements and progressions. When I’m Free is one of the best bluegrass albums of century and more proof that O’ Brien, and Hot Rize as a whole, are one of the best bands in the business when they want to be.

The album begins with their single “Western Skies”. This was the perfect single because it represented what Hot Rize has decided they could be in the current bluegrass climate. “Western Skies” shows off tight harmonies and a catchy melody. It also leads way for my favorite song on the album, “Blue is Fallin'”. This song oozes energy and makes the listener want to nod their head like they are listening to their favorite rock band in high school before the big game. Forester creates a great groove on this song and is also responsible for the tension and release that gives this song the energy that makes it great for a live performance. And then there is debatably the greatest guitar player in the world that I somehow have not mentioned yet. Bryan Sutton shows off so many different runs in this song that it’s borderline unfair. His break is also one of the most bizarre things that must have had the whole band laughing in the studio. If I counted correctly he bends four different notes.

Another prominent song on this album that shows a different modernized side of Hot Rize is “You Were On My Mind This Morning”. While this has an old time feel, it also seems like a track that could effortlessly be turned into an eight minute live jam. But this is Hot Rize. Instead they keep themselves retained and professional. This is why they can be enjoyed by any sort of bluegrass fan. The mandolin/ guitar harmony solo is a very nice touch to a very melodic track.

“Doggone” is a song that could be part of the classic Hot Rize songbook. The banjo rolls by Pete Wernick make this song work, along with his break which has many old school Wernick licks that could also be used on electric guitar. This song also has Tim O Brien’s best solo where he does his classics loose triplets that sound much better or cleaner than they have a right to. This song is for the diehard Hot Rize fans who have been waiting for new material just like the old stuff.

“A Cowboy’s Life” sounds like a Brian Simpson song, which I think is O’ Brien’s greatest accomplishment. Sutton’s guitar and O’ Brien’s voice mesh so well in this song because of Sutton’s drop tuning and O’ Brien’s love for bent notes. This song is also one of the tasteful fiddle additions where O’ Brien adds a great layer to the songs riff which is doubled by the lower octave of Sutton’s guitar. When the instruments drop out, it is the climax of the album. The slow instrument buildup only increases the excitement until the song ends.

After reading this review it is natural that one would want to see them, which can be done at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz on June 13th, Huck Finn on the 12th and City Winery in Napa on the 14th.

If anybody hasn’t heard, my old band OMGG has a few reunion gigs this summer. See us at the Freight and Salvage on June 22nd and Vern’s Stage at Grass Valley on Thursday the 18th. If you want to hear what the band has been working on, we just released a single, “Sweet Notes Sweet Voices” on Sound Cloud as well as our band’s social media.



How Great Thou Art (Part One of a Fathers Day Story)
Today's column from Brooks Judd
Thursday, June 4, 2015


(Editor’s Note: When Mr. Judd contacted the editorial staff to suggest that on this, the first Friday of the month and hence his last column before our bluegrass festival at Grass Valley, we might want to run his now more or less classic ode to Fathers Day and to his own father, Buzz, we immediately concurred. It’s a two parter so it’s long, it’s got plenty of humor, lots of CBA history and some very tender and introspective moments. In short, it’s well worth the time to read, especially if, like Brooks, you’re an old fart who doesn’t have to go to work anymore.)

1986: Our twentieth year class reunion was coming up and after a long absence of seven years my oldest and dearest friend, Rick Cornish, calls me on the phone. It seems Rick has been keeping himself busy since the last time we talked in 1979. He is in a bluegrass band, whatever that is, and his band, the Grass Menagerie, is hired to play at a place called Grass Valley for The Fathers Day Bluegrass Festival in 1987. Grass Valley? God, I hope this isn't that hillbilly music you hear on Hee Haw. Rick invites our family to attend the 1987 Fathers Day Festival. I gladly accept, and then begin to wonder if I will need to purchase a pair of overalls and a big straw hat.

Rick sends me a tape of his band. I play it once, twice, then again and again. I was amazed. "Hey Rick, I said, "Do you have any more of this type of music?" Rick said he has a "few" tapes somewhere and he would send them to me. I explain to Rick that I played his tape so many times, it wore my tape player out. Rick tells me not to worry about it.A couple of weeks later Rick presents me with his tape player and about twenty bluegrass tapes. I tell Rick I feel funny accepting his tape player. "No problem, he says, I was planning to buy a new one anyway."

Then the bluegrass tapes start coming in. I receive at least two boxes filled to the brim with bluegrass tapes. I can't keep up with all the different bands. A few weeks later Rick calls and asks me if I have a favorite bluegrass group yet. I tell him I really like two bands, Old and In the Way and The Nashville Bluegrass Band.

1987: My wife, Sheila, and my two daughters, Jessica and Rhiannon head out to Grass Valley. Rick greets us at Camp Cornish. Rick's sons, Peter and Philip have set up a huge tent for our family. It's just like the Hilton. I thank Rick and his sons. We unpack our supplies and begin to look around. I see a lot of people and hear a lot of outstanding music.

Rick and I take a walk and I can see he is nervous. I have never seen Rick nervous before. I ask him if he is doing O.K. Rick shares with me that playing on stage at Grass Valley is a dream come true for him and he wants his set to go perfect. I smile and tell Rick that he and his band will knock 'em dead.

It's 7:00 P.M. and the Grass Menagerie takes the stage. They tear the place apart. I am sitting in the very front row and am extremely proud of my old friend Rick. After each song I yell out loud to anyone who will listen, "That's Rick. He's my oldest friend. That's his group. Aren't they great?"

The rest of the weekend is a blur of wonderful exciting music. I get to watch the Osborne Brothers, Del McCoury, and The Piney Creek Weasels to name a few of the outstanding groups that performed that year. I sit in the front row from 10:00A.M when the opening act plays until 11 p.m. when the last act has finished their encore. In two short days it has happened. I am hooked on bluegrass music. But one thing bothers me. Why do all these people stay up all night and play music? Our huge tent provides no shelter from all the jamming that's going on. If the music wasn't so fantastic a person could get cross by not being allowed to fall asleep.

Strange people these Bluegrass folk. It was a great festival. Rick invites us to attend The Father's Day Festival 1988. We accept.


1988: Our family heads for Grass Valley again. This time we stay at the Northern Queen Hotel in Nevada City (to assure at least an hours sleep). Even though the temperatures run into the 140's, our family survives. The festival was fantastic and I begin to realize that I am on my way to Bluegrass Junkiedom!

My wife and daughters decide to take a break from Grass Valley. My wife tells me I should talk to my dad and see if he wants to go. I do and he does. My father and I share a mutual respect for the music of Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. This mutual respect has created a bond between us that is special. Going to Grass Valley and sharing the musical experience should be fun for both of us.

1989-1993: My father and I attend the Father's Day Festivals. My father loves the music and loves chatting with all the folks in Camp Cornish. If there was ever a bonding experience Grass Valley was certainly the glue. We both look forward to the music and with excited anticipation relish the fact that we will be able to spend time with Rick and his family and our new found bluegrass friends.

1993: My father and I are driving home after attending another wonderful Father's Day Festival. But there is a problem. Something is gnawing away at me. I can't put my finger on it. When I finally make it home to Turlock I realize what the problem is. I was tired of watching the great bands, tired of watching everyone jam, tired of being a spectator. I wanted to participate. I wanted to play. I wanted to play the bass. But I have no bass.

I immediately phone Rick and share my thoughts with him. Before I finish my story Rick says he will bring his bass up to Turlock the next day. I can't believe that Rick would do this. Rick is adamant about one thing. He tells me if I borrow his bass it cannot collect dust in my closet. I have to practice. (Rick knows me to well). I agree.

ick lives 100 miles away and the next day is Monday. Rick doesn't care. The music is what matters. We discuss it and settle on a later date in Hayward at my father's house. The date we settle on is the same day my niece Megan Lynch is competing in the fiddle competition at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton. She is competing against my youngest daughter's boyfriend, Sean.

After the fiddle contest, Maria, Megan, Sean, my daughter, all meet at my father's house. Soon Rick arrives with his bass. I ask the usual questions, "Where are the frets?"

"What size pick do I use?" Rick demonstrates how to hold the bass and says with a very straight face, "Brooks, within six months you will be in a group AND performing on stage in front of people." Rick also tries to sell me some aluminum siding but I don't buy that either.

I don't want to let Rick or myself down. I practice every chance I can. I put tape after tape on and play along to the music. If I skip even one day I just know Rick will find out and he'll call me and ask me why I am not practicing. That's all right. If I hadn't had made that promise to Rick chances are the bass would have found its way into my closet.

So, I keep practicing.

1994: Rick is right. Within 6 months I am in a band (with Sean and his father) and performing onstage in front of people. I love it. In June of 1994 at Grass Valley in front of my father and friends Rick presents his bass to me as a gift. I don't think I will ever possess a gift that means as much to me as that bass.

1995: My father and I look forward to being part of the 20th anniversary of the CBA at Grass Valley. Sadly, the weather is suited for mid-December not June. The friendly volunteers, clothed in rain gear, waders, over-coats and wielding multi colored umbrellas greet us at the gate with wide grins. The ground has been strewn with hay to help sop up the water and mud. Seeing all this reminds me of the scene in Paint Your Wagon where the miners are dancing in the mud to the song, "Hand Me Down That Can of Beans."

It seems that everyone does his or her best to adapt to the chilly weather. Those of us at Camp Cornish gather around a large portable Coleman campfire/stove that Rick has set up and we begin to swap bluegrass stories. It seems that everywhere you look people are not going to let the rain and cold ruin this special 20th anniversary.

Saturday night Chubby Wise performs. It is cold, damp, and drizzly as my father and I huddle down in our chairs in front of the stage trying to stay warm. Chubby walks onto the stage and plays a great set. After his set he is called back for his encore. Then it happens. Chubby begins to play "How Great Thou Art." About one minute into the song…


How Great Thou Art (Part Two of a Fathers Day Story)

Mud fest 1995 20th anniversary was the seventh and last Father's Day festival my father and I enjoyed together. He died the day after Thanksgiving in 1995.I was having a hard time coming to grips with his death. I submitted a story to the CBA in May of 1996 about my father and how I became involved in bluegrass music. The story also dealt with many other things, one of them being my concern in being able to attend Fathers Day 1996 without my father. The Bluegrass Breakdown published my story in the Father's Day June 1996 issue. The story was titled, “How Great Thou Art… A Father's Day Tale”. This was probably one of the original “How I got hooked on Bluegrass stories.”

J.D. Rhynes, and Rick Cornish spent a couple of months persuading me to attend the 1996 festival. I had never met J.D. but had talked to him on the phone several times after my father's death and he turned out to be a fountain of inspiration for me. Rick was a rock as usual. I made the decision to attend Father's Day 1996. I was teaching summer school so I would only be able to come up early Saturday and leave early Sunday.

I set off with a grim determination convinced that I would be able to make it through the weekend. As I was driving up highway 80 I began thinking of how many times my father and I had driven up to Grass Valley in his blue and white Ford Ranger. I drove and it would frustrate my father when I would turn on the radio. He would reach over and with a flick of the wrist turn off the radio saying, ”We're talking, not listening to the radio!” In a way he and Rick were a lot alike. In September I would come to Grass Valley for the Mid Summer Bluegrass Festival. Rick and I would meet for an early Saturday breakfast in town. After we had ordered breakfast I would neatly spread out my San Francisco Chronicle on the table, pick out the sports page and begin to read. Rick would nonchalantly pick up the stainless steel creamer and slowly pour it all over the sports page. “What the Hell are you doing, Rick?” I asked. Rick would smile that sardonic twisted smile of his and reply, “We're talking here, not reading the paper!”

I arrived at Grass Valley early Saturday morning and immediately drove to camp Cornish. I unloaded my bass and sleeping bag and went looking for Rick. I found him near the side of the stage. I told him my plan. I wanted to introduce myself to J.D. and thank him. I wanted to play a little music, watch a couple of acts, go out to our traditional Saturday night dinner play some more music and be in bed by 11pm. Rick nodded and said,” Sounds good, J.D. is right over there.”

J.D. was in the stage area right next to the stage inside the screened off area. The acts weren't due on for another hour. I would be able to go inside and introduce myself and not break any rules. Rick was standing next to me and was gently pushing me toward the stage and J.D. I began to feel silly and told Rick I would do this later. Rick kept pushing. I realized if I didn't do it now I would never do it. I slowly walked up to J.D. He was shuffling some papers and looked at me. I said, “J.D. I'm Brooks Judd.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. I hugged J.D. and he began telling me that everything was going to be o.k. It's crazy but I needed that hug and through the tears and all I began to feel better. Poor J.D. Such a gentleman and here I was hanging on to him and sobbing.

So much for my stiff upper lip.

The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur. I chatted and jammed with old friends and saw bits and pieces of the acts. Dinnertime snuck up on us so Rick and I set out to town for our traditional Saturday night dinner. We shared wine (lots of wine) ate a good dinner, and shared memories of Rick's father, Bebe, and my father, Buzz. They were good friends. Bebe had died several years earlier and all my memories of him were good ones. Bebe didn't have a mean bone in his body and he treated me like a second son. I loved him.

We finished dinner and headed back to camp. At camp I jammed some more, I saw a few minutes of the remaining acts, and at 11 pm I made my way back to camp and to the warmth and security of my sleeping bag.

I was proud of myself. Except for the sea of tears with J.D. I had held up pretty good.

I spread out my sleeping bag and thought of Rick. It drove Rick crazy that I wouldn't stay up and jam, but with my work schedule, my eyes and body just about shut down at midnight on the weekends. I got into the warm sleeping bag, zipped it up and placed a light blanket over the sleeping bag. I fluffed up my pillow, took one last look at the pine trees surrounding the camp, made a visual sweep of all the surrounding camps, took a deep breath of the beautiful crisp pine scented June air, exhaled, and slowly pulled off my glasses and set them down next to my pillow. Things being blurry, my ears picked up the slack and I began to decipher the various jams going on around the campgrounds. The wine won out and I slowly drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face.

I had just about nodded off in the land where pudgy bass players were considered the sex symbols in bluegrassdom, the music of Bob Paisley and Beethoven resonated throughout all the homes in the world, and rap and hip hop would not appear for another 300 years.

My journey was interrupted by the sound of something or someone plodding heavily through the camp. I could hear and feel the heavy sound of tromping footsteps nearing my sleeping bag. I listened intently as the noisy steps came nearer. The rustling of the twigs and pinecones stopped abruptly. I sensed the presence of someone breathing right over me. I lay motionless in my sleeping bag.

Two large paws grabbed the ends of my blanket and gently raised the blanket and pulled it slowly up over my shoulders. I felt a gentle tap as the paws tucked the end of the blanket around my shoulders. Then I heard a voice say, “Good night old friend.”

As the footsteps slowly began walking out of the camp I quickly reached over and picked up my glasses and put them on. I could see a large shaggy bearded rumpled haired man in white shorts, sporting a tank top that defied description, lumbering out of the camp site heading into the land of pine trees and music. He was holding a fiddle in his left hand and a bow in his right hand. It was Rick. I smiled to myself and slowly drifted off into a musical sea of Beethoven and bluegrass.

My eyes opened about 7:30 in the morning. I felt great. I stretched and smelled the morning air. I put my glasses on looked around Camp Cornish. Everyone was still sleeping. Farther away I could see movements in some of the other camps. Campers were putting coffee on and I saw smoke drifting up from the campfires. A few campers were heading toward the showers, cradling their towels like warm puppies.

My father and I had always shared Fathers Day breakfast at the waffle vendor's booth. I thought for old times sake I would go find the vendor, sit down, have a cup of coffee and a waffle and pretend my father was sitting right next to me. I located the vendor, placed my order, and made my way over to the redwood table. I sat down and began to eat. I thought of past Father's Days and how we shared breakfast.

My father and I would order our breakfast, find a table, sit down, and begin to eat. I would bring out my “special” fathers day card filled with sentimental thoughts I had spent two hours writing down. I would proudly hand over the card to my father. He would place his plastic fork down on the paper plate, grab the card with his thick arthritic fingers, open the envelope, pull out the card, read the front of the card, quickly open the card, spend about 2 seconds reading what I had spent eternities writing, lay down the card, pick up his fork, spear another piece of waffle, take a sip of coffee, look at my expectant face and say, “Nice.” I was shocked. “Nice! I spent two hours writing all those things!”



THE DAILY GRIST…“Where have all the fiddlers gone……..they’ve gone to old time every one.” Dave Williams with apologies to Pete Seeger, et al

Looking for Bluegrass Fiddlers
Today's column from Dave Williams
Thursday, June 4, 2015


Is there something in the water in the South Bay Area? Is this happening elsewhere as well? I’m looking for bluegrass fiddlers and I can’t seem to find any these days. Sure all the top bands have one and maybe more in the wings and probably the super secret exclusive jams have a few fiddlers but by my accounting there is a definite shortage unless you happen to find your self in an old time jam. In the old time jams you find all the fiddling flavors too, Appalachian, Missouri, Scottish, Irish Swedish, Celtic, Northwest (not the Kardashian but the real Northwest), Cajun, the kind with the fiddle on their chin and the kind with it cradled in their arm and probably some more flavors I’m forgetting. What I need though is some Kenny Baker or Paul Warren styles in some of the bluegrass jams I go to.

One of my bands has a jazz / blues violinist but he won’t play a lick of bluegrass, for some reason and don’t you dare call him a fiddler. Maybe it was his poor upbringing or brushes with the law in his childhood that soured him. Also he did live close to Canada. There is no accounting for taste. (My fingers are itching to type an old time joke here but I’m going to have to let it pass as I play with too many or them.)What is going to happen here is that I’m going to get a whole lot of feedback telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Hey, all I can tell you is that I do a bit of bluegrass jamming from San Jose up through Menlo Park and I haven’t seen a fiddler in a while. Occasionally, there have been a couple of old time fiddlers slumming in a bluegrass jam but they never stay long and always try to call Possum Up a Gump Stump when its their turn and want to play it about half a dozen times through.

I’m positive there are plenty of good bluegrass fiddlers in this area. All you have to do is look at the top area bands and see a wealth of fiddle talent or just stroll around at a festival or campout but whatever jams they’re in, I’m not. That probably says something about my chops or maybe something about the company I keep.

I do play with lots of fiddlers, though, in old time jams. I always make a point of inviting them to the bluegrass jams but they don’t seem interested. I beginning to wonder about how close to Canada they may have lived while growing up.

My bluegrass band ‘bout Time! has had two fiddlers in its history…… history being the operative word here. We haven’t had one since 2008. We have been either looking or kind of looking for one ever since but to no avail.

A few weeks back some players I have jammed with in the past called me to sit in for a bluegrass gig; a couple of rehearsals and then the gig at a party. Here’s the band, two guitars, a banjo, a mandolin, a mandola (or octave mandolin, who can tell them apart?) and me on bass. We did two sets straight from the bluegrass handbook and nary a fiddle break to be found.

I’m not giving up though, this Sunday I’m the jam manager at the Santa Clara Valley Fiddlers monthly jam at Hoover School in San Jose. So I’ll be out there jamming and looking for fiddlers to come to the other jams that are coming up. Maybe I can bribe some old time fiddlers to give it whirl. I hope I don’t need Canadian money.

You know I’ll be at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in a couple of weeks. My plan there is to ply fiddlers with tequila or other brown liquor and maybe a beer chaser to come and jam at my site. I am going to keep a little black book and take some names and numbers and then robo call them to come jam in the South Bay.

Enough of this! The 40th festival extravaganza is only a couple of weeks away and I’m counting the days. I’ll see you all there. I am working Vern’s on Wednesday night so I hope you can drop by. I don’t know my FHU site at this point but my tequila and I will be looking for you fiddler or not.


The Curative Powers of Music
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, June 3, 2015


From time to time, I see notice of scientific studies that show the amazing curative properties of music. Hello? Raise your hand if you HAVEN’T seen this with your own eyes! Let me provide 3 real-life examples.

Most recently, today as a matter of fact, I experienced anew this phenomenon. Folks, my Tuesday was hall-of-fame awful at work. I got yelled at and humiliated in ways I thought unlikely, if not impossible at my age. Unbeknownst to me, in the past year or so, I went from being a valuable visionary to a complete boob. The best way to tell me this, apparently, is at the top of the president’s lungs. So I came home from work (a 75 minute drive to cover 23 miles) a bit wounded, to say the least.

According to many, the key to healing would be beer, and this advice I could not ignore. So I went to the local taphouse and prepared to self medicate. But - what do you know? Tuesdays are Open Mic night (which I had forgotten), so I trotted upstairs to check it out, and it was wonderful. Like all Open Mic events, the talent level varied, but every single act was fervent and heartfelt, and it restored my faith in humanity.

The next example is a little more cosmic. For my mother’s memorial service in 2013, I and my sistershad commissioned a bagpiper to give her a proper Scottish sendoff. Never mind my mother’s side of the family were Lithuanian Jews - she married a Campbell, and Dad loved the bagpipes.

So, the room was full, and the start time for the memorial service was approaching fast and no piper was in evidence. I called the guy (who was also a Campbell), and he said “Oh shoot, was that today?”. I said never mind and sought out my friend Rick Horlick and said “Rick, we’re on!”

We sang and played “Beautiful Life” and it was perfect. It meant so much more to the family to have me perform a song than some anonymous piper (Campbell or not) and it meant a great deal to me too. I did NOT want to sing at this event - I feared I would break down. It turned out to be perfectly cathartic - music calmed me down and gave me perspective. It worked out great. I know my Mom was pleased - wherever she was. I could almost hear “Thank God it wasn’t bagpipes!” in my ear.

My last example is even more miraculous. Many times, I i have played shows for convalescent homes, and if you EVER doubt the power of music, check this out. Picture a room full of people, many of whom are barely communicative, wheeled into a room. The “audience” seems barely aware of where they are - much less whether or not there are musicians in the room.

Then the music started and there is an amazing transformation, Vacant eyes light up. Slack jaws begin mouthing words, and - I swear this is true - inert figures become reanimated and some actually rise from their wheelchairs! Some of these people are so far gone they seem to be lost within themselves, but hearing music awakens something in them, and the response is wonderful to behold. This is no fluke - I have seen this time and time again.

What’s the moral of the story? Whatever has you down - a cruel boss, grief, or old age (and the list is much longer than this), music can lift you up, of only for a little while. And sometimes, that does the trick..



A guide to Grass Valley Wildlife
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Tuesday, June 2, 2015


(Editor’s Note: Bruce’s column, “Grass Valley Field Guide”, which was written, we think, around 2010, has become a standard piece to post during the run up to the Fathers Day Festival. We want to remind you all, of course, that you too can participate in the engaging, if not completely scientific, pursuit of festival species watching. Just bring binoculars and a note pad and prepare to be fascinated. It all starts week after next.)

Less than two weeks until Grass Valley folks! This is good time to point out that the joys offered by this yearly event go way beyond just hanging out with friends, jamming and watching some top notch Bluegrass acts. I am speaking, of course, on the natural fauna that may be found at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, if you look carefully. What follow is a primer – how many of these organisms can YOU spot?

The Thick-Skinned Jambuster (Inappropriatus Usurptus) – this is good place to start, because this creature is fairly common and easy to spot. Look for jams that are summarily broken up by a critter who uses a variety of cunning ways to achieve the breakup of the jam – listen for suggestions of songs that only the Jambuster knows (and just barely) with 6 or 7 chords and irregular rhythms. Or keep your ears peeled for the strains of an overloud “harmony” that is really just an off-tune unison. This species does not mate. Where they actually come from is a mystery.

The Festival Dandy (Exoticus Finerium). The Dandies do not have a specific sound – rather, it is their visual display that you must look for. The males are distinguished by tight blue jeans, enormous belt buckles, elaborate western shirts, topped by very tall cowboy hats. The female of the species will likely sport a frilly, stiff skirt, with a fringed blouse and brightly colored cowboy boots and hat. Biologists marvel at the odd fact that this species seems to be performing a mating ritual, but many specimens found at festivals are well past suitable mating age.

The Aluminum Apartmentite (Winnebagus Wanderum). This species is tough to spot in small groups, away from their social structure, but their herding behavior is fascinating to field biologists. They compulsively create huge hives of dozens of aluminum rolling boxes, which they decorate with flags, card tables and lawn chairs. This is principally a diurnal species, and may be tougher to observe late at night unlike some of the other, more nocturnal creatures that frequent the Father’s Day Festival. This species, more than any other at the Fairgrounds, is fastidiously clean, and perform washing, bathing and waste elimination rituals in the privacy of the aluminum hive modules. The mating habits of this species has never been observed.

The Patchouli Wood Sprite (Dreadlockus Hirsutis). This colorful creature is well dispersed among the Fairgrounds (although usually avoids the A. Apartmentite hives). Both the male and female of the species are well furred, and decorate themselves with colorful woven fabrics. A gentle and affectionate organism, they might actually make good pets if it weren’t for their enormous appetites. They tend to sleep during the day, and become most active at night. When darkness makes spotting them difficult, listen for jams that are playing Dylan, Grisman or Grateful Dead tunes.

The Spam Campers (Hormeli Brandlicus) This species has the most interesting and intricate social structure of any fauna found in the region. The Spam Campers cluster around a designated communal area and the group seems to concentrate their energies on the worship of the queen of the primitive band. The queen has a court of underlings who spread out in the area and lure other organisms back to their communal area to take part in ritual musical, eating and drinking activities. As Campers are worn out, or sated, they are cast out and replaced by a seemingly unlimited supply of eager disciples of the group. This species is both diurnal AND nocturnal –indeed, they never seem to sleep at all.

This is just a small sample of the wildlife you may observe at the Father’s Day Festival – the list is far too extensive to display in this space. But just remember to add Nature Watching to your list of planned activities at this year’s Father’s Day Festival!



President’s Message
Today's column from Darby Brandli
Monday, June 1, 2015


Happy 40th Annual CBA Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival to us! We have only been attending 30 years (!) but there will be those attending this June who helped organize and who played at our first festivals. We have reunion bands and tribute bands and alumni bands interspersed with some of the hottest current bluegrass bands from across the continent (we include a Canadian band, the Spinney Brothers) this year. Our three stages will be filled with bluegrass and old time bands morning to night. We will dance, we will jam, we will celebrate old and new bands and young and old musicians. I cannot wait until we spend the week on the Nevada County Fairgrounds, the “most beautiful Fairgrounds in California.”

I have some “must see” events on my list: The Vern Williams Band Alumni” Keith Little, Del Williams, Ed Neff, and Sue Averill, with Chris Henry comprised of four alumni of the Vern Williams Band and three CBA Lifetime Members on Friday afternoon. Saturday night’s dinner show on Vern’s will feature some of the best and hottest mandolin players living today including David Grisman, Roland White, Mike Compton, Chris Henry and some other lifetime CBA members. Our youngest California band: 35 Years of Trouble will also grace the Vern’s Stage on Thursday and OMGG (4 graduates of our Kids on Bluegrass program) will play a reunion set.

Lifetime members Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick are nominated by the IBMA for their remarkable CD: Laurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray. Second generation California award winning bluegrassers honoring first generation California bluegrassers is worth your vote if you are a member of the IBMA. I would love to see this project win some awards at the World of Bluegrass Award Show this year, what an honor for all of us out here in California to be recognized by the world at the Awards Show. Listening to this CD will send chills up your spine, it is that good. Laurie and Kathy debuted the CD at last year’s Father’s Day event.

Our Music Camp (preceding the festival) is sold out, kudos to Peter Langston and Janet Peterson for producing this remarkable camp. The 3rd Annual CBA Youth Academy is sold out and there will be a performance at 3PM on Saturday on the Pioneer Stage to celebrate the end of this four day event. The Kids on Bluegrass will again have performances on the main stage Friday and Saturday afternoon/early evening and Frank Solivan and his team will present our youngest musicians to our audience. The CBA is very proud of these programs which serve our mission: to preserve and promote the music.

The JD Rhynes Bluegrass Cookbook and CD will be available for purchase at the CBA Booth. JD Rhynes, who for decades wrote a recipe column for the Bluegrass Breakdown and is a founding member of the CBA, will be on hand to autograph a copy for you. All profits from this project will go to the CBA Youth Program. What a wonderful way to honor Lifetime Member JD by purchasing this project. How wonderful of JD to give this gift to the CBA. Member Ted Kuster deserves kudos for making this happen.

The very best way to acknowledge the CBA is to JOIN or RENEW or run for a seat on the Board of Directors or volunteer to help with our projects and events! We have much to be proud of. It is amazing what this all volunteer organization has accomplished in the last four decades. Congratulations to all of us. Happy 40th!


Paul
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Sunday, May 31, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where one entire room of our home looks far more like a print shop in the middle of a gigantic push to get the customer’s order out the door than it does my study. There are large red Folgers coffee cans everywhere with the various pieces necessary for making buttons to sell at this year’s Grass Valley bluegrass festival, button-making equipment, each piece with its own unique hum, a few dozen gallon-sized baggies, chalk-full of completed buttons and with labels like “40th Anniversary”, “Famous Performers”, “Dogs”, “Banjo Jokes”, “People People Know”, etc. printing paper EVERYWHERE and yellow post it notes reminding me of scores of button ideas that may or may not see the light of day. And this year, the year of Father’s Day Festival #40, there are also matts and cello matt covers and stacks of high definition photo renderings of all of the t-shirts we’ve sold in the past thirty-nine years. My wife, Lynn, has given me until sunset today to have the room back to normal…an extension, the last she warns, from last evening’s sunset.

Mark Hogan has been busy reaching out to a group of people who have, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, made the California Bluegrass Association what it is today. Many performers from thirty and forty years ago, many promoters, many key volunteers who’ve left the area or the state. He’s calling or emailing them with an invitation, with comp tickets, to this year’s anniversary celebration. A few days ago Mark wrote to tell me that he’d tracked down Paul Lampert, proprietor of the famed Paul’s Saloon, the unrivaled West Coast Mecca of bluegrass music for a couple decades. He learned that after selling the business, which became a fern bar (anyone who knew the saloon-owner would see the irony in an instant), Paul sailed his boat down to San Diego where he lived in it until he died last year. Mark made a point of letting me know because he knew Paul Lampert and I were friends…in a crazy Paul Lampert kind of way.

Back in 2004, when I was responsible for dreaming up a Welcome column seven days a week, I wrote a piece about an experience that I had with the mad man who named a saloon after himself. It’s called “I Like to Cook a Lot a Lot” and you can read it by clicking here.


Just suppose
Today's column from Christian Ward
Saturday, May 30, 2015


(Editor’s Note--On February 22nd, 2004 the CBA web site featured its first “guest” Welcome columnist. Up until then, 100% of the Welcome columns written since the site’s launch in October of 2001 had been conjured by the web master himself, and he was becoming very, very tired. Hence, a guest writer, whose name was Christian Ward, the eleven year old fiddling son of Eric Uglum (Weary Hearts, Lost Highway, and the list of Eric’s bands goes on and on. Christian has since, of course, gone on to become a well-known a bluegrass professional in his own right). Anyways, Christian had submitted his “Hooked on Bluegrass” story, (like three hundred other people have over the past 15 years,) and it was clear to our editorial staff that the kid wrote way, way beyond his years. So we asked Christian to write a Welcome, and here’s what he came up with…)


Suppose every man, woman and child on the plant listened to a Stanley Brothers song per day for a year. I believe the world would change drastically. Surely within weeks everyone would get hooked on the pure, authentic sounds of the Stanley Brothers. Just imagine how much the pop culture in America would be affected:

I wouldn't have to explain to other kids why Stanley Brothers music is so cool.

When stopped at a stoplight you wouldn't have to ignore the head-pounding, obnoxious noise coming from the sub woofers of the car next to you. Instead, everybody would be nodding their heads in approval of the Stanley Brothers sounds emanating from the car next to them.

The Ralph Stanley would have concerts at the Anaheim Stadium where tickets would be sold out for months in advance.

Ralph Stanley would perform at the Superbowl halftime show where everyone would tune in just to watch him sing.

Target's shelves would be sold out of Stanley Brother's CDs while CDs by pop icons, such as Justin Timberlake, are on clearance.

Kids would be playing with Stanley Brother's action figures and the hottest selling figure would be the one where you push a button and Ralph sings "O Death."

Kids would bring Stanley Brothers lunch boxes to school.

Kids would trade Stanley Brothers trading cards which would include the Columbia, Mercury, Early Starday/King, post Carter and "O Brother Where Are Thou" series.

Department store windows would feature the latest Ralph Stanley fashions which would be worn by the hippest fashion mongers.

At the playground all the kids would be humming the melody to "White Dove."

The hottest video game out would be one containing a race with Carter and Ralph against P.Diddy and Christina Aguilera to see who can win the most golden banjos.

On Entertainment Tonight everyone would watch to get the latest scoop on Ralph Stanley and his supermodel girlfriend.

But lets get back to reality. This isn't the way things are but who knows? Who would have ever thought that in 2001 Ralph Stanley would be one of the recipients of a Grammy for Best Album of the Year?

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.



Grits
Today's column from Bert Daniel
Friday, May 29, 2015


(Editor’s Note—It wasn’t at all surprising when, some years back, Dr. Bert posted this little gem about grits. He is, after all, among the most renascence of all renascence men in the CBA. (Opps, renascence PEOPLE.) Many of us know a little about a lot of things; only a handful of our members…Bert, JD Rhynes, Brooks Judd, Randy January…know A LOT about a lot of things. So, then, here’s GRITS…)


If you’re gonna play bluegrass, you need to know something about grits. I’m not talking about textures of sandpaper from the hardware store and I’m not talking about hip hop groups. No, I’m talking about a delicacy native to the part of the country that gave birth to a lot of great music, including bluegrass. Grits have to be one of the most misunderstood foods around. People from the north don’t quite know what to do with them. They put sugar on them, thinking they must be some poor relation to other hot cereals they are more familiar with, like oatmeal and cream of wheat. Grits can taste fine with sugar or syrup or honey, but that’s not really how to eat them.

Few restaurants out here in California serve grits, and most of those are in Southern California, where the descendants of Okie migrants are thickest. If you want to try them, you might have to do it yourself. First you have to find a place that sells grits. Don’t try the local trendy, chic grocery. I live in the Sonoma county wine and food region. When I tried to buy pimiento cheese spread at the local grocery, I couldn’t find any at all. But I counted twelve different kinds of hummus. If you want the kind of food a southern boy would eat, you’re going to have to go to the place that caters to the masses. The kind of place where they’d put Velveeta cheese in the gourmet food section. I go to Safeway when I want to buy grits.

Don’t buy the so called instant grits. All grits cook fast so you’re not saving any real time and they don’t taste as good. Cook the grits in boiling lightly salted water until the are nice and tender. The final consistency should be slightly runny. Put the grits onto your plate next to the bacon and eggs. Now you’ve got it. You see, grits substitute for the hash brown potatoes, not the oatmeal. Place a pat of butter in the center of the grits and while that forms a nice yellow lake, take a piece of bacon or sausage on the end of your fork and swirl it around in the grits. Take the meat, dripping with grits, and pop it into your mouth for the proper grits breakfast experience. Delicious!

Grits can be enjoyed with any meal. I like grits with melted cheese for lunch (what southerners call dinner) and grits with red eye gravy for dinner (what southerners call supper). Lots of folks like to eat unbleached yellow grits with their red eye gravy (gravy made from ham cured with salt; “Country” ham). Folks in the gulf states eat their grits with shrimp.

Yes grits are a very versatile food that should be taken more seriously by foodies everywhere. And they’re healthy. Grits are made from corn that has been treated by the process that makes hominy. That process releases niacin for better absorption and most grits are by law fortified with vitamins. The Georgia legislature has formally designated grits as their official state prepared food.

We bluegrass fans owe a great debt to grits. Grits have nourished many a fine musician. Sam Bush named one of his CDs Glamour and Grits. One of our local California Bluegrass bands is named Harmony Grits.

If you’re in Bakersfield this weekend, go out and find a place that serves grits. I’ll bet your jamming skill will soar as much as your palate. Enjoy!

I miss my hog and hominy, my punkins and red gravy
My appetite is failing me, so says old Uncle Davy
But time has changed the old man, the sun is sinking low
My heart goes back to Dixie, and I must go.


The Daily Grist—“Every day hundreds of thousands of plants are murdered and consumed by vegetarians. Help stop the slaughter, get yourself a copy of JD’s cook book, and learn how to cook and eat bacon and biscuits and gravy.”—JD Rhynes

Good memories of days gone by
Today's column from JD Rhynes
Thursday, May 28, 2015


My good friend Keith little came to visit Bluegrss Acres the first week in May and we had such a wonderful visit talking over old times and all the music we played all the good times we had in the past. we sat and talked for three or four hours, looked at a lot of my old pictures of us taken when we're a lot younger, and in general just marveled how fast that the last 43 years of our lives have passed by. I reminded him of the conversation we had right after I turned 41, and he was a young 23 years old at the time. We were in my shop at the time when I was still living in Valley Springs, and he was sitting there watching me build something, and he made the remark that I was really getting old. I turned to him and told him; Keith, you are going to be my age before you know it and even though it is 17 years in the future, it will seem like it is only been three months since you told me this. Keith is going to turn 60 in December of this year, and when I reminded him of that remark he had to agree that the last 36 1/2 years has absolutely flown by in a blur, and seems more like 37 months instead of years.Time waits on no man regardless of who he is.

We shared a lot of memories of playing music in the past with a lot of different folks and all of the fun we had. One of my favorite memories involve Jack Sadler, one of the three founders of the California bluegrass Association. Back about 1972 or three , three or four bands played a concert at the fairgrounds in Placerville California to raise money for their high school jazz band so they could take a trip.

The band had been invited to play at a prestigious event that was going to cost more than the school district could afford to pay for their airfare to the venue and back. So we all went to play the gig that night, and before the show started one of the ladies that was working at the gate came over and pointed at Jack Sadler across the room and asked me do you know who the gentleman is? She said he just gave me $50 to donate to the cause for the band. So I said to her; don't you know who that man is? She answered no. So I told her, that dear lady is the Lone Ranger, turn around and walked off with a grin on my face. But wait, that's not the end of the story. Back in those days I was heavy into making belt buckles , and I had promised one to Jack Sadler, it took me about four hours to design the buckle, and a couple of days to build it. It was made out of copper plate with Jack's name and the words of the design etched into the front of it. I got out my Latin/English dictionary, and as close as I could come to saying Hi Yo Silver in Latin is",festinarae tu argentum". I finished making this belt buckle, I mailed it to Jack with an explanation concerning the wording on it. The very next time I saw Jack was at the Coloma California gold discovery days the following January. When Jack got there that day we were all standing around a big bonfire and a great big jam session was going on. There is probably 50 or 60 people standing around the jam, so Jack climbed about halfway up the back stairway of the Grange Hall and yelled at us; Festinare Tu Argentum! A couple guys standing next to Vern and I said, who the hell is that weirdo? Vern said, darned if I know and turned back a round with a sly grin on his face, and Jack just kind of slunk back down the stairs and disappeared in the crowd. Jack told us later that was the meanest thing we ever done to him, and we had a good laugh over it all.

Keith and I had a good time remembering that jam session that day so long ago.

Keith reminded me of the time we went to play a gig over in the Bay Area back about 74 or 75, and Delbert had a half pint of spirits in his back pocket and unbeknownst to him the lid was just barely screwed on. He sat down backstage in one of those plastic chairs and by the time he felt something getting wet, it was way too late! He did not turn his back on the audience one time that day. Ah yes, the glamour of being a bluegrass musician never ends.

We remembered a lot of good stories, and relived a lot of the good times we had together, but Keith told me one of the most beautiful stories that I will ever hear in my life that day. When his father died here some years ago I went to his memorial service in Georgetown California, and it was well attended by family and friends, and it was a great celebration of life for his father Ray Little. Keith's father was well into his 80s, and I knew that he had passed away as a result of a fall he suffered at his home. But here's the good part. They had placed Keith's father on life support, but the family all agreed that Ray would not want that. So Keith told me that they took their musical instruments to his father's room, and as the medical staff took him off of life support,, they all picked and sang him across Jordan to the next camp. I told Keith that is a most beautiful way to go across Jordan, and I only wish I could be that lucky when it comes my time to cross over as well. Rest in peace dear friend.


Masters of the CRaft
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Despite two left feet and a complete lack of eye-hand coordination, I have long been an avid sports fan - albeit as a spectator only. Nobody wants me on their softball team, believe me.

But you don’t have to be an athlete to appreciate the physical gifts on display in professional sports. For years it was primarily baseball - that amazing sport based on failure. Hitting a round ball with a round bat is so hard, those than do successfully one time in three attempts on average are all-stars. And while hitting is an individual battle against the pitcher, it’s still a team game, and on a champion team the players work together as if they share a neural connection.

Team owners, from time to time will try and purchase a championship by paying top dollar to stack their team with the very best athletes. Sometimes, that works, but often, it does not. A truly great team exceeds the sum of its parts. And often, on a championship team, there are one or two players that hold the whole
thing together - they make everyone around them better due to their intangible gifts.

I’ve seen the same thing in other sports, too - football, basketball, soccer - in a game full of excellent players, a select few are able to elevate the play of others around them.

I’ve seen this phenomenon in music too. When you see a band that really has everything on the ball, chances are there’s one key player that helps to hold the center. In a band of truly excellent players, this could be a hard-to-spot distinction, and it may not be the main soloist or the main singer.

How many times have you been in a jam, and you’re playing away, and sounding pretty good, and then someone else joins the circle, and all of a sudden, everyone is playing better? How can one player in a group of four, or five or six pickers make everyone better? Beats me, but I’ve had it happen a number of times.

The next question, I guess is, does the effect persist? While the jam is enjoying the addition of one of these uplifting players, and seemingly playing over their heads, is there a lasting benefit? Is it a teaching moment, or just one of these enjoyable, but temporary high spots we encounter now and again?

I think that depends on the players. I know a few of these transcendental, uplifting musicians, and I have seen instances where they failed to have that effect, and it wasn’t because they were having an off day. Instead it occurred in jams where players weren’t listening closely enough to recognize that they had been joined by a musician strong enough shoulder the rhythmic load of the ensemble - but they didn’t seize the opportunity.

So, this festival season, when the jam you're in suddenly seems better than ever, pay attention - you may be a getting a free lesson from a master of the craft!




The Annual Column No One Will Read (2011 edition)
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Tuesday, May 26, 2015


(Editor’s Note—So, what do you write in a column you’re certain is NOT going to be read by anyone? Kind of a variation on the question, does a falling tree make a sound if no one’s in the forest to hear it? Our friend Bruce Campbell grappled with this metaphysical riddle back in 2011, and we on the editorial staff believe his answer came pretty close to the truth. Now, if he’d just go ahead and deal with the fallen tree issue…)


Ah, it’s THAT week. Every year at this time, while I slave away at my high paying, highly fulfilling day job, everybody else is off to Grass Valley. And because I’m so NOT at Grass Valley, it falls to me to keep an eye on the swanky CBA Headquarters, which occupies the entire top floor in the Monroe Tower in Ceres, California.

The offices get a bit spooky when you’re the only one there. Acres of half-darkened cubicles, surrounded by empty executive offices. As I do every year, the first few hours I amuse myself by photocopying parts of my body and faxing them to the CBA’s legal team in Blanket.

Next, I snoop. Not everybody locks their office in the CBA HQ and nobody can lock a cubicle. Here’s a chance to learn a little more about my cohorts in the CBA. Rick Cornish’s office is no mystery. At first, the walk-in closet with its rows of tie-dyed tank tops was amusing, but now I’m used to it. Ditto the Barry Manilow shrine. This year, I was a little disturbed by the bag of goldfish crackers, because every single cracker fish was missing its head. I’m sure there’s a rational explanation.

I poke around Montie Elston’s office. Predictably, it’s neat and orderly. Treadmill and gravity boots are neatly aligned and gleaming. I open a desk drawer – what’s this? Oh, I’ve hit the mother lode! It’s a neatly typed list, and the heading at the top says “Bands Who Will Never Get to Play the Father’s Day Festival”. I’ve heard rumors of this document, but I always assumed it was an urban myth. Good news: YOUR band is NOT on the list!

I glance over at Marcos Alvira’s cubicle and nearly swallow my gum. There’s Dodger memorabilia everywhere! What’s this? A framed picture with Marcos and Tommy Lasorda, water skiing? And it’s signed “Thanks for the water skiing lessons! Love, Tommy!” Well, I’m shocked! Shocked! You think you know a guy, and then you see something like this..

Frankly, I’m a little shaken. Without all the hustle and bustle of a typical day at CBA HQ, with the rows of stenographers typing away on their IBM Selectrics, and the clatter of the ticker tape machine in the corner, the place seems way too gloomy. I can’t wait to get away and head for Grass Valley. I shiver, then stride to the office door, set the alarm, release the pack of vicious Rottweilers, lock the door and head for home. Grass Valley, here I come.



THE DAILY GRIST…The Parkfield motto is, "Be here when it happens."- City slogan

Parkfield Bluegrass Festival Grows
Today’s column from YVONNE HIGBY TATAR
Monday, May 25, 2015


Driving up the I-5 to Parkfield, the drought conditions along the way were so evident. When we arrived on Wednesday, there were already a few campers set up along with many festival volunteers running around preparing for the festival on Thursday. There was also some activity down in the rodeo arena area as the annual Parkfield rodeo was also preparing the start two weeks after the Parkfield festival. Every morning we enjoyed a nice walk down to the V6 Ranch, north of Parkfield. I noticed that the fields were already harvested, where in past years they would have been just starting to harvest the crops there. Another sign of a dry year.

Rain set this year’s Parkfield apart from the usual great weather and Thursday’s stage show was moved into the Parkfield Café. Fans cozied up and fit in as many as they could ,while others sat out on the porch listening through the open windows. With the ranch memorabilia decorating the café and the great stone fireplace going, the ambiance for this substitute stage area couldn’t have been better.

It was great to see smiling faces out with their umbrellas, wearing caps and hoods and mugs of hot tea and coffee as the rain came down. Vendors were closed, but glad the rain wasn’t a deluge. By Friday at noon, the weather had cleared and the show moved to their outdoor stage. The fans were loyal to both the café and outdoor stages, and jams happened even with the cooler temperatures. The Parkfield fans are a happy bunch, and by example, there was even a fan with a brightly colored parrot on his shoulder in the audience. Throw in the majestic oak trees shading the audience area and you can see why folks love this festival.

The bands offered a mixture of styles, progressive to traditional, and were quite good. My favs were San Diego’s Next Generation, and especially Bluegrass Etc. Bluegrass Etc. are so talented! They had just played their annual Rancho Vistadores gig (a large cattle drive) before performing at Parkfield. It’s no wonder we have them every year at Summergrass. And it seemed like this year’s crowd was larger, and I hope so as the Bluegrass Music Society of Central California work all year to make this event a success. There were more fans, more cars, and another campground opened up. Parkfield festival is growing - that was evident. But it still had that small, rural, park-like festival experience.

Sunday we took off for the Bay Area to visit family and went up Highway 101. The drive was sure pretty. The summit view just before San Miguel was stunning! Barbara Varian, you were right. This drive is worth it for this alone. At the top, we saw the Pacific Ocean to the west and Sierra Mountains to the east, with valleys and everything in between. And happily, Highway 101 was much greener than Interstate 5.

While we missed having LeRoy & Jan McNees at Parkfield Sunday morning, it was good to see the festival growing and doing well. Refreshing weather, seeing many friends, good music, fun jams, and the quaint location of Parkfield made for a relaxing and unwinding weekend. Good on BMSCC and the Varian family for making it happen. As they said on Hee Haw…. Parkfield, CA – Population 18 – SALUUTTEE!

p.s. Up in the Bay Area, we caught Dark Hollow entertaining at Sam’s BBQ in San Jose. It’s great to see places like Sam’s BBQ supporting bluegrass. This kind of local outreach serves to expose many to the music that might not otherwise hear it. That’s a real good thing. And Dark Hollow did a great set that night. Kudos to John Kornhauser, Jennifer Kitchen, Larry Cohea, and Tim Mintun! Their experience and expertise were evident. I understand that other local bands perform there as well. I encourage you to go to hear local bands to support them, and frequent those businesses that host bluegrass in your area. It’s a win-win for you, the business, the band, and for bluegrass. See you at a show soon!



THE DAILY GRIST…”Music has the power to bring people together like no other art form.“—Michael Franti

Blest Be the Ties That Bind
Today’s Column from Jeanie Ramos
Sunday, May 24, 2015


This weekend I will have my flag on display to acknowledge the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep America Free. May they rest in peace and may we all reflect on the freedoms we enjoy as we celebrate Memorial Day with those we love.

Like many of you, I often use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, to share news, prayer requests, photos, music videos, etc. I have joined many “Groups” on Facebook, allowing me to interact with people who share a similar passion for a variety of activities. In addition to some arts and craft and native groups, a garden group, and Martin Guitar Owners, etc., I belong to two bluegrass groups, Bluegrass, the Music that Matters Most and Bluegrass Café. I have made several “friends” through these groups and learned from and shared information with them in recent years.

In the two Bluegrass groups, there are many music videos that are shared, some by professionals and some by amateur musicians. There are people from around the world who are brought together through the common thread, a love of Bluegrass. One particular person that comes to mind is a young man from Stockholm Sweden, Patrik Sundvik. I did a short interview with him via Facebook Messenger and here’s what I discovered about this wonderfully talented Bluegrass guitar picker.

His first exposure to Bluegrass was through watching the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” He had to search the Internet to find the genre of music and then researched Bluegrass guitar, tried it and was hooked. He describes his guitar picking as Clarence White Style mixed with Norman Blake with a little Bryan Sutton thrown in. His pride and joy is a Gallagher Doc Watson Signature Custom Guitar, which he bought through his favorite music shop, CJ Acoustic in Ostervala, owned by his friend Calle Jonsson. His favorite group is The Punch Brothers. He recently attended the European World of Bluegrass in the Netherlands and was impressed with the friendliness of the people he met. This tells me that Bluegrass folks are the same, the world over. One highlight of his trip was to hear the Jeff Scroggins Band. Like most musicians, he has a day job and it’s one he loves. He works with children with special needs, most of whom are autistic. Patrik attends a monthly jam in “Old Town” Stockholm where he has met several like-minded musicians. He sometimes posts videos from their jams and it’s fun to hear songs like “Cotton Eyed Joe” and “If I Lose” done with a Swedish accent. I think it’s cool too that he recently put a link to a Blue Highway song on his page. I love the unifying effect that bluegrass music has; it removes walls, blurs cultural lines, and crosses the socio-economic barriers. If you want to hear Patrik’s music as well as some pickin’ by his guitar heroes, his YouTube channel is Bluegrass Fan.

Another young man that I have been following in these groups is a fourteen-year-old boy from West Virginia named Sammy Murphy. I interviewed him also for this column. Sammy has some physical challenges due to spastic cerebral palsy but he hasn’t let his limitations interfere with his joy of making music. He says he plays anything with strings; banjo, guitar dobro, etc. His Grandfather, Delbert Wynes was a banjo picker and is one of his “musical heroes.” Other musicians who have been an inspiration to him are Don Reno, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Marteka Lake and Bill Monroe. Sammy has been performing for a few years already and was inducted into the West Virginia Hall of Fame at age eight. He won his first banjo contest last year. On June 26, he will be taking the stage at The Music in the Mountains Bluegrass Festival in Summersville, West Virginia, it’s a dream come true for him to be performing at the same festival as Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent, Gene Watson, Dailey and Vincent and a host of other big names in bluegrass. This young man is an inspiration to many. When he sings, it’s quite evident that he loves what he’s doing; I especially love his Gospel songs.

I like to see posts in these groups by people who are learning a new song or tune and are looking for feedback or critique. There is no shortage of people who can give expert advice and are very encouraging to those who are working at improving their skills. We can all learn something new from one another. I recently went to a jam at Lakeport and spent an entire morning playing Redwing with my banjo-picking friend, Shut Up John and our favorite bass player, Lou. I admire John’s determination to get it right. I picked up some pointers from both of them during that session too. They’re going to make a bluegrasser out of this ole country girl yet!

It seems like we are spending more and more time at music gatherings and camp-outs and very little time at home. Just since April, we have gone to three camp-out/pickin’ parties, and a Southern Gospel Festival. Upon coming home, I posted a statement on Facebook that I was returning to the “Real World,” and my friend Marcos responded by saying, “I thought that is your real world.” I gave this some thought, and I believe he is right.

Well, my real world won’t include The Father’s Day Festival at Grass Valley this year. As I mentioned before, Terry and I will be celebrating our fiftieth anniversary somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Lord willing, we will make it to the Susanville Festival. This summer, we are “flying by the seat of our pants.” You all have a great time at FDF, I’ll be thinking of you. God bless.


Radio Bluegrass
Today's column from Brian McNeal of Prescription Bluegrass
Saturday, May 23, 2015


Many of us can remember the days when driving any long distance without a tape player in the vehicle was sure to present some surprises and also some disappointments.

Surprises, because sometimes you'd actually get to hear something absolutely wonderful, creative and different. You'd get treated to radio programming you would not be able to hear if you stayed home because very few markets overlapped by design.

Disappointments, because when you finally found a station that provided some entertainment that suited your tastes, you soon drove out of range and then the never-ending dial searching would begin anew.

Then along comes a technological knight in shining armor for the radio listener – the invention of satellite radio. Find a program you like and keep it with you for a hundred miles, a thousand miles or yes ... coast to coast, or even beyond our borders. As far as you could drive with no signal loss.

But, maybe, just maybe, we were a little too hasty in claiming our knight had shining armor. Is it what we really wanted? Is it what the bluegrass community needed? Or should this luxury come with a warning tag?

In the beginning we at least had two satellite companies vying for our attention. The good old American way ... honest competition. However, times being what they are, we now have only one company and no market competition. Has that made it better?

One thing that has always been misunderstood about the radio world is the use of charts to position songs according to supposed popularity and that then determines the amount and timing of airplay for each song on the chart.

That system began with popular music and became known as Top 40 radio. And it works pretty well when one radio station is competing against another, or in many cases against several other stations for listeners within a given market.

But wait, remember we have only one (1) satellite radio company and they aren't competing with anyone. They have a market all of their own. So why do they need to limit their play list by the use of charts?

If you only listen to satellite radio, you may not have any idea of what you're missing! There are thousands of artists and songs floating around that are every bit as good as what gets on the (satellite) air. Some would argue, and possibly rightfully so, that there is actually better music out there that’s not getting played.

As a person from inside the industry, I know that there are professional, award winning artists who very seldom or never have their music played on satellite radio, not to mention those that are still trying to make a name for themselves but who have music equal in quality and every other respect to the music that does get on the charts.

The problems with charts and the use of them to determine airplay are multiple and we won't go into them all here but the concept of using charts to determine airplay is outdated. It was developed in a different time and for different reasons. It was developed when the average person listened to the radio in 15 minute blocks. How can that concept ever work for a world where the satellite programming is listened to in an office eight hours a day or on an all day drive? The station may be playing what they think are the most popular songs but do you really want to hear them again and again, day after day? Do you ever wonder what songs are out there that you don't get to hear – especially when you've heard the same song for the 3rd time in the same day or the same song at the exact same time two or more days in a row.

Satellite radio, as far as bluegrass is concerned, is missing the golden opportunity to spread our music to the masses. What they're doing is presenting bluegrass as if it were already the most popular genre in the world and every listener knows all there is to know about it. But we know that is not the case.

There are new listeners to our music every day. Some will be hooked forever and some will be discouraged from ever sampling it again. Why? Because we all have a personal idea of what is and what isn't good music. What does or doesn't excite us musically is as different from one person to the next as the number and position of freckles on our faces. So when a new listener stumbles into the bluegrass channel and hears something not to their liking ...it’s channel change time for sure! Now what happens if that same person comes back in a day or so and hears the same song because of the limitations of too few songs on the play list? Forever in that person's mind is the image that bluegrass is something to be avoided because their limited exposure had a negative impact.

Surprises and disappointments in satellite radio come to the regular listener too. Depending upon your own personal preferences, they may be one way for you and exactly opposite for another.

- 53 different channels dedicated to a Rock/Pop derivative.

- 8 different country formatted channels.

- 1 bluegrass channel.

Even Jazz and Classical music (both of which would have similarities to bluegrass in mass appeal) have nine and four channels respectively.

To me, only one bluegrass channel is a big disappointment. So why do we say thank God for Satellite radio in the bluegrass community? Well, it's a start but it can be a lot more if we as a community don't get complacent and think that it is all it's ever going to be. Just like anything else that is new and innovative, it's use dictates it's benefit or it's detriment to the world.

We in the bluegrass community have an opportunity that none of our founding fathers or bluegrass pioneers had in the beginning. We can put our music and all of it's variants literally into the ears of millions with satellite radio. But it will take all of us in the community to recognize, first, it's potential, and then, second, the dangers of letting it continue with no intervention.

Thinking of satellite radio as just another private industry, another cog in the machine, is our first mistake. We need to think of this as a tool – a spaceship in the middle ages, a microwave oven to a caveman.

A really good way to help our problem would be to find a way to add a second bluegrass channel to the lineup. What will it take? A Rockefeller to finance it, or just a visionary to see it's potential?

A second good way to help that scenario would be to locate that channel outside of the Nashville headquarters. A West Coast based bluegrass channel in Los Angeles would open the doors to countless opportunities, not only in the programming side, but in the sales side of the business as well. What will it take to make that happen?
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My fiddle has a name
Today's column from Ellie Withnell
Friday, May 22, 2015


I don’t know about your bologna but my fiddle has a name.

His name is jackiechan. All one word, lower case only, and please, never shorten it to jackie unless you know him very very well. He gets a bit funny about it if you spell it wrongly too, so best to try to get it right. It seems reasonable to me that he worries about how his name is written, after all, people get funny about having their names spelled wrongly (ever been in a Starbucks when someone who isn’t called Jane or Bob is ordering coffee?) so there’s no reason a fiddle shouldn’t be particular about his moniker too.

In fact all of my instruments have names.

There’s Joe, my original student fiddle who I just can’t sell. I virtually never play him but he was there for me at the start and it seems wrong to just swap him for cash after he opened the door to all this fiddling joy for me. I’m on the lookout for an extremely good cause where I can hand him over to just the right person......but then, that’s a bit like handing over your firstborn child and that never works out well. Don’t believe me? Check out what happened to Rumpelstiltskin.

Then there’s Paddy the guitar-he’s been a bit neglected lately but we sure are going to fix that this weekend. Or maybe next weekend. But any day now Paddy, I promise.

Two banjos make their home at my house. Andy the clawhammer banjo and Allan the tenor. Andy is named after A. B. (Andrew Barton) Patterson- a legendary bush poet in Australia. Why? Well, it’s not as crazy as it sounds; old A.B.’s nickname, by which all of my countrymen know him, was Banjo. I once had a horse named Banjo for the same reason. Come to think of it, some of the noises Banjo the horse used to make remind me of some of the noises Andy the Banjo makes when I try to play him. I guess he better line up beside Paddy for a weekend of practice. Allan the tenor is a newcomer to my family-relatively anyway. We haven’t really made friends yet but I have high hopes the relationship will work out. He was named after a character in a book I was reading when I bought him: The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared. Allan isn’t quite 100 years old, he’s only a sprightly 95 or so, but he’ll still be around when he does turn 100 so I have named him pre-emptively. Unless he climbs out a window and disappears of course. Perhaps, in hindsight, it was not a wise naming choice, but as with children and boats, names can’t be changed once given.

And then there’s George. Sweet little George the soprano uke. Yep, he’s going to have to go and stand in line beside Paddy and Andy for practice this weekend too. Or maybe next weekend. Definitely by the one after that at any rate. Why is he called George you ask? (You did ask didn’t you? I thought so.) Well he is just so cute and adorable that I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him, and I will call him George.

So that’s my family. Quite a few people laugh when I tell them about the names my instruments have. But then quite a few whisper the secret name of their instrument of choice to me too. Oddly, it’s rare for people to come out and shout the name of their stringed companions, almost as if we’re shy about it. For a while after I started playing fiddle that made sense to me too, I was definitely shy about the fact I had named Joe, and that I talked to him whenever playing in private.

Oh right, I may have forgotten to mention that part. Well, I’m out of the closet now so I may as well confess that I do. I chat to my instruments about how they’re sounding, how I’m doing, if they would like me to do something different with my grip or my approach. “More rosin my friend?” “A little bit of string cleaner old buddy?” “How’s this pick working out for you my dearest?” I walk past them in the living room and promise them we’ll play soon, or that I’ll change their strings as soon as I get a chance, or just tell them how lovely they’re looking in the late afternoon sunshine. I think they respond to it. I know that my music sounds better if I’ve been talking to them, so it’s either me or them, but someone responds to it. And it doesn’t really matter who is responding because, well, my music does sound better and really that’s all that matters.

I used to think it was a bit eccentric to carry on this way, but then I started to think about the place that instruments play in my life, and the life of many others I now get to call friends thanks to the wonderful world of Bluegrass music. Nobody on earth would be surprised to hear that someone had named their children and talked to them. We’d be a bit horrified if either of those things didn’t happen actually. And although a few people look sheepish when they admit it, we all mostly still talk to our pets, and definitely name them. How else could I call my dog to play fetch or my cat to come in for supper? Honestly, I get about as much response from my cat as I get from jackiechan so it’s an even better analogy than you might think at first. People even talk to plants, though I’m not sure about how many people have given their tomatoes a formal name. Someone once told me that becoming a fiddle is like the heavenly after-life for trees. It’s a lovely thought and if it’s fine to talk to the trees then it’s fine to talk to fiddles. And guitars. And ukes. And even banjos like to be included in the conversation, though they often take over and drown everybody else out. Truly, they are the 2 year olds of the Bluegrass world.

So if your instrument doesn’t yet have a name, ask them what they’d like to be called. You might have to listen closely to hear them at first but they will answer, and listening is a good skill for a musician to develop anyway. For those who already have named their stringed companion: stand up and be counted. Introduce him or her by name when you go to jams. “Meet my wife” is not a warm and loving sentence whereas “I’d like for you to meet Margaret” most definitely is. Because of this, “Hi, this is jackiechan and we’d love to play music with you” is something you might just hear one day at a jam near you. I hope you do hear it, and I hope you introduce your instruments right back to me. Talk about your best friend by name instead of just “my guitar”. And talk to them. Tell them how they make you feel and thank them when they play well. They will love it, you will love it and I bet your music will sound even better too. Gotta go, I can hear my kids calling me........


So, what’s new CBA-wise?
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Thursday, May 21, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where one by one once verdant, lush and perky blades of lawn have begun their oh-so-quiet death cry. You’d have to be an insect living among them to hear, and, really, it’s best you don’t because the sound of a perfectly healthy, well-cared for and mature lawn dying for lack of sustenance is something you can never in your life un-hear. Or so I’m told.

There was a time when on a fairly regular basis, certainly once each month, I would devote a morning’s Welcome to some variation on the question, so, what’s-up-with-the-Association. Think I’ll go with that one this morning.

One of the greats joins the team…
I’d have to say that the newsiest little bit I have, one that just popped up last evening, is that legendary bluegrass singer and, as it turns out, awfully sharp and articulate guy, Don Rigsby, has signed on to become a regular Welcome columnist. He did a guest run the day before yesterday and posted a very compelling piece about what one man foresees as the future of bluegrass music. Watch for Don on third Tuesdays.

Two for the price of one…
One of those bad news/good news deals: Roger Siminoff, our Central CA area vice-president is vacating his post, but he’s delivered co-replacements. Amy Sullivan and
Kali Nowakowski will take over Roger’s VP duties, and that feels just damned appropriate since the two, both Roger’s daughters just took over their pop’s Siminoff Banjo and Mandolin Parts business. I’ve had the chance to hang out with Amy and Kali some over the past three years and I’ll tell you what…these women have some refreshing new ideas about this Association of ours.

A brave new world…
Well, you wouldn’t know it by anything happening around here, but work on the new CBA web site is humming at a fever pitch as I stroke these words. And me, I’m totally out of it. Well, I’m not, of course: I’ve been in bi-weekly talks with the designers, Bev and Steve Tracey, but that’s been more about explaining the current site, reacting to look and feel concepts, confirming what we want and don’t want in the way of content, and getting assignments for preparing material for the new Internet page. But in terms of design decisions…which is to say HOW THE PAGE WILL LOOK…that’s been in the very trusted hands of the husband and wife team and, less directly, those of the programmer, a world-class one, by the way, name Johnny Argueles. I’m told the three will have a roughly completed finished product for me to peruse before the end of the month. How much time will elapse between my first look at the new site and its official launch will depend on several factors, not the least of which how quickly this rapidly aging brain of mine can wrap itself around an entirely new way of doing things. And, if it can’t? Well, I’m still a damned effective recruiter.

By the numbers…
I remember fifteen years ago when I presented the current web site to the board, one of the members asked if I “really wanted to advertise” membership and web traffic stats to the world. My response was that I wasn’t totally sure but that there was not doubt about one thing. Reporting at the top of the page how many people belonged to the Association and how many people had enough interest in the CBA to visit our web site each day would keep us honest, and boy has it. When membership slipped a good deal three or four years ago, people noticed. And when activity on the web site waned, they saw that too. And, of course, the reverse was true. So why bring it up in my little report? You know why, don’t you. Membership stands at 2,714, the highest number since the data base was purged of several hundred duplicate and defunct records, and average traffic this week has been in the 8,000 hit’s per day range. Yesterday it was 10,772. So, yes, the California Bluegrass Association is healthy as it inches towards its fortieth anniversary festival in less than a month.

Lifers…
Most years the Association’s board of directors selects one or two, and sometimes three, men and women whose contributions to California bluegrass and old-time music deserve special recognition. Board chairman Tim Edes has announced the 2015 Lifetime Member appointments. They are John Reischman, Dianna Donnelly and Montie Elston. You’ll read all about each in the June Breakdown/Festival Program. Please, if you get a chance, toss each of them an attaboy/girl. These three are most assuredly deserving of this immense bluegrass honor.

48 news in May?
Well, a little. Larry Phagley and Slim Sims spent an interesting morning with the folks down at the Doubletree Hotel on Monday exchanging proposals for a 2016 Great 48 Jam contract. We’re not exactly close at this point, but the two are working on it and our Association…and the seven others who participate in the annual extravaganza…are well represented.

40 years of t-art
As she has for our last two anniversary years, Deb Livermore will display the CBA’s archive of Fathers Day T-Shirts at Vern’s. The shirts taken in total paint a fascinating picture of the Association’s evolution from a handful of people getting together to celebrate a great man’s musical invention played by a handful of bands, mostly local except for the legendary Vern and Ray, to the largest bluegrass Association in the world. What will be a little different this year is that festivalgoers who are especially taken by this design or that design will actually be able to take it home. We’ve created matted and high resolution prints of all the t-shirts; each is displayed on 8.5 X 11 high-gloss photo paper and includes the list of bands that playd in that particular year. Click here to have a look at a sample.

We love you Gary Mansperger…
Knowing about state of the art technology and USING it are two different things. Take the use of barcoding in managing event tickets. The modern way to go…efficient, cost saving and way easier on the volunteers responsible for life at the main gate at Grass Valley. However, to use all the new stuff you have to have somebody who 1) understands it; 2) is smart enough to take the knowledge and turn it into action; and 3) actually DOES IT. You probably won’t even see the fruits of Gary’s labor next month, but please believe me when I tell you that he has performed miracles in bringing this new system to our bluegrass community. Thank you Gary Mansperger

And we’re pretty fond of you, Ted…
No, we haven’t forgotten about the huge effort last year to raise money for the JD Rhynes cook book. Far from it. With the extraordinary, almost superhuman tenacity of one Ted Kuster, AKA “Dog-with-a-bone”, the BOOK IS DONE! Copies at Grass Valley. Very, very beautiful piece of work. Pieces, actually…the book AND the CD. Be sure to get yours.

One year a pilot…two years, a TRADITION…
2014 marked the first year the California Bluegrass Association finally achieved one of its longest held and most elusive goals—the establishment of a music camp just for kids. Called the Youth Academy, the program was launched on a wing and a prayer last year. This year, however, the Youth Academy came together much more easily and filled up with enrollees quicker than anyone expected. Darby Brandli, you are an amazing woman.

Election time…
It is, of course, board election time, and what better place to make the point of how critically important that body of men and women are than after a recitation of several of the “wins” we’ve recently enjoyed. This year Chairman Edes tapped me to write up an article for the Breakdown encouraging people to consider serving on our leadership team. I’ll end with what I wrote…

Serving on the board of directors

A perspective from
Rick Cornish

Since retiring from the CBA board of directors a few years ago I’ve heard many different stories for why I quit. It just got to be too much; my wife finally put her foot down; it just wasn’t fun anymore; I didn’t quit, I was forced out; I left the job for health reasons.

You didn’t ask but I’ll tell you the real reason anyway--I quit the board and gave up my job as chairperson because I’d outlived my usefullness. I found I was no longer able to accomplish what needed accomplishing because I’d simply used up that critical mass of support and trust and forgiveness that any leader needs from those he’s tasked to lead.

It happens. We just run out of the special juice that causes people to rally aroun us and get excited and step forward to help. Truth be told, walking away from the role I played in the California Bluegrass Association was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life. I didn’t run out of energy or good ideas or my love of being smack in the middle of things; I ran out of the always-finite amount of time that any leader can inspire. And when that time comes, either you go or you begin to whittle away at the things you were able to accomplish over the years.

Our Association, the one Carl and Jake and Jack birthed forty years ago, needs some new leaders...some new board members. Not a lot, but a few. Please ask yourself if it’s time for you to make your contribution to the organization you love. It can be a tough job at times, but the rewards last a lifetime.


THE DAILY GRIST…”Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”…Rumi

Playing Music vs. Doing Almost Anything Else
Today’s column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, May 20, 2015


A dear friend of mine, an accomplished musician, recently told me they didn’t seem to enjoy playing music anymore. This gave me considerable pause for thought.

I don’t think this feeling had to do with any specific physical ailment. I have known quite a few musicians over the years who had to hang it up because of arthritis, ear problems or various other maladies. I live in mortal fear of this happening to me. I’m in my late 50’s (I can’t believe I would ever say this), and frankly, some part of me hurts almost every single day. But so far, nothing has hurt long enough or hard enough for me to stop playing.

But I don’t think this is my friend’s issue.

I think it’s a rat race issue. Music, like any endeavor, can lose its appeal when the initial reasons for doing it (sheer love of music) are obscured by the pursuit of perfection or the expectations of others - or even the perceived expectations by others.

Playing music is fun - can we all agree on that? Playing music for an audience is even more fun, inmy opinion and I think a majority of musicians would agree with this too. Not 100%, but a majority. Playing music for money is fun, too. And if you do it well enough, it can be a self feeding thing -play well, get paid and more people want to pay you to play.

If you’re REALLY good, playing music for money can be your only profession. But for the vast majority, playing music for money is a sideline and that’s where being a “gifted amateur” can become onerous. The work is hard, and the pay isn’t very good. And over time, over years, gigs can become a grind. There are some laughs along the way, but eventually, the intense rehearsals, long hours driving, hauling your stuff in and out, PLUS playing the show, can become tedious and dispiriting.

What’s the answer? I can picture several options.

One option would be to step back. Take a year off and see how you feel. Get the word out that you’re out of circulation for some period of time - it could be indefinite, or you could say a year. I could imagine this being a great way to rediscover the things that made you become a musician in the first place. This time, maybe you don’t play at all, if you’re THAT burned out. Or maybe you’re just taking time off from gigs.

What works for me is variety. I mix paying gigs with informal jams, and I play a variety of gigs and a variety of music. The variation of intensity levels, venues, audiences and music is invigorating. I have learned to adjust my focus level to the situation - the band, the venue, the audience and the gig, and I still have a great time playing music - it’s been more than 40 years since my first paying gig..

Perhaps a simpler way is to learn to say “No” sometimes. I try and make sure to schedule plenty of family and recreation time away from musical performances, and once I do, the answer is “no” when a gig offer comes in, and I hate to disappoint anyone, but that work/life balance has to be maintained.

Bottom line - the only REAL reason to play music is for the fun of it. Any money you get (unless that’s your main income) is gravy, so when it stops being fun - whatever the reason - it’s OK to step back and take stock of your life choices. Your only obligation is to yourself and your family.

We’ll wait for you!




Today's guest column from Don Rigsby
Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Today, I took my son to see the places where my grandparents are buried. We also went to where my great grandfather’s home place is. His name was John Hay. He was a blind fiddler. My mother used to walk with him through the hills to stay with him there. She remembers it vividly. The little frame structure still stands, slightly bent and weathered from time and neglect. But yet, it stands.

Rick Cornish asked me to write something for CBA and until today, I had no idea what to write about .My trip with my son today cleared it up for me. I decided to write about heritage. I can think of no American art form with a more distinct heritage than our beloved Bluegrass.

We could debate the levels of importance of the founding fathers of Bluegrass Music (Monroe, Flatt, Scruggs, The Stanleys, Reno, Smiley and many others), but that would really be an exercise in futility. The entire debate would be based on opinion. Mine is right to me. I think we all sort of feel this way. So rather than engage in this sort of back and forth, let us agree that all of the founders of Bluegrass contributed significantly. I love and respect them all.

Instead, let us look at what heritage actually is. Defined, heritage means something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth; an inherited lot or portion. All of the fathers contributed to the heritage. But where did they come from? What was their heritage?

Bill Monroe was from Rosine, KY where he was born and raised on his family’s farm. Lester Flatt was from Duncan’s Chapel, TN. Earl Scruggs was born and raised in Flint Hill, NC. The Stanley Brothers were born and raised in McClure, VA also on a small farm. Red Smiley was born in Asheville, NC and Don Reno in Buffalo, SC but grew up on a farm in NC. The commonality of it all? Rural background and upbringing. So it is safe to say that the early development of these men had much to do with the foundation of Bluegrass Music. And it is a foundation that has stood the test of time.

After this very well poured foundation had time to set up and prove its tinsel strength, many evolutionary events have occurred that have challenged the definition of the music. Some great things have come along. When those country boys were learning, developing and defining Bluegrass, do you think they had any idea that we would see the likes of Alison Krauss? The Punch Brothers? Nickel Creek? Steve Martin? Bela Fleck? Newgrass Revival? Probably not. But what of the modern approach? Is it acceptable? Of course it is! Do we forget our heritage? Absolutely NOT! But if things don’t have room to grow and expand their root system, they die.

A few years ago, I produced a record on Dave Evans. It was called, “Hang Out A Light For Me”. He wrote a song for it called “The Line In Between”, declaring that from birth to death is where our mark is made. Bluegrass was born and established by the founders, but our marks continue to be made. This music is growing stronger and evolving. I am thrilled to be along for the ride!




THE DAILY GRIST…”This will never be a civilized country until we spend more money for books than we do for chewing gum.”…Elbert Hubbard


Chewing Gum
Today’s column from Bert Daniel
Monday, May 18, 2015


Trends come and trends go. One of the trends that seems to be disappearing is the common practice of chewing gum. The Wall Street Journal had an article about it recently. Gum companies are struggling to find a market with today’s consumers. When was the last time you enjoyed a stick of chewing gum? When was the last time someone offered you a stick as they prepared to enjoy one?

Chewing gum used to be everywhere. In the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chief Bromden is pleased when Jack Nicholson offers him Juicy Fruit. And the beautiful Doublemint twins pitched gum on TV every day.

Mama sent me to the spring
Told me not to stay
I fell in love with a pretty little girl
And I could not go away

Chewing chawing gum, chawing chewing gum
Chewing chawing gum, chawing chewing gum
When chewing gum was first marketed to the general consumer in the late 1800’s, it was produced with latex from the chicle tree. Wrigley made a fortune and established a baseball team. But, like many modern innovations. the habit of chewing gum in public was not necessarily accepted by general society:

Took my girl to the church last night
How do you reckon she done
She walked right up to the preacher’s face
And chewed her chewing gum


These days chewing gum is made from synthetic rubber because it’s cheaper to produce than latex. Chewing gum can be produced with Xylitol, a synthetic sugar that helps protect your teeth. And there are other purported health benefits of chewing gum. But don’t take my word for it as a physician. Another line from this Carter Family songs says:

I would not marry a doctor
Tell you the reason why
He rides all around the country
Makes the people die


Uh Oh. But better still watch out for these folks:

I would not marry a lawyer
Tell you the reason why
Every time he opens his mouth
Tells a great big lie


Chewing gum may be a fad which has past its prime but I still like it. Sure the undersides of our school desks are much better off now that the chewing gum phenomenon has faded. But I still like to enjoy a good chew and maybe even blow a bubble.

Chewing chawing gum, chawing chewing gum
Chewing chawing gum, chawing chewing gum



My Stomach is Growling for Some Bluegrass Pie
By Geoff Sargent
Sunday May 17, 2015


Strange weather. You would think that drought weather this time of the year would be consistently sunny, hot, dry. Rather, I’m sitting here at my desk in the East Bay and the weather is overcast, chilly, windy, and just enough precipitation to tease and fool us. Right about now, I start looking at the long range forecast from the NOAA website for the middle of June at 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley, California. So far no surprises are forecast for June in Grass Valley, just the usual above average temperatures and probably no precipitation. So it is shaping up to weather-wise to be a nice FDF week. Now the wild card of course are forest fires and hopefully, even though the woods are tinder-dry, there won’t be any close enough to Grass Valley to threaten the festival directly or indirectly by bumping us off the fairgrounds if the CDF needs the staging area. So far, so good though.For those of you who are dog people, and I am in that crowd, I’m thinking of boarding my pooch, Batso, up there this year. The kennels near the fairgrounds are a pretty reasonable price and it would allow me to sneak out and spend a little bit of time with Batso during the festival. One reason that I might do this is because this will be the first festival for a few years where I won’t have to return back to the bay area during the week to give final exams and teach. The finals for Cal State East Bay are scheduled for the week before the FDF, and I took the festival week off from my other teaching gig. Yeehaw.

We are going to have a couple of interesting projects running that week. The JD Rhynes cookbook is scheduled to be released at the festival and I hope that we can get JD to sign a couple first editions. Ted Kuster, who thought up the cookbook project, has been collecting recordings of the recipes (yep we got some national bluegrass acts to put JD’s recipes to song), got the book edited and to the publisher. Ted and I have a bet as to how fast we’re going to sell out so ya’ll need to get to the Cookbook booth and snag your first edition copies and get that old dog JD Rhynes to put his signature in it.

What else……..we’re going to have a coven of mandolin monsters converging on our little festival. Let’s see, we’re going to have David Grisman, Mike Compton, John Reischman, Roland White, Chris Henry, and I’m sure I’m forgetting somebody. But I have to imagine with all that mandolin power in one small geographic location that we might have a critical mass, some spontaneous combustion, an out-of-mandolin experience that with one giant chop would momentarily stop the rotation of the earth and send a beacon into outer space. And then the alien ships would descend………

You get my slightly over the top drift here. We got the ingredients for this to be a very special festival. Add a little hair from some mandolin monsters, a couple of hot guitar picks, sprinkle in some banjo dust, a fiddle-de-de, a dash of dobro, a dollop of high lonesome tenor, and mix it all up with the essence of bass and simmer slowly for 4 days. What I want to know is what’s for dessert?


Bluegrassian Questionnaire with Michael Cleveland
Today's column from Cameron Little
Saturday, May 16, 2015


Nine time winner of IBMA Fiddle Performer of the Year Award. Scorching hot fiddler with a knack for blowing the audience into a different spectrum. Known cohort of Bluegrass luminaries like Bill Monroe, Rhonda Vincent, Jim and Jesse, Mac Wiseman, Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, and J.D. Crowe. When I first heard Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper live at the CBA Father’s Day Festival, I felt pulled up by my shirt front, and knew that I was witness to an immense talent.

Recently, Michael took the time to fill out one of my questionnaires. Let’s see what he has to say:

1. What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
My idea of perfect happiness would be, to have enough work that the band and I could be financially secure, to be in perfect health, and for the band to become a household name.

2. What's your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is not being able to play music.

3. What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
My first instrument was a 16th size violin that my parents bought from a local music store when I was four years old.

4. What is your earliest and/or favorite bluegrass memory?
My favorite bluegrass memory would have to be the first time I met and played with Bill Monroe. Bill was always known for giving kids quarters, because a quarter was big money and hard to come by when he was young. He must have been out of quarters that day, because he gave me a dollar bill. The guy standing in line behind me said, “Boy, you’d better frame that!” I still have it to this day.

5. What is your greatest extravagance?
My never ending collection of mystery and western novels.

6. When and where were you the happiest?
1993. The year I was invited by Alison Krauss to play the Grand Ole Opry for the first time.

7. What are the details of your home stereo system (makes, models, etc.)?
I really don’t have an elaborate stereo system. Mostly I listen to music on either my iPhone, or the stereo system in the van. We do have an RCA component system, but most of the time when I want to listen to music, I use my phone because it’s more convenient.

8. Who would be sitting in your dream jam?
My dream jam would be: Jeff Guernsey and Jeff White guitars, Sam Bush on mandolin, Lloyd Douglas on banjo, Mark Schatz on bass, Larry Eagle on drums and Brent Mason on telecaster.

9. Who are you listening to these days?
Andy Abraham, Ray Price, Asleep At The Wheel, Billy Contreras, Cheech and Chong, Eric Clapton, Bill Cosby, The Del McCoury Band, and Lester Moran and The Cadillac Cowboys.

10. If you could hear any non-bluegrass tune done bluegrass, what would it be?
“Hot Wired” by Brent Mason.

11. What song hits your heart every time?
“Sweet Memories Sang” by Dawn Sears and the Time Jumpers.

12. Please share one of your favorite/most embarrassing on-stage blunders.
We were playing at Dollywood a few years ago and I broke a fiddle string in the middle of one of our shows. The guitar player at the time, Charlie Lawson left the stage to change it. I played his guitar so we could continue the show without a lot of dead time. Charlie comes back out on stage a few songs later and says to me and the crowd, “Hey Mike! Did you ever think that it might be nice to put some extra fiddle strings in your case?” I didn’t have a single string and we had two more shows that day and two the following day. Luckily, someone had the string we needed and we made it just fine. Needless to say, I always have plenty of fiddle strings these days.

13. If you were reincarnated as a person or thing, who or what would you want to be?
I’d love to come back as a fly.

14. What is your most treasured possession?
My instrument collection.

15. Is there one bluegrass player tip or secret you'd like to share?
Do not be afraid to play with better musicians. Any time you play music, record it and listen back later.

16. What is some of the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be yourself.

17. Who are your heroes in life?
My Dad, Bill Monroe, and Louis L’Amour.

18. What was the scariest or most unique venue you ever performed at?
The weirdest festival was the gig I played with Rhonda Vincent in Lubbock, Texas. There was absolutely no one in the audience, but everyone, bands and promoters just carried on as though this was totally normal.

19. Do you have a favorite music joke?
How can you tell when a fiddle is out of tune? When the bow is moving.

20. What is your motto?
Wear it out!

If you want to learn more about Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, you can visit there website at: http://flamekeeperband.com/

They can also be found on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mcflamekeeper



Tour de Jam Stage Two: The Grass Valley Jam Couloir
Today’s column from Geoff Sargent
Friday, May 15, 2015


(Editor’s Note—Haven’t heard yet from our regular third Friday columnist so, until we do, we’ll post this piece which dates back to 2009 and offers a pretty derned good description of what we call the “Grass Valley experience.” Geoff, for those who don’t know him, is a 1) geneticist; 2) dobro player; 3) CBA board member; and 4) for several years now, the guy whose job it is to make certain that our CBA Music Camp remains one of the best of its kind on planet Earth. Thanks, Geoff.)

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Cou·loir. Pronunciation: \kül-'wär\. Function: noun. Etymology: French, literally, passage, from couler; a steep mountainside gorge.

Summertime and the living is easy…….welcome to my first column for the summer of 2009…….during summers, some jams hang on by only a few hardy souls and others proliferate like mosquitoes to infest entire fairgrounds….what’s that annoying sound.…it’s just a banjo trying to draw blood.

This column is about the second stage of our Tour de Jam and takes us right into the heart of the mountains for the equivalent of a grade 1 or even a “hors catagorie” climb, a climb so steep it is not categorized,……..a long, steep, thirsty climb crowded with a large peloton of riders, some fast, some slow, some are climb specialists methodically grinding away, others ride recklessly at breakneck speeds down the hills, crashing and burning, littering the road with damaged bodies and broken gear.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m talking about the FDF, and the CBA camp, a double header jam slam…yeehaw.

As for any world-class event, this stage of the Tour attracts a sizable crowd of spectators that occasionally bump riders off their tracks, the sag wagons with their refreshments are running up and down the peloton supplying the riders with liquids and sustenance their bodies crave to keep riding, pushing the tempo ever higher, focused, sweating, the crowds cheering, exhorting the competitors and teams to play harder, faster. At the end……the finish line where exhausted riders fall into the arms of teammates and families…..tired, spent, and limp. They pack their gear into their cars, trucks, and buses and drive off to the next festival for another Tour.

Not a bad metaphor for the FDF jams…….not even too over the top. The FDF experience is like a long hard ride…and to completely immerse yourself into the culture of FDF requires stamina, perseverance, and a certain disregard for normal sleep patterns. One can train for an event like FDF…..oh there are other early season races…..errr….festivals to see how your stamina and speed are progressing….for example there was the recent spring Tour de Berry, a significant preliminary event that bookends the festival season, and some would have you believe is a rival to the FDF (this writer humbly believes otherwise.…but since I have not experienced a Tour de Berry, my credibility might be faulted). And, there are other training regimens one can follow….one popular regimen is designed to help prepare the liver….a vital jam organ....but since this is a family oriented column all I will say about that is kids.…we are the people our parents warned us about....don’t try it at home.…it’s only for experts….and….because I told you so.

I was fortunate enough to get a slot volunteering for the CBA camp due to a last minute cancellation and I’m looking forward to this Camp/FDF week more than the previous two I’ve attended....I know a whole lot more folks this time around, many I’ve already played with, and man-o-man I’m going to get to play with a whole lot more folks.

Unfortunately there is a price to pay. I had to give up a few things….my dog gets left for the week with our sitter, and my wife has to stay behind to work. To make things worse my wife pulled a leg muscle this week and is hobbling around the house muttering dark things about me going off in her time of need. There could indeed be a very high price to pay when I get home…..from both.

But I will have a full menu of things to keep me occupied and distracted from those issues….Ingrid is sure to keep us hopping for the camp. There’s the Saturday camp set-up, the Sunday sign-in….somewhere in there are rumored to be a couple of pickup bands to play in. Oh yes….there is rain in the forecast…..that could make things interesting. And then there is striking camp on Thursday and Sunday.

And at this FDF we are also going to convene the primordial coven of CBA columnists to commune and chant around a space-time disruption disguised as a Coleman lantern....we will be accompanied by instruments of sonic destruction, aided and abetted, not by soul-less martinis, but by a neat god-fearing liquor from the land that spawned bluegrass, fit for creating a transcendental jamphoria.

Ok, maybe that last paragraph was a little over the top.



Saturday afternoon, June 20, 2009…..I’m sitting at Vern’s, under the awning by the beer window, with my computer discretely plugged into an outlet behind the bar, drinking a Sierra Nevada Summerfest, enjoying the music, and trying to finish the column to post at 12:01 AM……if I can find a good wifi signal.

There is too little space and not enough time to describe the past 7 days….and you’re certainly not going to get the last night’s worth of jams from me….at least in this edition of the Tour de Jam because I’m going to be out there playing instead of writing.

I sometimes like getting up early to watch the dawn, especially if I’m out in the country-side where I can watch the view slowly revealed and see the day unfold. That’s what it was like arriving Saturday before the CBA camp to find an almost empty campground with only a few tents providing a bare visual framework for what would become tent city jam central. It was kind of eerie walking through the trees over ground that I knew would soon be filled with tents, canopies, vehicles, players, and jams. The better metaphor might be watching a good sized thunder storm roll in….in either case I could easily imagine the unfolding camp and hear the music already playing.

True to my prediction…Ingrid kept us moving…..maybe not nonstop but everyone, campers and volunteers alike, was clearly exhausted by Wednesday evening. Of course we celebrated the conclusion of another successful camp with a little champagne and at supper some of my volunteer comrades insisted that I get up to present a toast to Ingrid….which I did with a mixture of reluctance and pride….reluctance because by then I was reasonably well toasted myself which sometimes has unpredictable and embarrassing consequences when I have to speak in public. However…I wisely chose to make it short and simple. I am trying to convince the other volunteers that my toast will set the tradition and require rookie volunteers to perform the end-of-camp toast.

The Festival started in earnest Thursday morning with the chair scramble…..actually for some folks it started Wednesday evening when they pitched camp outside the gate to get first row real estate in front of the main stage. Last year I vowed not to get up early and just place my chair later in the morning.…my memory isn’t what it used to be so at 5:30 AM I’m in line snoozing in my chair….next year I vow to sleep in…..probably not.

But this column is supposed to be about jams. By Saturday evening before music camp, jams were already hatching and buzzing. The CBA music campers were in the first hatch but were quickly joined by jammers arriving from afar. There were day time jams but the most interesting ones for me occurred in the evening when jammers anonymously appear without warning from the dark, briefly play, often without any introduction or conversation, and move on….in the dim light and dark night this had a certain sensual dreamlike quality that reminded me of an Erica Jong novel.

There were just too many FDF jams going on to describe them all….most were small affairs between friends sharing a campsite or adjoining RVs, usually around a lantern or grill. A few jams happened in the early morning hours, typically under a dim streetlight illuminating a tight knit circle quietly playing. Walking past these shadowy jams I could hear snippets of conversation, music, and vocals fading in and out from t




Making a list, checking it twice
Today's column from George Martin
Thursday, May 14, 2015


(Today’s George Martin column is a redux from 2010. We lay in waiting for George to retire from his writing job at the Chronicle, and what seemed like mere moments after he left the paper in 2007 we snatched him up into the ranks of cbaontheweb.org Welcomer. George is a smart, aware and thoughtful guy who’s always on the look out for new ideas and, lucky for us, when he finds one he frequently shares it with his sisters and brothers in bluegrass.)

There is a really good book out right now called The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande. Gawande is an American-born medical doctor of East Indian heritage. He started writing for Salon.com some years ago, then was invited to contribute to the New Yorker and has now written three books. The first two are about medicine and how to improve it. This latest one talks about quality control in many areas besides medicine. Two in particular stand out: aviation and construction of large buildings.

In 1935 Boeing and Douglas Aircraft were competing to build a new bomber for the U.S. Army Air Corps. On paper, the Boeing was the far superior plane. It carried more bombs, was faster, had more range, and four engines instead of two. Press reports dubbed it “the Flying Fortress.” An aerial demonstration was arranged in Dayton, Ohio. The Boeing, then known as Model 299, took off gracefully but promptly stalled and crashed, killing most of those on board.

It turned out that the plane was very complicated to fly, with the pilot having to manage four engines. But the real problem was someone forgot to turn off a locking mechanism that immobilized the elevators and rudders on the tail.

Douglas won the contract, but the Flying Fortress so impressed the Army that they ordered 13 of them, now called B-17s, and the plane evolved through various design advances and played a major part in the European theater of World War II, dropping more bombs than any other airplane.

The crash of the prototype sent Boeing back to the drawing board as far as flying it was concerned, and the company came up with a major checklist for the crew to use, a system that continues to this day in virtually every aircraft being flown.

Gawande’s book also goes into how large skyscrapers are constructed. When you pass a big building site and see some large trailers parked there as construction offices, you can assume that the walls of the trailers are completely papered in detailed checklists. They enable the building to rise floor by floor, while below the initial construction electricians, plumbers, and eventually drywall workers, carpet installers and even furniture movers can come in, on cue, and prepare the building for occupancy.

I read this book about a month ago, and pondered if there was any place in my own life where I should use a checklist. Obviously when I go out do do a series of errands would be a good starting point. It seems a regular occurrence for me to leave the house vowing to do A, B, C and D, and to come home and realize I only did A, C and D.

And just the other day I discovered a new one, when I deviated from my usual routine and made a bad (here’s the bluegrass content!) error that partially messed up a band gig.

Always, a few days before a gig, I’ll e-mail everyone in the band, reminding them of the time, place, etc., and requesting a reply so I know we are all on the same page. But a few days ago, we had played a job on the weekend and talked about our next job on Tuesday evening, and I got busy and complacent and didn’t send out the usual reminder.

So there three of us were as the clock ticked toward seven o’clock, the room filled with people and the fourth band member was nowhere to be found. And his cell phone was on voice mail. Arghh!

We waited about five minutes past seven, then started the show as a trio. About 7:20 the missing band member arrived, hurriedly pulled his instrument out of its gig bag and started playing along. The show went well, the client was pleased and several audience members came up and bought CDs. Then we all wanted to know, “Where the hell were you?”

Turned out our missing friend thought the gig was at 7:30, not 7:00. And he thought he knew where the Burlingame Library was, except Burlingame has more than one library, and the one he used to go to as a child was the wrong one.

This all could have been avoided if I had sent out the customary “checklist” memo. I read the book, I just didn’t pay enough attention.

Who was it said, “So soon old, so late smart?”


Hop on the Carousel
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, May 13, 2015


I have a romantic notion that when I was a kid, merry-go-rounds (carousels) didn’t stop. My memory is they just went round and round, and we jumped on and found a horse to sit on. In retrospect, that seems impossible, but that’s how I remember it. I KNOW that when I was younger, the cable cars in San Francisco rarely stopped - it was normal to time a leap onto the cable car to get a ride, and you did a similar timing maneuver to hop off at the end of the ride.

When I got older and began to play music, especially in an improvisational situation, I perceived of the music as a moving ride and it was my responsibility to hop on board that carousel (or cable car, pick your metaphor) and recognize the repeating motif and rhythm and contribute. This has been a useful and persistent impression for me.

Repeating motifs seem, to me, at least, to be present in all forms of music. Sometimes, the pattern is fairly long, but invariably, it seems most musical forms are circular in nature. So then, the trick to participate is to find a point to hop on the carousel. It does take some practice to do this well.

When a novice musician is learning a new song, it’s easy to perceive of the song as a linear series of notes or riffs, not tied to any binding rhythmical structure. Once, I got ahold of some tablature for “Blackberry Blossom” - a bluegrass classic. I studied and practiced that tab for months. I couldn’t wait to show off my hot flatpickin’ skills at a bluegrass festival.

Well, my chance came soon enough. Eventually, I found myself in a pretty hot jam, and the choice circled around to me.

“Let’s play,um, Blackberry Blossom,” I said, chuckling inward at the gasps of amazement I was anticipating. I hoped folks wouldn’t be too demonstrative in their admiration of my picking skills. After all, too many slaps on the back or too many high fives could cause injuries.

What I hadn’t realized is, somewhere in my dogged practice from the tablature I had picked up a single extra note somewhere - early on in the pattern. This rendered everything I had accomplished (If you can call it that) utterly useless in an ensemble. Everyone, it seems, knows how to play “Blackberry Blossom”, but no one on this blue marble played it the way I mis-learned it from tab.

I was humiliated. I was exposed as a fraud within seconds of the song’s launch. To this day, I don’t play lead on “Blackberry Blossom”.

I did learn a valuable lesson, though: songs are not just a series of notes. They are musical statements within a rhythmical framework and that framework is just as important as the notes themselves. This simple notion has been invaluable to me, and that realization is liberating. Once you stop worrying about the notes and see music as notes and rhythm intertwined, you can make adjustments on the fly. Your humiliations are greatly reduced. Not eliminated, though. Getting in a jam way over your head is one of life’s little spicy moments!




Provincialism and Bluegrass
Today's column from Ted Lehman
Tuesday, May 12, 2015


I read somewhere that in a national study commissioned by IBMA about a variety of measures exploring the popularity and penetration of bluegrass music there were approximately twenty million people claiming to listen to bluegrass music. That's a lot of people, and should provide support for continued growth and development of the music. Another statistic I found interesting was that the average bluegrass fan traveled fewer than 100 miles to attend a bluegrass event. I've been thinking about what this means and how it affects the music we get to hear at live events, which, after all, is our passion. I guess we're pretty unusual in that we travel quite widely from New Hampshire to Florida with regular visits to events in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Sadly, our finances and time prohibit us from traveling further, but that's really a lot of places. Each year we try to add new festivals, finding attractive lineups and getting to know new bands. Our membership in IBMA and attendance at the annual World of Bluegrass helps us keep a wider, and more eclectic, group of bands on our horizon, broadens our taste, and informs our perspective.

In these travels, we've noticed that there are many people who are exposed to a relatively small group of fine national bands which travel extensively. Beyond that, they experience, and often seem to prefer familiar bands from within a relatively small region close to them. They hook up their campers and travel to a few local or regional events in their area, and then get most of the rest of their music from listening to bluegrass on the radio, particularly Sirius/XM satellite radio, which programs a rather restricted playlist of what might be characterized as classic bluegrass plus top forty hits. In any given hour, the playlist is highly predictable, with spins of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Osborne Brothers, Jimmy Martin, the Country Gentlemen and a few other examples from bluegrass's first and second generations mixed in with mostly conventional offerings from the major recording labels' latest releases. This pattern tends to restrict the awareness among people who listen to, and claim to enjoy, bluegrass music, keeping them from hearing newer and more adventurous bands. Even ground-breaking bands like the Newgrass Revival and the Sam Bush Band, for example, are only heard in their most conventional examples. All this means that there is little asked of the audience and little risk taken. It also means that bluegrass fans are deprived of hearing and experiencing the best in new and interesting offerings they might enjoy, should they get the chance to hear them.

Recently, I've become increasingly aware of a trend serving to narrow and restrict the bluegrass audience's opportunity to experience excellence. Three or four bands, which shall remain nameless although thoughtful readers will easily be able to identify them, have begun engaging in activities serving to hype their reputations and enhance their incomes by sponsoring festivals in which they then book each other. The bands themselves range from poor and tasteless to mediocre and uninteresting. What each has in common is a noisy and loyal fan base and enough organizational ability to increase their popularity. They do this by holding their own festivals, to which they bring the other bands on a regular basis to play.

Furthermore, they seem to agree to nominate each other for, especially, SPBGMA award recognition, where fan votes count and nominations can be more easily manipulated through photo-copying nomination forms and passing them around to their own fans and fans of the other bands. Sadly, this kind of recognition, and the lower prices their practices allow these bands to charge, work to enhance their reputations, garnering them increased recognition at small and mid-range festivals operating on a shoestring with little flexibility in the B range of their lineup. The bands get more bookings without actually raising the quality of their performances or developing real skill. They don't gain the respect of their more musically adept peers, but they succeed in attracting enough fans enough fans to keep working. By engaging in these practices, bands cheapen the music while not engaging in the hard and demanding work of becoming truly excellent.

In a recent article at Smithsonian.com, Geoffrey Himes wrote about Bill Monroe's “radical conservatism,” saying that Bill Monroe's music was a radical departure from the times, masked by lyrics which spoke to traditional, conservative values of home, family, church, and farm. He noted “the tension between radical music and nostalgic lyrics has pushed at bluegrass ever since.” Think about the important changes that have come about through bluegrass. Monroe added Flatt & Scruggs to his Bluegrass Boys and turned his music from merely popular to national attention. The Osborne Brothers brought distinctive harmonies to the music. The Country Gentlemen and The Seldom Scene added folk and rock flavors to bluegrass songs which have become standards in bluegrass apart from their antecedents. By adding Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, and Johnny Cash to the bluegrass repertory, they continued to create new bluegrass music that was still relevant to a wide variety of listeners and reflected changing times and tastes.

Becoming excellent requires hard, hard work, talent, and perseverance. While we cannot expect every group of musicians who come together to create a band to be willing or able to create new paths, or even to find inventive ways to cultivate more traditional tastes, we must reward it where it arises, encouraging innovation and change to flourish, even in this most traditional form of music. By excessively rewarding mediocrity, we degrade a form of music deserving respect and attention. It is certain that many attempts to express creativity will come to naught. This has always been true. However, forming alliances to enhance income and visibility while diminishing excellence and creativity can only hurt our genre.

--
tlehmann@ne.rr.com
www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com
CBA Interview with Bill Foss
Today's column from Dave Berry
Monday, May 11, 2015


Porch Talk is a new column by Dave Berry, a San Francisco-based CBA member, singer and mandolin player. Dave grew up in Ohio River valley bluegrass country right smack dab in the middle of the Big Sandy and Scioto rivers. When not playing with Toshio Hirano in the duo Mountain Dojo, he can be seen riding his scooter to jams in and around the Mission district. Special thanks to copy editor extraordinaire, Jeanie Poling.

Bill Foss
Bill is a native San Franciscan who, like many who grew up in the city, got the bluegrass bug from the scene at Paul’s Saloon. He’s played many styles in many bands but is best known in bluegrass circles for his spot-on Monroe technique that dazzles those lucky to experience it.

DB: Most pickers have a geographical or family connection to traditional music. Tell us how you first got hooked?
BF: In 1975 or thereabouts, I’d heard some bluegrass records. My father had some Dillards records and I liked them. I remember going to a place in the Inner Sunset called the Owl and Monkey Café and heard Larry Lyons on banjo and Gene Mitchell on guitar playing bluegrass standards like Salty Dog Blues and I Wonder Where You Are Tonight. It was the first time I’d heard live bluegrass and it just knocked me out. I was hooked. Hearing it live, it just clicked and I thought, ‘I gotta try to do this.’

DB: Are those guys still around and playing?
BF: Larry Lyons is. I see him around and on social media. Gene had a small guitar shop at 9th and Judah that I used to hang out at. I learned a bit of guitar and mandolin from him. He passed away several years ago.

DB: What all instruments do you play?
BF: I’ve played bass, banjo, some guitar, mandolin and fiddle. I traded away my banjo in the 70’s because I wanted to play precise melody, not melodic style banjo. The music at Paul’s Saloon got me more into listening to the mandolin. I saw great players like Butch Waller, Tom Bekany and Stan Miller there, which really got me interested.

DB: Is that the same Stan Miller who is a luthier?
BF: Yes, he builds fine instruments out of Washington State. My main mandolin is actually a Miller F model. I believe he played with Laurie Lewis maybe before Grant Street.

DB: What instrument was your initial focus?
BF: Well I was a beginning banjo/mando player, but quickly realized that everyone wants a bass player. I was familiar with stand up bass from the school orchestra at Hoover Middle School. I realized that bass was my ticket to playing with more people. I played my first gigs on bass with High Country initially as a sub then more regular later on. It let me absorb more music and certainly hear more mandolins.

DB: What about fiddle?
BF: I learned fiddle in my mid 40’s. I got dragged to Lark in the Morning music camp, but I didn’t want to go because there was no bluegrass scene there. But there was a lot of old time and I loved the sound of it. There’s something about hearing it live that really clicked with me. I started playing old time on mandolin but couldn’t get that fiddle sound, so I got a fiddle and started learning old time tunes. I never learned bluegrass style on fiddle, as it’s very different from old time. I really got absorbed into it but ultimately had some hearing issues with it – basically it was just too loud for me – so I dropped it and went back to bluegrass mandolin.

DB: Didn’t you play fiddle with some bands?
BF: I played with the Crooked Jades with Jeff Kazor and Lisa Berman, which was a very creative and musically satisfying period for me. Jeff and I were both into the sound somewhere in the middle of bluegrass and old time. J.E. Mainer and the Mountaineers was someone we both listened to independently. He was an old time fiddler out of North Carolina who had a similar combined bluegrass and old time style. At the same time, I do really love and appreciate the traditional old time “scratchy” style of people like Tommy Jarrell who is also from that region.

DB: Tell us about your mandolin development after fiddle.
BF: I was exposed to and interested in roots music like early blues mandolin and jug bands. The Memphis Jug Band, Yank Rachael, and the Dallas String Band who did the Dallas Rag are good examples. I explored this very deeply and got to play with some great local players such as Meredith Axelrod and Keith Cary. Keith is also known for his unique resonator mandolins made out of toilet seats called the Commodium. I also got to play mandolin banjo in Pete Devine’s Jug Band.

DB: Growing up, was of your family musical?
BF: My father played some folk music so we always had a guitar around the house. He sang some Burl Ives songs, which I thought were great. I probably learned my first chords from him. He had large collection of Motown, rock ‘n’ roll, classical, jazz, folk, bluegrass and country so I was exposed to a large variety of genres.

DB: Your immediate family all play music. Was that something you planned or was it more organic?
BF: My wife Martha Hawthorne, who I play with a lot, is a guitarist and played bass for the Stairwell Sisters for 11 years. She also plays bass with the Earl White String Band whenever the opportunity arises. My children both play music. My older son Alex studied classical piano and his younger brother Danny is a professional sax player.

We never pushed our kids to take lessons; it was more organic – they just wanted to. Music is a big part of my social life, so whenever we had company, it was probably to play music. So they were exposed to it and probably thought this is just what you do when you want to relax and have friends over.

DB: What bluegrass artists did you listen to in the Paul’s Saloon era and now?
BF: Well everyone of course talked about Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and Jimmy Martin, so I stocked up on those guys and learned from their records. These days I still migrate to the Monroe camp of players like Mike Compton, Frank Wakefield, and Dave McLaughlin from the Johnson Mountain Boys. Paul Williams who played with Jimmy Martin is another one I’ve studied some.

DB: I saw a video of you playing the Bill Monroe tune Evening Prayer Blues in front of your computer. What got you into doing that?
BF: A great mandolin player named Chris Henry started a group on Facebook called the Monroe Mandolin Appreciation Society, where they engage members to submit videos of their favorite Monroe tunes. I’d always loved that tune and decided to contribute it there.

DB: How do you generally approach a new song or tune?
BF: First I listen to a tune a lot for what I call the “pre-soak” to burn it into my memory. Slowing down a tune really helps me to hear the phrasing, which is what makes each tune distinctive. In the old days, I used a reel-to-reel tape recorder to slow down the tunes to learn the solos, but nowadays there a lot of other options on computers and such. It’s always been by ear for me. I can read music but it’s more work, and paper never captures the details of phrasing or ornamentations like a recording does. Over time I get more confident with the tune and play it in front of friends before performing it live.

DB: How long might that take to learn a tune?
BF: It all depends on the tune; some may only take an hour or so and others I may not be comfortable with after practicing it many years.

DB: You’ve played in a variety of bands. Tell us about some of those.
BF: Let me see if I can recall them chronologically. There was High Country, the Squids, the Crooked Jades, the Earl Brothers, Pete Devine Orchestra, and the Knuckle Knockers with my wife Martha Hawthorne. I’m glad you asked this, as it gives me a chance to mention the Squids, which I played bass for in the late 70’s with some great players such as Robert Earl on banjo, Steve Pottier on guitar, Larry Hughes on mandolin, Gene Tortora on dobro and Pete Allan on fiddle.

DB: You also study and play in non-bluegrass or old time music. Tell us about that.
BF: I have a general interest in roots music going back to the early days when I first heard Gene Mitchell playing with an Italian mandolin player named Matteo Casserino at the Caffe Trieste in North Beach. They’d also play at Gene’s guitar shop, so I got to see them up close and it hooked me. I’ve been playing for several years now with my wife Martha in a band called Duo Pizzicato, which explores that Italian style I learned from those guys.

DB: Do you do any composing?
BF: Not much. I always found it to be too much work and not very satisfying. I did help Martha on a song she wrote for the Stairwell Sisters, Get Off Your Money, and occasionally get small royalty checks from that.

DB: Do you have any students and if so, what do you consider good qualities as a teacher?
BF: I give selected lessons and would do more if it weren’t for my busy day job. I also occasionally teach at music camps and events. I taught mandolin workshops for many years at Lark in the Morning camp. I’ll be giving a workshop on old time waltzes at the Berkeley Old Time Convention Spring Situation in May.

I think the best thing a teacher can do is try and figure out what a student wants to learn, which often times they don’t know themselves. Delivering creative constructive criticism to help a student achieve their goals is also really important.

DB: What shows, events or venues are most memorable for you?
BF: The last couple of years I have had the honor of playing in the house band for an extraordinary event called the “Stanley Sing” to commemorate Ralph Stanley’s birthday. The last one was like an 8-hour marathon event at the Lucky Horseshoe bar in Bernal Heights where I live. Eric Embry, who’s a wonderful student of the Ralph Stanley hard driving banjo style, initiated this event, and the lineup had some of the best Bay Area bluegrass singers performing 2 or 3 Ralph Stanley songs.

I’m also playing at the San Francisco Festival of the Mandolins with Duo Pizzicato and Irene Herrmann. Irene plays beautiful harmonies and played with all of those old Italian players back in the day.

DB: Are there any particular eras of Bill Monroe’s playing that are your favorites?
BF: Yes, the first was in the 50’s when he was writing songs like Rawhide, Big Mon, and Plant Some Flowers by My Grave. Then in the 80’s there was an instrumental album called Master of Bluegrass, which had darker, more somber model tunes like Old Ebenezer Scrooge, Come Hither to Go Yonder, and Old Dangerfield.

DB: You have a very fluid and clean tone. Can you share some nuggets you feel are important especially for beginners?
BF: Thank you. I focus on not mounting the pinky and ring finger on the pick guard, which is a habit I picked up from the banjo. At the same time, I try to play more from the wrist and less from the forearm. Staying relaxed is important especially when playing live, as there is a tendency to tense up. The same is true for the pick. A looser grip helps me play more fluidly. That said, every one is different, and some great players plant their fingers on the instrument.

DB: Do the physical or tonal qualities of different instruments sound better for specific genres?
BF: I have a Gilchrist A model with an oval hole, which sounds ring-ier, has more sustain, and is better suited for the Italian music. The Stan Miller F model has a darker more growly sound that’s much better for bluegrass.

DB: If you could interview Bill Monroe, what would you ask him?
BF: Wow, that’s a good question. I’d ask him about the different unique old time tunings used by his uncle Pen and whether that was a direct influence on his playing. I’d also ask about how much influence he received from his mentor Arnold Schultz’s guitar playing. Did he do any flatpicking, and did he use the down strokes Bill utilizes so well on mandolin? I’d also ask Bill about the public’s reaction to his relationship with Arnold Schultz, who was an African American old time fiddler.

DB: What fiddle tunes do you love and automatically play when you first pick up your mandolin?
BF: Two that come to mind are Turkey in the Straw and Old Ebenezer.

DB: Have you ever played any CBA events?
BF: Yes. The Squids played the Father’s Day Festival in the early 80’s. It was interesting because we kind of dressed like punks and played plugged in, which was certainly not the norm for the day. The Knuckle Knockers played Vern’s stage a few years back.

DB: Finally, are you Stones or Beatles?
BF: I definitely started out as Beatles but have gravitated more to Stones over time.

DB: Thanks much Bill.
BF: No problem, it is an honor.




THE DAILY GRIST…”Perhaps the most remarkable of Maybelle’s many talents was her skill as a guitarist. She revolutionized the instrument’s role by developing a style in which she played melody lines on the bass strings with her thumb while rhythmically strumming with her fingers, Her innovative technique, to this day known as the Carter Scratch, influenced the guitar’s shift from rhythm to lead instrument.”…Holly George-Warren

Mother Maybelle
Today’s column from Bert Daniel
Sunday, May 10, 2015


Today is Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there! Today also happens to be the birthday of Maybelle Carter. “Mother Maybelle”, as she was called even in her forties, was born on May 10, 1909 in Nickelsville, Virginia. She was certainly a mother to much of the music that the readers of this web site gravitate towards. Carter Family music set the ground work for commercial country music and for bluegrass music as well.

Many things have been said, I've heard and I've read
About Maybelle, Mother Maybelle
A sweet Virginia kind of girl, who's known all around this world
They all know Maybelle, Mother Maybelle
She took pride as a mother and a wife
And she lives on the sunny side of life


Maybelle Carter was a mother to three mothers herself. Born Maybelle Addington, she married Ezra Carter in 1926. Ezra’s brother A.P was married to Maybelle’s cousin Sara Dougherty. Together with A.P. and Sara, Maybelle formed what would become the most successful country music trio in the country.

Their big break came in 1927, when Ralph Peer and Victor records set out to record aspiring musicians using the new technology called the phonograph. The recording session was to be held in Bristol, Tennessee. She was not yet a mother but Maybelle made the eighteen hour drive to the recording session even though she was seven months pregnant at the time. She and the rest of her Carter family managed to make a big impression at these Bristol Sessions, even though they had to compete with another unknown future superstar by the name of Jimmie Rodgers. The Bristol Sessions marked the very beginning of the country music business.

I could sit and listen by the hour
When Maybelle plays the Wildwood Flower
As the Carter's began to sing, she would make her guitar ring
The sound of Maybelle
Mother Maybelle
Along with Sara and A.P., they sang sweet harmony
To the sounds of Maybelle
Mother Maybelle


The next year, 1928, Maybelle and her troupe traveled to Camden, New Jersey where they recorded the all time classic Wildwood Flower. It sold more than 120,000 copies in 1929 and the band continued their success even through the lean years of the 1930’s great depression. Another new technology, radio broadcasting, brought their unique sound to virtually any home in America that owned a radio.

She took pride as a mother and a wife
Now she lives on the sunnyside of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten up our way
If we keep on the sunnyside of life


All country music fans know that soap opera dramas creep into the lives of country music stars about as often as they creep into the lyrics of their music. A.P.’s wife Sara ran off to California with his cousin in 1943 and the band was finished. Who knows what music they might have created had they stayed together?

Fortunately, Maybelle went on to create more great music herself. She formed a band with her three daughters called Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. It was an all female band with Maybelle on guitar, Helen on accordion, June on autoharp, and Anita on Bass and lead vocals.They eventually joined with Chet Atkins and wound up as regulars on the Grand Old Opry. Later they appeared as regulars on Johnny Cash’s program after June got married to the star of the show.

Maybelle Carter was a mother to all of us who love music. She contributed so much with her guitar innovations, her great singing and by being an influence to many other musicians including the very distinguished Carter clan that she mothered.

Many years have come and gone, but her music lingers on
The sounds of Maybelle
Mother Maybelle
The sounds of Maybelle
Mother Maybelle



This Bluegrass Life – 2001: A Bluegrass Odyssey (Brief)
Today’s Column from John A. Karsemeyer
Saturday, May 9, 2015,


It’s June 2001. John Hartford is on the cover of a popular bluegrass magazine, wearing his brown derby hat. His long, mixed brown and grey hair falls below the rim of the hat and rests on a red scarf that is wrapped around his neck. A couple of his music albums are about to be reissued. The feature article in the June issue of the magazine about John Hartford was, of course, written before it went to print. The magazine’s writer could not know at the time that John Hartford would pass-away on June 4th.

Scheduled to play at the 27th annual North Carolina State Bluegrass Festival in June are Jim and Jesse, Doc Watson, Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, Mac Wiseman, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, The Osborne Brothers, and Dave Evans and River Bend.

Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder are scheduled to play at the 18th annual Mineral Bluegrass Festival. Unlike many years later, Ricky doesn’t need a hair cut.

Bill Monroe’s mandolin has been sold to the Bill Monroe Foundation for $1,125,000. A new band has been formed in the Nashville area, The Roland White Band. A new film, “Songcatcher,” has recently been released, featuring Hazel Dickens, Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Iris DeMent, and Patty Loveless.

The 26th CBA Fathers’ Day Festival is being held mid-June at Grass Valley, California. Featured bands (among others) are The Seldom Scene, the Good Ol’ Persons Reunion, Lost Highway, New Piney Creek Weasels, and the Keith Little Band.

A national bluegrass survey shows the number one song for June is, “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow,” by the Soggy Bottom Boys. And the number one bluegrass album is, “O Brother Where Art Thou?” (various artists).

During the summer months the festival season is in full swing, and Rhonda Vincent plays at a number of them. She has dark hair, and wears buttoned-to-the-collar shirts. None of her songs or albums make the charts for June. But she waits, waits, waits. Her star will soon be rising, and she will wear her crown as, “Queen of Bluegrass.” Rhonda is patient.

Dolly Parton’s second bluegrass album, “Little Sparrow,” flies into our awareness. Dolly is smart. The musicians on this album are Nashville’s finest: Bryan Sutton (guitar); Jerry Douglas (resonator guitar); Chris Thile (mandolin); Jim Mills (banjo); and Barry Bales (bass).

Keith Little’s bluegrass album comes out, “Distant Land To Roam.” Keith manages to keep his bluegrass music firmly anchored in traditional waters. His tenacity will pay off. Fourteen years later Keith and his band will still be in demand.

It has been 33 years since the movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” has come out. Most Americans now have their own personal computers, and the people who remember the movie are still suspicious that computers are trying to take over the world.



Southern gospel
Today's column from Cliff Compton
Friday, May 8, 2015


Anybody that knows me, knows that I love gospel music. Not the kind of gospel that will make you snore on Sunday morning, the stuff that touches your heart or sets your soul on fire. Give me a black Baptist choir singing call and response gospel with a Hammond draw bar organ and a slap bass and I will rejoice. Let me hear Ralph Stanley warbling out some heartfelt piece of Appalachian glory, and I stand with tears in my eyes and my hands uplifted and if I’m sitting in a jam circle it, it don’t take long before I’m belting out a hot driving heaven song that makes my feet move and my heart overflow. Those songs may seem like foolishness to some, but I make no apologies for them. It’s my reality.

Last weekend, Jim and Carol Johnston, and Jeanie and Terry Ramos, along with my wife Trudy and myself attended Southern gospel music equivalent of grass valleys father’s day festival. It took place at the convention center in Visalia and ran from Thursday through Sunday and was filled with the same kind of rabid fans that we get in our bluegrass circles. Those of you who are not familiar with southern gospel music are missing some wonderful stuff. It shares many characteristics with bluegrass including many of the same songs. Like bluegrass gospel, it embraces the high lonesome sound with tenors that sing up into the stratosphere. Only real difference is that unlike our founding father, they sing up there in tune. The vocal form is very similar to standard bluegrass gospel quartet form, though the bass vocal is generally featured in a recurring fashion. And them bass singers sing right off of the bottom of the keyboard. The walls rumble.

The accompaniment is generally ripping and rollicking piano, electric bass and drums, and the quartet (or family group) sing on all sides of a square centrally located stage, generally moving around to different sides to better reach all parts of the audience.

This style of music comes from the same region as bluegrass out of the Baptist and Pentecostal churches of the rural south the hills of Tennessee and Kentucky and there is a lot of cross over in the traditions. Many of you remember the Issac’s family that played at one of our Bakersfield festivals, they traveled with The Gaithers homecoming tours for a number of years. Their music is an outgrowth of southern gospel presented in the bluegrass form. The chord patterns of the songs are so similar it’s hard to tell them apart sometimes.

I love bluegrass, most everything about it. Bluegrass gospel, and southern gospel are the double helix of my DNA. Bluegrass makes me dance. Gospel speaks to my heart.

I’m glad the California bluegrass association lists gospel as one of the three legs (along with bluegrass, and old time music) of the stool upon which our membership sits. It keeps me coming back.



THE DAILY GRIST… “Cinco de Mayo makes me long for a world in which all holidays are conveniently named after the dates on which they fall.” Unattributed

Cinco Dias en Mayo (Five Days in May)
Today's column from Dave Williams
Thursday, May 7, 2015


Uno de Mayo
Mayday, mayday, mayday, or as they say around my joint only 4 more shopping days until Cinco de Mayo. I'm not really a traditionalist so for my celebration I'll skip the Coronas and have some craft beers with my tequila and you can count on the tequila not being named José. In fact, I'm so untraditional that I'm starting the celebration today and I plan to continue the celebration daily through the actual holiday. Tacos (carne asada, el pastor, carnitas) remain a large part of my celebration as does the tequila. The festivities are probably going to take me through my deadline for this 1st Thursday welcome, so as they say, I'm getting ahead of the curve. I have started writing this on May Day but writing and celebrating (drinking) at the same time don't quite work for me. Obviously, in more ways than one, I'm not a Hemingway, so I'll be updating my hijacking of another culture’s holiday on a daily basis, usually before the tequila and continuing all the way through the actual Cinco de Cinco.

Beginning tomorrow, I also have a daily musical component to my ongoing celebration through to the actual holiday and there isn’t any Mariachi or guiterron playing as part of it but I’ll look into getting a sombrero, as I like hats.

Now it’s time for extra hoppy pilsner from Firestone Walker and a shot or two of Don Julio 70th Anniversary Anejo. I’ll check with you tomorrow.

Dos de Mayo
Continuing in the untraditional celebration mode, I'm going to an old time jam later today with a craft beer swap on the agenda as well. Wait a minute! How is an old time jam with beer drinking untraditional? Well only in the context of my continuing Cinco De Mayo celebration. I'm not sure
anyone else celebrates the Mexican Army's victory over the French in 1861 by playing Possum Up a Gump Stump or Nail That Catfish to Tree.......8 or 9 times through.

Actually, the old time jam will really be fun. The group is very eclectic with some great tunes. The core group of these jammers hits all the music camps and always comes back with new tunes from pros like the Canote Brothers, Brad Leftwich, Earl White and more. Me, I just hold on tight and try to hit the downbeat…with varying degrees of success. It is a very auditory learning process and with my tin ear and a lot of modal changes, it is somewhat challenging. Like I said, I just hold on and maybe try to catch the guitar player’s fingers.

After the jam, I made tacos at home for Linda and me. Chicken this time. It was no easy feat as the power went out in our neighborhood for three hours that night but the celebration continued with some Rogue Dead Guy Ale and some Clase Azul Reposada. Got to bed early though as I had a big day planned for Sunday.

Tres de Mayo
A four-hour Farmer’s market gig for the jug band I play with. You know the 2nd cousins twice removed from last month. We had to set up by 9:00 and as Farmer’s Markets tend to go, they set us up right next to the guy who does knife sharpening in his big panel truck. It would be an understatement to say that it was a little noisy trying to play (mostly) acoustically. Even a guiterron wouldn’t have helped. However we managed to get through the whole four hours and actually sold a few CD’s and made some decent tips.

I managed to barter a few CD’s for some real nice avocados and some really good goat cheese. Guacamole for happy hour tonight!

I’m getting a little older and this Cinco Dias en Mayo thing was starting to wear me down but after an afternoon nap (siesta), we decided to go more traditional and so after our guacamole and Casa Noble happy hour, Linda and I went to a Mexican Restaurant. In keeping with the traditional flavor of this evening of the celebration marathon, I went with a Modelo Especial and chased with a shot of Forteleza. Linda went tried and true with a Cadillac Margarita.

This is probably a good spot to let you know this celebration is my adventure and concoction and Linda was not, shall we say, as invested as I was. Thank goodness for that, as a steady hand was needed at few points in the celebration.

Cuatro de Mayo
Leftover chicken tacos tonight but I’m going to go light tonight on the rest of the celebration. I’ll skip the beer but have about a half a shot of Tequila Ocho then off to another old time jam with many of the same players as Saturday. The medicinal value of the agave will tune my ears and fingers up for the old time modal chord change challenge or at least that what I tell myself as the ½ shot morph’s into a whole one….or two.

Monday night’s jam is now called the South Bay Old Time Sessions. This jam was formerly the Fandangos jam. The group reacted quickly to closing of Fandango’s Pizza and is now entrenched in a meeting room in a church on Charleston Rd in Palo Alto. No guiterron (or didgeridoos) here either.

We’re getting close to the finish line, thankfully. For me this is a live training operation for a week in June around Father’s Day that will have undoubtedly some more music but about the same rations of craft beer and tequila. I’ll bet that if you looked hard enough at the Nevada County Fairgrounds that week you’d be able to find a guiterron or even a didgeridoo there. Also, I want to give thanks to General Zaragoza for defeating the French Army in Puebla in 1861 for giving me this excellent training opportunity.

Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Cinco. It is finally here and with that we get a day of bluegrass (finally). Linda and I worked on some new material for ‘bout Time! for a couple of hours in the afternoon. This was after a lunch at Chalateco a taqueria near our house. Really getting back to traditional celebration mode here, Tacos, quesadillas, guacamole and Negro Modelo, only one though, it was lunch.

A late afternoon siesta was in the cards followed by an ala cart burrito and Polish Pilsner from the Tied House and a decent shot of Tres Manos Anejo.

At 7:00 the band arrived and we rehearsed and jammed until about 9:30. We even had the dreaded metronome out for a good portion of the time. Metronomes are sometimes hard when working with groups but when the bass player has a little buzz, it can get even more challenging.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have taken to flights of fantasy in the past for my monthly assignment here but this month is a true accounting of the Cinco Dias en Mayo. I lived the chapters and had a little fun doing it and played a bunch of music but now it is time to rest, stash the beer and tequila and maybe eat a salad and a hamburger. I still have a jam today and a rehearsal with another band tomorrow so I’ll keep up with the music.

I think if I try this again next year I will need to revisit my high school Spanish starting with…. una mas cerveza, por favor!


>Vern and Ray and Kathy and Laurie
Today's guest column from Peter Thompson
Wednesday, May 6, 2015


(Editor’s Note—Who knows what that thing we call “California Bluegrass” would sound like if Vern Williams and Ray Park hadn’t been at the core of it? One thing’s for certain, if they hadn’t we probably wouldn’t have seen one of the best new bluegrass albums of last year made. It’s called “Laurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray,” and here’s one man’s opinion on how we, the grateful recipients of the Vern and Ray legacy, can help celebrate it.)

This year’s initial IBMA Awards ballot allows votes to be cast until May 15th. IBMA professional members have received, via email, a ballot link and login information from the IBMA online balloting administrators.

Among the albums which are eligible for 2015 IBMA Awards (https://ibma.org/awards/eligibility-list) is Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick’s "Laurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray.”

I’m writing to urge IBMA professional members to nominate — and then vote for — this recording for Album of the Year, in part because I agree with the assessment of John Lupton (Country Standard Time): "Both have voices that can be sweet, yet carry a razor's edge of their own… It's a treat to have Lewis and Kallick recording together again.”

can also nominate this project for Recorded Event Of the Year and Song Of the Year — I suggest the album’s first track, "Oh! Susanna” — and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year; my suggestion for that one is “The Touch Of God’s Hand.”

Of course, I also plan to nominate both Kathy and Laurie for Female Vocalist of the Year, and members of their bands for various instrumental awards. But I’m hoping that award(s) for the album can get some national attention for California bluegrass — past and present.

As I’m sure you know, "Laurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray" brings together two of the finest contemporary bluegrass artists performing the songs of their highly-esteemed California predecessors, Vern Williams and Ray Parks. Their hard-core traditional bluegrass is wonderfully interpreted by Laurie and Kathy, both of whom learned from and sometimes played with Vern and/or Ray.

As Randy Pitts reminds us in the liner notes, "Before Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick became the highly respected and successful singers, songwriters, and bluegrass bandleaders they are today, they were founding members of the groundbreaking northern California band, Good Ol’ Persons, and forged a lifelong personal and professional friendship that endures to this day. They recorded a collaborative album, ‘Together' (Kaleidoscope/1991), [and] wrote in the liner notes, 'This album is respectfully dedicated to Vern Williams and Ray Park, early sources of inspiration for both of us.' This new album, in which the two perform music exclusively drawn from the repertoires of those early mentors, is the latest coming-together of this multi-talented twosome. It is long overdue."

More information about and sound samples from the album are available here:
www.spruceandmaplemusic.com
and here:
www.cdbaby.com/cd/laurielewis6

Thanks very much for your consideration!


Interview with Pieter Groenveld
Today's column from Loes van Schaijk
Tuesday, May 5, 2015


The following interview with Dutch bluegrass sound engineer and producer Pieter Groenveld features in the book High Lonesome Below Sea Level: Faces and Stories of Bluegrass Music in the Netherlands. The book, written by Loes van Schaijk with black-and-white photography by Marieke Odekerken, will be released on May 14, 2015. It is already avaible in pre-sale via www.bluegrassportraits.nl.

The European World of Bluegrass Festival, EWOB for short, is praised as much as it is criticized. One thing is for certain: for the past twenty-five years, almost all Dutch bluegrass musicians empty their calendars so they can meet at the EWOB. Some people spend the full three days jamming on the camping grounds, never to set foot inside the community center where the official program takes place. Reversely, Pieter Groenveld hardly sees the sun during the festival, because he does the sound for all the bands on stage. About forty of them, spread out over three days, from noon till night. “Well, actually the microphones and the musicians do all the work; I’m a lazy sound engineer,” Pieter grins. “A good microphone will bring out the specific character of all the different instruments and voices you place in front of it without any equalization. If you interfere, you only distort the sound.”

Sheer annoyance drove him to start doing sound, Pieter says. “The people who organized bluegrass concerts in the 1980s didn’t have decent-sounding equipment, they just used what they could find or borrow: microphones that came with tape recorders, crappy speakers….” Pieter, who played mandolin in the group Jerrycan at that time, worked for Sony. He made some good deals with his employers and assembled a sound system for Jerrycan. “All of a sudden, everybody wanted to book us, so the other bands could use the PA as well. The downside was that I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave, and we were the only band at the festival that didn’t have a soundman. I realized I had to focus completely on sound. Paul van Vlodrop took my place in Jerrycan and played much better than I ever did.”

Pieter works with a digital recording set and has done so since it was introduced by Sony in 1982. He recorded performances by American bluegrass artists and released some of them in the series Live in Holland under the label Strictly Country Records. Recording teams for the Dutch national radio network NOS, who scoured the country with trucks full of expensive equipment to record live country and bluegrass music, listened to what Pieter had recorded and said: “You know what, just give us your Left and Right and a cup of coffee and we’re done here.”

Among the American bluegrass artists that Pieter recorded is Bill Monroe, a man he considered a friend. Their first encounter was an interesting story. “In 1978, when I just got back from Australia, I wanted to see for myself what was happening in the States. I did some traveling and met up with a lady friend at a festival in Kentucky. On Saturday night, we had been drinking and didn’t feel like going to the hotel, so we thought it was a good idea to just zip our sleeping bags together and sleep under the stage. The next morning, we heard footsteps over our heads—it was Bill Monroe, setting up for the gospel show. He gave us a look of disapproval…that might just have been because he was jealous,” Pieter says with a knowing smile. “We snuck off quietly without upsetting the gospel crowd too much and had a fantastic Sunday. I was fortunate enough to speak with Lester Flatt for half an hour—that was great.”

“Whenever I was asked to do the sound for a nice girl, I’d offer to take them on a tour of the city. Sometimes they’d stay for a day, sometimes a week, and one of them stayed twenty-seven years.” Pieter met Liz Meyer when she performed as a singer-songwriter at one of Rienk Janssen’s early festivals. It would grow into a solid relationship as husband and wife and as promoters of European bluegrass music. Liz and Pieter did a lot of producing together, were both on the board of the EWOB, and got European bluegrass played on American radio. When I first entered the bluegrass scene myself in 2005 and met Liz at the EWOB festival, she was already fighting cancer. I asked for her advice on band issues many times and always got a reply, even if she had to send it from a hospital bed. After her passing in 2011, the EWOB established the Liz Meyer European Innovation of Bluegrass Music Award to honor her memory and keep on encouraging European bluegrass musicians. Her husband received a Pioneer Award from the European Bluegrass Music Association in 2013: not bad for a lazy sound engineer.



May President’s Message
Today's column from Darby Brandli
Monday, May 4, 2015


This April and May are busier than usual at CBA Headquarters. We are celebrating 40 years with a bang and a leap into the electronic world. We have come a long way since the first mimeographed Bluegrass Breakdown and first festival four decades ago.

The new cbaontheweb.org site is set to roll out June 1st. This is a HUGE project and much of the work will not be seen by anyone without Administrative Access. We will have new archives and new databases. Two teams are working on this project: a team to program and a team to design the public site. We owe thanks to Rick Cornish for putting the site together 15 years ago and for almost single handedly keeping it up and running all these years. Our new site will be mobile friendly as well.

Our switch over to tix.com for our Father’s Day ticket sales seems to have happened without a hitch. This year we are merging our old ticket sale process with this new application and expect the Father’s Day gate to be easier to manage and be a lot less work going forward. We have noticed that our members are much more comfortable purchasing tickets on line and this move made sense this year. We probably will sell most of our registrations via a third party site going forward.

Our Treasurer, Montie Elston, has some changes in the works for our e-Commerce and our banking to make bookkeep - ing, accounting and communication easier and more efficient with a new interface to our QuickBooks system.

San Francisco Regional Area VP Ted Kuster has been busy get - ting the JD Bluegrass Cookbook and CD project ready to roll out by Father’s Day. I understand that Ted is now putting the final touches on the CD and printing the book. I am excited to see and hear the final results. All profit from this project will go to benefit our Youth Programs in the future. I cannot wait to see JD Rhynes holding a copy of this book, which honors him.

Bruce Long, our Lending Librarian, is hard at work on the Lending Library inventory. We have multiple instruments that sit on the shelf because they sim - ply aren’t playable enough to lend to beginners. Please, when donating instruments, make certain the instrument is playable and has good action and can stay in tune. Bruce has had some experts look at many of the instruments and we simply must dispose of them because we cannot lend them. We are able to make minor repairs and adjustments but some of the instruments must go. We will be updating our con - tracts and our data bases and will contact those with a borrowed instrument to see if the child is still playing the instrument. We want to photograph each instrument for our inventory as well. Remember, a current CBA membership is required to borrow an instrument. This is a very successful program and one that we are proud of.

We also have lots of new social media projects on board. Jacob Groopman has taken on our Facebook California Blue - grass Association page and it is now active and exciting and has lots of new “likes”. Our Twitter account is about to get busy and tweet. Ted Kuster has registered a new California Bluegrass Association You Tube channel and has started a Google + account. Stay up to date with the Association and music in California by interacting on these sites. There is a lot of fun stuff and outreach happening.

We hope to see all of you at the 40th Annual Gala in Grass Valley. We have come a long way in four decades.


To Each His Own
Today's column from Marc Alvira
Sunday, May 3, 2015


Ron Spears just wrote critical piece about "corporate country." I happen to concur with his point of view that the bottom line of commercial country industry is the bottom line, but hasn’t this always really been the case for decades? Maybe one’s taste and tolerances for country music are really a generational matter. I mean Hank Thompson and 90's icon George Straight are miles apart. And Hank Jr. Sounds more like Rascall Flatts than he does Sr..

So what is real country? How far do we stray from the Carters and Roy Acuff before we draw sonic margineax line? (Eddie Rabbit might have been a good start)Maybe taking this one step farther, every generation has it's share of horrible country music. The great Chet Atkins was infamous for producing albums that were actually features on the Doctor Demento Show. The early 60's had songs flowing from Nashville that sounded like they had the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for back-up singers. Dare I even mention the late mid and late 70's? It just seems like some eras just have a little more poor, soulless country than others.

A short while back when my 24 year old and I were in the truck going fishing, we began our ritual fighting over the iPod, each running down the other's taste in country. We were driving through some pretty hill country and our poles and tackle back in the bed were shimmering in the early morning sun. Then it dawned on me, my boy and shared exactly the same feeling when we each listened to our respective country music on glorious weekends...whether it was about honky-to king or sitting on the bed of a pick-up truck with a beer, the music released us both from the daily grind and brought us a little closer to a simpler way and the land.

For what Ron Spear’s said: https://www.facebook.com/ronald.spears.96/posts/10205911564415631?fref=nf&pnref=story


Gigs Played for Free that Haunt you Sometimes
Today's column from the Old Fella
Saturday, May 2, 2015


(Editor's Note--Well, we missed our connection with our young and lovely and talented European correspondent, Loes van Schaijk, so we asked ourselves, who or what is at the polar opposite end of the scale and, of course, JD came instantly to mind.)

I got to thinkin' here awhile back about all of the good times I
had when I was playing with Vern's band back in the 70's, and some
of the gigs we played that kinda haunt my memory. Not that they
were bad memories, but not the kind you relish telling, or
remembering, but memories nonetheless. If you are a musician and
you have played for the public, I know you all have these kind of
memories of jobs played fer free.

I dont know why, but it seems like every time we played a "free
gig" there was some one telling us what songs we were supposed to
play and for how long, or there was something that would interrupt
our performance to the point that we cut short our playing and
packed up our instruments and went home. Here's two such stories of
gigs that we played "fer free".

The first gig was a benefit for a friend of Del Williams that had
developed a brain tumor and they had a big BBQ and dance at the town
hall in Valley Springs, with all of the proceeds to go to a fund for
his medical expenses. There was two or three bands that agreed to
do two sets each for the party goers, we being the Bluegrass band,
the other two being "country" bands. It started off on the wrong
foot right from the git go, when the ol gal running he show
instructed us to play nothing but music they could dance to. Well
guess what Vern said. They better be able to dance fast, 'cause
that's what we play, is FAST Bluegrass music. We kicked off a fast
one and the crowd was loving it, and everythang was going good for
about half of our first set, when one HELL of a fight broke out
among the crowd. They were fighting and started throwing cans and
bottles of beer, so we "exited stage left" as the ol saying goes.
The fight went on fer about 10 or 15 minutes, and after it was over,
the place was a total mess. We were out side and the ol gal that was
in charge of the shindig informed us we had to go back in and finish
playing our alloted time. I looked at Vern and he looked at me, and
we both agreed that our playing fer this bunch was over. Music
lover's indeed! My house was only a half a block away so we went
there, sat down on my patio, and commenced to pick until the wee
hours of the morning. We could hear a "row" break out up at the
Town Hall ever once in awhile and the high Sheriff had to send a few
of his deputies to quell the festivities. We never played another
free gig there again.

THEN, there's the time a year er so later that we played a free gig
at the Town Hall in San Andreas to benefit a family that had lost
everythang in a house fire. A local country band played the first
set and then we were on for a 45 minute set.

The drum setup was on the stage behind us, and every thang was going
real good fer about the first 3 er 4 numbers, that is until the
drummer from the first band decided we needed some drums to make
our music "sound good". Right in the middle of a song that Vern was
singin', all of a sudden here comes a bunch of really loud drums
pounding! WELL, you can only guess what my pal Vern said to that
idiot! Keith got to him first before I could get my guitar off of
me, and said drummer took off like a shot out of a cannon! Keith
told him, if that big okie gets his hands on you, he's gonna pull
yer arms off and feed 'em to you. Ha ha ha! So, the next time some
one asked us to play fer free, we told "em we'd be glad to if they'd
jes pay our travel expenses, and that usually came to around $
2,000.00 a day. Needless to say we never played another "free" gig.
Vern and I agreed that there was jes SOMETHING about playin' in a
Town Hall that didn't agree with our music.
Ten Items or Fewer
Today’s column from Brooks Judd
Friday, May 1 2015


Item 1: Welcome back Mr. Cornish! I know why you never lie and always tell the truth but.... You tell me your heart doctor is Dr. Gerry Actrick and his surgical team is called “the Pacemakers?” C’mon Rick that sounds like something I would manufacture in my seriously warped mind. Nevertheless welcome back to the healthy zone.

It is indeed times like this when we reflect on our lives journey and begin to ponder what lies behind the great beyond. Realizing that life is indeed precious it does make one want to squeeze the most out of what is left of our time on earth.I believe that Mr. Cornish has embraced this and cannot wait to lift his fiddle up to the heavens and state, “I still have a ton of fiddling to do so let me at it!” When that happens the devil will have his due to pay in Georgia.


Item 2: My sister, Maria Nadauld, (Above the Bay Booking) asked me to come by and check out the CBA Board meeting at the Turlock Fair Grounds a couple of weeks ago.I live in Turlock and since Maria was going to spend the night with Sheila and me it sounded like a good idea.

I drove the three miles to the fairgrounds and parked the blue Matrix machine. I thought it would be nice to stroll around the grounds a bit before going to the meeting. As usual there were groups of smiling pickers having a joyful time at all the campsites.The music was lifted by a gentle breeze then filtered its way throughout the fairgrounds.

I heard a familiar voice and was drawn to a jam that was featuring the bearded marvel Mr. Cliff Compton. Cliff was leading the group in a rousing spiritual. I watched Cliff and was amazed by his vitality and youthful energy as he belted out the lyrics to the song. His body seemed to levitate a few inches above his chair as he strummed his axe and sang. Cliff, the song, and the rest of the pickers were one magical entity. Watching this take place is what makes bluegrass jams so fulfilling and rewarding.

As I slowly walked around the fairgrounds I was struck by the size and opulence of the motor homes that were displayed in various colors and styles on the fairgrounds. Some of these homes on wheels would dwarf my tiny rustic abode in Turlock.

I made my way to the meeting site and walked inside.The meeting was in progress and I made eye contact with Maria. She motioned for me to sit down at one of the tables.I did and observed.Those at the table were serious and caring.The CBA is in good hands.

Watching the CBA Board members sitting at the tables had a biblical, “Last Supper” aura to it.In fact I thought that this would make a great portrait. We just need someone to paint it, then it could be auctioned off and the CBA would have money to put into the children’s program.

After the meeting my sister took me around the campsite and we chatted with all those wonderful folks that make up the CBA. Many of you I haven’t seen for a long time. Talking with you and seeing your smiling faces made my weekend.

Item 3: 2015 seems to be the year of “The Band Reunions” at the Father’s Day Festival. Here’s a thought. The Grass Menagerie... Bill and Rick, the ball is in your court.

Item 4: It is hot here in Turlock, the pool beckons and then time for a nap.

Until Friday, June 5: Read a book, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, eat a bar of chocolate and smile.


2,705
Today's column from
Thursday, April 30, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where the verdant and eye-popping beauty of spring, now at full throttle, is almost powerful enough to keep us from fretting that we’ve run out of winter, which, we’re being warned, could mean that we’ll run out of water. To be sure, spring has brought along its customary joy, but it’s a bittersweet joy.

So, what’s all this 2,705 business? Well, that just happens to be the number of paid CBA members as of this very moment, 4:27 a.m., Thursday, April 30, 2015. We know that’s the absolutely most current number because the little “Membership:” log, (look to left column just under “NEWS”) is pulled directly from our membership database, untouched by human hands. And it’s a big, big, big deal because we’ve finally broken the twenty-seven hundred threshold!

“Noooooow, hold on here, Cornish,” I hear the old timers bristling, “I can remember back fifteen years ago when it was higher than that.” Well, yes, but mostly no. When I was elected to the board of directors back in 2000, our membership number of record, the one we’re asked for in our tax return, was right around 2,750. However, that number was derived from a 3X5 index card filing system. One of my first assignments was moving the old, manual system into an automated one, and then putting the new system on the brand new CBA web page for all the world to see. It was a bit of a sketchy migration; records were stroked into the new database, and that was all done with quality control measures built in. But the validity of the individual cards themselves, that would have to be checked later.

And three years later, after hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours, Carolyn Faubel completed a check of every last 3X5 card. After purging duplicate records, records of dead people, and a big bunch more which simply didn’t reflect reality, we had a REAL membership count: 2,337. Still a quite respectable base for the Association, in fact, the largest number of members of any bluegrass organization on the planet…but still, it was 2,700 plus. UNTIL THIS MORNING! Thank you so much, Mary Runge, for maintaining the 3x5 index card membership system for so many years; thank you Kathy Kirkpatrick for agreeing to take over the Membership Vice President position when we moved to the current automated, web-based system; thanks to you, Larry Kuhn, who took over from Kathy and introduced some sorely needed operational procedures; a HUGE thank you to Carolyn Faubel, who finally got her head wrapped around the issues in the 2001 data migration and finally got us a number we could hang our hat on; thank you Bruce Campbell, who volunteered to take up the slack when Larry left, despite the fact that he was already serving as a board member, weekly columnist for the web site and Publicity Coordinator for our entire Association operation; and thanks to Larry Phegley, who serves as our current membership VP.

And we can thank two other people for this morning’s 2,705. Darby Brandli was not the CBA membership firebrand she is today until she was given access to the DB. Once that happened and she became aware of the fact that many of the best known members…the folks you see at event after event, let their memberships lapse two, five, ten, some even twelve years ago and just never got around to renewal. From that point on, Madame President has worked tirelessly re-signing these people. And finally, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Maria Nadauld, who, as her “initiation assignment” on the CBA board, took on a mass-mailing project to reach out to former members. That effort, which still continues, is responsible more than anything else for today’s victory lap.

And, of course, a final thank you to all of you, who for decades have acknowledged your inclusion in our huge bluegrass family by spending the time and effort and money to keep your membership in the California Bluegrass Association current year after year.


THE DAILY GRIST…"Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted." --John Lennon

Marking Time, and Stopping the Clock (For a While)
Today’s column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, April 29, 2015


There’s no need to mark time when you’re young. It just crawls along, and never fast enough. You have to wait to your next birthday, to be old enough to ride your bike to school, to drive a car, to shave, to drink beer, and so forth. Time stretches out before you, seemingly endless, and it plods along. You are somewhat aware of things changing but it’s at a glacial pace. You learn not worry about it too much. After all, what can you do about it?

Then, sometime in your 20’s, sneaky as a thief in the night, something happens. Things start to speed up. The foam isn’t even dry on your 21st birthday beer and age 30 looms in the very near future. Everybody wastes some time, but hopefully you haven’t wasted too much. It doesn’t even matter, because the march of time has broken into a canter.

Once the “big” birthdays are past (16, 21, 25), the individual birthdays aren’t inherently memorable - so the convenient time counters you grew accustomed to in your youth are replaced by other events. Weddings, for example, and the births of children.

In another of life’s bizarre twists, even as time continues to speed up, you find yourself
hanging out with your old friends less often. There may be no falling out - life just intervenes - the job, and family and its associated pressures and responsibilities take precedence over hanging out with your pals, even if they don’t live far.

This is where being part of a music community - especially the bluegrass community - really has a deep, meaningful value. And it’s a value that goes beyond the intrinsic value of the music itself. Periodic events - regular jams, and festivals, become treasured markers for time passing - they slow down that damn clock - if only a little bit. Through the time-lapse magic of these events, you get a great view of your friends, aging a little each year. That provides lots of fodder for conversations. You watch all the kids grow up and get actually a better perspective on your friends’ kids than they have - you can see the difference a few months make, while the parents only notice when they have to buy them new clothes.

The conversations will follow a predictable pattern over the years, beginning with the hassle of marriage, buying a house and kids. Then dealing with teenagers, which RV you’ll be buying (and showing off). Then maybe some talk about the Empty Nest (or the boomerang kids, coming back over and over again), grandkids, and then inevitable ravages of time - the aches the pains, and the “procedures” you had since the last time you all got together.

The point is, it’s hard to see life happening when you’re smack dab in the middle of it. Just like you’re never quite sure when you’re witnessing history. When you go to a bluegrass festival, especially if it’s one you attend every year, or nearly so, for that blessed few days, the clock stops hurtling towards, uh, whatever it’s hurtling towards. You put your finger on the second hand of that clock for a little while. And honestly, when that dang clock finally does run out, won’t it be a comfort to know your buddies will hoisting a glass of something in your honor?




Hello from Whiskey Creek
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Hello from Whiskey Creek, where the rain we had over the weekend and the mid to high 80’s sun shine we’re having this week promises to coax into bloom the last hold outs. (That same one-two punch will also cause an explosion of tasty shoots from our lawn, to the sheer joy of Gwen, Claire, Dolcee, Olive and Chelsea, all of whom are on the payroll here as turf manicurists. Unlike some grazers, llamas show the good sense and self-restraint to nibble the shoots off at optimum elevation.)

So it’s my guess that many of you reading the Welcome this morning are aware of the little adventure Lynn and I have been on in the past five or six weeks. Long story short: 1) heart goes out of sinus rhythm and heart rate spikes so rushed to ER; 2) moved into Intensive Care, administered heavy-duty IV heart-slowing drug, works a little too well, and heart flat lines for eight seconds…BUT, when the old ticker starts, it starts itself IN SINUS RHYTHM; 3) return to hospital three days later for surgical implant of heart monitor—all goes well; 4) BUT rushed back to hospital two days later after another “pause”, this one lasting fifteen seconds; 5) cardiologists agree I need a pacemaker, ASAP, as in, like yesterday, but also agree that surgery has to wait a full seven days to get most of the blood thinner out of my system; 6) Lynn and I and our two sons spend the longest week of our lives watching for the first signs of any number of bad, bad things that can go wrong with weaker and weaker blood thinning protection; 7) make it the full seven days, pacemaker implanted, end of story…HAPPY end of story.

Okay, maybe not so short, but Lord knows, it could have been longer.

Hearing from so many of my friends during this crisis has been a humbling experience, but, even more, a life-affirming one. As my two sons grew up I never let a chance go by to reinforce the notion that above all else, heart to heart connection with those around us is, in the end, the only true path to contentment. Never hurts to have a little reminder and, boy of boy, did April bring mine.

So much bluegrass happening…from all accounts a sublime spring camp out, Parkfield coming up in two weeks or so, some great bands touring through our neck of the woods and, of course, scores and scores of people busily at work putting the last details on Festival Week…the 40th Annual, the two music camps, the Old-Time Gathering and everything else that goes along with those magical seven days in the forest.




THE DAILY GRIST…"Spring has sprung, The grass has riz; I wonder where the flowers is." --Anonymous

Where The Flowers Is
Today’s column from Yvonne Tatar
Monday, April 27, 2015


If you’re wondering "where the flowers is", I can tell you many of them are in full bloom right here in San Diego County. Spring has sprung these last couple of weeks, and, my, oh my, the flowers are a-bloomin’ just about everywhere you look – even wildflowers along the highways. Such a pretty time of year in San Diego.

And to celebrate spring, each year the annual "Bluegrass Day at the Flower Fields" happens at the Carlsbad Flower Fields where you kind find just about every kind of flower you can think of in bloom there. The Flower Fields are most notably known for their fields of ranunculas – 50+ acres of these extraordinary blossoms overlooking the Pacific Ocean. When in bloom, visitors are treated to rainbows of color descending the hillsides. There are also floral displays such as a sweet pea maze, a magnificent succulent garden, hundreds of rose varieties in full display, and a multitude of Mother Earth’s generous paintbrush of flowers. It is a stunning place to visit in the spring.

I paint this visual of the Flower Fields so you can picture this venue of picturesque acres noting the dramatic ranunculas in full display are also the backdrop behind their performer’s stage. Each year the Flower Fields hosts a day of bluegrass music where local bands perform for the thousands of visitors to the Flower Fields. There are numerous tourist buses that stop here regularly, and oh yes, I forgot to mention all the strawberries for sale along with strawberry shortcake, fresh lemonade and their outdoor grill with great food. Families, young people, and seniors all come out the Flower Fields to usher in the spring.

I’ve been blessed to perform at the Bluegrass Day at the Flower Fields for the last few years. Looking out at the crowd of people from the stage, with the flowers all around, and the ocean there in the distance is so inspiring. It makes you grateful to be able witness all this beauty in one place. And adding bluegrass music to this experience is really the frosting on the cake, or nectar on the blossom as it were. Summergrass has worked with the Flower Fields to provide this local music day for many years, and it draws a very large and faithful crowd fans each year. It’s a pleasure to see old friends there, and meet new ones, too – all of us enjoying this springtime jewel of a venue.

And I don’t want to forget the tractor rides available. All through the Flowers Fields spring time shows, the Antique Gas & Steam Engine museum provides tractors that pull wagons of people so they can tour the grounds that way. The tractors are going all day every day during the spring, so that gives you an idea of how many visit this place. The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is our venue for Summergrass each year. The museum organization is a non-profit and wonderful group of hard-working folks. Their outdoor museum in Vista provides static displays that take you back to the old farm days of the 1930’s and ‘40s. Their Blacksmith shop, 1930’s gas station replica, weaver’s building, and steam engine tractors are just a sample of their displays there. One of my friends had the best description of the museum ever. He calls it "Disneyland for old people!" That says it all.

Bluegrass music really fits at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum. And at this time of year, bluegrass is a perfect match at the Bluegrass Day at the Carlsbad Flower Fields It’s a win-win for all of us. That’s music to my ears.







THE DAILY GRIST…”Like branches on a tree, our lives may grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one.”--Unknown

CBA Family Reunion
Today’s Column by Jeanie Ramos
Sunday, April 26, 2015


The CBA Spring Camp-Out is one of my favorite events of the year. When I pulled into the fairgrounds on Monday morning I was greeted by my friend, fiddle/mandolin picker, Fred Stepp. Fred is just one of the dedicated volunteers who put in several hours at the front gate. I’m so thankful for folks like him, Marcos Alvira, David Brace, Slim and Charlene and all the others who made this event a memorable one for us. Without volunteers, these events just wouldn’t happen.

Just like regular church attendees who head to the same “pew” each Sunday, we went directly to our spot there on the corner of “Pick and Grin” and backed the Bigfoot into our spot, which became “home” for the week. We erected the EZ-up and knowing that high winds were in the forecast, Terry drove in some stakes that went halfway to China and tied that thing down.

Within a few hours of our arrival many other friends and fellow musicians pulled in and the CBA reunion began. This pattern continued all week long. If you delay your arrival for a couple days, you will become the entertainment for the onlookers as you display your skill in backing your RV into a spot. There will be no shortage of help and advice; you will have people on each side of your rig, each calling out conflicting instructions and if you don’t tune them out you could jackknife your fifth wheel and punch out a window. The shout of “Whoa!” can be heard above the train noise in Turlock and you know that one more camper has made a successful “landing,” (successful in this case means there were no fatalities).

As predicted, the winds blew for a couple days, wreaking havoc for the allergy sufferers as we sat in the shade of the sycamore trees. I missed a photo opportunity during one of our jams when one of those big seed balls dropped from above hitting the fret board on Harry Robinson’s banjo and exploded into a shower of seeds that obscured our view of him and Tina Barr who was sitting to his right. Tina, being the first class musician that she is, didn’t miss a beat but Harry’s banjo was thrown completely out of tune! After that incident, when a gust of wind hit, Harry could be heard yelling, “Incoming!”

As usual, there were jams everywhere in the camp. There were Old-time jams, Traditional Bluegrass jams, Old Time Country jams, eclectic jams and everything in between. I had all of the above in my camp, depending on who showed up first after the dinner break. We all come to the Camp-out for the same reason, to make music and enjoy the company of friends, old and new. If you walk around the fairgrounds you will be able to find a jam where you will fit in and you can crawl into your bed at night (or early morning) with a smile on your face.

You never know what instruments people will bring to the Camp-out. I saw the usual banjos, fiddles, mandolins, basses, guitars, and Dobros, but in one camp there was a man playing a Hohner Melodica (I had to Google that), it’s a keyboard with a mouthpiece that you blow air through, it sounds like an accordion without the left hand buttons that keep the rhythm. On Saturday night, I had a Country jam going in my camp and I saw a man leaning against a tree listening to our music, he had a small instrument case of indeterminate shape tucked under his arm. After a few songs, he sat down in a chair in the back and unzipped the case and pulled out a trumpet (with a mute) and waited for the nod. Suzanne Suwanda was playing bass and singing a song. We were all pleasantly surprised at the sweet sound this man coaxed out of his horn. As I said before, we all come with the intention of making music and enjoying the company of our bluegrass family. I hope Bugler Bill of Modesto enjoyed the hospitality in our camp.

On Saturday evening we joined our good friends Jim and Carole, Lou and others for the delicious Mexican dinner. It was great to have members of the Board of Directors serving our meal with their light-hearted banter and cheerfulness. The high point of the evening was to be entertained by AJ Lee along with her mom, Betsy, Jack Kinney and Isaac Cornelius. I remember the first time I saw AJ. She was a little barefoot girl of about nine, riding around on a scooter with her Dad following close behind trying hard to keep up with her. She came to a jam I was in; she played the mandolin and sang, “Cabin on the Mountain,” and completely blew me away. I knew from that moment that she would have great things in store for her. It’s been a joy to watch her mature physically and musically into a beautiful talented young lady. I just met Isaac for the first time this week when he came into our camp and greeted some of his elders. He did a good job playing bass for AJ and singing harmonies to her vocals. Jack Kinney is an incredibly talented musician. Whether he is singing, playing banjo, fiddle or mandolin, he always delights the audience.

I talked to a few people about their 2015 Spring Camp-out experience, asking if there were some memorable moments or things that they were impressed with. Larry Kuhn said he was truly impressed with the number of young, incredibly talented musicians who play the traditional bluegrass. He was referring to the young folks from Central California that hang out with James Judd and Marcos. He also mentioned Alex Sharps and the quantum leap he has made with his fiddling and vocals. Yes, these people are truly gifted and they are realizing their full potential. As Larry mentioned, it’s all about taste, timing and tone, and these young people have that nailed down.

All in all, it was a great week for me. Guess you can call me Pollyanna, I make up my mind to have a good time and I want to make it so for those who come to my jams. The main complaint I heard was in regards to the other events that were booked in the buildings nearby, the noise levels were deafening and spoiled the jamming for those camped near those buildings. I’m sure there will be much discussion and efforts made to resolve this issue for future camp-outs. Perhaps next year the fairgrounds will book a Mime Convention in one building and a meeting for American Sign Language in the other. We can only hope. Of course, the next big CBA event is the Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival. I will be somewhere in the Pacific northwest celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary. You all have a good time, I’ll be thinking of you. God bless.


Adam Roszkiewicz
Today's guest column from Dave Berry
Saturday, April 25, 2015


(Editor’s Note--Dave Berry, a San Francisco-based CBA member, singer and mandolin player who has an insatiable bluegrass curiosity, has, just this month, begun writing a new, occasional column for the Breakdown and CBA web site in which he interviews bluegrassers, presumably to satisfy that insatiable curiosity of his and, we’re willing to bet, ours, too.)

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Adam Roszkiewicz
The subject of this very first Bluegrass Interviews column is the multi-instrumentalist and singer Adam “Roscoe” Roszkiewicz, who plays mandolin and other instruments in Front Country, the Modern Mandolin Quartet, Small Town Therapy, and other bands.

DB: Hi Adam, thanks for your time. Do you go by Adam or the nickname "Roscoe"?
AR: Either really. I played with this songwriter named AJ Roach for several years, and he started calling me that, put it on the stage plot, promo stuff, so I think it caught on that way.

DB: Is your entire family musical, either amateur or professional? We love details.
AR: Both my parents played music. My dad played guitar and bass and my Mom played piano. My dad used to play Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson to put me to sleep when I was little. It never worked.

DB: Who was your biggest musical influence growing up? And now?
AR: Probably my dad. He had a really good ear and was always kicking my butt to listen harder and write better. Definitely Tony Rice, Dawg, and Mike Marshall. My biggest influence now is the people I get to make music with. All the folks in Front Country and the MMQ.

DB: When did you know music was your calling?
AR: Pretty early on. I remember after my first real lesson I couldn't stop laughing, like I'd just learned the best secret in the world. I think I was 12. I'd been playing different instruments since I was 7, but it wasn't by choice till I was 12.

DB: You do some composing. What instrument do you generally find yourself holding when the muse strikes?
AR: Whatever's closest usually. Sometimes I'll hear something for a specific instrument and I'll try and make that happen. Or if I'm writing for someone in particular. Probably guitar the most. The truth is I try not to wait for inspiration. When I need/want to write I'll sit down and write, but the stuff that sticks is usually because I'm in a non-judgmental frame of mind and not editing as I write. I remember hearing an interview with Martin Scorsese, and his advice was to write everyday and not look at it until the next week. I'll do the same thing, recording ideas, not listening to them till later, and it really frees you up from judging your ideas in the moment.

DB: What inspires you for composing and who are your favorites?
AR: My friends, people, silly sayings. Bach... Matt Flinner is one of my favorites... But the thing that really inspires me is tone. Just the sound, and how it feels to make a sound on the instrument.

DB: How long do you generally work on a piece?
AR: It depends. Sometimes it just writes itself, sometimes it takes longer. With the duo, a piece can evolve over months of performing it and continue evolving with each performance.

DB: Tell me about various bands past and present you have been in and your role?
AR: I had a long run doing sideman stuff for various singer songwriters. Ana Egge, Anais Mitchell, AJ Roach, Indianna Hale, Nels Andrews. Then I got real heavy into playing country guitar. I played in a modern honky-tonk band called the Whisky Richards for several years, as well as Misisipi Mike's band for a couple of years. Right now I have my duo [with fiddler Leif Karlstrom], Small Town Therapy, which plays mostly original instrumentals, kind of a cross between the Anger/Marshall duo and Tin Hat Trio. I also play in the Modern Mandolin Quartet, like a string quartet but made up of mandolins. I used to listen to that group when I was a kid, so it's a real honor to get to play with them. We made a record a couple of years ago that got nominated for a Grammy. The focus for me right now, however, is my progressive bluegrass band Front Country. Being in that band is an amazing experience. We got to play Telluride last summer and RockyGrass the summer before that, and this summer we are playing MerleFest, Grey Fox, and Strawberry. It’s an honor making music with those guys.

DB: Tell us about your mandocello and how you connected with it?
AR: It's a Randy Wood Mandocello. Serial No. 1798. It's on loan from the MMQ. I like that instrument a lot. We've grown together.

DB: What connections do you see, if any, between classical and bluegrass?
AR: I think a big connection is that both genres have very high standards of performance, technique, and musicianship. When Bill Monroe said that if you can play bluegrass you can play anything, I always took that to mean that it gives you the tools you need to be an accomplished and versatile musician. It's the same with classical music. I know there are people with very strong opinions on both sides of the fence on this issue.

DB: Have you ever been a bandleader or desire to be?
AR: I haven’t really been a bandleader long term... It's hard work! I've learned a lot over the years working with great bandleaders. One of the great things about working with Leif is that there are things that he's really good at, and he steps into that role very easily. And there are things that I'm good at, and he's comfortable (presumably) letting me take the reigns in those situations.

DB: What do you like to do on you day off?
AR: Cook. I've recently started pickling things. I've been cooking since I was a kid, and at one point I seriously considered pursuing that instead of music.

DB: Do you have any/many students and if so, what do you consider your or anyone's best quality as a teacher?
AR: I have a handful of students. I think it’s really important as a teacher to recognize that different people get different things out of music. People have a different relationship to music then you (as a performer) do, and that you have to be flexible and tailor your approach to that particular student. However, I'm not talking about compromising or sacrificing fundamental musical principals.

DB: Front Country is deservingly getting a lot of attention. Why do you think that band has hit pay dirt?
AR: I’m amazed by what this band has accomplished in such a short period of time! I’m really lucky to get to play with such great musicians. I think one of the keys to Front Country's success has been the chemistry on stage, and the variety of sounds and approaches to music that we each bring to the table. We each tackle making music in a different and complimentary way. Also, we all realize that at the end of the day, the song is the most important thing, so we do everything we can to support the song.

DB: Any tours planned for Front Country?
AR: We have a big East Coast tour coming up in April, which will include MerleFest and the Oberlin Folk Fest. Then we have the summer festival tour, which will include Strawberry, Pagosa Folk n' Bluegrass, and Grey Fox, among others.
I'll also be sneaking in some MMQ concerts and a Ger Mandolin Orchestra concert this summer, so stay tuned.

DB: Tell us about your involvement with the Ger Mandolin Orchestra?
AR: The Ger Mandolin Orchestra is a memorial project reviving the Jewish Mandolin Orchestra of the same name that was active in Gora Kalwaria, Poland between 1920 to 1930. Most of its members died in the Holocaust. The project began when Avner Yoni, the grandson of one of the members of the original orchestra approached Mike Marshall about reviving the group for the Jewish Music Festival in Berkeley in 2010. I was asked to play guitar and mandocello for the performance and it was an amazing experience. The group is made up of a pretty stellar lineup of mandolin players including Dana Rath from the MMQ, Radim Zenkl, Don Stiernberg, Mr. Marshall, Sharon Gilchrist, Avi Avital, Tim Connell, Eric Stein, Jeff Warshauer, Chris Acquavella and Brian Oberlin. Since that first concert we've also performed in Warsaw, Toronto, and LA, and there are plans to give a performance in New York late this year.

DB: What cities, events, or venues that you have played are most memorable for you and why?
AR: Telluride really stands out. Playing on that stage after spending more than half my life looking at pictures of my heroes playing on the same stage was a very emotional experience.

DB: Any good band stories you want to share about Front Country? There seem to be a lot of distinct personalities that play off of each other in that band.
AR: I'm saving those for my memoir.

DB: A lot of folks know you as the sound guy at Amnesia in San Francisco. Do you do any studio sound work?
AR: No. Years ago I was Shawn Magee's (the owner of Amnesia) guitar teacher, and I’d just gotten back from tour and was very frustrated with the sound engineers in the various clubs and theaters we were playing in. I was mostly annoyed by my inability to communicate what I wanted sound-wise (although I certainly wouldn't have admitted it at the time). So I asked Shawn to let me do sound for the Monday night bluegrass at Amnesia, and to teach me as I go. It’sbeen a huge learning curve! But, it’s taught me A LOT about the reality of the sound situation in a small club and, more importantly, the realities of what a sound engineer has to deal with on any given night.

DB: What event in life caused you to get hooked on bluegrass?
AR: When I was a kid I hung out in the acoustic instrument shop called Shade Tree in Southern California. One day, one of the guys who worked there loaned me his copies of Manzanita by Tony Rice and Appalachian Swing by the Kentucky Colonels and that was it. Although I think he may have regretted it, as he had to listen to me hack away at Blackberry Blossom for the next six months!

DB: Finally, for the geeks out there, what instruments do you have, play, and love?
AR: I have a Collings MF Custom Mandolin #725 that I got new in 2005 I think.
I also play a Bourgeois Vintage D Guitar # 3969 that I got in 2004, and a Michael Gurian guitar from the mid 70's I think.

DB: Hope you don't mind me not asking what kind of pick you use.
AR: I use a BlueChip TAD 60 and endorse Straight Up Strings, mediums.

DB: I've heard you singing more recently. Do you approach that differently than playing an instrument?
AR: The singing is pretty intuitive. I've been working on it in a more methodical and disciplined way lately, we shall see...

DB: I caught the Front Country CD release show at Slim's and loved the combination of new and old, where you played the entire second album by the Band. What tunes did you enjoy learning for that event, and what other full albums would you enjoy playing?
AR: Jawbone was probably my fave. Each section has a different feel, it's pretty amazing. It would be fun to do Bela Fleck's Bluegrass Sessions album all the way through, also Tony Rice's Cold on the Shoulder.


DB: What fiddle tunes do you love and automatically play when you first pick up a guitar or mandolin?
AR: Depends what I'm obsessing over at the moment but St. Anne’s Reel has always been a favorite, Winderslide, Ducks on the Millpond, Chinquapin Hunting.

DB: What do you think it is about music that makes it touch people so deeply?
AR: Each individual creates their own connection to the music in the moment, so it is a personal experience for everyone. At a show, individuals get to experience this personally meaningful event with others. I think it's pretty powerful. I heard an interview with Jeff Tweedy from the band Wilco once, and when asked what makes a good song, he replied "the listener." I've always liked that.

DB: What other mandolin players do you enjoy listening to and why?
AR: Besides Monroe and Dawg: Adam Steffey, Matt Flinner, Don Stiernberg, and Tom Bekeny. In addition to their wonderful ideas and great musicianship, I love their tone.

DB: Are you into the Stones or the Beatles?
AR: Both. You can be both, right?

DB: But of course, thanks for your time Roscoe.


Generosity
Today's column from Ellie Withnall
Friday, April 24, 2015


Generosity, that's the theme for this month.

Which is surprising because it's not what I thought I would want to write about. Since I'm at a Pete Wernick jam camp this week I was expecting to be writing about chords and improvising breaks and other musicy stuff. Or perhaps, I thought, I would be writing about stage fright. After all, the sheer terror that the thought of performing on stage at Merlefest as part of the jam camp finale has created has been eating away at me ever since I booked into the camp.

I even knew there was a chance there might be some Big Secret about Bluegrass music that I would choose to write about this month.

By the way, I really think its time someone should finally tell me that Big Secret too. I've been playing fiddle for nearly five years now and so it seems to me that Ive earned the right to finally find out exactly how to get better at this whole music thing. I was hoping that this camp would be the one where they stopped trying to sell me the party line about practice practice practice being the key to getting better and told me the REAL secret. FYI, they didn't. Still trying to keep the goose that layed the golden egg called Bluegrass Mastery all to themselves.

None of that has turned out to be as important to me as generosity this month though. I've always known that the BG world was uncommon in the way that players, fans, celebrities and followers of all sorts interact. You would be unlikely to catch a top ranked NFL player throwing a football around with a few fans after an important game. And if you did he would only be doing it to be polite or to increase his fan base, he certainly wouldn't be enjoying it. Yet that sort of thing happens all the time in BG. So I already had an inkling that these people were unusual.

This week though, has really underlined that fact. I've been amazed by the generosity of so many people that I've interacted with. Mostly I don't mean monetary generosity although that does come into it. There have certainly been some wonderfully generous people who have donated towards scholarships for kids to come to camp who otherwise might not be able to. Or towards a couple of them going to play Bluegrass in

Argentina this year. (Cane Mill Road -check them out on facebook folks, they are fabulous!) Based on the way these kids are playing this has been generosity well directed, they knock the roof off every time they pick up any one of the dozens of instruments they all seem to play.

There is so much more generosity going on than just that though. There are acts of what is 'obvious' generosity going on all the time. Some of these are on the small side, such as the people sharing rosin and picks when others have run out. And then some of them are on the large side, for example the luthier who sat up well after midnight fixing my slipping fiddle pegs even though he hadn't brought the right equipment, and was as tired as we all were, then refused to even contemplate being paid.

Then there's all the things that might not seem generous to a non-- musician but which absolutely are. One of the camp teachers saw me sitting up by myself at 1 a.m. because I'd promised to learn two songs for the next day. (Yes, you are noticing a theme here, and no I didn't spend much time sleeping this week. It's a sign of a great camp!) So instead of going to bed this generous guy grabbed his fiddle and taught them to me. More importantly he taught them with the same phenomenal patience and dedication that he would have shown if it had been one in the afternoon and he was not exhausted. To me that's hugely generous.

So is lending people instruments to play on. Sure, you're only lending them to me, not giving them to me (unless you really WANT to, I can totally take that nice mandolin off your hands if you need me to, hint hint) but knowing how particular I am about who gets to hold my relatively worthless fiddle I am always astounded when professionals are happy to let me use their stuff. At this camp some of them took it to extremes though, and brought a bunch of extra instruments just to let us try them. That would be generous even if the instruments hadn't been big heavy bass and electric bass.

And lastly there's encouragement. Not usually seen as a sign of generosity, but it should be. Being the least experienced person in a jam group is terrifying, having them welcome you in with open arms and being genuinely glad to have you there to play fiddle with them is priceless. There is absolutely nothing as generous as taking the time to tell someone they played well. And true generosity is when you take the time to make the encouragement truthful. Tell me my break was better than Roy Acuff and I'll appreciate the thought but know you are lying. Take the time to tell me I got it mostly right and the bit I fluffed wasn't too noticeable and I'll float on clouds for hours. Well that kind of generosity has been going on all around me since the first mintue of this camp. Actually going on all around everyone, not just me. People of all levels of skill being generous with their time and thoughts and effort to help others play better. Not because they're being paid well ( it IS Bluegrass after all, so even those being paid, are on BG wages ) but just because that seems like the right thing to do to the people who have come to this great camp.But then I shouldn't really be surprised, that sort of person is all over the place in the Bluegrass world. I guess that's why I love it so much. Oh, and there's the music too of course.




THE DAILY GRIST…” With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome and you sing well too.”-- Yiddish proverb

Things I wish I had done, and things I wish I had not have done
Today's column from JD Rhynes
Thursday, April 23, 2015


I don't know anybody in this world that cannot say the aforementioned statement with any truth to it. We all wish we had not done some things, and in retrospect after the moment has passed, we all wish we had done certain things. Every year as the month of June approaches, I start anticipating the musical"high"of our Father's Day Festival that is fast approaching, but in the back of my mind there is always the low that I experience every year on June 11, which is the day that my good friend Vern Williams passed over Jordan. I will always regret not doing something for Vern about a couple weeks before he passed away. It may have got me any little hot water with the hospital where he was at, but I still wished I had done it for him. Here's how it went down. I spent at least an hour or two a day with Vern there at the hospital, just talking, reminiscing over good times we had playing music for all those years, and just enjoying each other's company. God this is hard. [Sorry folks, this voice program prints everything I say] I told Vern, give me your hand pappy,[ that was one of my nickname for him because he was eight years older than me ] and as I was holding Vern's right-hand, I asked him, you remember that scene in your favorite movie Lonesome Dove, where Gus is laying in bed dying and he can hear the piano playing in the saloon next door? Vern said Yep, I Shore do. I said, you remember he asked Woodrow if that was a Whore playing that piano, then he gave Woodrow a $20 gold piece and told him to go next door to the saloon and get him another bottle of whiskey, and give the rest of the money to the gal playing the piano.Vern said Yep I shore do. Then I told him, that is exactly what I'm going to do for you buddy. I am going downtown to Goonies Saloon (a former saloon where the dregs of Calaveras County used to hang out) and see if I can find a hooker that plays the piano, get a couple of bottles of whiskey for us, roll a piano in your room, and drink whiskey and listen to music all night long. Vern laughed his butt off, and said JD you can't do that, I said the hell I can't! And started to go out the door, but Vern said JD don't do that, the whiskey will probably kill me, and they'll kick us both out of here for making a ruckus. I said Vern, what the hell is the difference you are dying anyway so we might as well go out in style old pard. Hell, the County will talk about this for the next 50 years! But, I let Vern talk me out of it much my regret nowadays. I set back down there next to him and held his hand again, and we laughed for an hour. Try as I might, I couldn't talk him into letting me do that for him. Looking back I just wish the hell I had got up and done it and to hell with the consequences! The spirit of Gus and Woodrow would have been alive and well in Calaveras County for the next hundred years!

So much for what I wish I had of done. Here's a true story of what I did do that had dire consequences for me for at least a week or more.

Highway 26 starts at the junction of Highway 99 And Fremont St. in Stockton California, and heads east from there. As you head east on State Highway 26 from Stockton, you go through several small towns. Linden, then into Calaveras County and the old stage stop's of Bellota, Stone Corral,then the town of Valley Springs, Double Springs, Mokelumne Hill, Glencoe, West Point,then down across the North fork of the Mokelumne River into Amador County, up the North Fork side about 5 miles where Highway 26 ends at Highway 88. About 150 yards west of the junction of 26 and 88, on the north side of 88 is a run down, and dilapidated building that was once a favorite cafe of the locals, dating back from late 30s or early 40s . It has been closed for the last 10 or 12 years and is just about fell down from lack of care, but previous to that it was a good place to eat and had wonderful biscuits and gravy on the breakfast menu. But it wasn't always that way much to my regret. In 1968 when I was living in Campo Seco, my hunting buddy and I left my place about four o'clock in the morning to go archery deer hunting.We headed up Highway 26,and when we got to Highway 88, we were hungry as a wolf and were looking for a place to have breakfast. When I pulled up to the stop sign at Highway 88, my buddy said look, pointing to the left, and lo and behold there was a sign all lit up that proclaimed "Mom 's Cafe", home cooking , so we both agreed what is not to like about mom's cooking? So I pulled the old 56 Ford pickup into the front there, and in we went to have a mom's cooking breakfast!

We sat down at the counter, and "mom" turned out to be a little old dried-up woman who was probably 80 years old and about 4'6" tall.I noticed right off that that clothes that she was wearing looked like she had worn them for a month or more. She poured us each a cup of coffee and said what what would you boys like for breakfast? I said I think I'll have a short stack hotcakes ( those are pretty hard to mess up ) and my buddy looked at her, her filthy demeanor and dirty hands and said I think I would like some cold cereal. So, she gave him a bowl and a spoon, one of those little boxes of cereal, and a little carton of milk, and proceeded to dump some brand X hotcake mix in a bowl, add some tap water to it, give it a couple of cursory stir's with a spoon and dumped it on the griddle. I knew this is not gonna be good. In the meantime, my buddy was diving into his cereal with a wicked grin on his face, which I knew meant trouble for me. Those were the worst hotcakes I ever tasted in my life, and if I had any brains at all, I would've only ate one or two bites, but old hell no, I ate them all. About halfway to where we were going to go deer hunting that day, my stomach started doing flip-flops, and by the time we got there I had a case of heartburn that would've killed TWO BULL ELEPHANT"S! I kept thinking to myself, HOW can you get heartburn from eating hotcakes? No matter what I tried,Tums, baking soda and water, for the next three or four days I thought I was going to die from heartburn! I could not hardly sleep at night, I could not function during the day, all on account of them damned brand X hotcakes I ate at "MOM'S CAFE"!

Ever since then, I will not eat at a place called mom's! So dear hearts, I drove past the old"Mom's Café"building today on my way to Jackson to get some groceries and I just reveled in the fact that it will not be long until the place is just a memory of some of the worst hotcakes I ever had the displeasure to experience, not to mention a damn near terminal case of heartburn. Every time I mention that hunting trip to my old buddy, he always gets that evil grin on his face and says, JD you should've had the Wheaties! To this day, I still ask myself, HOW in the hell can you get heartburn from eating hotcakes? I guess that will always be one of life's mysteries.



THE DAILY GRIST…”What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes”…Harry Houdini


What Big Ears You Have!
Today’s Column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, April 22, 2015


When we marvel at musicians’ prowess, we talk of their hands, as they move, fleet and sure over the musical instruments. Or the purity and pitch of their singing voice, with flawless precision and inflection. As we strive to emulate these musical masters, we concentrate our efforts on the hands and voice, trying to close the gap between us and our heroes. Generally, hard work in those two areas will yield very pleasing results!

When I have had the good fortune to play with (or even get close to) professional musicians, though, it’s neither the hands nor the voice that impress me most - it’s the ears.

Just as a great athlete sees everything on the field at once, great musicians hear everything at once. And it’s remarkable. Obviously, when you’re playing music, you have to hear what you’re doing, and you have to some awareness of the what the other players in the ensemble are doing.

But what the best musicians are hearing transcends mere awareness. They constantly, seeming unconsciously, assess the blizzard of notes around them, and adjust their playing to complement it. Get yourself a group full of players of this magnitude and they will be able to fine tune that blizzard of notes into something sublime.

Several times, bands I am in have had themselves critiqued by professional musicians, and it’s alwaysbeen helpful. Good musicians will learn to play the right notes, and at the right times, but those with that deep musical sense will hear the whole of the sound and have good suggestions on how to optimize the sound. The advice we’ve received never fails to make us better.

It’s a little nerve-wracking, having a Laurie Lewis, or a Pete Wernick listen to your band, in a private setting, and offer suggestions to fine tune the band’s sound. I once thought (mistakenly) that playing bass would shield me from scrutiny. After all, who really can tell what the bass player’s doing, unless it’s egregiously bad, right? Wrong! Laurie noticed I was a playing a regular third on a walking bass pattern over a minor chord - what was I thinking?

She was right, of course. I just flattened that one note, and it was a major improvement. The note was a passing note, for heaven’s sake, but to her discerning ear, it was the not the right note, and it’s a fact, Jack!

Speaking of great hearing, here’s a story I heard. It may be the apocryphal stuff of myth, but I liked it. The story goes that Earl Scruggs paid a visit to Doc Watson at his home, and after talking a bit, they decided to do some picking. Earl had not brought a banjo, but Doc told him there were instruments in an adjacent room, including some banjos. As Doc tuned up his guitar, Earl wandered into the room to select a banjo. He saw a couple cases, chose one and undid the latches to take the banjo out.

“Not that one, Earl,”, Doc called out from the other room. “”Git the other one!” Doc knew from the sound of the latches which case was being opened! Truth or legend? I hope it’s true!



Palm Trees
Today’s Column from Bert Daniel
Monday, April 20, 2015


One of my favorite things to do in the spring is to drive down interstate 5 and take the exit at Patterson. Going east on J17 is a little tricky because you have to negotiate a left, right turn to get where you want to go. But it’s worth it because you pass through an avenue of beautiful palm trees the whole way. As the highway heads away from Patterson, the street has the very appropriate name of Las Palmas. For some reason, after a while, the arcade of palms makes a jag toward the left and the palms fade into the distance after that.

I’ve always been tempted to make that curve to the left and enjoy the palms a bit more but continuing straight gets you to Turlock and that’s certainly a great place to be every year right around Palm Sunday, (more or less depending on how the liturgical calendar shakes out that year).

Go get your tent or RV set up and enjoy some music:

Palms of victory. Crowns of glory
Palms of victory I shall wear


I have always been a huge fan of palm trees. The state tree of my home state of South Carolina happens to be the cabbage palm, known to most as the palmetto. Thus “The Palmetto State”, South Carolina’s nickname. Palmettos don’t grow everywhere in the state, only where it’s warm enough like the beaches and the southern subtropical part of the state. But I’ve seen palmetto trees near where I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. People tend them with care and they can survive the cold snaps if they’re covered properly when the cold winds blow.

What a joy it is to live in a climate where palm trees can grow! You can camp outside with your friends, play music and enjoy a taco dinner while serenaded by A.J.Lee and her band. They were so good! Solid back up from Mom, a fiddle player that’s just as good on the banjo and a guy I have to confess I had my doubts about because he was wearing a Lynnard Skynard tee shirt but who played some good bass and did some fine singing.

My favorite tree on our property in Sonoma County is a palm tree my wife bought for me as a birthday present. She had it planted where I can see it every day when I drive home. She knows that after too many cold lonely years in various places in the northeast, I have a need for warmth. I once told her that if we ever moved anywhere else, it would have to be a place where you could grow a palm tree.

Thank goodness for warm sunny places where we can live, work and play music together. And thank goodness for palm trees. All we need now is some rain for our beautiful palms. I hope you made it to Turlock for the campout. And if you didn’t, or if I missed you, I hope to see you at Grass Valley. They don’t have palms there but it’s still OK.


Vrooom Vroooom Ugggh Crash Bang
By Geoff Sargent
Sunday, April 19, 2015


There’s almost nothing more southern than NASCAR, except maybe for football, grits, and guns; oh and I almost forgot “Live Atlanta Wrestling”. Growing up in Atlanta there was about as much auto racing on TV as baseball and other sports. It was kind of difficult to ignore. But having said that, I’ve never been to an automobile race and I never attended a Live Atlanta Wrestling match. Though, I have eaten at the Mexican restaurant owned by El Mongol and his wife. How would I know about El Mongol the bad-guy Mongolian wrestler who was billed as from Mongolia, or Peru, but was really from Mexico? Well, live Atlanta Wrestling was on TV, I believe, right before the evening’s run of family shows we would watch Saturday night. It was natural to turn the tube on before “Lost in Space” and my three brothers and I would wrestle along with the guys in the box. At least we would get in a few flying leaps before mom would run into the room yelling at us to stop or we would be sent to bed before our TV shows came on. I actually have a deeper family link to Live Atlanta Wrestling than that. My youngest brother Kevin worked at WTBS (Turner Broadcasting System) and TNN editing trailers for different shows and one of his duties was to create and edit the trailers for the WWWF-World Wide Wrestling Federation. Kevin would paste together clips of the wrestlers billed for the show that week but for reasons unknown to me there was not the accompanying audio. Kevin being the bright creative guy he is would personally dub in the audio, no doubt relying on his Sargent household wrestling experience. What does this have to with music camp you ask…..I’d be glad to tell you. By the time you read this it will be almost May and we will be counting the weeks until Music Camp and the 40th FDF. My almost May-comment to you is, gentlewomen and men,…..start your tuners, errr engines. The countdown has begun and you should be sitting in your car waiting for the green light to drive to Grass Valley. That’s the NASCAR part. Most people think of music camp as this wonderful experience, and don’t get me wrong, it is, but for me it is one part joyful and 2 parts wrestling match. I have been known to wrestle with my dobro, attempt a few musical flying leaps, some quick arm bars, a swift kick right at the beginning of a song, and some dobro karate chops when tagged in by the mandolin. Some even believe that I come to camp masked in my own disguise. Thankfully our instructors help to bring me back to earth and prevent most of my embarrassing melodramatic flourishes. Sigh!On to some more teacher introductions!

For anyone who loves bluegrass mandolin, acoustic blues, or watching a musician express himself with incredible mastery of his instrument, Mike Compton is riveting. Many know Mike from the Nashville Bluegrass Band, John Hartford Stringband, or the kick-off mandolin voice to "Man of Constant Sorrow" from "O Brother, Where Art Thou." A mandolin master able to channel the Monroe-style playing better than anyone (according to Sam Bush), Compton is a preservationist who continues teaching the music that Bill Monroe innovated and which set the standard for generations of bluegrass mandolin players to come. A true bluegrass icon and one of the best players in acoustic music today, Mike Compton is as passionate an advocate for the mandolin as you're ever likely to find and can be found on the net at http://www.mikecompton.net.

Mike will be teaching Bluegrass Mandolin, level 3 "Roots and Branches". His main objective is to expose the class to a few different styles of mandolin playing that he finds interesting in the hope that you will find something new and enjoyable that you weren’t aware of before. Bring a mandolin and be prepared to play A LOT. The class is NOT intended as a lecture.

I can’t remember when Paul Shelasky last taught at the CBA Music Camp but he is teaching Traditional Bluegrass fiddle level 2/3 this year! Paul has played with a number of fine California-based bands over a 40 year span. They include the Phantoms of The Opry, The Good Ol' Persons, The Coyote Brothers, Lost HIghway, Blue & Lonesome and The David Thom Band (Vintage Grass.) He has toured the USA, Canada, The British Isles, Europe, South Africa, Japan and Taiwan. He has taught at the CBA Music Camp several times and also the British Columbia Bluegrass Workshop in Sorrento and the California Coast Music Camp. Paul has written a Bluegrass fiddle column for Fiddler Magazine quarterly since the inception of the magazine. Paul is an Honorary Lifetime Member of the California Bluegrass Association and has played at almost every festival in its 40-year history.

I have a confession to make. We have just way too many great teachers and not enough space in this column to run each of their biographies before June so I am going to ask you to go to http://cbamusiccamp.com and read the biographies online. I want to thank all the teachers who have agreed to come share their time at music camp this year and that list includes Jack Tuttle, Kathy Kallick, Bruce Molsky, Bill Evans, Wes Corbett, Joe Newberry, Trisha Gagnon, Sam Grisman, Mike Witcher, Sally Van Meter, John Mailander, Paul Shelasky, Tom Sauber, Jim Nunally, Rafe Stefanini, Molly Tuttle, John Reischman, Chris Henry, Mike Compton, Carol McComb, Laurie Lewis, Keith Little, and Kathleen Rushing.

Speaking of Kathleen Rushing, Kathleen is the director of our Fungrass! Program. Fungrass! is the CBA's program designed for children from 4 - 12 (Younger children may be considered if a parent accompanies them) It takes place from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 pm, during the regular CBA camp hours. It is a music-based program involving song, dance, musical games, jamming, tie-dye and crafts, water and bubble play, and serendipitous moments of musical fun and learning! We will also be performing at the student concert. If your child already plays an instrument we will incorporate their talent into our concert, and if they don't yet play, you will be surprised with what they learn at Fun Grass! There will be opportunities to try out different instruments at the ongoing jam to be led by Erik Kramer-Webb on Tuesday and Wednesday. Now you have no excuses for not-bringing your kids or grandkids while you attend the music camp class of your choice; they get their own bluegrass music experience, you get yours, and then you can get together later in the day to share.

Music camp is looking like it is going to be a full and raucous event. Our camp directors have been working hard putting the finishing touches on our 2015 camp. Janet Peterson sent me a registration summary the other day and it looks like we have more students registered than I can remember for this time of the year. While Janet has been handling registration, Peter Langston has been getting the teachers lined up, whipping the volunteers into place (including me, ouch), and creating some interesting top-secret afternoon electives.

Registration for the 2015 CBA Music Camp opened on February 7 during some welcome precipitation. The 15th CBA Summer Music Camp will take place June 14th to 17th at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California. More information is available at the music camp website http://cbamusiccamp.com. And we would like to remind you that you can give CBA Music Camp as a gift for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Graduation, Birthdays Valentine's Day, and even April Fool's Day. Check it out at our web site.



Bluegrassian Questionnaire with Jim Nunally
Today's column from Cameron Little
Saturday, April 18, 2015


(A continuing series of interviews loosely based on the “Proust Questionnaire” - bluegrass style!)

Guitarist Jim Nunally is one of those quiet tsunami forces within the bluegrass world. He’s far too humble to put it that way but I’m sure you know what I mean. Every one of us has seen him on stage at festivals and concerts for years, seamlessly adding his expertise to a star-strewn roster of bluegrass noteables. We might have jammed with him, or at least tried to keep up, in some memorable parking lot jams. I was at a vocal workshop when I felt chills up my twelve year-old spine as I understood REAL harmony when Jim, Keith Little, and Kathy Kallick treated us with an impromptu demonstration.

So, read on for a glimpse into the life of one of our most treasured musicians…

1. What's your idea of perfect happiness?
Knowing my friends and family are healthy and happy.

2. What's your greatest fear?
The feeling of being trapped in a confined area and not being able to get enough breath.

3. What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
Guitar. I got my first guitar when I was 14. Till then I had used my dad’s guitar.

4. Which living bluegrass person do you most admire?
That is a difficult question. I have performed with John Reischman for about 15 years and I admire him immensely for his talent, patience, care, honesty and giving nature. I have played in the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience about 12 years and I must say I admire David in about the same way. Plus, in those bands I play with such talented musicians, and admire all of them. Not to mention the other bands I play in and those band members.

The fame carried by the stars of bluegrass does not mean that they are the nicest of all musicians, or patient, honest, and giving. I mostly admire those I have the great pleasure to work with.

5. What is your greatest extravagance?
Great coffee and excellent chocolate.

6. When and where were you the happiest?
Probably after my dad quit drinking and we spent many happy hours at home playing music together when I was a boy.

7. What does your home stereo system consist of?
A CD player, a record player, and a radio.

8. Who would be sitting in your dream jam?
The musicians I get to play with all the time. Those are: David Grisman, John Reischman, Nick Hornbuckle, Keith Little, Dix Bruce, Nell Robinson, Pete Grant, Chad Manning, Sam Grisman, Trisha Gagnon, Greg Spatz, Jon Arkin, Jim Kerwin, Bill Evans, Sharon Gilchrist, Blaine Sprouse, Avram Siegel, to name a few. I am lucky that way.

9. Who are you listening to these days?
A lot of different artists.

10. If you could hear any non-bluegrass tune done bluegrass, what would it be?
“Train I Ride,” Elvis' version.

11. What song hits your heart every time?
“Nothin' But the Wheel” by Patty Loveless.

12. Please share one of your favorite/most embarrassing on-stage blunders.
I was playing a show in Winnemucca with Nell Robinson. There used to be a billboard campaign on the way there on I-80 that had slogans like “Winnemucca. City of Paved Streets.” or “Winnemucca. English Spoken There.” Every year when I would go to the national fiddle championships in Weiser, Idaho I would see those signs. I asked the promoter of the show what happened to the signs, and he said a local organization, such as the chamber of commerce thought it wasn't helping the image. Well, I thought, hey, I can think of some good ones. So, I presented them on stage. I don't think they liked where I was going with the theme. One of them was “Winnemucca. Zero Likes on Facebook.” I think I was booed for that one, some others, too, but I won't mention those.

13. If you were reincarnated as a person or thing, who or what would you want to be?
Me. I’d like another crack at it.

14. What is your most treasured possession?
Knowledge.

15. Is there one bluegrass player tip or secret you'd like to share?
Keep learning new songs.

16. What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Pursue music, instead of the welding career I had at the time.

17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of bluegrass misery?
Seeing extremely talented bluegrass musicians not being able to earn a decent living and continue their skill. Many have to stop performing professionally because it is so hard to make a living at it. Yet they are some of the most talented musicians you will ever get a chance to hear.

18. What was the scariest or most unique venue you ever performed at?
I think one of the most unique was performing with Heartland on the USS Enterprise when it sailed from Alameda to the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. Then they did a complete air show that we watched from the deck, touch-and-go’s, fueling aircraft in midair, dropping sonar beacons with helicopters, launching jets from the deck, and they let us wander around the whole ship on our own.

If you would like to know more about Jim, you can visit his website: http://www.jimnunally.com/jimnunally/Welcome.html

Or his Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jimnunally


Dear Friends
Today's column from Don Denison
Friday, April 17, 2015


Earlier today, one of our members posted a picture of J.D. sitting in camp playing my guitar at a festival, probably sometime in the late 80's judging from the capo on the neck. This photo gave me reason to think about all the folks who were involved in the CBA way back then. Suzanne and I had been married only a year or two, maybe three, and there was a vigorous team in leadership trying to promote the organization and the music. This time was a period of rapid growth and change for us, most things worked out pretty well, but there were some bumps on the road.

Sometime, I think, in 1986, the Breakdown quit coming to our mailbox. At this point it was just a few sheets every other month, nothing more, I found out that it previously had been much larger and more professional. Concerned, Suzanne and I began attending Board Meetings. What we found was a situation that was both better and worse than what we expected. One person was Breakdown editor, Festival Coordinator, President and Treasurer, basically he was overworked and as you would expect was suffering from a bad case of Burn Out, I experienced the same malady at least two times during my tenure in leadership, the last one was terminal. We had only about 600 members at the time, and had lost the Labor Day Festival in 1985 when we had the final one. Strawberry and Mid-Summer were competing fairly directly with us, our membership was tanking, people were worn out and the CBA was in trouble. The good part was that we had a solid core of members,
and most board members were still ready to move forward. It didn't take much encouragement to get some action, they were just waiting for some encouragement.

A few weeks later the gentleman who was Editor, President, Treasurer, and Festival Coordinator, bit by bit resigned his positions. Suzanne took over as Editor, and began the process of making the Bluegrass Breakdown an award winning publication, this was the basis for expansion and communication, it has been ever since, the heart and soul of the CBA. Suzanne set a high standard, and the Breakdown is still the "glue" that holds the organization together. Mark Varner, our current editor is doing a fine job and I expect the Breakdown to continue to be one of the things that makes us a cohesive organization.

We had a core of Board Members who got along well, and although we made mistakes, we got the organization moving. Some of the early members of that group were Carl Pagter, Esther Anderson, Hugh and Sadie Portwood, Suzanne and myself, Hank Gibson, Lolan and Madeline Ellis, Bob and Dorothy Gillim, Mary and David Runge, Mark Hogan, and a banjo picker named Dave Margarum (I am unsure about Dave's last name). I am sure I have neglected to mention at least one or two who were part of that group who were responsible for getting things going again. The CBA had good traditions, it just needed a shot in the arm to get it moving. Many of our old members, many of them Charter Members, bit by bit began to contribute, and we were off and running.

There are so many different things that were contributed at that time that I hesitate to try to list them, and I freely admit that this account is mine, and subjective. Perhaps my next column will list others and the features that were added. For now though I will state that one of the things that helped expand the membership was providing a social component to our events, especially the Festival. I had noticed at my first festival, I wanted to hear every band and every note, the next year, with Suzanne's prodding the Board began to provide more social opportunities to go along with the great music we were producing.

I will continue this narrative next month trying not to miss those who did so much to keep the CBA alive and growing. I hope you all had a wonderful Spring Camp Out, I was unable to attend. I am at present planning on going to the festival. Next time I will try to get down in print exactly how the Camp Outs began and other histories and personalities from the past and how they came to be involved in the best Bluegrass Association on the planet. I'll also tell you how I persuaded J. D. to run for the Board, it wasn't hard, but it did take some work.


You don’t miss your water
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Thursday, April 16, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where the nights have been cold enough to warrant much snuggling amongst man and beast but where the days seen to be warming a little bit more each day. 80 by Saturday, we’re told, and if we can’t have extreme cold and wind and rain, dern it, at least we have second best.

Some have no doubt heard through the bluegrass grapevine that I’m in the midst of a pretty rough patch health-wise…an issue with my heart, which, my doc assures me, he’s going to fix this coming Monday morning with a fancy surgical procedure. Until then I am to stay off the radar, go slow, chill out, go with the flow, keep my head down, limit uncontrolled laughing, stay out of trouble and, ah…there was one other thing…oh, avoid all bluegrass camp outs like the plague. (Obviously he’s aware of the great physical and psycho-ceramic strain I go through in order to simply fiddle a song from start to finish.)

This will be the first spring camp out I’ve missed, and if you’re there now reading this or if you’ve ever attended one of our Turlock events in the past, you’ll understand why I’ve ALWAYS made a point of driving down. So much good music, so many wonderful friends and the happy job of welcoming in yet another bluegrass season. And what a season we’ve got cooked up this year, and this weekend is only the beginning. Have fun…see you in Grass Valley!


Not-So-Stupid Jam Tricks
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I beg the readers' forgiveness - I wrote my column for today in my mind last night, and when I awoke, the hard drive in my brain had some bad sectors. Enjoy this column from a while ago, and I will defrag my head before next Wednesday - BC

How often has this happened to you? You get together with some friends, at someone’s house, or at a festival. You’re in a circle, the instruments are out, the lantern is lit, the beverages are ready, and it’s time to start the jam.

“OK, what shall we play?” someone asks. This often leads to one of two common results.

Result one: “I dunno. What do YOU wanna play?

Result two: “Let’s play [some song you always play together]!”

Neither of these results are completely satisfying, although kicking off the jam with a familiar number is a nice way to launch things. But generally, there is stultifying indecision, or plowing the same old ground. You know you know a lot of songs, so why is this so hard?

Here are a few techniques to get your creative juices flowing.

Pick a theme
I host an open mic/jam every month, and someone long ago came up with the idea of having a theme each month, and it really makes things stimulating and fun. We’re not sticklers for hewing to the theme,but a lot of folks really enjoy the challenge. We started with picking songs by (or even covered by) the familiar bluegrass greats: Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley, Jim and Jesse, the Louvins, etc.

Then, we moved onto more esoteric themes – songs with colors in them, songs with cities or states in them, songs about crime and punishment, songs about trucks, drinking songs, etc. I once attended a jam where we spent several hours only playing the weirdest songs we could think of, and that was a lot of fun.

Go off the page
My buddy Rick Horlick is a fan of trying songs in odd keys or in unfamiliar arrangements or rhythms. This is a time-honored tradition – after all, Elvis covered “Blue Moon of Kentucky” in 4/4 time on the B side of his first single! Switching up time signatures and keys will challenge both the singers and the instrumentalists – and you’ll discover some talents you didn’t know you had, and some beauty in the songs and tunes you never noticed before.

I think I mentioned this before, but one time at Grass Valley, I was in a jam circle where we decided to play each song or tune around the circle, and when it got to the person who’s turn to call was next, they had to choose a song in a key one step up from before, and announce the tune before it got to them. Talk about a challenge – playing the song around, while holding a conversation about the next choice, and planning out capo moves and solo strategies. We kept this up for at least an hour – I think we went two. There was plenty of moaning and groaning, and some hilarious missteps, but it was a LOT of fun!

Or not….
Of course, I fully recognize the joys of sitting with old friends and playing the songs you've been playing for years, too. That’s like a comfortable conversation that requires nothing beyond the shared experience. As the night grows dark and the beverages grow fewer, the sounds of animated conversations intermix with the picking and singing, and it’s mighty easy on the ears….


Promoter's Dilemma
Today's column from ted Lehman
Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Every person promoting a bluegrass festival is confronted with the dilemma of balancing artistic excellence with business concerns within the context of varying audience tastes as well as willingness to pay. This dilemma creates a constant pull between wishing to provide the most desirable bands available to perform the music bluegrass fans love to hear and putting together a show which will enable the promoter to make a small profit. Despite what some fans may think, few (if any) promoters are getting rich presenting their events. They must be constantly thinking about the artistic balance and cost factors.

Selecting bands to perform requires booking bands that can “put butts in the seats.” This commonly used description may not be as simple as one might think. Each of us can think of bands, which are popular with a specific fan base who represent a solid draw in particular areas. Some of these bands appeal to a segment of the universe of bluegrass fans while actually repelling others. Darrel Atkins, promoter of Musicians Against Childhood Cancer in Columbus, Ohio often gives a speech during his festival suggesting that not everyone will like every band they're going to hear. His solution to this problem, while offering an all-star lineup most of whom will meet with wide acceptance from his audience, suggests that people who don't like a particular performer should avail themselves of the opportunity to visit the vendors, return to their camper for a nap, or to jam for a while. This approach works well at The MACC, although some other festivals are inhabited by chair slappers, who ostentatiously get up to leave when they hear sounds not to their taste, or see a drum (heaven forbid) brought onto the stage. Some bands seen as exhibiting bad taste or offering less than superb skills continue to draw fans. Other bands, perform the music with expertise that astounds, but present their material with such an astonishing lack of showmanship or enthusiasm that they bore rather than attract. It's crucial for a promoter to know the tastes and preferences the actual audience while reaching out to the much larger potential audience. Trying to attract a more diverse audience, in terms of age, ethnicity, or musical preference doesn't seem to please more people. Rather, such efforts turn off as many people as they attract. Even mega-festivals (Merlefest, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Bonnaroo) which feature some top bluegrass talent turn out to repel a significant part of the core bluegrass audience because of their diversity.

Balancing artistic decisions are business decisions which would lead to making a profit or going into the hole. Most promoters of bluegrass festivals build their events out of their own passion for the music. It would seem that events primarily sponsored by institutions rather than presented by individuals are more likely to outlive their founders unless the festival can develop a life of its own. Thus the California Bluegrass Association (The Father's Day Festival), the Boston Bluegrass Union (Joe Val) , Wilkes Community College (Merlefest) have long-running festivals not associated with a specific promoters. The passion of the promoter is often crucial to the life of a festival.

National bands, according to one promoter, can be divided into A, B, and C levels, representing their price points and, to a lesser degree, their saleability. Certain bands, which have low price points and little demonstrable excellence can still attract audiences in certain regions based on their regional reputation or local appeal. Even some of the top bands, seen as A+ for their number of IBMA awards, longevity, and demonstrated quality in recording sales with top labels, attract more paying customers in some areas than in others. It's little wonder that certain bands are so busy; they can be counted on to deliver audiences. But the hitch, for promoters, is the question of whether a few A bands can deliver sufficient numbers to carry a three or four day festival. While band performance prices seem to be somewhat flexible, they still fall into ranges some promoters can afford, while representing a risk for others.

It's at this point where the development of lineups including local and regional bands with specific attraction to local audiences becomes important. All-star promotions are often very attractive to audiences, but they offer insufficient opportunities for emerging local and regional bands to gain experience and develop a fan base to continue enriching the pool of attractive national bands. They also come with a high price tag. This is where a national mixing bowl like IBMA's World of Bluegrass, and even SPBGMA, can serve to give new and emerging bands a boost. Providing for a kids academy has the potential to make festivals more attractive to parents, but entails some costs, as do structured children's activities. Even where volunteers to staff such activities are available, the promoter must still bear some cost burden.

Finally, the promoter must ask the question of what price point for tickets the audience will bear. Since much of the bluegrass audience is an aging one, many of them (us) remember what tickets cost when we first started attending festivals. For some, this number is around $25 - $30 for a festival, where simple inflation would push this price to over $100. The hundred dollar barrier seems a difficult one for many people who attend bluegrass festivals to hurdle. Meanwhile, many other costs, largely hidden to attendees (porta-pottie rentals, license fees, rental for tents, sound, lease for grounds, insurance, etc.) continue to rise. All these considerations suggest that the small, family oriented festival will slowly, but surely, be supplanted by larger, corporate events capable of spreading their own costs further as a part of an overall plan. Few of us would prefer to see this outcome. Therefore, it becomes increasingly important, as you decide how to spend your entertainment dollar, to support your local or regional bluegrass festivals, remembering, that at $100 or more for a three or four day event, you are receiving one of the great entertainment bargains still available.

tlehmann@ne.rr.com
www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com


Rose of No Man’s Land
Today's column from Mark Varner
Monday, April 13, 2015


Recently when Nell Robinson contacted me about some upcoming performances of her show Rose of No Man’s Land she mentioned that one of the venues would be Villa Montalvo. I was pretty sure she did not know the nature of this amazing place on the edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Saratoga. But I’ve been to many shows there over the years and I knew I must attend, especially since I had not had the opportunity to see this long-running show previously. My daughter Veronica came along.

Villa Montalvo is not a “mansion” or an “estate”. It’s an early 20th century palace, built for a California senator. The grounds are spectacular, from the vast front lawn, to the arboretum and trails leading up into the mountains; 175 acres in all. The Italian Mediterranean Revival mansion is beautiful. Overall just the experience of being in this now-public park and non-profit arts center is inspiring. Nell mentioned how amazed they were when they showed up for rehearsal. The Carriage House venue seats 300 and is very comfortable, with excellent sound. It was a perfect place to see Rose of No Man’s Land.Nell’s all-star band for the night was Jim Nunally on guitar and vocals; Peter Grant on pedal steel; Jim Kerwin on bass; and Jon Arkin on drums. This is a group that knows their way around some solid country songs and that’s what the first part of the show consisted of: Nell and her real-deal country voice; the sublime magic of Peter’s pedal steel, and Jim Nunally’s fine flatpicking and singing. Jim and Nell’s voices have buzzing harmonies that made the Louvin-esque numbers sound wonderful. Pretty much a set designed to send us honky tonkers to their happy place.

During the honky tonk half of the program we were introduced, one by one, to the guest stars of the evening: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, John Doe and Maxine Hong Kingston. The award winning Ramblin’ Jack is getting up there in age and it was fun to see him perform. He came out and pleased everyone with ‘Waiting for a Train’ by Jimmie Rodgers. Next came John Doe, of the famous punk band X to sing ‘Now and Then There’s a Fool Such As I’. Finally we were introduced to author and educator Maxine Hong Kingston who read for us. All mixed in with some Johnny Cash and other songs that got the audience making noise.

During the brief intermission we got a chance to see how well the venue was supported by a large and friendly group of volunteers. I ran into my friend and Bluegrass Breakdown columnist Alan French during the intermission. To announce the time for us to start returning to our seats, Villa Montalvo has a gentleman with a triangle, which he dings loudly. Very classy! I guess that’s how the other half lives.

The bulk of the evening was dedicated to the performance of Nell Robinson’s Rose of No Man’s Land. The three guest stars had a much larger role in this section, doing readings from various letters from Nell’s family over the centuries. Maxine Hong Kinston also read from her own incredible poem, ‘The Woman Warrior’. But mostly this part of the show was a ride in a time machine that jumped from one anecdote to another, all coming from the point of view of Nell’s various family members throughout American history, all the way back to the revolutionary war and up to today’s conflicts in the Middle East. It was quite compelling. This is an often rowdy Scotch-Irish family with a long memory, and a family that holds onto a perspective of their past through documents and stories. There was no political point of view, only the perspectives of a pretty varied set of characters. There were spies and heroes and conscientious objectors and soldiers feeling the sadness of separation and pacifists; all laying out their tales with complete candor.

In between the numerous readings, the musicians did appropriate musical numbers: John Doe did the old song ‘Stateside’; Jack did the Vietnam song by Johnny Cash, ‘Drive On’; Nell sang a sublime version of ‘Blue Eyed Boston Boy’; Peter Grant played the Monroe instrumental, ‘My Last Days on Earth’; and the audience joined in singing a rousing version of ‘The Battle of New Orleans’. The band was joined by Jason Gillenwater on clarinet and sax.

There was a moving poem called ‘You Are Not My Enemy’ read by Drew Cameron, a founding member of Warrior Writers and Director of The Combat Paper Project. The Combat Paper Project is a fascinating program that allows US military veterans to turn their old uniforms into pulp and then into paper.

There is art attached to the show that is generated off stage as well. In the lobby area there was a story booth installation created by Nell and photographer/Gulf War veteran Mark Pinto. This allowed us to pick up a telephone and listen to the stories of attendees of previous ‘Rose’ performances and also allowed us to leave our own stories for others to listen to later.

This show, having run seven years now, was more of a revue than a concert. This made it very entertaining. Self-proclaimed military brat, Nell Robison has created a living documentary, spiced with great music. She and the other performers have been honored by playing the Kennedy Center and other major venues nationally. The show has been recorded for PBS. If you have the opportunity to see a future performance of Rose of No Man’s Land it’s highly recommended.

Nell quotes Maxine Hong Kingston in her show, “In a time of destruction, create something.”

The Rose of No-Man's Land album is out on Compass Records, and for sale on Amazon and in music stores. Nell's website is nellrobinsonmusic.com



First Campout
Today’s Column from Bert Daniel
Sunday, April 12, 2015


I almost didn’t get my column posted today. Much as I like putting out a bimonthly blurb that might entertain other bluegrass fans, having fun myself takes precedence and I have just returned from having lots of fun at this weekend’s Cloverdale Fiddle Festival. Thanks to Mark Hogan and all his volunteers for putting on another great festival. I have started my music year for many years with this venerable classic but the Cloverdale Fiddle Festival almost died a few years ago. Hopefully Mark and his crew can keep this local fiddle treasure alive for a few more years.

I go every year but this year, for the first time I decided to camp out for the short weekend. My wife thought I was crazy. Why would I stop fifteen miles short of home after work on Friday to sleep on the ground for a couple of nights?

Little does she know. I was able to escape work a little earlier than usual and my buddy Jason had a nice booth squirreled away for our group to hear the Central Valley Boys perform live. They were great as usual and after dinner at Ruth McGowan’s we walked back to camp and jammed until the Cloverdale cops shut us down. Not that that was a bad thing. The police officer was very nice and it was time to go to bed anyway.

An earlier than usual retiring left us rested for a great Saturday of fiddle competition, side stage performances and jamming. Local music legend Ernie Hunt was honored at the closing jam back at the brew pub. Ernie has given so much to the fiddle festival over the past several decades, hosting after festival jam parties at his home for many years.

After seeing Ernie accept his award I jammed for a couple of hours and then I got a second good night’s sleep on my new air mattress. Now I’m all ready for Turlock. Dry run is done. See you there.

The Top Thirty
Today’s Column from John A. Karsemeyer
Saturday, April 11, 2015


Sitting in an upright position on the couch, I am reading a popular national magazine that keeps readers current with all-things-bluegrass. Looking at one of the regular features that lists the top thirty songs which make their way to the top, middle, or bottom of the charts, I am overtaken by an involuntary nap. Afternoon naps can reach out and grab you, especially if you are suffering from PLFS (Post Lunch Fatigue Syndrome). A dream appears, I start using the top thirty songs from the magazine’s April 2015 issue, and my unconscious weaves these tunes in ascending order from #30 to #1. The dream starts to unfold.

“Man, this big city life is really getting to me. Too many cars on the roads, too many people, too much pollution. So I’m LEAVING CRAZYTOWN (#30-Steve Gully & New Pinnacle) for the wide open spaces. I know this decision to leave is AGAINST THE GRAIN (#29-Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time) regarding security and knowing what to expect, but ANOTHER DAY FROM LIFE (#28-Joe Mullins & Radio Ramblers) as I now know it is boring, and I need to turn another page in my life.
Bluegrass music helps get me through the day, but hearing the same old songs can get a person down. I need to introduce some new songs to this old brain, because hearing the same stuff all the time, well, THAT’s WHAT MAKES THE BLUEGRASS BLUE (#27-Nu Blu). Yep, time to put a brand new disc into the CD player in my four-wheeled vehicle, go for it, and get out of town.

Okay, I did it. I left the big city life, and I’m going down the road feelin’ good. It’s TOO LATE FOR GOODBYES (#26-Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper). Maybe I should have said good-bye to friends and family, but I didn’t. That’s just THE WAY I AM (#25-Donna Hughes), and from now on I’M A RAMBLIN’ ROLLING STONE (#24-Phil Leadbetter), and it’s BYE BYE LOVE (#23-Gibson Brothers) to what I’ve known before.

Driving south down this Highway 101 get-away, I’m thinking that I just might be THE KING OF CALIFORNIA (#22-Volume Five), but I’ll be DOGGONE (#21-Hot Rize) if I’m gonna limit myself to staying in this state. I’ve heard there is good bluegrass music over in the Ozarks, so I just may keep driving and then put on MY WALKING SHOES (#20-Crowe, Lawson, Williams) and have some fun. A person can get TOO BLUE TO HAVE THE BLUES (#19-Detour), but that’s not gonna happen to me. No sir, no ma’am.

I know that in some parts of the world NOW THE SUMMER’S GONE (#18-Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers), but where I am right now the summer hasn’t even started yet. The weather is good, so maybe I’ll find me a bluegrass festival and take some clogging lessons, and I’LL GO STEPPING TOO (#17- Earls of Leichester), just like the buck-dancers do.

Okay, now I’m in the old van going due west, crossing the big bridge, looking at the fast moving Colorado River, and I say outloud, ROLL BIG RIVER (#16-Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver). I’m looking up at the WESTERN SKIES (#15-Hot Rize) instead of the big city high rize, and I’m feeling good about it. Yes, I’m alone, but I’m NO MORE LONELY (#14- The Roys) than I ever was in the big city. In fact I’m not lonely at all, with the fresh air, blue skies, trees and wild critters to keep me company as I drive by em’.

It’s hard to keep my mind focused on driving now, and many other thoughts are going round and round in my head. Right now I’m driving and thinking, it’s FOLKS LIKE US (#13-Darrell Webb Band) who love this bluegrass music that keeps it alive by getting involved in festivals, jams, and just playing it when we are by ourselves. I met a guy the other day who said he was a musician, and when I asked him what kind of music he plays, he says, MY MUSIC COMES FROM BILL (#12-Spinney Brothers). I asked him, ‘You mean Bill Haley and the Comets?’ ‘No, no, no,’ he said, ‘Bill Monroe.’

Focusing back on driving I’m now thinking that if I continue west far enough I could see the MOON OVER MEMPHIS (#11-Balsam Range), but Tennessee would be a long drive in this old van I’m in. Turning on the radio to my favorite national bluegrass station I hear, “BLUE IS FALLIN” (#10-Hot Rize). Now this van is starting to act up, and I hear a noise from the engine that is not familiar. What if this hunk of metal breaks down? If it does I’m GONNA CATCH A TRAIN (#9-Spinney Brothers), and keep traveling. Maybe go to the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad of Colorado, and catch one of their Concert Trains for a bluegrass band.

Alright, that engine noise is gone now, maybe the van ran over some BITTERWEEDS (#8-Larry Sparks) and some of them got up in around the engine fan to cause noise. Driving into a small town now I realize I’m getting hungry. I sure could use a meal with some SOUTHERN FLAVOR (#7-Becky Buller w/Peter Rowan). Crossing the railroad tracks in this town I can see a BIG BLACK TRAIN (#6-Earls of Leicester) coming, and I long JUST TO HEAR THE WHISTLE BLOW (#5-Tim Stafford) to remind me of when I rode the train as a kid. If you’ve never been on a train this may mean NOTHIN’ TO YOU (#4-Becky Buller), but if you have been on a train you’ll know what I mean.

HER LOVE WON’T TURN ON A DIME (#3-Lonesome River Band) comes on the local radio station now as I come to a stop sign in the middle of a small Arizona town. On the corner there is a guy playing Sally Goodin’, with a sign around his neck, FIDDLIN’ JOE (#2-Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper). As I drive by him, through the open window I throw a silver dollar that lands right in his open fiddle case, and he gives me a thumbs-up. I’m still hungry, and in the next block is a building with a neon sign, ‘Cowboy Food, Live Western Music, Dancing, and Real Cowboy Beer for Cowboys and Cowgirls.’ But I pass it by because I’m HONKEY-TONKED TO DEATH (#1-Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice). I’ll just keep driving and try to find a place that has bluegrass and BBQ.”

And now the dream ends. Due, no doubt, to my neighbor who decides to start practicing his loud banjo. What a dream! I’m thinking of seeing my doctor about a medication change….



THE DAILY GRIST…”And in the end , it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”--Abraham Lincoln

Camping in Canaan
Today's column from Compton
Friday, April 10, 2015


Yes sir. I can feel it. Getting close. It’s about that time. I was driving down the delta today. Hitting that delta loop. Past the B & W resort. Past the Willow Berm marina. Smelling that fresh air. Looking at that lazy water.
Pulled into the lighthouse marina. Into member services, where I have business to attend to.

But I ain’t thinking about business, I’m thinking about bluegrass, and old country, and some fine memories, right over there under those trees, and in that clubhouse, and Walters hamburgers, and Pat Calhouns Accordian, and hot spring days, and fall nights.

I’m thinking about George Martin playing “The orphan train” under a pop-up by the road and Alex sharp fiddling along making all those marina people smile while looking semi-amazed that anything that sounds that good just showed up outside their R.V.’s without invitation or reason. Just to make their lives better for a couple of days.

And I’ve been here for about three campouts, a couple of them CBA sponsored. A couple of them band gigs. And all of them good memories, for me.

But this here is just the beginning. How many of these spring and fall campouts?

There was Sonora, with this great Gospel jam with Jim Johnston, and Lloyd Butler, and this wonderful slightly inebriated banjo player from Holland, who played faster than the roadrunner on speed, and left me eating his dust, and finding refuge in the three four cadence of the Tennessee waltz which I destroyed about half way through by forgetting the lyrics and slinking off into the darkness, where I stumbled into a jam with Bill Schniedermen and Pat Calhoun which made me feel as if I’d been transported through the pearly gates, or at least to somewhere in Kentucky where the music sticks to the inside of your mind like a bees foot in a jar of honey.

But that ain’t all…

There was that campout in Colusa where, once again, the amazing
Pat Calhoun was ripping into “Just a little talk with Jesus” and I got so excited that I might have popped a string, except some dour listener made some comment about holy roller music, And I was thinking, I’m not sure how holy this is , but man, was it rolling and my guess is that the good lord wasn’t offended.

And there was Turlock, and the time I decided to sing Christmas Carols, because well, who knows why, and my friend Chef Mike locked himself in his trailer and closed the shutters so I’d go away.
But I sang them anyway, and slept the sleep of the righteous.

And there was Lodi at the grape festival grounds, and this amazing jam with Marcos Alvira and a bunch of young bucks and hot pickers. A hundred miles an hour, baby. Burned enough calories to eat a maple bar on the way home and still fit in my pants.

And I don’t know…

It’s just too good, and it’s getting close, brothers and sisters. Next week at Turlock. The spring campout. Trains singing in the night. Deb Livermores Grilled cheese sandwiches. Dianna Donelly singing Patsy Cline, like well…Patsy Cline. Red Dog Ash singing out in the back lot with a small lamp and glorious songs. And maybe if we’re really lucky, Pat Calhoun reminding us of how much fun it is to be alive.

See you there.



THE DAILY GRIST..."When a fellow says it hain’t the money but the principle o’ the thing, it’s th’ money.” -- Frank McKinney Hubbard, American cartoonist, humorist, journalist, known by his pen name “Kin Hubbard” (1868-1915)

Jamming deficiency syndrome
Today's column from George Martin
Thursday, April 9, 2015


I got in a bluegrass jam the other day at a party. It occurred to me that this was the first casual jam I had been in in many months. In recent years we’ve gone to a few festivals every year and try to make a short appearance at the campouts (spring and fall they conflict with an important semiannual meeting we need to attend) but mostly I play with my band, I always play banjo, and I play what the band plays.

I know a lot of songs and I’m pretty good about remembering lyrics. What is hard lately is remembering the titles of songs to sing. And so it was last weekend; an embarrassingly long wait ensued several times while I tried to conjure up a tune from my rusty mental rolodex.

There are some great songs that come to mind immediately but I don’t like to do them because they have been rather beat to death. These are songs that everybody learns in their first few months of trying to learn to play. Murphy Henry, bless her heart, has taught so many students they would make a line from here to her home in Virginia. But the downside is they all sing “I’ll Fly Away” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” every time they get together. Great songs to be sure but I only sing them at funerals, or if I am a volunteer at music camp.

I’m not trying to be some sort of bluegrass elitist; I just want to play songs that are slightly less universal. Bill Monroe, Lester & Earl, the Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse, Mac Wiseman -- their recordings are a treasure trove of well-known but not too-well-known songs. In a more modern vein, James King has some great stuff and Hot Rize has done some classics that everybody knows but that don’t get over-sung. The recent album by Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick of Vern and Ray songs is a gold mine. Alas I’ll need to work on those Vern & Ray songs a bit as they are almost all tunes that I can sing the chorus of, and maybe one verse, but aren’t really in my repertoire (yet).

I really should keep a notebook or a file card or two in my instrument cases with a list of good tunes, or at least look through my CDs before I leave and note a few favorites. And I guess it wouldn’t hurt to seek out a few jams near my home town where I could exercise my bluegrass brain a bit.

Gotta do something before I forget how.

Moving at the Speed of Bluegrass
Today's column from Bruce Cmapbell
Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Listening to spring training baseball on the radio, and eagerly welcoming opening for this season, I am struck once again by the intricate connections between bluegrass and baseball.

This time, it was the pace and attitude I noticed. Baseball, unlike most sports, has a pace set by the players, not a game clock, and this is part of the appeal of the game for fans (and for some folks, a reason to DISlike the game.) This pace fits the lazy feel of spring and summer to a T and I remember being aware of it at a very young age.

The recent passing of Lon Simmons brings back memories from as far back as I remember, Early 1960’s, sunny days (rare in San Bruno) and the sounds of Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges, made tinny by transistor radios, intermixed with the sound of push mowers up and down the block. Nobody had a power mower back in 1962, it seemed. Doesn't the smell of freshly mown grass go perfectly with baseball?

But it would be a mistake to equate the leisurely pace of baseball with any lack of intensity. The pitcherwho slows down the game with men on base as he stares down the batter, and the batter who disrupts the pitcher’s mental preparation by stepping out of the box to blink his eyes, adjust his gloves or knock the dirt off his cleats - both are being very competitive and intense, despite little physical movement.

Watch a group of pickers at a jam, and there’s a similar relaxed atmosphere. Interestingly, nearly all bluegrass pickers pick up a Southern accent by the second day of a festival, and that drawl is part and parcel of the pace.

“It’s yer call, Joe.”

“Is it now? Wellll, lessee, I reckon we oughta play “Little Miss Blue Eyes”, in A”

(There is a brief - yet leisurely - adjustment of capos and sips of beverages)

“OK, then. Here we go: one, two, three..”

Then, the intensity emerges from that genteel exchange and the song is underway. Subtle messages are passed with head nods, murmured asides and raised eyebrows, and the sounds of bluegrass filter up to the tops of the trees, intermixed with the smell of lawn, barbecue smoke and clay.

Just like the pitcher/batter battle, this routine is repeated over and over, and just as in baseball, it’s a sublime thrill for the players and the onlookers.

Thank you, spring! Thank you, summer! Thank you, baseball! Thank you, bluegrass!



President’s Message
Today's column from Darby Brandli
Tuesday, April 7, 2015


February and March were busy months for the California Bluegrass Association and April will be come in like a lion as well. Many of our CBA Area Activities VP’s and Board Members and volunteers are busy making certain we can present activities year round for Californians. Watch the Breakdown and the website for announcements and/or get on the mailing lists of the individual VPs.

Lucy Smith (Butte and Tehama Counties) has added a Concert Series to her jam events and presented Bill Evans and Nu Blu in the last couple of months and has scheduled Kathy Barwick and Pete Siegfried April 19th and Rock Ridge Bluegrass Band for May 17th. Vicki Frankel ( San Mateo County ) has started a new Tuesday night jam in Pacifica. Marcos Alvira (Merced, Mariposa and Stanislaus) is busy with events in his area and has started a newsletter. David Brace (Board Member) just presented Nu Blu in a house concert which was also broadcast over the web as part of Concert Windows online Bluegrass Festival. Tim Edes (Board Chairman) produced another sold out Night at the Grange featuring Adkins & Loudermilk (also performing on the main stage at our Father’s Day Festival this year). New Area VP Tony Pritchett (Riverside/San Bernadino) produced a concert with Adkins & Loudermilk in San Bernadino. Mark Hogan (Board member and North County VP) just completed the 15th Annual Sonoma County Bluegrass and Folk Festival and is helping produce the Cloverdale Fiddle Festival on April 11th. David Brace and Marcos Alvira are busily organizing the Spring Campout in Turlock coming up this month. Steve Goldfield (Board Member) has organized another stellar Old Time Gathering for the Father’s Day Festival and is planning another Old Time Campout this summer. Maria Nadauld (Board Member) attended Leadership Bluegrass in Nashville (IBMA) this month and is also a member of the IBMA By-Laws Committee. Frank Solivan ran the CBA Jam Room at Wintergrass in Washington.

We are excited to announce two big things in the works for the CBA this month. Rick Cornish (Webmaster, Lifetime Member, Chairman Emeritus) has facilitated the reconstruction and re-design of the website. Our website was built by Rick and others 15 years ago and is obsolete now. The website has the public cbaontheweb page everyone can access and also has an Administrative and e-Commerce site which holds many of our records and data bases and links to our credit card and PayPal accounts and to our QuickBooks accounting system. It is a huge and complicated site and desperately needed an expensive rebuild. Rick researched and recruited programmers and designers who were then approved by and contracted with and the rebuild journey is in progress. There is a June 1 roll out date planned at this point.

We are also converting to a sales program called Tix.com to handle our e-Commerce ticket sales. Member Gary Mansperger researched and helped with the bar-coding system we put in place for sales and inventory at the festival for the last few years and continues to spear head this project . It took an actual rocket scientist to facilitate this work. For several years Alicia Meiners (e-Commerce) and John Erwin (mail purchases) have spent thousands of hours volunteering to manage our purchases (Alicia for everything purchased on line and John for the Father’s Day Festival mail orders) and, in the future, sales for many of our events will be handled by Tix.com. The debt we owe Gary, Alicia and John is enormous. Alicia has handled all online payments for membership, festivals, music academies and camps and much of her burden will be lifted when the new system goes live this month. We have many unsung heroes in our CBA stable and these three have made an enormous contribution.

Ted Kuster (San Francisco VP and Director of the JD Bluegrass Cookbook Project) tells us that work on the Cookbook is on schedule and going smoothly. Susan Elston has completed much of the editing for the book and the accompanying CD is on track. The Cookbook will be available for sale by the Father’s Day Festival.
There are other volunteers not mentioned in this column who faithfully contribute to the CBA throughout the year and should be acknowledged daily by all of us. I have only mentioned some of the newest or current activities performed by our valuable volunteer members and hope I have not forgotten anyone or anything. It is amazing what we have accomplished in the last 40 years and you can show your support for the organization and these volunteers by making certain your membership is current and that you consider volunteering. I received an email today from a member who has a great idea for something the CBA can do in the future and is willing to take on the project (details later) and I welcome you to also step forward and contribute. A major contribution is a current membership and your attendance at one or many of our events. Remember, this Association is for YOU.


Today's column from Marty Varner
Monday, April 6, 2015


I am thrilled to announce that by the time you will read my next article, I will be flying back to my home that I miss very much. While I have enjoyed my college experience at Clark University, I can not wait for Festival Season back in California. There, I will be playing a few reunion gigs with OMGG which consists of the talented Schwartz brothers and the amazing Aj Lee. Make sure to see us at the Freight & Salvage and Vern’s Stage at the Father’s Day Festival. I am also going to be the teacher’s assistant for the one and only Mike Compton. I can’t wait to learn from his, and I assume all of his students are looking forward to it too.

For the last year I could not hear anything about bluegrass without a mention of the Earls of Leicester. So I finally listened to the album, and I think it did what it tried to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean it was that great in my humble opinion. I get the whole Flatt & Scruggs thing, but I feel there was a lot left to be desired on the album.

The first track, “Big Black Train” is a great intro. The vocal and instrument response to kick off the album was a nice touch and it was a great opportunity to highlight one of the best parts of the album: Shawn Camp. Until this album, I had no idea that Shawn Camp was Lester Flatt reincarnated. He sings lead on every track besides the instrumental “Shuckin’ the corn”, and his vocals to not get old. What I loved most about his vocals on the record, was how it sounded that he was enjoying himself. I imagine Camp being a die hard Flatt and Scruggs fan who tried so hard to sound like Lester just like I tried so hard to sound like Tony Rice, and finally he gets his chance. He gets a call from no other than the legend Jerry Douglas who tells him to be Lester Flatt, and Camp knew that he could not disappoint. I have never had the opportunity, but I assume playing with some of your heroes like Tim O’ Brien and Jerry Douglas while paying tribute to one of the bluegrass gods, is one of the best situations for a bluegrass musician. One of the songs that shows off Camp the best is the always enjoyable “I’ll go Stepping to”. Camp destroys the goofy phrasing of the song and makes it one of the most enjoyable moments on the album. What makes his lyrics even better is the killer tenor O’ Brien puts on it and the killer Scruggs style banjo background. My favorite song on the album “Some old Day” has a similar formula for greatness. Again, O’Brien brings the killer harmonies, which drive any version of the song but especially this one. Camp, and O’ Brien’s vocals are the best part of the album, and pay great tribute to one of the best duet’s in bluegrass history.

The instrumentation leaves a lot to be desired. By favorite breaks from this album came from O’ Brien, which is not promising for a bluegrass band. Douglas sounded to conservative and formulaic. Cushman does a good job on the Scruggs back up, but his breaks are never special. And Johnny Warren’s fiddle style has never done anything for me. He sounds too sloppy while trying to play the same notes on the same scale over and over. The strangely disappointing thing about this album that makes sense in retrospect is that Barry Bales should not be playing bass on this album. Since the album was supposed to be Flatt and Scruggs songs it is obvious that songs like ‘Dig a Hole in the Meadow”, “You’re not a Drop in the Bucket” and “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” would be on the album, but those songs oppose Barry Bale’s bass style. These songs are supposed to be swingy and have the ebat drag behind it, but instead Bale’s on or pushing the beat style is highlighted in a negative way. Each on of these songs sound confused because of the way the song is being played, and the way the song was played by Flatt & Scruggs, which should have more merit than they gave it when deciding who should play bass.

Besides this one flaw, the album succeeds in being very similar to Flatt & Scruggs in a lot of positive ways, but when the bass doesn’t sound good, the whole album can sound off kilter, which is what I got out of my listen to this album.




Burt Reynolds Centerfold and the Vet Hall
Today’s column from Marc Alvira
Sunday, April 5, 2015


Jennifer Aniston. Pamela Anderson. Burt Reynolds centerfold. What do these people have to do with my column today? Absolutely nothing. But I’m going to write about old time and contra dancing, and I know that to begin with Tommy Jerrell, Mose Coffman, or even Bruce Molsky would be to lose 9 out of 10 of you right away. Actually, the focus today is really about the remarkable outcome of awesome positive energy of good people doing good things for a good reason. To get to the point, however, we have to trek through a little old time.

On March 28, at 7:oo PM, Nick Cuccia, contra dance caller and sound guy summoned 24 dancers to the floor of the Veteran’s Legion Hall in Merced. I was sitting on stage with the Home Stilled String Band, nervously watching a mostly empty hall at 6:40, as the the minute hand excruciatingly crept to the hour. All day long, I had walked in circles and paced around the house like a caged coyote. This Barn Dance was my baby and I had no idea how the community would respond. To make matters worse, I had never even been to a contra dance and here I was basically leading a band. Folks dribbled in to the point where ether three dozen standing along the walls or in line ordering beers and soda. My nerves eased a little…if even twenty people had showed up, I would have been happy.

Now I can hear the snickering as some of you are saying, Marc(os) playing old time? A contra dance? And the truth is, I’ve gotten that as well from folks when I’ve joined in on some old time jams. There is a shadowy side of me however, and that is : I enjoy old time…and not the pseudo stuff from bands like Crooked Still. For a couple years now, I had been edging toward old time jam circles, hanging on the periphery, desperately refraining from playing diminished fifths and sevenths.

Last September I went to Fiddletown and found myself smack dab in the middle of a jam with Geff and Masha Crawford, the Foothillbillies, and other notable old time musicians. There was no hiding and as hours and the day wore on, I completely forgot that I was stopping by for just a minute on the way to a bluegrass festival. The next thing I knew, I was seeking out old time jams at the Great 48. Slowly, albeit not clearly at first, a muted voice began to speak to me. A voice audible only to me: “Marc…throw a barn dance. Merced needs a barn dance.” I mean, how hard could it be? Just grab some friends to play…it’s old time. Get a caller. A dance floor.

I won’t go into all the details, but let’s say that when a contra dance goes well, like anything else, it appears easy. Any practiced, performing musician knows, however, the fallacy of such a notion. I met our caller at the monthly Merced bluegrass jams at the Coffee Bandits. Nick enjoys American roots music. Speaking with with Nick just a short time, one finds that he’s brilliant and an expert on a lot of things…especially contra dancing—it’s history, the steps…you name it. Before long, I was sharing with him the message from that damned voice in my head. Soon, but not with a head first dive, he was agreeing to call a dance in town and do the sound if I could pull it together. I could tell, however, he was wondering if I was more desire than ability. He didn’t know my track record. To be honest, Nick is a shy kind of guy—a computer engineer telecommuting from his home. His slight stutter revealed a little anxiety in dealing with folks like me. To be honest, I was having difficulty picturing him calling a dance. I could only trust his word.

After pondering a venue,a friend shared that the Veterans might be willing to work with me. The truth is that the Veterans were magnificent. They donated the use of the Legion Halls since I told them that the dance was to be a free event—something for families and students to do on a Saturday night that was a little different. And of course I wanted to introduce the town to old time music in a fun way. On my way out, I realized that I had sensed a tad of skepticism coming from them. They simply had decided just to trust me after one meeting.

Nick clearly demonstrated to me that contra dancing did not have to be old time “mountain music,” but in my mind that’s there was no other option. Getting the band was easy: Ramona Allingham, Steve Ladoga, Randy Wiesendanger, and local bassist Don Wilson were all people that I had jammed with dozens of times; they were talented AND reliable. Soon we were practicing at my house. Their commitment to the project made me determined to make this dance work. We coordinated the set list with Nick and learned some of the keen differences between playing music for one’s self as a musician and for a bunch of dancers. Same songs but a different feel. As Nick explained the dances, we began to texture the parts to fit with what he was calling.

As time grew closer to the event, I began to receive phone calls from folk with whom I was unacquainted asking about the evening’s details. Our local paper even ran a blurb about it twice (which made me the envy of some local promoters—-our paper doesn’t do news too well). Most importantly, word of mouth network began to happen. Young folk would stop me downtown to say they were shopping for new boots for the dance.

So there we sat on the stage, The Home Stilled String Band, as we decided to call ourselves, nervous but poised for a good time. As folks gather around for the first dance, Nick stood at the center of the room…at least I thought it was Nick. This person stood straight with shoulders back and with a clear, commanding voice set everyone in there positions, looked up at us and gave the signal. Ramona counted off potatoes. and we launched into “Nail the Catfish to the Tree” as Nick called out a mixer—lucky seven (I still don’t know what that last part means). Before long, there were 54 people in the room. I would receive emails and phone calls the rest of the week…some people asking when the next dance would be happening. Others stating their regret about not be able to be attend, but swearing not to miss the next one.

There were a lot of unknowns going into the first Merced Barn Dance. With the trust and faith between all those involved and super community spirit, we caught lightening in a bottle. Now we’re out to prove that lightening can, indeed, strike twice.

A conversation with Shelly O’Day
Today’s column from Loes van Schaijk
Saturday, April 4, 2015


The following interview with singer/guitarist Shelly O’Day, who was born in Tulare, California, and now lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, features in the book High Lonesome Below Sea Level: Faces and Stories of Bluegrass Music in the Netherlands. The book, written by Loes van Schaijk with black-and-white photography by Marieke Odekerken, will be released on May 14, 2015. It is already avaible in pre-sale via www.bluegrassportraits.nl.

“When I moved out here, I got known as being some kind of Carter family specialist—all because of that stupid thumbpick!” Shelly O’Day, lead singer of the Oldtime Stringband, never got any comments about playing bluegrass with a thumbpick instead of a flatpick before she came to the Netherlands. “If the guys would get on my case about it, my standard thing to say was: ‘Look at the Carter Family, they use a thumbpick too!’ More and more, whenever in a session someone would say: ‘Let’s do a Carter family song!’ they’d all look at me. So I started doing a lot more Carter, and Carter is seen as old-time. When they were looking for old-time musicians for a documentary about cow painter Ruud Spil, my name came up.” The project was such a success that it got a bit out of hand; the Oldtime Stringband was born.

Though the name the Oldtime Stringband suggests the repertoire is limited to one genre, the band actually plays a mix of old-time, bluegrass, rockabilly, country, and Western swing. Shelly feels that the bluegrass and old-time scenes are more strictly separated in Europe than in the US. “It’s all the same family, but with different instruments and different rules. In bluegrass jams, especially in Europe, there are a lot of rules. Somebody nods at you to give you a solo, and you’re just smoking, doing your best to impress everybody, and then the next guy does the same, and the next guy. I prefer the mellowness of the old-time scene, where people really listen to what you’re doing and try to harmonize to it, like they do with the twin fiddles. It reminds me of the way we used to make music in our living rooms back home. Making music is very much a community activity to me, a way to be creative together.” In Shelly’s opinion, bluegrass or any kind of improvisational music is about finding your own voice. “With that voice, you can talk to each other. That’s what I’m always looking for at jam sessions: somebody who’s not just flexing their muscles, but somebody who’s willing to have a conversation with me.”

Like her mother and grandmother before her, Shelly O’Day was raised in Tulare, California, not far from Bakersfield, where country music took root after the Dust Bowl migration. When she was growing up, there were only two radio stations: Mexican and country. She hated it as a teenager, because there was no other choice. “I remember my brother would put the radio way up on the rooftop and tune in on San Francisco. I heard the Police, and it blew my mind.” In Shelly’s family, as in many other families from the Tulare area, it was a custom to sing songs like “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” together in the pizza parlor before and after eating. “A lot of Americans think bluegrass and old-time is something for ‘the folks,’ ‘the good old boys.’ When my mom would have bluegrass jams every month in her living room, I was just so embarrassed at all these people coming in with banjos…horrible!”

After high school, Shelly traveled the world for a year and took a particular interest in the Netherlands. When she finished her university studies, she went back to the Netherlands, found a job and met the love of her life. They got married and Shelly, who speaks Dutch fluently, now works as a primary school teacher in Amsterdam. She had been living in the Netherlands for seven years before she discovered there were people here who knew what bluegrass was. “My husband and I went to this EWOB thing in Voorthuizen, where we saw people from the Czech Republic singing ‘Kentucky Waltz.’ I could not believe it!” When she played in California with the Oldtime Stringband this summer, she became very aware of the impact they made on American audiences. “People thought: ‘Here are these Europeans, who are so cultured and have such a rich history, and they’re playing our music…. Wow, it must be worth something, then!’”

To all the women out there who would like to join bluegrass jams, but are a bit hesitant to step into this “man’s world,” take this advice from Shelly: “You don’t have to be cute, but you’ve got to have balls. Learn one song, tell them right away what key it is in, and don’t sing too pretty. When you’ve got that many banjos, you’ve got to throw it in your nose and just get it out there. When you’re singing in an outdoor session you have to use a lot of consonants, like a chop. You need to use rhythm to carry it, to keep the group together.”


Ten Items or Fewer
Today’s column from Brooks Judd
Friday, April 3, 2015


Item 1: Good news! Our fearless leader is out of the hospital. I am currently verifying reports of videos that are currently streaming on the web showing Mr. Cornish singing “Achy, Breaky Heart!” and then doing his best Herman Noone impersonation singing, “Can’t you hear my heart beat?” when asked by the emergency room doctor what was wrong with him. If Rick hasn’t related to you his recent serious medical emergency, “8 seconds to Nirvana,” I’ve been told he will do so shortly. Welcome back Mr. Cornish.

Item 2: Excellent musical lyrical alliteration: “I am a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.” “I Am a Rock” Simon and Garfunkel 1966.

Item 3: Haunting image created by Gordon Lightfoot: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Item 4: My sister, Maria Naydauld (Above the Bay Booking) recently phoned and we chatted. She informed me she was checking on my lapsed CBA membership. She told me I would be getting a formal reprimand in the mail and that I should respond with due diligence and a check for the required funds.

I quoted the late great Groucho Marx,“I don’t want to join a club that would want me as a member.” The sound of one hand clapping was deafening.Maria then related to me that she had sent out several copies of the same letter to various CBA members who had let their membership lapse. Apparently this recent push by a newly elected board member has reaped huge results.I was not the only CBA member to renew.In fact there were many, many renewals. Good work big sister!

I do not wish to brag or boast but I made a prediction many years ago when Rick Cornish ran for a position on the board. I stated quite publicly (putting my sterling reputation on the line) that Rick would (with the help of other board members) bring the CBA into the twenty-first century. The fact that you are reading my column confirms that prediction.We have a web site that is top of the line. I could go on but the last thing I would want to do is make Mr. Cornish blush.

I will say the same thing about my sister. She will confidently take the baton of a CBA Board Member and help incorporate changes and bring in new ideas (with the other CBA Board Members) that will maintain the CBA as the model for bluegrass associations around the world.

Item 5: Pearls Before Swine: (Stephan Pastis)
First pig: (to pig in overalls) “Hey pig, why the farmer clothes?”
Second pig: Farmer Bob hired me to herd his flock of sheep. But it is hard.
First pig: How come?
Second pig: Because I need to move the flock.But there’s a barbed wire fence blocking one direction and now there’s a winery’s grapes blocking the other direction.
First pig: So what did you do?
Second pig: I Herd It Through the Grapevine.
First pig: Ewe make me sick!

Item 6: David Grisman/Gary Vassal (Red Dog Ash): What could these two musician/songwriter/mandolin players have in common? Well, most of us are aware that the great David Grisman will be performing this June at the Fathers’ Day Festival. Most of us also know that Red Dog Ash has also performed at the Father’s Day Festival.

Here is where it gets interesting. Gary not only runs his own music shop in Modesto but he is also an experienced fiddle maker.A few years ago Gary felt that since he was a mandolin player (among other instruments) maybe he should take some time and build a mandolin, so he did. Gary did not make it for himself.Do you see what is coming? The first mandolin that Gary made was sold to the one and only David Grisman! As my father the late great Buzz Judd would say with a slap on his thigh and a wide grin, “Well, how do you like those apples?”

On a more somber note. It’s been twenty years Dad. Love and miss you. Give Mom and Lisa a hug.

Item 7: Speaking of Red Dog Ash. My good friend Jason Winfrey and I shared a beer a couple of days ago at the Dust Bowl Brewery in Turlock.He told me he was looking forward to the spring campout.Jason is also looking forward to Red Dog Ash performing with Dan Crary and Thundernation at the Newman Theater on May 2. Sounds like a great show.

Item 8: Good riddance to the Panda. He now joins Brian Wilson as a once beloved Giant who just didn’t get what being human was all about by failing to show even the smallest dash of decency and humility. Thank God our bluegrass musicians are not like that. Luckily the Giants have Posey,Pence,Bumgarner,and Boche to set fine examples. Throw in Kruk and Kuip to do the games on TV and what could be better?

Item 9: The Bay Area has another team to be proud of.I am not a basketball fan but I have been watching another class organization these past few months the exciting Golden State Warriors. They are the classiest team in basketball 2014-2015 with the best record with a loyal fan base. I haven’t watched a complete basketball game since 1975 when the Warriors won it all, whereas the Warriors fans have been selling out their home games for the past twenty years. They too are a class act.

Until Friday, May 1.... Read a book, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, eat a bar of chocolate and smile.



THE DAILY GRIST… “…she can rag a tune right through the knees of a brand new pair of BVD’s…..” Coney Island Washboard Roundelay, The Five Harmaniacs, 1926

2nd Cousin Twice Removed
Today's column from Dave Williams
Thursday, April 2, 2015


Rhetorically speaking, how is old time music related to bluegrass? I said rhetorically because no one needs to answer but hoping instead to stir the pot enough to ask another (rhetorical) question, is old time music related to jug band music? I hope so because I am stealing this space this month to talk a little about jug band music with the assumption that it is at least somehow kin and knowing where this space resides.

Let me first establish some family lineage before getting into the topic. Raise your hands if you know Bill Keith and Richard Greene. I see a few hands. Bill (when he was going by Brad because Bill was taken by the boss) and Richard both were Bluegrass Boys (uppercase B intended). They also performed and recorded with Red Allen, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan and Clarence White among others. Now for my bacon, this is certainly bluegrass street cred.The bluegrass street cred is important because these guys also were in Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band. So there you go, I’m claiming 2nd cousins, at least, between bluegrass, old time and jug bands. It also doesn’t hurt that jug bands generally share instrumentation with bluegrass and old time music except for the addition of early 20th century laundry appliances and the more generous tolerance of harmonicas in jug bands.

Okay, now after justifying my theft of the space, on to the meat. Next weekend is the Walker Creek Music Camp and I have secured a teacher’s assistant gig in the Jug Band Performance class working with Morgan Cochneuer a very fine old time musician and jug band aficionado.

My qualifications for this job are that I have played in a jug band for over 40 years with a few years of sabbatical intertwined in the tenure. In the 70’s I played a lot of washtub bass or gutbucket before adding the doghouse bass to my resume’. Over the years, I would breakout the bucket for reunion gigs and the like but truthfully it was more for show. In fact, the last washtub I had is now growing oregano and basil in my back yard. I had to put a few more holes in the bottom before filling it with dirt.
These days, I play the big bass exclusively with the band but in checking out the Walker Creek line-up for this spring, the jug band class caught my eye and I contacted Ingrid and Morgan offering my help and here we are. I have spent the last month building and fine tuning my gutbucket chops and it does take some chops.

The craftsmanship to build a washtub bass is rather primitive, you might say. A washtub, a broom or shovel handle and a string are the critical pieces but it does tend to get somewhat esoteric after that. What size tub? How to attach the string to the tub and the most significant question, what kind of string? Check out the internet and YouTube and you will find pages of different instructions to build this contraption. Some are real elaborate but others are simple yet elegant relying on the player to make the music. I am very much on the simple side. Elegant is for others to say.

That left me with choosing a string. Early on in my (gutbucket) career, I discovered that a gut G upright bass string was a good choice. At the time, in the early 70’s, gut was plentiful and you could get a string for about $5. Did I tell you that playing with a 7 piece band with washboards and jugs can get awfully loud and trying to keep up the volume would often cause you to break a string but at the time I had a pretty good process for keeping up on strings. Whatever, pittance I made playing I would spend on beer…… in bottles and when I needed strings I would return the bottles for deposit and buy a couple of strings. For very valid and humane reasons gut strings became very scarce and the price increased by 1000’s of percent.

So being on the hook for bringing, playing and making a gut bucket for music camp, I had to figure out what kind of string to use. I had some synthetic gut strings but the G’s were too thin and I didn’t want to pay for thicker diameter strings. My experiences with twine, clothesline and weedwacker were never good. So I moved on to what I had more recent experience with, low-tension upright bass strings. I have a few used sets on hand and, what do you know, they worked pretty well. I don’t know about elegant but they worked well enough to have some fun at camp. The only problem is that if I happen to inspire any new washtub bass players, I am going have give them some of my old strings because bass strings ain’t cheap and it would take about a ton of aluminum cans to cover the cost.

Speaking of fun at camp, I am expecting this class to be a lot of fun. Morgan is going to be introducing the class to musicians such as Will Shade, Gus Cannon and Memphis Jug Band. Their influence on many genres including folk and rock is well documented. Take some time and look into some of these remarkable musicians.

Just to make sure you know it’s me writing this, I need to tell you that at music camp next week, I will find some time to be sitting next to our motorhome looking to pick some bluegrass, old time or maybe even some jug band and I told you that to tell you this, there will be tequila available to sip.


Turlock O Turlock
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Gateway to the Central Valley and gateway to the summer, for bluegrass fans in California. The CBA has held their spring campout here at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds for quite a few years running now. It’s fairly centrally located, especially for folks living NOTGV (North of the Grapevine). This year it’s from April 13-19.

Never had a bad time there. Once got up at 4:30 in the morning in Lewiston, CA to get there in time for a CBA Board meeting.

Witnessed a “beer miracle” there one year. It was getting late on a Saturday night, and I had spread my sleeping bag out in the back of my truck and just as I was preparing to lay down and call it a night, I thought, “Well, I think I’ll grab my guitar and make the rounds one more time.” As I prepared to depart, my eyes fell upon my ice chest. “Should I grab a beer?”, I wondered. “Nah, it’s pretty late.”

So, as I wandered off, my Homer Simpson-like inner dialog continued. “Maybe I should have a grabbed a beer. Nah. Sorta wish I had one, thought. Oh well. What if someone offers me one - will I take it? Hmmm, yes - yes, I would.” It’s a wonder I didn’t walk into a tree. Then, my reverie was broken by a shout from the distance.

“Hey Bruce! Wanna beer?”

It was my friend Kelvin with the best reasons for not having gone to bed yet -more pickin’ and more beer. combination seemed like a gift from on high.

Some folks have an issue with the train noise at the Fairgrounds. The tracks do run right by the place, and since there’s a grade crossing, they have signal their approach with the whistle. Doesn’t bother me a whit - I grew up around trains and currently live within ¼ mile of tracks. One man’s nuisance is another’s lullaby I guess.

Turlock is a sleepy, charming little town, and is the hometown of the 49er’s starting quarterback, Colin Kapernick, who NEVER seems to come to the spring campout. It was also the site of some internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II - a shameful part of the past that we’re all glad to see way back in the rear-view mirror.

Turlock was once cited in “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” for having the most churches per capita of any place in the US, and I think it’s cool that the non-denominational Church of Bluegrass has an annual service there, every spring!


Using the Gift
Today's column from Cliff Compton
Tuesday, March 31, 2015


(Editor’s note—Here’s what was on Cliff’s mind in ther fall of 2009.)

I was fourteen in Kansas City Missouri, living in a three story stone house off of Van Brunt and St. John, and I’d just bought my harmony arched topped guitar from a pawnshop downtown. Our house was bigger than we needed, and we didn’t have much money, so my dad rented out the second and third floor of the house. One of his tenants was a newly married marine who had just been released from his service. He played the guitar. He kinda took me under his wing, sort of a big brother thing, taught me how to shoot pool, and a few other things my daddy wouldn’t have approved of. But the biggest thing he did for me was to show me how to play that harmony guitar. I never had a brother, so I guess everything he showed me was amplified in importance in my eyes. Looking back, I don’t know if he was any good or not, but I do know that he was better than me, and he taught me what he knew.

My guess is, that he had no idea at the time, how important that was to me, how he literally shaped my future by spending that little bit of time showing me those simple chords and that boogie woogie bass progression.

I guess I’ve passed it on as time has continued. Teaching what I’ve learned, learning as I’ve taught, always mindful that we’ve each been given gifts from the creator and from good hearted fellow pilgrims that have enriched us and altered the course of the river of our lives.

When I was in my middle thirties, I was involved in a church start up in Sacramento. The church had no music program. The church had a large Romanian population. Big Families. Lots of small children. Little money.

We would go to the pawn shops, buy instruments, (kind of like the CBA’s music instrument lending program. give them to the kids, assign them to an older kid and give them lessons. The older kids would learn as they taught the younger kids. When the younger kids became proficient, we gave them pupils of their own. They progressed. Today, twenty-five years later. That church has an orchestra full of accomplished musicians. A couple of weeks ago, I was playing an upright bass in that orchestra, thinking how blessed I was to have helped them become what I was hearing.

We all have our gifts. I assume we ain’t keeping them wrapped up and out of sight. They might have been given to us for a reason. What you do with your gift is your business, but I reckon somewhere there’s a kid that might benefit from what you’ve been given. You can’t take it with you when you die. Who knows, maybe you might alter the course of somebody’s life. Maybe make their walk a little easier. Spread a little of the joy.


THE DAILY GRIST…”For the good are always the merry; Save by an evil chance; And the merry love the fiddle; And the merry love to dance."…(William Butler Yeats)

Happy Birthday Leslie Keith
Today’s Column from Bert Daniel
Sunday, March 29, 2015


Tomorrow March 30, is the birthday of one of my favorite fiddlers, Leslie Keith who passed away in 1977. Now there was a guy who could saw that fiddle and get your juices going so that you just had to dance! Every bluegrass fiddler needs to listen to Leslie Keith and most of them have if they’re serious about the instrument.

What bluegrass fan hasn’t heard Black Mountain Rag, or more properly Black Mountain Blues as Leslie named it when he composed it in the thirties? He took an old time tune, the Lost Child, morphed it with another old time melody and put it out there. It became a huge hit. Tommy Magness turned it into a showpiece tune which he called the Black Mountain Rag. Years later Keith played it with Ralph and Carter Stanley and the tune became part of the bluegrass repertoire.

Leslie Keith cut his chops as a contest fiddler. In 1938, Leslie and another champion fiddler rented a park and invited fiddlers to compete. It was evidently successful, as 27 fiddlers and a crowd of 9,400 showed up. In many ways, Keith was a bridge between old time fiddlers and what would become bluegrass fiddlers. He had a different style than his predecessors like Arthur Smith and Clayton McMichen but he didn’t have quite the bluegrass punch and drive of later masters like Kenny Baker.

By the late 1940s, Leslie was the fiddler for Curly King and the Tennessee Hilltoppers. And when the Stanley Brothers decided to adopt a bluegrass sound a la Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, Keith replaced Booby Sumner and thus became one of the original bluegrass fiddlers. Only Chubby Wise and perhaps Sumner can claim priority.

I love to listen to Keith on the old Rich-R-Tone recordings from the Stanley Brothers. Especially in his live recordings, you can tell that he was a contest fiddler at heart. He knew how to please a crowd with danceable fiddle music. That’s the same kind of music I look forward to hearing again at the Cloverdale Fiddle Festival on April 11 in Cloverdale.

Happy Birthday, Leslie Keith!


THE DAILY GRIST... "Not having a recognized brand & trying to stand out in the market is like going to the market without any goods." ? Onyi Anyado, multiple award-winning international Entrepreneur

Brand Loyalty!
Today's column from Prescription Bluegrass Radio Host, Brian McNeal
Saturday, March 28, 2015


Coca Cola does it, Disney does it, Southwest Airlines and almost every major corporation doing business anywhere in the world does it. That is to create a loyalty, among consumers of their product, so fierce that they'd rather "fight than switch." Remember that campaign?

So what does brand loyalty mean for a bluegrass band, a festival, a record label or any other business that is primarily focused on reaching the bluegrass fan as their consumer base?

I recently had the opportunity for an advance review of a stellar bluegrass band's latest album.

The reason they gave me the opportunity to review was to gather feedback about the album's possible acceptance (or not) from the bluegrass community. It seems that this particular band has been having a hard time getting bookings from traditional bluegrass festivals because they're not viewed as a "Traditional Band". They also say that they've been passed over for other festivals outside of the bluegrass world because, well, they're thought of as ... "one of those 'Bluegrass' bands." You know, the ones with the hayseed image, nasal twang and always singing about murder or death. Well, anyway that's the image, correct or not.
So to try and rectify the lack-of-booking situation, they focused on what they say is a brand new sound for them and strayed far away from their bluegrass roots. Musically, it was very good. Creatively, also first-rate. But will the bluegrass community accept it from them at this point?

Now let me shift gears just a bit, but I promise we'll come back to our band.

Imagine that you're on a very expensive ocean cruise in the middle of the pacific. You've anticipated this voyage for quite some time and now the time has arrived and you're on board. You'll be sailing from Hawaii to Tahiti. In a straight line that's over 2500 miles. But this is a luxury cruise and the captain has over 65 million miles of ocean at his discretion to use.

About 500 miles after departure some of the passengers are not happy with the slow cruising speed and the less than direct route the captain has chosen for this scenic, island-hopping journey and they demand that he get them to the destination as fast as possible. Well, that's life, it happens. People have unrealistic expectations but still feel they're somehow "in the right." Perhaps they should have booked airfare and not a luxury cruise; but, here they are and the captain must deal with them. These are not all of the passengers and not even close to a majority, but they're loud and have power and so the captain buckles to the pressure and changes his course direction in an attempt to satisfy and these few are now seemingly content.

However, the new course puts the cruise in the heavily trafficked shipping lanes and freighters by the dozens are breezing past in all directions. The noise, the smell, the commotion is not conducive to a luxury cruise and the grumbling begins from yet another group. The captain gets a weather report that heavy squalls and extremely rough waters are ahead and he can expect miserable and possibly dangerous conditions for 48 to 72 hours if he maintains his new heading, directly to Tahiti.

Knowing that many of the group are from a "sun-worshiping" club and expect to stay on deck during every single sunlit moment, the captain fears more angry passengers and again shifts his direction. But this time in an almost complete reverse to try to escape the impending storm.

By the time the cruise ended, the captain had switched directions so many times to please one small group or another that the entire cruise ended right back at their departure port - back in Hawaii without ever seeing Tahiti. Needless to say, there wasn't one single passenger content or satisfied. Many requested refunds. Surveys indicated that none will ever repeat a cruise with this captain or recommend his cruise to friends.

What happened? There must have been a reason the phrase "Stay the course" was ever first uttered.

What did the captain do to help his cruise line develop "brand loyalty?" More importantly, what did he not do that perhaps he could have done?

In the attempt to please a few, our captain alienated all. Another phrase: "You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time."

Now what about our bluegrass band mentioned at the beginning? More importantly what about your bluegrass business?

Consistency is an important ingredient left out when a company attempts to venture into uncharted waters. It happened to Coca Cola, it happened to the Disney Corporation and it's happened to many others. I think the lesson that needs to be learned from this is that you can't abandon your hard-earned fan base in the attempt to acquire new fans through a totally new direction unless you intend to always start and restart your career.

Being TOO BLUEGRASS for some and NOT ENOUGH for others is an age old problem. It is not even limited to the bluegrass genre. Country performers have felt this anguish since before the 1960s. Rock and Roll has had their day as well. Bee Bop, Swing, Jazz, you name it, they've all been there. It's part of growing.

I once counseled a bar owner who sold mixed drinks for 70 cents . yes, it was a while ago. He wanted to increase the price of the drink but feared losing angry customers by doing so. He'd maintained the 70 cent price far too long. It was now an established norm at his bar. We graduated his proposed price increase in nickle increments over a period of time until he finally arrived at his 85 cent price. It took months and at each step he heard loud and clear from the nay-sayers. He also heard the absence of the cash register ringing sound, and, he did lose some customers who thought he was out-of-line. The point of the story here is that while his customers were grumbling and leaving him they were patronizing the competition just up the hill. Once he raised his price, and faced the brunt of the anger, the bar up the hill raised their price the full 15 cents in one swift move and never heard a peep.

It took a trail blazer first. Sometimes it just may not be profitable to be first, including the expansion of the "bluegrass norm."

As good as this specific band is, I don't think they're so exceptional that they'll be able pull this off without losing quite a lot. In the end, will the trade off be worthwhile? Only they and time will be able to give us that answer.

Remember: if someone is not satisfied with your product, make a better product. However, if you're Coca Cola, you can't suddenly switch to making cough syrup and expect to keep all of your customers. The products are used for different purposes.

If you're a bluegrass band, improve your playing ability, your song selection, your recording quality, or any number of elements that will ultimately make a better product. But don't fool yourself by changing your sound. If you're a festival promoter, think about "adding" new sounds to your festival without "replacing" the old sounds.

If you want to keep my loyalty as a bluegrass fan, don't tell me you're bluegrass while trying to sell me something else. "Bait and Switch" is not a welcome practice and I don't know too many who will welcome that kind of disappointment.

On the other hand if you really want to present something different, be up front about it, and let us know not only that it is different but HOW it is different. Let us know that the XYZ Band is experimenting with a totally new sound. The shock of Bob Dylan going electric is still talked about today 50 years after it occurred. Sure, some have become accustomed to the new Dylan, but still many have never forgiven him for what they viewed as total abandonment. Ask Mr. Dylan whether he cares and he'll be quick to utter some choice expletives but who among us is that gifted that we could overcome the loss?

Of course, if your intent is to totally re-invent yourself and you want to leave the past behind, just make a radical change and most likely you won't have to do much more.



Thank You!
Brian McNeal
Prescription Bluegrass Media


Ellie’s first Welcome column
Today's column from Ellie Withnall
Friday, March 27, 2015


As an Australian living in the Cayman Islands I'm not sure how I qualified to write for the California Bluegrass Association. Even worse, I'm not REALLY a musician-sssshh don't tell anyone but I'm actually a veterinary academic who only picked up an instrument for the very first time 5 years ago. Well, that is if you ignore 12 weeks of compulsory recorder playing in high school, and I think it is best to ignore that if we possibly can.

So: scientist not musician, born in the wrong part of the world and now living in the other wrong part of the world. Yep, what could go wrong!

Now, just before you all groan and wonder why on earth I get to be the one writing this instead of your Uncle Buddy who plays a mean bluegrass version of Red Haired Boy on the nyckelharpa, I'll let you in on a secret- I do play fiddle. (And a little bit of banjo, though the less said about those attempts the better at this point, I'm sure you'll all understand.) Actually, it's not really all that big a secret that I play fiddle, since anyone who spends more than 5 minutes in my company is subject to a barrage of fiddle related conversation. Mostly they smile politely and move away as quickly as they can: I almost always get moved to the front of the line at the supermarket these days. However, one of the true joys of teaching is that my students must remain in the classroom for 50 minutes of lecture time 4 days a week. And so far nobody checks if I'm actually teaching them how to be vets. So I've let the cat out the bag about being an almost-fiddler. (Note: letting cats out of bags is a technical veterinary skill requiring years of study and many thousands in college debt, you should not try this at home. Note 2: neither should you try putting a cat INTO a bag at home int he first place-what, are you some kind of cat-hating crazy person?)

I only took up fiddle 5 years ago and so truthfully I know far more about being a scientist crossing over into music than I do about being a musician. However, crossing genres seems to be all the rage these days so perhaps I am accidentally at the cutting edge of something other than a scalpel for once. (An important point I try to teach all of my students, which may be useful to some readers, is that you should avoid being on the accidental cutting edge of a scalpel whenever possible.) Anyway, I thought I might share with you some of the things that scientists don't understand about musicians. Perhaps we'll be able to develop some kind of entente "chord"-iale between us.

People who don't read music.
Not can't, or won't, just don't. What's with that? In my world, when I come across someone who doesn't read words, no matter how hard I try not to, I often feel just a little bit superior to them. After all, I have the skill of literacy and they don't. (I have learned to try not to feel this superiority, or at least not to let it show, even more forcefully when it seems they have the dual skills of bodybuilding and "not taking that attitude from you missy", both skills which I don't have.)

To my eternal humiliation I carried that implied superiority around with me for a few weeks when I first started playing fiddle too, once I had learnt to read music that is. (This seemed relatively safe at the time since, although there are lots of people who "aren't going to take that attitude from a newb" at music camps, there are, perhaps sadly, very few body-builders.) Huh, I would think to myself, that guy--insert name of any legend of bluegrass music teaching at camp--he can't be all that good, after all I can read music and he just admitted he doesn't. I really hope they didn't notice me, or don't remember me. Or move to Alabama where I am unlikely to ever run into them again.

Musical counting is also wrong.
Note: wrong is another word for "not the way scientists do it".

A note that's a fifth above another should be only just a bit higher than the base note. (Don't get me started on musical spelling: base-bass, really?)
One thing we really do know is our fractions. And we know that a fifth is the same as 20%, and 20% is not that big an amount after all, so all this jumping from string to string, or fret to fret, to go up a fifth is puzzling. And as for starting your counting on one and going to two next, that's just crazy. Clearly the proper way to count is to start on zero and go up to one as the first step. If that wasn't correct, we nerdy math and science types would never have won so much money in pubs back in 1999 betting about when the next millennium *truly* starts. We nerdy math and science types actually don't win much of anything in pubs so we would appreciate it if you don't take those few brief months of glory away from us by changing the rules of counting.

Festivals and music camps are also on the list of things we scientists don't get about you.

When veterinarians go to our version of a festival we make it sound pompous and important by calling it a Continuing Education Conference. That's a pretty obvious charade though, everyone knows it's just a junket. Being a party is the whole point of conferences. Who'd voluntarily spend a week learning about allergic skin diseases in cats if it wasn't a thinly veiled holiday away from work? Not us that's for sure. Besides, CE is a requirement of licensure, so the boss has to pay for us to go. Ha! These events are therefore always held in swanky hotels. The lecture rooms have soft padded chairs and there are tiny cups of designer latte and finger food served in the breaks between lectures. There's wifi and airconditioning (heating is never required because these events are almost always in Florida, Vegas, or N'orleans). There are actual rooms to stay in, and they come with hot water and plenty of fluffy white towels. And there's always bar service. Always. The thought of camping out, in the mud (why is there *always *mud?) with hundreds of strangers who specifically want to make noise all night is frightening to us. We're also sure those metal chairs that seem to materialize at camps should come with some kind of FDA health warning. And we'll certainly never understand why one would pay more for a festival with a great headline act and then spend the whole time picking in the camp grounds and never lay eyes on the headliner.

We scientists consider ourselves good at naming things, and you guys just aren't.

Look at all those Latin species names that are so easy to remember because the latin is so descriptive of the species. I'm thinking especially here of the Ornithorhynchus anatinus--clearly a platypus right? So frankly the word "picking" bothers us. I don't use a pick on the fiddle, but I'm still picking? Yikes, my OCD is out of control on this one.

Gear Aquisition Syndrome.
Well yeah, we do also lust over the tools of our trade. Manys the time I've sat and drooled over the stainless steel surgical table catalog. (Really, I probably should get out more often but that's a whole 'nother topic.) And if you put a bunch of vets together and set them talking about the latest drugs available or the newest kind of ultrasound probe you could be forgiven for thinking they sound just like a bunch of guitarists talking about....well, whatever it is you guys talk about that never makes sense to me. But, we really really don't understand paying more for older instruments than for new ones. Sure, we understand about antique furniture and art- but those things just have to look good, they're not items that have to actually perform a useful purpose. If Martin had made X-Ray machines instead of guitars I am 100% positive you would never hear a bunch of vets standing around talking about how lucky they are to have found a pre-war model zappy-zap for "only $50000".

Kickstarter.
I'm still not sure I get this but just to clarify: a group of people with a declared interest in an artist puts up money so that the artist can do their work and produce something which hopefully turns out exactly the way the people with the vested interest wanted? Publically? And everyone's ok with that? Yeah, we call it scientific misconduct when that happens to us. It *would *make it a lot easier if there was a web site where we could go to get those tainted research grants though, but nobody would be using their real name.

Improvisation.
Yeah, we just don't do that. Ever. Nuh-ah.

The closest science comes to improvisation is experimentation. But that requires 6 months of earnest tut-tutting and planning, grant applications, ethical approval, reading lots of highbrow articles in expensive journals and doing things like cohort studies and all sorts of other statitisticy stuff that we pretend to understand. (No-one does though, statistical analysis is the scientific equivalent of the key of A flat minor- we know it's out there, and some people use it, value it and understand it, but we're not those people.) The thought of just standing up in front of a group of one's peers and winging it makes us mutter into our stethoscopes.

Not having a real job.
Yeah, we know you SAY you work really hard at music, sometimes we even believe that you believe that. But really, how hard can it be? You just mess around in some guy's basement a bit and then all pile into a car and drive for hours to some wilderness party (see comments about festivals above), get paid $50 amongst all 6 of you for a 1 hour show and then hang out with your buddies for the rest of the weekend. The reason you don't have a real (read: paying) job is because you are obviously lazy and lack drive and determination like us. What's that? If I'm so driven why aren't I good at fiddle yet? Well, come on, its only been 5 years...............



The Daily Grist—“To play a wrong note occasionally is Forgivable. To not play at all is Unthinkable!”-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Remembrances of the "Rendezvous" nightclub in Lodi, California.
Today's column from JD Rhynes
Thursday, March 26, 2015


Tonight as I was surfing through"Facebook", I ran across a video of George Jones singing a duet with that pretty little Melba Montgomery. Sitting here tonight watching that video of so many years ago, [in the middle to late 60s ], it triggered a memory of the first time that I got to experience Melba Montgomery singing one of her original compositions In person. In fact it was the same one that I watched tonight with her and George Jones singing "we must've been out of our mind". If I remember right, the year was late 1961 or maybe early 1962, because the weather was still colder than a ducks butt in the middle of Montana. One Friday night when the San Joaquin Valley Boys were having their weekly band practice, Dave Caroll our bass player told us that earlier in the day he read in the Stockton Record newspaper, that a week from Saturday the country music act "Lonzo and Oscar", members of the grand ol' Opry, would be appearing at the Rendezvous Nightclub in Lodi California, for one night only. Soooo, We dug out that ad for the show, and it read; Lonzo and Oscar, and band, will be appearing one night only at the Rendezvous Nightclub in Lodi, California. Show starts at 730. Three dollar cover charge. You have to remember that in the early 60s, you did not get to see very many members of the grand ol' Opry live and in person, so the band decided we would go see them, even though it wasn't bluegrass and they were a comedy act.



The Daily Grist—“To play a wrong note occasionally is Forgivable. To not play at all is Unthinkable!”-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Remembrances of the "Rendezvous" nightclub in Lodi, California.
Today's column from JD Rhynes
Thursday, March 26, 2015


Tonight as I was surfing through"Facebook", I ran across a video of George Jones singing a duet with that pretty little Melba Montgomery. Sitting here tonight watching that video of so many years ago, [in the middle to late 60s ], it triggered a memory of the first time that I got to experience Melba Montgomery singing one of her original compositions In person. In fact it was the same one that I watched tonight with her and George Jones singing "we must've been out of our mind". If I remember right, the year was late 1961 or maybe early 1962, because the weather was still colder than a ducks butt in the middle of Montana. One Friday night when the San Joaquin Valley Boys were having their weekly band practice, Dave Caroll our bass player told us that earlier in the day he read in the Stockton Record newspaper, that a week from Saturday the country music act "Lonzo and Oscar", members of the grand ol' Opry, would be appearing at the Rendezvous Nightclub in Lodi California, for one night only. Soooo, We dug out that ad for the show, and it read; Lonzo and Oscar, and band, will be appearing one night only at the Rendezvous Nightclub in Lodi, California. Show starts at 730. Three dollar cover charge. You have to remember that in the early 60s, you did not get to see very many members of the grand ol' Opry live and in person, so the band decided we would go see them, even though it wasn't bluegrass and they were a comedy act.

The next Saturday night we all met at Dave Caroll's house, and Kenny Freeman, Shelby Freeman, Dave Caroll, and I piled into Dave's big 54 Chrysler Imperial and off we went to Lodi. The Rendezvous Nightclub was a very big nightclub for the time with a nice stage, showroom and dance floor, and it probably would seat around 100 people. We got there about 30 min. before showtime, there was already about 75 people there to see the show, and by the time the show started the room was totally full.

The "band", as advertised in the paper, was Oscar doubling on drums and Electric mandolin at times, Lonzo playing rhythm guitar, a Marty Robbins clone playing Electric bass and singing lead vocals, and Melba Montgomery, rhythm guitar and vocals, both lead and harmony.I can't remember the young bass players name because it's been 53 or 54 years ago, but he could sure as hell sing just like Marty Robbins, and was an excellent bass player. Haven't seen hide nor hair of him since then, but isn't that the way it goes in the music business. I had never even heard of Melba Montgomery before that night, but she just knocked the place out with her vocals, both lead and harmony when she sang with the bass player.

They featured Melba on vocals for about a 15 min. segment of the show. She told the audience, here is a new song I wrote on the way to California this trip, and the name of it is "We must have been out of our mind". And her and the bass player proceeded to just absolutely kill it, and brought down the house when they were through. I knew right then that Melba Montgomery was destined for country stardom, and it was about two or three years until her and George Jones hooked up and did some of the most memorable duets in country music history.

Like I said earlier, Lonzo and Oscar were a comedy act, similar to Homer and Jethro, so after the opening set to warm up the audience, there was a about a 45 min. break for the bar to sell drinks and to let Oscar get into his comedy"outfit". Lonzo just wore a suit and tie and he didn't have to change into a costume, so we asked him to sit with us and visit until showtime, which he most graciously did. He was genuinely glad to find out that we were a bluegrass band, that came to see the show even though they were a comedy act. Shelby made the comment to him that that little gal they had singing with them was destined to be a big country star.Lonzo agreed with him wholeheartedly, and told us that she was just 19, and just getting started in the business, but he had no doubt that she was going to be a big star on account of that voice of hers. He sure knew what he was talking about.

The comedy act lasted for 45 min., then there was another 30 to 40 min. break, and then they played a lot of old country standards and dance numbers and the audience danced and enjoyed the hell out of it. Lonzo introduced all of us to the rest of the members of the band after the show was over, and I got to give that pretty little Melba a big hug, and tell her how much I loved her singing. [ Marty Stuart had her on his TV show a week ago, and she can still sing like an angel.]

About three months ago I was driving through Lodi, California one day, and I drove past the remnants of the old Rendezvous Nightclub which was destroyed in a fire some 30 or 40 years ago. About three of the walls are still standing, and it got me to thinking about the night about 54 years ago that the San Joaquin Valley Boys met Melba Montgomery for the first time. I got to thinking about all the country entertainers that I have been fortunate to meet in my lifetime that went on to make it big in country music. People like Cal Smith, Del Reeves, better known as Curly Reeves when he was playing with Chester Smiths band, Chester Smith himself Rose Maddox and her brothers, Leona Williams,Kitty Wells, Cottonseed Clark,Merle Haggard, John Hartford, and a host of others I can't think of right now.In fact, remembering anything nowadays seems to get harder and harder, especially since I have seen 77 winters come and go.

But every once in a while a beautiful memory will pop into my mind that Is such a pleasure to think about, and usually that memory dredges up one related to it and within an hour or so I'm sitting here marveling to myself; geewhiz, was that really me doing that?I sure have had a lot of fun In my lifetime and the best part of it is all related to my music I love with all my heart. I am just glad I can remember this tonight, and be able to share these memories with my bluegrass family. May God bless and keep you all, yer friend JD Rhynes


Small Town Livin'
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I love living in a small town!

Now, let me admit, my “small town” isn’t super small. I know several CBA pals who live in REALLY small towns. My town, Martinez, has about 45,000 people in it, so my “real” small town friends may scoff at me.

My wife and I love the “town” feel of Martinez and while the town is certainly big enough that many residents (maybe most, I don’t know) may not share the small town vibe. But we live right downtown, and are very involved in the town’s activities - the politics, the arts and music and the people. On top of that, my wife has taught at the local pre-school for over 30 years.

So, nearly every little shop or business in Martinez has people who either came through my wife’s school, or whose kids did. Couple that with my involvement in the local music scene, and we are deeply entrenched here.

This visibility can cut both ways. Anyone in trouble in Martinez is very likely to get an outpouring of help and concern from their neighbors. Conversely, it’s not a good town to have any secrets, because they won’t stay secrets. If you’re lucky, they might just reach “rumor” status, but they won’t stay secret for long.

About 5 years ago, an eccentric homeless person passed away here and the town grieved as if a founding father was lost. It was touching, In a small town, even the town eccentrics are seen as people, worthy of compassion and respect. When the Boston Marathon was disrupted by a mad bomber, a local boy was injured and the town organized a number of fund raising activities for the family - we all participated. Most recently, the town was rocked by a horrific tragedy - in a freak accident, a young mother was killed - her car was crushed in her driveway by a gravel truck that tipped over.

Nobody in town, it seemed, was separated by more than a couple of degrees from the victim. Her small child goes to my wife’s school. We will be pulling together some efforts to ease that family’s suffering - there will be individual efforts, and there will be group efforts - I don’t even know what, yet. But we will rally and do what we can.

Yes, the small town goldfish bowl may reveal more that we might wish, but the trade-off is to be part of a sense of community that is downright Capra-esque. And being part of that community makes me feel like a better, more involved human being. It gives life more meaning to pitch in and give time, effort and money.

Of course, a cynic would say my “small town” is really just my neighborhood in a larger town, and maybe that’s true. But I have lived in neighborhoods that didn't have the same sense of community, even after some considerable effort to create it. Maybe it’s just easier to rally around the notion of a home town than a home turf…

Please give your thoughts and prayers for the victim of the tragedy (and her family) this week.



O BLUEGRASS, WHERE ART THOU?
Today's column from Chuck Poling
Tuesday, March 24, 2015


(Editor’s Note—Two years ago our guy in San Francisco wrote an introspective piece for his Welcome column that generated no small amount of give and take on the Message Board. It would be interesting to know if Chuck’s perspective has changed since then. Who knows, maybe he’ll see this reprinted essay and tell us.)

In the past 15 years or so, I’ve become increasingly involved with the bluegrass scene here in San Francisco. When Dark Hollow, fronted by the estimable John Kornhauser, started playing at Radio Valencia in the late 90s, they quickly attracted a devoted audience who demonstrated that there was a market for bluegrass music in the city.

A few years later, the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old-Time Festival kicked off and was a smashing success. Around this time, the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” enchanted America with a soundtrack performed by Ralph Stanley, Norman Blake, Mike Compton, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and other bluegrass/roots musicians. The popularity of the record was undeniable, but even I was stunned when the soundtrack album won the 2002 Grammy for Best Album.

Since then, San Francisco has continued to grow and thrive as a bluegrass-crazy town. There are currently four regular jams in SF, at the Atlas Cafe, the Plough and Stars (both monthly), Amnesia (twice a month), and the Lucky Horseshoe, (every week). The Atlas Jam celebrates its 15th anniversary this Thursday, thank to the tireless efforts of Jimbo Trout, who also books weekly bluegrass performances at the café.

Despite all the apparent enthusiasm for bluegrass in San Francisco, we just don’t seem to get a lot of attention from the bigger bluegrass world. It is extremely rare for any of the top-notch bluegrass touring acts to stop in the city.

Thanks to the late Warren Hellman, who started the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in 2001, we were privileged to see legendary acts like Dr. Ralph, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and Curly Seckler, along with contemporary performers like Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss, Dale Ann Bradley and the Del McCoury Band. But outside of this annual event, the major bluegrass draws are few and far between in the City by the Bay.

What gives?

I’m sure that part of the problem is strictly economic. Out here in the West, things are a lot more spread out than in the southeast section of the country. The distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles would take you through three or four states in the Upper South. When you start toting up the costs of gas, lodging and food when traveling 400 miles between dates, the math just doesn’t work out too well.

Part of it, I’m sure, is perception. San Francisco is just not seen as a hotbed of bluegrass enthusiasm, despite all the local evidence to the contrary. I have several friends who have emigrated to SF from places like Virginia and Tennessee, and they are pleasantly surprised to find out how extensive the bluegrass scene is here. They never expected to find so much of the music here, because, well, it’s San Francisco.

Over the years, I’ve seen some great performances by Del McCoury, Danny Paisley, James King, Mike Compton and David Long, and Ricky Skaggs in San Francisco. But, with the exception of McCoury at the Great American Music Hall, these were underpublicized shows at hole-in-the-wall venues. Some of these gigs were booked when a band was out here on the festival circuit, others were just flukes.

Several years ago Dan Tyminski sold out the Independent, a mid-size (500 capacity) nightclub that generally features, indie-rock, reggae, and world music. It was a fantastic show with a raging, enthusiastic crowd who paid top dollar for their tickets. “Great,” I thought, “maybe now we’ll start getting some big-name acts out here.” But Dan came and went and nobody back in Nashville seemed to notice.

As San Francisco Area VP for the CBA, I’m occasionally contacted by touring acts looking to fill in dates on their calendar for a West Coast tour. I can put them in touch with venues that hold up to 150-200 people, but larger rooms have very elaborate booking processes, need long lead times and have to be convinced that a show will be a money-maker.

I have no doubt that Dale Ann Bradley, the Gibson Brothers, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and many other contemporary touring acts would sell out a 400-500 seat venue here. So the show will be a winner for the venue, but does it make sense for the artists to travel 2000 miles to play SF, LA, and maybe a couple of smaller cities (Fresno, Bakersfield) in between? Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I think a lot of the problem is the perception by many in the bluegrass world that California in general, and San Francisco in particular, is a world unto itself, with a unique combination of cultural, political, and socio-conomic values that are unlike anywhere else in the country.

Yes, we’re different out here, but we are a) still Americans, and b) we like bluegrass music – really. So, fellow San Franciscans, all I can do is encourage you to continue to play and listen to bluegrass music, go to the many local jams we have, attend shows and buy CDs from the artists. Maybe the bluegrass powers-that-be think of us as city slickers who don’t have an emotional and historical attachment to the music. Phooey! Whatever we lack in pedigree, we can make up in persistence.

Posted: 2/25/2013



DAILY GRIST…”Bluegrass has brought more people together and made more friends than any music in the world. You meet people at festivals and renew acquaintances year after year.” – Bill Monroe


You Might Get Your Kicks at Route 66
Today’s column from Yvonne Tatar
Monday, March 23, 2015


Having lived in both Northern and Southern California, I am well aware of the enormous length of this state, and, really, how we are split into basically two main north and south geographical areas. That said, when festivals roll around, many of us are faced with a long, arduous drive if we live in Northern California and decide to make the big trek to a festival in the Southern end of the state. And just the opposite is true. Many Southern California folks must decide whether or not to travel a couple of days to attend festivals up north like CBA’s Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley. Some folks happily make those long drives, but some don’t, preferring to stay closer to home and attend festivals in their “neck of the woods.”

The newest festival in Southern California is the Route 66 Bluegrass Festival happening Father’s Day weekend. This festival is the brainchild of Eric Nordbeck and Lorrie Sanders, both Southwest Bluegrass Association movers and shakers. Their idea for having this festival is to provide the bluegrass festival experience to those in Southern California who, for various reasons, are not making the long, long drive north. In past years, the Huck Finn Jubilee was held on Father’s Day weekend in the High Desert area of Victorville, and in the last three years it has been in other Southern California locations. But this year, Huck Finn has broken that tradition, and will happen the week before the Father’s Day weekend on June 11, 12 & 13th. That move left Southern Californians festival-less on Father’s Day weekend. A void that needed to be filled, right?

According to Nordbeck, SWBA’s current president, their Route 66 fest will be held at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds back in Victorville. “Lorrie and I have been talking about hosting our own festival for years and have decided this is the year to take a leap of faith and put together a serious plan to bring bluegrass back to the High Desert. For me, it’s time to think about what I want to do when I retire from my teaching career and I think Lorrie’s even older than I am, so the timing seems to make sense.” And let’s make it clear that this is not a SWBA festival, but a private endeavor by Nordbeck and Sanders who just happen to be part of the SWBA hierarchy.

At the Victorville fairgrounds, there will be ample dry camping spaces and over 100 full hook-up sites available, too. The venue also provides a beautiful stage, lots of jamming areas, vendors, security and all the “extras” that will give this event a comfortable and consistent home for this festival. Nordbeck explains that, “Lorrie and I promise to put together a family friendly festival featuring many of our own West Cost bands and activities that promote the best of a traditional bluegrass festival.” They will be needing volunteers and will treat them well. They are looking forward to those interested in helping out and also the support from the Southern California bluegrass community for their new adventure.

Bands heading their lineup include Eric Uglum & Bud Bierhaus & the Vintage Martins (great show here – saw them at Lake Havasu and wowsers!), Silverado, Get Down Boys, Grasslands, Burning Heart, MojaviSoul, This Just In, Windy Ridge, Back Porch Bluegrass, Sweet Tidings, and the SWBA Bluegrass Kids. Other items to mention include a songwriter’s showcase, covered audience area, workshops, craft & food vendors, and kid’s activities. Looks like they have it covered in the “fun for all ages” category.

So, it should be a great time, and as their slogan states, “Come and Pick on Route 66.” This festival will bring bluegrass back to the High Desert area. Feel free to call or email Eric with questions, etc. You can contact him at 760-218-8752 or email at route66bluegrass@gmail.com. Welcome, Route 66 to the West Coast bluegrass festival circuit! And good luck!



THE DAILY GRIST…” Was the One Eyed, One Horned, Flying Purple People Eater really purple or did he only eat purple people?”—Jeanie


Novelty Songs
Today’s Column by Jeanie Ramos
Sunday, March 22, 2015


Recently, someone asked me how many songs I know. I can honestly say I don’t know. I’ve learned hundreds of songs over the years and evidently, there are some in my head that I don’t even know that I know. A couple nights ago, I had a crazy dream. I was enjoying a jam with some of my favorite CBA people and when it was my turn I started singing:

Now I’ve got a guy and his name is Dooley

He’s my guy and I love him truly

He’s not good lookin’, heaven knows

But I’m wild about his crazy clothes


He wears, tan shoes with pink shoelaces

A polka dot vest and man, oh, man

He wears tan shoes with pink shoelaces

A big Panama with a purple hatband!

Where did that dream come from? I’ve never sung that song that I can remember. That is a novelty song that came out in 1959. How is it that I not only came up with those lyrics after all these years, but I remembered another verse about Dooley enlisting in a fighting corps, and landed in the brig for raisin’ such a storm, when they tried to put him in a uniform. Well, the bluegrass police were not there in my dream, I sang the whole song and no one thought it was odd. I think Marcos even came in with some harmony parts on the chorus.

It amazes me that songs like these can catch on and become top ten hits when there are so many more beautiful songs done by wonderful singers that never make the charts. True, many of these are “one hit wonders,” but there are a few singers who have done quite well by doing “novelty” songs. Ray Stevens comes to mind, with songs like “The Streak,” “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” “Ahab the Arab,” etc. He actually is a skilled musician and has written and recorded some good serious songs such as “Misty,” and “Everything is Beautiful,”(which won him a Grammy) but the novelty songs obviously made him a lot of money.

Homer and Jethro were also good musicians who could do straight songs but were known for doing parodies. They won a Grammy in 1959 for their song “The Battle of Kookamonga,” a parody of Johnny Horton’s, “Battle of New Orleans.” My personal favorite was their parody of “It was Fascination,” one of the lines was; “She had nine buttons on her night gown but she could only fasten eight.”

With the hard times that we’re living in, where the future is worrisome for many, it’s obvious that we need a little light heartedness and comic relief. I guess that is why and occasional novelty song becomes a big hit. Remember Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy?” That is a classic novelty song that was done a cappella and was a happy, little “feel good” tune.

In the Bluegrass Genre, we have The Cleverlys who do some comedy along with their music. It adds some variety but none of us would want a steady diet of it. If I had to choose between a song like “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it’s Flavor,” and Russell Moore singing “She’s Walking Through My Memory,” I would choose Russell Moore every time.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all at the Spring Camp-Out, I promise not to sing “Pink Shoelaces” if you won’t sing “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.” See you in Turlock, God bless.



Bluegrassian Questionnaire with Keith Little
Today's column from Cameron Little
Saturday, March 21, 2015


(A continuing series of interviews loosely based on the “Proust Questionnaire” - bluegrass style!)

So, give me a show of hands, people: can you name anyone in bluegrass who has NOT played with Keith Little? [cue ambient cricket noise]

That’s right. Virtually everyone in bluegrass has played with Keith, who’s a master multi-instrumentalist, vocal artisan, songwriter, popular music camp instructor, and bluegrass entrepreneur. Whether onstage with Keith Little and the Little Band, playing with Ricky Skaggs, touring with David Grisman, or performing on A Prairie Home Companion with Peter Rowan, Keith is bluegrass personified. A humble philosopher with a playful wit and secret sweet-tooth, let’s see what Keith has to say:

1. What's your idea of perfect happiness?
World peace.

2. What's your greatest fear?
That ordinary people the world over will abandon believing they hold the key to the answer to question #1.

3. What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
A ukulele, given by my mother on my 6th birthday. She also taught me how to play “Ain't She Sweet” on the thing.

4. What bluegrass event or recording first “blew your mind”?
“Ground Speed”, side A, cut 1, of the “Foggy Mountain Banjo” album by Flatt & Scruggs. I remember what I was wearing, and what the room looked like when the needle cut down on that song. I had just turned 13, and it was my first exposure to recorded bluegrass music. My father had recently fallen under the spell of Earl Scruggs style banjo, and we ordered the album from Palm Music in Auburn, CA, on a recommendation published in a little red book entitled “How To Play The 5-String Banjo” by Pete Seeger.

5. Which living bluegrass people do you most admire?
Who are bluegrass people anyway? OK…here are a few from the artist category: Del McCoury, Paul Williams, Buck White, Roscoe Keithley, Tim O'Brien, & Lynn Morris.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?
Chocolate…don't really “need” it at all. Sure is mighty good, though.

7. When and where were you the happiest?
Pretty much all of the time, and just about anywhere. I'm basically a happy camper, especially when music and chocolate are involved.

8. If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?
What is superpower anyway? I mean, we all have it…we just don't know how to use it as such.

9. Who would be sitting in your dream jam?
Hard to tell who'd be sitting in the jam…I'd be standing up.

10. Who are you listening to these days?
From my latest trip to the discount bin at Armadillo Records in Davis…Bill Withers, Linda Ronstadt.

11. If you could hear any non-bluegrass tune done bluegrass, what would it be?
What is a “non-bluegrass” tune, anyway? OK, how about “People Get Ready”…guess we'll have to wait for the “Pickin' on Curtis Mayfield” album to be released.

12. What song hits your heart every time?
Claire Lynch, singing her composition “Friends For A Lifetime,” recorded in the early 1990's. It's a riveting performance, and the chorus line, “When it's all been done and said,” never fails to bring tears of joy to my eyes.

13. What bluegrass memory makes you smile?
What's a bluegrass memory anyway? OK then, how's this…Nearly all of them.

14. If you were reincarnated as a person or thing, who or what would you want to be?
I wrote a song awhile back entitled “I'd Like to Come Back as a Song”. Some good choices in that vein would be: “Amazing Grace,” “Oh Freedom,” “Keep On The Sunny Side.”

15. What is your most treasured possession?
Health and well-being.

16. What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Among the best musical advice came from Vern Williams: “We can't expect everybody to like our music, but if we love performing it, those who may not appreciate it at first, will eventually give way.” (note: I edited this quote to be G-rated, for public consumption).

17. What is something about you that most people don’t know?
I don't consider myself to be particularly well-known, and as such would think that most people would not know my name, or that I'm a guitar player and singer, and have a band. If they know that…and perhaps they might also know that my band is performing at the 40th annual CBA Father’s Day Festival in June…then perhaps they might not know that I was a CBA board member in 1975, and was on the site selection committee that chose the Nevada County Fairgrounds as the site for the first CBA festival. I also performed there with the Vern Williams Band.

18. Do you have a favorite music joke?
Not really…but here's a couple that are in the running. 1st: What is the difference between a banjo and a chainsaw? A chainsaw has dynamic range. 2nd: What is the difference between a viola and a violin? A viola burns longer.

19. What is your motto?
Don't really have a motto as such…but if I had one, it would probably be something akin to the title of a Wayland Patton song…“We should only have time for love.”

Bluegrass Today published an excellent in-depth interview with Keith (great minds think alike) on March 19th, and you can find the article here: http://bluegrasstoday.com/keith-little-band-leader/


Was it really there?
Guest Column from Gene Bach
Friday, July 31, 2009


(Editor’s Note—Here’s one from six years ago that’ll get you thinking.)

Have you ever had the feeling you weren’t alone? When you’re walking along a moonlit path, or in places where the sun isn’t able to penetrate a tangled web of branches on its’ quest to reach the ground? When the wind moans through the treetops, do you ever think you hear something unusual? Have you ever caught motion in the corner of your eye, or been startled by the rustling of leaves behind you, and had the hair on your neck stand on end?

For a good number of years, my Grandma and Grandpa were caretakers on a high dollar duck club in the Butte Sink area about ten miles West of Gridley, California. It was a great place for an adventurous teenager to spend the summers. There were several large canals there to fish in, and I could roam the entire area at will on a daily basis. I knew every square inch of that place and could easily have closed my eyes and found my way to wherever I wanted to go.

And yet, as familiar as I was with the property during the day, everything changed at night. As innocuous as the landmarks I used to navigate the lighted hours were, they took on a much more sinister personality during the night. The old cottonwood tree, with the broken branches on either side, became a night creature with outstretched arms that beckoned me near. The sound of the water rushing through the pipes, going from one side of the road to the other, at night sounded like something slithering across the dusty gravel road, coming closer, ever so much closer.

And yet, even with those things hovering all around me in the darkness, I bravely went about my way in search of catfish. Most likely I did so because I never really saw anything: at least not outside I didn’t. I can’t say the same thing for inside the clubhouse.

The place were my grandparents lived, and the hunters stayed during those times they were at the club, was an old eight bedroom, three bathroom, sprawling house, built four feet off the ground. My grandparents had a bedroom and bathroom on the west side of the house, and to the south was a long wing that contained seven bedrooms and two bathrooms. When I was there I always slept in the first bedroom on the left.

My bedroom wasn’t large at all, perhaps ten feet wide by ten feet long. It had a small closet, and there were two twin beds, on either side of the window opposite the entry door from the hall. Between them was a night stand. The walls were dark-stained tongue and groove knotty pine. I always slept in the bed on the left side of the room. I slept well there, and my stays were uneventful: until that morning…

I awakened on a warm summer morning as the sun began to shine through my window. I was on my stomach with my head turned away from the center of the room, toward the wall. As my eyes slowly opened, and I struggled to gain some awareness of the day, I sensed that I was not alone. I became intensely aware that there was someone standing next to me, between the beds. I turned my head to the center of the room to see who it was, and looked at the figure of a man in a military uniform: a man who shouldn’t have been there. When I moved my eyes up to get a look at his face, I saw that he had no head. Quickly, I turned away, buried my head in the pillow, and disappeared in the covers. I stayed that way, frozen with fear, for what seemed to be an eternity. When I gathered the courage to look again, he was gone.

I leapt out of bed and ran into the kitchen where my Grandma and Grandpa were having coffee and breakfast. I told them of what I saw. They listened, but I’m sure they didn’t believe me. I had some coffee with them, ate some breakfast, and then went back to my room to get dressed, still a bit nervous, to say the least.

I never again saw the figure of the headless man in the military uniform, nor did I ever hear of anyone else who did. My grandparents may not have believed me, but I know that what I saw that morning was as real a thing as I have ever seen.

So, how about you? Have you ever experienced anything like that? Have you come into contact with things that you could not explain? Bluegrass ghost stories…a topic of interest to many, I would think.


Going and coming
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Thursday, March 19, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where the memo that today’s the first day of spring has clearly gone out to every living thing that calls this little patch of ground home. It’ll be a glorious day in the mid-seventies and, be still my heart, there’s even a little rain in the forecast. Yes, “little”, but hey, that beats a stick in the eye.

Today’s column, third Thursday, has for the past year and a half been handled by James Reams, a bluegrass band leader of some note (James Reams and the Barnstormers)(, documentarian, author and, as it turned out, a really good guy. Last month I received the following note from James…

“Hi Rick,

I’ve attached my article for the Feb. 19th welcome column. I’ve just been notified by the IBMA that I’m being considered as a candidate for nomination to the IBMA Board plus I’m hard at work on my new album. Since these projects are taking more of my time than I’d like to admit, I need to request a hiatus from column writing until after World of Bluegrass. However, I may still be able to submit an article from time to time that you can fit in wherever you have an opening.

Yours in bluegrass,

James Reams”

Now, for years and years this type of email had the power of ruining my day…sometimes my week…but fifteen years of managing our Welcome Column operation has taught me one very important lesson, which is that our CBA clan is large enough (not to mention talented enough) to ensure that there’ll always be someone JUST RIGHT waiting in the wings.

So, we were about half way through a killer line-up of showcase acts back at the IBMA in Raleigh last October when my dear, decades-long-time friend Maria Nadauld strode up and introduced me to Ellie Withnall. It was one of those rare an wonderful moments in life that happens just infrequently enough that one never is at risk of taking them for granted…in less than a minute, less than sixty seconds, it was abundantly clear that Ellie and I would be friends for life. I won’t explain because you’re a human being and all of us have had such experiences.
Ellie Withnall is a professor of veterinary anesthesiology at St. Matthew's University in the Cayman Islands, an avid and dedicated fiddle player (who’s teacher is Megan B. Lynch Chowning, hence the Maria connection, a hopeless love-slave to bluegrass music and, beginning a week from tomorrow, our new fourth Friday Welcome columnist.

Now, you may be asking, how did I know Ellie has the stuff required for serving as one of our columnists? Here’s a Facebook post she made earlier this week, which should answer your question…

“I know a LOT about alcohol and drugs. Some from first hand experience but mostly from studying big fat textbooks or skinny little cutting-edge peer reviewed papers. There's even a t-shirt on my office door that states that "drugs are my life" in case people wonder what my job is all about.

Ask me, and I'll tell you, about drugs that make you feel happy, or sad, sedate or tranquil. Ask me what will allow you to feel nothing at all or everything in the Universe all at once. If you'd like to know, I'll tell it to you straight.

Need a drug that will effect your affect? I know a couple.

I can tell you about drugs that help you cope with suicidal thoughts, or give you suicidal thoughts, or drugs that make you plot to "assist" the suicide of others (whether willing or not).
If you need to know about drugs that create euphoria, or dysphoria, or any old run-of-the-mill-phoria then I am your man. (I even know drugs that can make that literally true instead of just metaphorically wink emoticon )

BUT, I can honestly tell you that there are NO drugs that can give you the feeling of bullet-proof immortality I am currently feeling. After 5 years I just had the BEST fiddle moment ever. It's not worth telling you the details (so don't ask). If you don't play fiddle it won't mean anything to you, and if you do then you've got one all of your own already and you don't need my moment to warm the cockles of your heart, But trust me, pour out the tequila, tear up the forged prescription, give your Granny her sleeping pills back, put down the crack pipe, hand the bong back to your room-mate, and TAKE. UP. FIDDLE!!”

Please folks, help me say WELCOME to Ellie Withnall


Collaborations
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Playing music with other people - whether you’re jamming or “officially” performing - it’s a collaboration that creates a whole, greater than the sum of its parts. The most stark example of this is in vocal harmonies. Have you noticed that when a harmony stack is perfect, it sounds like another voice has joined the mix? John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas even named that magical voice and tried to craft his band’s vocals to feature it.

It’s not a studio trick - I have heard the mystery voice listening to Doyle Lawson’s band warm up backstage. Three people singing - and suddenly you can swear there’s a fourth in there. It gives you chills!

The CBA itself is one big, many layered collaboration, isn’t it? From the small-scale collaborations of folks jamming at a festival, to the various committees and volunteer groups, on up to the Board of Directors. It’s very impressive how well all that works, if you think about it!

Oddly, I thought of this whole collaboration theme while noticing a book written by two authors. How the heck do two people write a book? Sometimes, co-authored books are “ghosted” - the famous guy’s name sells the book, but the “co-author” did all the heavy lifting.

Then I got to thinking of songwriting. I was in a band where two of the members wrote terrific songs together, and I had to marvel at the process and the results. They didn't hide their method - each wrote snippets of melodies and lyrics and they just traded notes and created amazing songs.

A few years ago, a person I met at a gig told me he wrote lyrics but not music and asked me if I could put his “poems” to music. I did a few of them, and enjoyed the exercise, but results weren't that great - I don’t still play any of those songs.

Of course, in the old Tin Pan Alley days, there were lyric specialists and melody specialists and timeless classics flowed forth from the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Gilbert and Sullivan. Later on, of course, Jagger/Richards and Lennon/McCartmey made history as well.

For me, I’d much rather play music with people than play it alone. I would rather sing with people than sing alone. I enjoy the challenge of being an effective musician in an ensemble, and I feel real good when it seems like I've helped make the group sound better than they would without me.

But songwriting, and writing, no, that’s me alone. Expressing myself, by myself. Then sharing the results with everybody else.



Flights of Fantasy in a Dark Winter World
Today's column from Dave Williams
Tuesday, March 17, 2015


(Editor’s Note: A reprise from just a year ago. Dave Williams caught us by surprise with this one.)

I found this passage on a wall hanging in the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, WA (Seattle) describing the qualities of a writer and somehow relating it to brewing beer. Actually, this passage was hung in multiple spots in the brewery and the connected pub.

A Writer' Gift —"a certain kind of intelligence, not the mathematician’s or the philosopher’s but the storyteller’s—an intelligence no less subtle than the mathematician’s or the philosopher’s but not so easily recognized. Like other kinds of intelligence, the storyteller’s is partly natural, partly trained. It is composed of several qualities, most of which, in normal people, are signs of either immaturity or incivility: wit (a tendency to make irreverent connections); obstinacy and a tendency toward churlishness (a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true); childishness (an apparent lack of mental focus and serious life purpose, a fondness for daydreaming and telling pointless lies, a lack of proper respect, mischievousness, an unseemly propensity for crying over nothing); a marked tendency toward oral or anal fixation or both (the oral manifested by excessive eating, drinking, smoking, and chattering; the anal by nervous cleanliness and neatness coupled with a weird fascination with dirty jokes); remarkable powers of eidetic recall, or visual memory (a usual feature of early adolescence and mental retardation); a strange admixture of shameless playfulness and embarrassing earnestness, the latter often heightened by irrationally intense feelings for or against religion; patience like a cat’s; a criminal streak of cunning; psychological instability; recklessness, impulsiveness, and improvidence; and finally, an inexplicable and incurable addiction to stories, written or oral, bad or good. Not all writers have exactly these same virtues, of course. Occasionally one finds one who is not abnormally improvident.”

Excerpt From: Gardner, John. “On Becoming a Novelist.” Open Road Integrated Media, 2010-08-06.

I am not saying I’m a writer, but a guy can have aspirations can’t he. By my own accounting I have most of these traits, so it seems I have met the prerequisites. I’ll need to continue working on my skills though.

I happened on this wall hanging on a “tour” of the brewery. The tour consists of going into a second story room with windows on three sides overlooking the brewery. The fourth side is a bar with eight or nine beer taps. The tour guide (bartender) pours a beer for everyone and then, in an engaging and entertaining way, discusses the operations of the brewery, sharing all kinds of numbers and statistics on volumes and cases, etc. and gives a cursory spiel on how beer is made. As you might expect, there are strategic breaks in his banter that are filled with more beer pours and the “tour” continues until we have tasted them all.

How does this relate to bluegrass, I know your asking? Well at the end of the tour, I broke out my “Kay Backpackers Upright Bass” (I never leave home without it anymore. I really like how well it travels in the cheap seats of airplanes, fitting very nicely in the “shared storage space” of the overhead bins). Then Linda opened up her mandolin case and we began picking for the after tour drinking crowd. A few fiddle tunes and some high singing from Linda and the crowd was eating it up. Our tour guide finally stopped us as they needed to clear the “tour room” for the next group.

I guess we did okay as they offered us a gig playing for the tours on a regular basis. Told us we could fill in the band as we needed (except for banjos, apparently they had some bad experiences in the past). The money was only fair but the offer included all the beer we could drink (and carry).

Obviously, I turned them down. It was Seattle after all. We were there for five dismal, dreary, dark, wet, windy and cold days. I didn’t know if it was Seattle or Alaska. Why isn’t there any daytime in this place? I can’t work in those conditions. If I was there another day who knows what could have happened…. but it wouldn’t have been pretty.

Anyway, the gig is still open for anyone foolhardy enough to want live there. Tell Dave, the tour guy from Ukiah that Dave, the backpacker bass guy from Mountain View sent you. That and a buck should get you your own brewery experience.

Disclaimer: The accounts of the Redhook Brewery experience above may or may not have happened. I am a little too crazy to tell. I need some sunshine badly.

Alright, I got the bluegrass content requirement covered so I can get back to the point.

I don’t know if the writers on these pages have all of the above mentioned qualities but I do know that, in my opinion, there are some very good writers in the bunch and I feel lucky and honored to get some of my work published alongside theirs. This is my twelfth 1st Thursday column and completes my first year in this fun gig and I thank Rick and the CBA for giving me the chance to have some fun with this.

I can hardly wait until next year to get going again. In a couple, two or three months it will be spring and the lunacy will lift. I just realized that I went a whole column without mentioning tequila.


THE DAILY GRIST…”No ma'am, I don't rob the passengers. I'm only after Wells Fargo.”…(Charles Bowles)

Black Bart
Today’s Column from Bert Daniel
Monday, March 16, 2015


I’ve often wondered how people find the inspiration to write new original music when there’s already so much great stuff out there. You get the impression that, with all the great songs and tunes we know, sooner or later all the note combinations and story telling ideas might get used up and there’s no place to go. But I’ve jammed with a few people, seemingly regular people like you and me, who have composed their own original compositions and some of those efforts are really good.

Go to any bluegrass festival and check out the workshops. One of the most popular topics is songwriting because every musician is somewhat fascinated by the process. I’ve attended some of these workshops myself but unfortunately there’s no real formula to make a songwriter out of someone just because they love the music and have an interest in songwriting.

I’m here to tell you that if you have ever had the urge to write an original song but you think you couldn’t, it is within your grasp. The only thing you need is something called inspiration. The experienced songwriters get it more than the rest of us but it happens for all of us and sometimes that could result in some new music. Only once in my life did I ever have the inspiration to write a new song. I may never write another song as long as I live but that’s OK. Here’s how it happened.

You’ve heard of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, George and Ira Gershwin? Musical collaborations between lyricists and composers can be extremely productive. My own collaborator was a nefarious historical character by the name of Charles Bowles, AKA Black Bart.

Black Bart was a bandit who preyed on stage coaches in northern California. He lived in a nice flat in San Francisco, not far from the Wells Fargo offices. When he needed money he would get a ride and then hike out to some place where he could ambush a stage coach and make off with the strong box. He was afraid of horses so he accomplished his banditry simply by cunning ambushes and the ability to walk long distances on foot, avoiding the authorities. He would perhaps have never been apprehended had it not been for an article of clothing he left at one crime scene, which had a tell tale laundry mark.

Black Bart left that laundered item in haste, but another thing he left regularly at his crime scenes was poetry. And that’s how I found my lyricist. My friend Ernie Hunt had been recruited to entertain the residents of Cloverdale for a lecture about Black Bart and I was one of the people Ernie asked to back him for the gig. All we had to do was sing a couple of western themed songs and then everybody could listen to the lectures about Black Bart.

Our band worked up a couple of Roy Rogers tunes and Ernie commented that it was too bad we didn’t have a song about Black Bart. I was sure there must be a song about this guy. Outlaw songs are everywhere. Jesse James, Cole Younger, Otto Wood, Bonnie and Clyde. How hard can it be to find a song about a famous outlaw? All I have to do is a simple internet search, right? Then we’ll have an appropriate song for our gig.

I found nothing. But I did find all the poems that Black Bart had left at the scenes of his crimes. The interesting thing for me was that every poem was in the same meter. Now I had my inspiration! As I read the stanzas, a tune popped into my head and all I had to do now was write some verses to fill in the gaps. It literally took me less than an hour to write everything and make tablature for the tune using a tef file which the computer could play back to me.

Since then, I’ve sat for hours trying to write another song. Maybe some day I’ll get some more of that inspiration but if I don’t that’s OK. I learned something in the process and it was fun to make my opus one when I figured it would always be opus zero.

BLACK BART (by Daniel and Bowles)

Black Bart was a noted highwayman
His name was Charley Bowles
He always played the gentleman
Wells Fargo paid his toll.

He set his trap near Cloverdale
For the stagecoach out of Lakeport
Left all alive to tell his tale
With poetry left for sport

I've labored long and hard for bread
For honor boys, for riches
But on my corns too long you've tread
You fine-haired sons of bitches


With a flour sack upon his head
Holes cut out for the eyes
He said old boys, I'll shoot you dead
If you don't give me your prize

Here I lay me down to sleep
To 'wait the coming morrow
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat
And everlasting sorrow


A shotgun brandished in his hand
He never rode a horse
With pointed sticks that looked like guns
He took the goods, of course

Let come what will, I'll try it on
My condition can't be worse
And if there's money in that box
'Tis money in my purse


Oh, what became of old Black Bart?
He spent his time in jail
Got out on good behavior then
Wells Fargo had him tailed

He drifted on from town to town
Had he left his life of sin?
Wells Fargo lost all track of him
Some say he struck again

So here I've stood while wind and rain
Have set the trees a sobbing'
And risked my life for that damned box
That wasn't worth the robin’


(Note Bene: Some historians think that last chorus was written by a copycat criminal, not Black Bart. I hope not. Royalties might be pretty thin on this one as it is)



Something Old Something New!
By Geoff Sargent and Peter Langston
Sunday March 15, 2015


Something old,
Something new,
Something borrowed,
Something blue,
And a silver sixpence in her shoe

This olde English rhyme describes a tradition of what brides should wear on their wedding day. Like most rhymes similar to this one, its origins are lost in history. However, according to the Deep Thought computer algorithm “Wikipedia” (the repository of all human knowledge worth knowing) we can explain some of the items in the rhyme. Evidently “something old” and “something blue” in a bride’s trousseau could have their origins in fending off the evil eye! Unfortunately these old English rhymes did not anticipate a more modern society where traditions have evolved so I think the rhyme is good advice for brides and grooms alike. Beware the evil eye! I’ve never really understood what an “evil eye” is or does, because after all in our society it can mean so many things. I typically think about it when I say something inappropriate in a crowd, an altogether frequent occurrence, and someone close to me gives me the “eye”, sometimes also known as the “hairy eyeball”. I guess it is better than a kick in the shins. But, with an eye towards music camp we try to mix up our instructors with some old and some new…..the blue is already there (as in bluegrass). We can assure you there are a bunch of borrowed instruments, especially if you are a CBA member and check out an instrument from the CBA lending library. The only thing that might be missing are some sixpences stuck in shoes. Maybe penny loafers would work! So, come marry yourself to this musical experience and help us celebrate many more music camp and festival anniversaries.

This month there are three instructors we’d like to introduce. I think at least one might be new to music camp, and I am told that at least one taught long before my time.

Rafe Stefanini is teahing Old-Time Guitar Back-Up level 1/2. This class will concentrate on the role of the guitar in an old time band or as the back up to a fiddle or a banjo, as well as a back up to songs and is designed for players with intermediate ability. There will be a good amount of listening done to old recordings of influential guitar masters such as Riley Puckett, John Dilleshaw, Asa Martin etc. and together we will unravel their secrets. We will be using a flatpick primarily but we will look into the use of thumb and index as well in the styles of Maybelle Carter and Roscoe Holcomb.

Rafe Stefanini has been one of the foremost interpreters of American Traditional Mountain Music on fiddle, banjo and guitar and song for nearly three decades, since his arrival to the US from his native Italy in 1983. His work with bands like The Wildcats, The L7s, Big Hoedown, The Rockinghams and his current duo with daughter Clelia has produced over 20 recordings and he has performed all around the US, Southeast Asia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Australia and many more places near and far. As a teacher he has been a staple at music events such as Ashokan Fiddle and Dance, The Swannanoa Gathering, The Augusta Heritage Foundation, and he has been a judge at the prestigious contest at The Appalachian Mountain Music Festival in Clifftop, W.Va. many times. The late Mike Seeger once called him “a national treasure”. He is currently performing with Clelia, solo, and with Jumpsteady Boys. You can reach him at rafeyjello@aol.com or 215 888 5136. For video clips search www.Youtube.com

Carol McComb will be teaching Traditional Bluegrass and Country Singing Styles, level 2/3 This class offers detailed information and individual guidance with lots of singing in traditional bluegrass and country styles, including ornamentation, vocal technique, tone production, exercises to strengthen your voice and increase your range, etc.. Sight reading is not a pre-requisite, but you will receive exact transcriptions of artists like Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, the Louvin Brothers, Ginny Hawker, Roscoe Holcomb and more to help you remember the details of each song. Some harmony singing will be covered, but the focus will be on vocal technique and helping you find the best key for the songs you already know.

Carol McComb is a vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist with over 40 years of performing, recording, and teaching experience in bluegrass and other styles. She is a veteran of the Gryphon Quintet (known for their gospel harmonies and Carol's original bluegrass songs) who played in the CBA festival often in the 1980s. Her songs have been recorded by Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Keith Little, and many others. She has toured with Linda Ronstadt and Joan Baez. These days when Carol is not teaching, she tours as one half of the Elektra Records traditional folk and old-time duo “Kathy and Carol. Carol can be found on the net at www.carolmccomb.com

Sally Van Meter will be teaching Dobro level 3. This class is designed to get you all through the reality check of what playing Dobro is really about: Musicality: melody, lyrical phrasing, tone production, slide bar control, clarity, and again, connecting those fingerboard threads that are so important to be able to solo with ease and confidence. We will work on all of those aspects, plus learn a few songs/tunes, and what to do with them past the initial getting to know the song/tune - meaning how to solo on the fly. Much of the class will be taught by ear, and I will provide some tab, but the tab is for you to spend time with outside of class as much as possible. We will learn some good technical and practice skills and habits you can take home with you as well. We will also spend a short amount of time considering minor scale songs, and have a great time working with the bluesy side of bluegrass Dobro. There will be varying levels of ability in this class, but there is always common ground, and my hope/goal is to fill in some of the blanks for you all.

Sally Van Meter is a native Californian hailing originally from Chico, CA. She was an early member of “Good Ol’ Persons” and has played with David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Tony Rice, Chris Hillman, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan and the Rowan Brothers, Laurie Lewis, Russ Barenberg, Kathy Kallick, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Maura O'Connell and Leftover Salmon. Sally is well known to dobro players world wide for her clean style, lyrical breaks, and powerful picking.

Registration for the 2015 CBA Music Camp opened on February 7 during some welcome precipitation. The 15th CBA Summer Music Camp will take place June 14th to 17th at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California. More information is available at the music camp website http://cbamusiccamp.com. And we would like to remind you that you can give CBA Music Camp as a gift for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Graduation, Birthdays Valentine's Day, and even April Fool's Day. Check it out at our web site.



This Bluegrass Life – “Fiddlin’ Around”
Today’s Column from John A. Karsemeyer
Saturday, March 14, 2015,


If you want an instrumental challenge, trying taking up the fiddle. If you want a life-long pursuit of trying to master a musical instrument, play the fiddle.

There is some evidence that the fiddle has its roots in Europe during the 10th century, and by now fiddles can be found all over the world. The term “fiddle” is often confused with “violin,” which begs the question, “What is the difference between a fiddle and a violin?” Different answers appear, depending on who is answering. “A fiddle has ‘strangs,’ and a violin has strings.” That is one answer. Another answer is, “A violin plays Swan Lake, and a fiddle plays Ducks on the Pond.” Other answers abound, serious and hilarious.

A perpetual question that occasionally rears its head is, “What makes a person want to play a fiddle?” You know, why does one person want to take up that four stringed, wood and wire contraption, while another could care less? A fiddle is one of the most difficult musical instruments on which to become competent, so maybe folks who are generally up for challenges are more drawn to a fiddle.


Hearing another person who is a master of the fiddle can be motivation for a person to try and learn this instrument. A person may have been born into a musical family that has a member who plays the fiddle, providing exposure to fiddle music. But that is just one potential motivator. Some people grow up in musical families and aren’t necessarily drawn to musical instruments. Some do, some don’t, some will, some won’t.

Maybe a person hears a fiddle player for the first time at a bluegrass festival, and that is what grabs him or her and holds on tight for a for a short while, or for a life time. Hearing fiddlers like Stewart Duncan (Nashville’s finest), Alison Krauss (at age 14 was fiddle champ in five different states), Mark O’Connor (best of the best), Laurie Lewis (California’s “gold”), and other unknowns of all ages who can knock your socks off (musically speaking) can potentially be highly motivating for a person to start down Fiddler’s Road.

The first time I heard a fiddle player was in the living room of a friend’s family. Leonard Smith, the dad, was playing the fiddle, and Francis, the mom was playing the guitar. At the time this kind of musical thing was happening in many parts of the United States, but my musical listening and viewing experience was a little unusual in that it happened in southern California in the early 1960’s. What made it really unusual is that Leonard Smith was playing the fiddle with one arm. Yes, playing with one arm because that is all he had (check out You Tube, “Leonard Smith - one armed fiddler,” if you want to see how he did it).

Within the California Bluegrass Association we have many folks who play and carry on the tradition of fiddling. You can see them playing at various musical events that we have in California, and you can witness a plethora of fiddlers at the annual CBA Father’s Day Festival held in Grass Valley, CA (40th Annual coming up June 18-21, 2015).

If you are looking to learn the fiddle, or learn more on the fiddle, there is the upcoming 15th CBA Music Camp at Grass Valley, CA, June 14-17, 2015, just before the Father’s Day Festival. Beginning to advanced fiddle classes are offered.

Want a big dose of fiddling inside a convention sized room full of fiddlers? Attend a fiddle contest. Upcoming in California is the State Fiddle Contest held in Oroville, CA, March 20-21, 2015. Following close on the heels of the state contest is the Cloverdale Fiddle Festival on April 11th, 2015, held at the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds.

If you are a musician, you know that playing a musical instrument can take you to places you wouldn’t ordinarily go. You may find yourself at festivals, busking on the street corner, Jam Fests, or jamming at a person’s home with bluegrass music paving the way to new relationships. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a jam at the home of Charles Brady, along with some relatively new faces and a place I haven’t been before. Guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle made the jam come alive.

Mr. Brady is not only a musician, but is also a writer, poet, and educator. During a break in the jam, the group’s attention was brought to one of his poems, “Crick Wedincamp, Fiddler.” Old “Crick” was crippled by a logging accident. The poem was from Brady’s book, “The Riceboro Poems.” Charles Brady’s poems in his book focus on Riceboro, Georgia, a small town where Mr. Brady grew up on tenant farms and other isolated rural areas throughout Georgia during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Fortunately for those of us interested in fiddle music, with one of his poems, Charles Brady has preserved a look back during the early 40’s when Crick Wedincamp used his fiddle to lift the spirits of rural folks who came under the musical spell of the hand carved wooden box and bow that made its way back and forth across four “strangs,” long into the night.

During that short pause in this bluegrass jam held in San Francisco in the year 2015, memories from the 1940’s of fiddlin’ Crick Wedincamp came alive as Charles Brady turned to page fifty-five of his “Riceboro Poems,” and began reading aloud…

CRICK WEDINCAMP, FIDDLER

On hot yesterdays when my folks danced
at night and sweat shone by lamp, like satin,
and days worked in the same clothes forgotten
until Monday when the sawmill whistle blew,

they came by logging roads to the railroad house
where the mill’s pine slabs and drain pond were
so dangerous for bare feet and thick black snakes.
That’s where the fiddler came and my kin danced

in one big room, floors sagging under boots
as my fat Uncle George in his work overalls
called squares and rounds and spun them on home.
With my two-finger chords on a dollar guitar,

I changed grips when Crick Wedincamp slid
up or down the cracked neck of his red violin.
If I got lost or fell behind he’d catch me up quick,
standing wet, sawing fast in the railroad shack.

Crick lived for the squeal of a mail order tune
Rubbed raw from the gut by his home made bow
and the love of his mandolin girl in her cowgirl hat
who sat in his lap and drank her moonshine straight.

Oh, that was the rare sweet sweat and stomping feet
in the Summer nights of our made-up dance
on those hot Julys in a railroad house by the tracks,
where Crick Wedincamp fiddled all night for his life.



THE DAILY GRIST…”Well, I had a fiddle that I really can’t play, so I loaned it to Darrel. But yeah, he’s from another planet.”--Guy Clark.

Instrument acquisition disorder
Today’s column from Cliff Compton
Friday, March 13, 2015


On Amber Cross’s C.D. My Kind of church, she spoke of an affliction common to bluegrassers, and musicians of many forms. She called it instrument acquisition disorder, that disease which ravishes the living rooms and closets of many otherwise sensible and upright individuals, leaving them impoverished and crushed by guitar cases, with only small pathways through which to maneuver from one end of the house to the other.

I must admit, I’m a victim of this disorder.

I’m not a great lover of the banjo, but I’ve got two of them. and I play them too, when no one is listening.

It’s getting harder to walk by my bed without suffering bodily harm. Having a mandolin or a fiddle case falling on me. Tripping over a guitar case, or falling into an amplifier.

I got to thinking about it the other day….let’s see… a couple of fiddles, an accoustic mandolin, an electric mandolin, two or three accoustic guitars, an electric accoustic, an electric guitar, an autoharp, a dobra, an electric bass, a turn of the century unplayable hoener accordion, a half dozen harmonicas, and a half size cello.

Oh, and there’s the piano in the living room. And the amplifiers and the speakers and ….

No brass instruments though. Those are just plain unsanitary.

I’m a simple man. With a lot of simple friends, but I’m a one trick pony, It kills me to spend ten dollars on a pair of pants at goodwill, but If I play a fine guitar, I’m ready to take out a second mortgage to acquire it, and I’ve got a lot of friends just like me sitting perched on a pallet of cases inside a locked house trying to keep the cameramen from hoarders’ from busting down the front door.

I don’t know, but I think it’s important to have all those things. What if blue highway or Claire Lynch should show up at your front door without their instruments, and wanted to jam? What would you do if you’ve got no instruments? Would you say I’m sorry, would you like to play the spoons? No, that just wouldn’t do.

My dear friends Terry and Jeanie Ramos showed up the other day, with a beautiful console electric piano, and gave it to me. I don’t know what to say. It’s like listening to angels sing with their fingers. How in the world did I get friends like that? How in the world did I live without this thing?

And While they were here I invited some friends for a jam, and they all brought instruments, but if they hadn’t they could have used mine. I could be a boy scout. I’m prepared.

Except…

I’m still missing a doghouse bass. There’s an empty corner in my house, just in case


The topic that just keeps on giving
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Thursday, March 12, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where, for me at least, the prime directive for the past month, officially labeled PROJECT REDESIGN, (as in re-build from the ground up the CBA web site,) has managed to turn everyday life upside down, which can be an okay thing, and in this case, is just that. Good to mix things up, get out of one groove and into another and change the daily agenda and the tempo with which it unfolds each new surprise laden day. But let me hasten to add that, thus far at least, the effort has gone well. Montie Elston, the CBA board member appointed by Boss Edes to represent he and the board of directors as the project moves ahead, will meet at noon today to review a first cut of what’s being proposed by our design and coding contractors. Once we give the green light, actual coding of the site will pick up. But more on that in a future column, so onward to today’s topic.

Ah, the good old days. We miss them so much, don’t we? And the fact that no one can really agree on just when those days were doesn’t seem to diminish the longing. Bluegrass blogger and monthly Welcome message contributor Ted Lehmann spot an insightful piece and shared it on his web site. We liked it some much we’ll do the same.


Bluegrass: Tweets, Tradition and Tangents
Dustin Ogden of ear-tyme music


Earlier this week, I joined an online conversation about how to grow and sustain an audience for bluegrass music. Specifically, the conversation was about the use (or lack thereof) of social media in the bluegrass community. Through the twitter feed of Jon Goldmann I was directed to a post on his blog, The Session Spot, lamenting the dearth of digital outreach in the bluegrass community with respect to facebook, twitter, blogging, and the like. Goldmann's piece was in response to another blogger, Ted Lehmann, who wrote a long essay advocating more social networking by bands, fans, and others within the bluegrass world. The two posts sparked a healthy discussion about the growth of the genre, and all seemed to agree that bluegrass musicians needed to take greater advantage of digital marketing and advocacy. I agree for the most part, but I think there's a much larger issue at hand. Too often I feel there is a "purity code" regarding what can or cannot be defined as bluegrass music. I sometimes feel like many in the bluegrass community have a preservationist's attitude toward the music, which I think is a much larger hurdle towards growing their fan base than any digital deficiencies.

Don't get me wrong... I get it. In many ways it's the very fact that bluegrass is a traditional art form which honors its history that appeals to many fans. However, there is a difference between having reverence for tradition and casting those traditions in amber, preserved in unyielding, static form for the ages. There is nothing wrong with having a healthy dose of musicians playing a traditional form of any music. When that traditional form becomes the sole defining characteristic, however, I think a music stops growing almost by definition. Imagine if rock and roll never progressed past Chuck Berry, jazz never moved forward from Jelly Roll Morton, or hip-hop never altered from the Sugar Hill Gang. Does anyone argue that the Rolling Stones aren't a "real" rock and roll band or that Miles Davis wasn't a "true" jazz musician? Of course not; these are/were quintessential practitioners of their genres even though their defining sounds were a dramatic departure from the music's origins. The same does not apply to bluegrass. If an artist strays too far from the original Bill Monroe template in style, instrumentation, vocal delivery, etc., they are not considered bluegrass artists by many in the community. One might describe them as influenced by the genre, but many are quick to draw a box around the music with only staunch traditionalists deserving the title of "bluegrass musician." Such a narrow definition of an entire genre of music is a recipe for eventual cultural irrelevance if you ask me. At the bare minimum, such stringent codes of "purity" present a huge stumbling block towards a music's growth.

Even in the 70's and 80's as artists like Sam Bush, John Hartford, Bela Fleck, and Jerry Douglas began to take the music in new directions, the term "newgrass" was employed. I don't think this was necessarily just a term to distinguish their music from that of their elders. I think it was also a way of saying "these guys might be playing bluegrass instruments, but this isn't the real thing."

Of course, the creativity and ingenuity of artists will always prevail, and there are a wealth of musicians fusing bluegrass traditions with other genres in sublime ways today just like the aforementioned "newgrass" musicians did decades ago (and continue to do today.) Bands that spring to mind are Crooked Still, the Punch Brothers, Trampled By Turtles, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, Sarah Jarosz, Andy Statman, Danny Barnes, and Matt Flinner to name but a few. I doubt these artists care how one wants to classify their music (and likely find labels annoying more than anything), but it is bluegrass organizations and advocates who lose out if they don't welcome innovative, creative artists into the fold with open arms. Good musicians will always find an audience, but rigid cultural gatekeepers will not always find new members for their organizations, subscribers to their magazines, devotees to their record labels, or attendees for their festivals. That said, festival organizers seem to do a decent job of having an inclusive spirit, but I wonder if organizations devoted to promoting the genre are as enthusiastic about those artists pushing boundaries and incorporating other influences. I know from spending time on online forums and websites that many fans and musicians persist with that "purity test" in deciding who is or isn't worthy of the label. This is a shame, because everybody loses if bluegrass doesn't adopt a big tent philosophy.

Traditional bluegrass acts might have a hard time being exposed to new audiences if they're not willing to tour and cross-promote with less traditional acts. Perhaps the best example of a traditional artist who understands that taking chances is a wise move from both a creative and market standpoint is Del McCoury. I personally have a number of friends who probably never owned a bluegrass album before McCoury's 1999 collaboration with Steve Earle, The Mountain. I am certain this was a gateway album for many fans who went on to learn more about the genre and become fans of other bands. Continuing in that spirit, McCoury is currently working on a collaboration with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (probably the album I'm currently most anticipating.) Now, no one would say Del isn't a "real" bluegrass artist; he's even got a Bluegrass Boy pedigree from Mr. Monroe himself. However, I wonder why more traditional artists aren't looking for collaborative opportunities with unexpected artists or, at least, creative touring partnerships with diverse artists. The Del/Preservation Hall collaboration also points to another awkward issue. There are few American musical genres so racially segregated as bluegrass. That's just a simple fact, but it doesn't have to be so.

With the exception of some Taj Mahal collaborations with Doc Watson there hasn't been much cross-pollination between traditional bluegrass musicians and musicians of color, at least with respect to collaborative recordings and concerts. Sure, the Carolina Chocolate Drops have gained much deserved popularity for their string band music, but, 1) they are a lonely anomaly of sorts, and 2) they aren't bluegrass musicians even by my own wishes for an expansive definition of the genre (although they have gotten a great deal of press and praise from the bluegrass community, which is heartening.) Another interesting collaboration is Gangstagrass, a fusion of Brooklyn-based rappers rhyming atop beautifully produced samples and loops of bluegrass and roots music. I hope these guys are getting some festival invitations if for no other reason than to shake things up a little bit. There are other methods to enliven the community as well. If I were the head of any bluegrass association, my first order of business would be developing strategies for cultural diversity within both the bluegrass audience and the playing community. I would have a symposium at every conference figuring out how to welcome minorities and others into the fold. I think a great place to start would be outreach programs within minority schools. Perhaps these conversations are happening at conferences or similar programs exist. If so, I'd love to hear about them from any readers out there.

Let me return to my larger point about the narrow definition of bluegrass in closing. I mentioned above that this whole conversation began with posts exchanged between bloggers Jon Goldmann (The Session Spot) and Ted Lehmann (Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms.) Within that conversation, I think Ted Lehmann hit the nail on the head regarding ideas of exclusivity about what is or isn't bluegrass. He put it like this:

"The specter of Bill Monroe both spreads and closes the borders of the bluegrass world. Since a specific date in 1946 can be shown as the beginning of bluegrass music and Monroe has only been dead a few years, his shadow is large and powerful. Many players still active remember him and revere his contributions, wishing to keep the music true to his vision and often forgetting he was a true revolutionary who took the music of his time and melded it with his background to create a new genre. Many are happy to continue to sing and play the standards and eager to avoid change of any kind."

Given Monroe's strong, prickly personality and the highly possessive attitude he had towards "his" music, I'd say Lehmann's observation is pretty astute. Monroe often said that his creation of the genre stemmed as much from what he kept out of the music as it did from what he kept in. Well, that may be so, but bluegrass has to move forward and have a life of its own, just as a son or daughter can't live a healthy life if their only goal is to succumb to their parents' wishes. Monroe is gone, and I think the best way to respect his legacy is to emulate the ethos of his restless musical spirit rather than adhere to any rigid dogma.





Details Details Details
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Ah, life is full of pleasures, and some of these are obvious, but often, the real thrills are more sublime. Bluegrass is full of these types of delights.

Take the ubiquitous G-run, for example. Almost nothing defines bluegrass guitar (although there is a banjo version I have heard played simultaneously by 14 banjos at a jam) like the G-run. Early definers of this are Lester Flatt (with a very simple but perfect rendition, played with a thumbpick!) and Jimmy Martin (who knew how to really punctuate the transition from verse to chorus. Del McCoury really know how to drop G-run in the right spot too, Maybe it’s just me, but I find it fascinating that a simple riff can define the role of a fairly quiet instrument in an otherwise pretty noisy ensemble. Raise your flagon to the humble, yet powerful G-run!

Another go-to sound in bluegrass is the ch-ch-ch fiddle intro. Sometimes rendered as a the ch-t-ch-ch intro, it's a fair warning that wonderful things are about to happen. I’m not a fiddle player so maybethis riff has a more formal moniker. I have heard this riff described in a more coarse way (best described as the SOB into), but whatever you call it - you know it when you hear, and it’s like an old friend coming to visit.

I mentioned banjo earlier and I ain’t ashamed. There’s a banjo intro that is so deeply ingrained in bluegrass, all you have to say is “standard Scruggs intro” and everyone in the jam circle knows what’s coming. This 3 notes ascending chromatic riff is almost solely used by the banjo, and it’s alway effective.

In case the reader thinks I’m making fun of bluegrass for being hackneyed or simplistic, nothing can be further from the truth. The tidbits described above are not cliches - they are beloved markers in bluegrass that help listeners feel transitions in songs - they actually aid in the storytelling. The intros set the mood, and the familiar mid-song touches, (like the G-run and a bass transitional riffs) bridge parts of the songs together.

You can play bluegrass without these markers, but if you’re going to have the desired impact, you better have something else to direct the mood of the songs. A song can’t just be an even path from beginning to end - something has to provide dynamic range. Appalachian stoicism doesn’t allow for histrionics like Michael Bolton, so there arose more subtle indicators of mood and force. Longtime bluegrass fans react to these things like Pavlov’s dogs.

Of course bluegrass needs innovations - all artforms do. But the most successful artists incorporate familiar elements with their bolder excursions. The secret to pulling it off is to respect the details!



Developing Kid Musicians
Today's column from Ted Lehmann
Tuesday, March 10, 2015


One of the great opportunities we have as a result of our travels is seeing a wealth of young, promising bluegrass musicians in a variety of settings. Often we get to see children between the ages of eight or nine and mid-teens brought to the stage to perform with major bands, almost always to loud applause, even cheers. Seeing enthusiasm from audiences for young musicians is encouraging to the kids themselves as well as their parents. They both get jolts of affirmation and encouragement to continue to pick and improve. Most, of course, will not become professional musicians or gain recognition beyond their home town or region. This is fine. With proper nurturing, they'll have a lifetime of satisfaction and fun playing in local or regional bands, making the occasional festival appearance, and participating in local jams. These are the places where grass roots bluegrass most flourishes. There are, however, significant dangers for developing musicians in isolating them to their own town or region without exposing them to the larger world of young musicians to sharpen their skills and to gain an appreciation for the work, dedication, and talent necessary to rise within the music world.

We see excellent Kids Academies at a number of festivals. These academies serve a lot of functions, not the least of which is to give parents at festivals some respite from overseeing their children between, say, age six and sixteen. However, much more importantly, the academies give young people an opportunity to play and sing with others of their relative ability, to enjoy each others' company, and, in good settings, to have time to break into smaller groups to jam together and develop friendships with other young musicians they'll see at festivals for much of the rest of their lives. Some academies break students down by experience levels while others feature only large group instruction and practice. We've seen excellent programs at Gettysburg in August, the MACC (Musicians Against Childhood Cancer), Pemi Valley, Jenny Brook, and other festivals. We've read great reports about the childrens' program at Wintergrass in Washington State. And, of course, the IBMA Kids on Bluegrass program offers a range of outstanding opportunities for more advanced young pickers. HoustonFest, in Galax, VA in early May is all about young pickers, a mecca for young bands and jammers. I know that CBA has an active youth program at all it's events, but sadly, we haven't been able to get that far west. I'm sure there are many others I'm not familiar with.

Lots of parents take the time to stop to tell me about their kids or give me the CD they've produced. I often ask the kid if he or she is going to kids academy. Responses differ, from enthusiasm to something along the lines of, “uh...er...we don't do that.....” suggesting to me that the parents may think their kid is too good to be involved in a “children's” activity. Parents making this response are missing out on several opportunities for their kids. The first is that, if they really are that good, the kid could make a significant contribution to helping other kids learn or helping prepare for the end of the weekend performance. Also, they're electing to miss the chance for their son or daughter to get to know other young people who are at the festival, finding people they could later jam with or just hang out together with at the festival, as well as developing friendships that could further develop at upcoming festivals through the years. Finally, there's the very real possibility that their kid could actually learn something from the instructors or other kids that would help lead to improvement.

It might seem to be a little early to start thinking about the IBMA meeting coming in Raleigh, NC from September 29 – October 3, 2015, but for young pickers, it's never too soon to plan for bluegrass Nirvana. A couple of years ago, IBMA formed a Youth Council with a member of the Board of Directors taking direct responsibility for working with the staff and youth representatives to create, plan, and make a reality of a strong youth program. 2013 and 2014 saw this program grow exponentially. A room was set aside for young pickers to come to a “get-to-know you” early on featuring free pizza. Activities included getting to jam with invited bands (Della Mae, IIIrd Tyme Out, Michael Cleveland, and others), preparing a high end band selected from across the country to play on the Plaza Stage during Saturday of Wide Open Bluegrass, and working with younger players. At any part of the day, one could come past the Youth Council area and find small groups of young people ranging in experience from emerging young professionals to near beginners jamming in the surrounding hallways and in the Youth Council room itself. The Youth Council activities and room became an almost mini-convention of its own. Young musicians seeking to grow, challenge themselves, and contribute should be supported in a serious effort to attend IBMA.

Being a parent of an emerging child in any endeavor can be a risky and satisfying affair regardless of whether the talent lies in sports, music, arts, academics. The risks of pushing too hard, reaching too high, or neglecting to encourage and enable talent are significant. Don Dilling, father of former IIIrd Tyme Out banjo player Steve, has told me of coming to Steve's room to say good night only to find him asleep in his chair cradling his instrument. Larry Stephenson sings of “The sound that set my soul on fire.” Finding a balance between encouraging and pushing, and remembering that of the thousands who begin an instrument, only a very few rise to the top, present important cautions. When I was a teacher, however, it always seemed to us, as staff, that kids in music programs were among the nicest and most well-rounded youngsters in school.

--
tlehmann@ne.rr.com
www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com
Very cold
Today's column from Marty Varner
Monday, March 9, 2015


I hope those whom know where I am living right now feel sorry for me. I can’t say I regret the decision I made, but I am thinking about the California winters where it is surprising when it hits 32 degrees. For those of you who don’t know, I am living in Worcester, Massachusetts. Ya, Massachusetts. And not just Massachusetts, I live in the place that got a record amount of snow. 32 inches of snow to be exact. And for some thinking that’s almost half of you height, ya it is. And for some thinking, how do you move around and go outside when there is that much snow, you don’t. To go outside, one must put in at least 10 minutes of preparation and prayers. And what’s more depressing than that, I am excited that it is 18 degrees today! Be prepared to see me playing guitar in a T-shirt at 2 A.M at every festival this year.

But despite the location, I am extremely satisfied with my decision to go across the country to Clark University. I have met the kinds of people that you don’t find at most colleges as well as courses that are rare at many schools. This semester, I am taking a logic and legal analysis class. In that class, we symbolize statements made by judges and lawyers and see if they are logical and valid. The combination of verbal expression and cold hard logic is something that I would never imagine doing when I reached Clark University, but now I am becoming fluent in a language I never knew existed. To combat that class, I am taking a Law and Society class where we ignore the letter of the law and see how the law is actually performed by real judges and lawyers. These two classes oppose each other in the most interesting way and I am excited to broaden my horizons while at Clark University.

On to the next topic, The Warriors are so entertaining to watch. For those of you who don’t know, they are 44-11 which is the best record in the league. Along with that, Steph Curry is the favorite to win Most Valuable player at this point of the year, which is not something the Warriors have heard since Wilt played for them almost half a decade ago. Back then they were the San Francisco Warriors! At this moment, the bay area teams are the most relevant than they have in their history. It’s great to be a Californian!

After watching seven out of the eight Oscar Movies, it was predictable that Birdman would win Best Picture. As a teenager, Boyhood related to me too much to not be my favorite movie of the year, but the direction and acting of Birdman was other worldly. Edward Norton’s part is one of the most entertaining performances that I have ever seen, and that’s without mentioning Michael Keaton, who literally played himself fighting between his artistic integrity and the actor who played Batman. This Oscar movie lineup including the thrilling Whiplash, and the emotionally powerful Selma, is a sign that the movie industry is alive and well and continue to make good movies for years to come.

I am excited beyond belief to announce that my former band, OMGG will be playing reunion gigs this summer. Since our hiatus each member has been doing astounding things. AJ Lee has been touring across the country as well as making her own solo album. (which is a great listen for anybody who hasn’t heard it.) Nate Schwartz has is in his Sophomore year at UCLA and has already made an album with his band Loop Garou. Along with this, he has his own jazz band and is already becoming an influential member of the UCLA music scene. And Max Schwartz played for LL FREAKING COOL J! He was part of the nation wide Grammy Jazz band and is certainly going to be one of the best jazz bassists in the coming years. I am honored to play with these incredible musicians and hope that you all come check us out where you can!



THE DAILY GRIST…”People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring”…(Rogers Hornsby)

Springtime Is Here
Today’s Column from Bert Daniel
Sunday, March 8, 2015


Springtime is here my darlin’

Yes, that time of year has come when we all have to set our clocks an hour ahead and start our day an hour earlier than we’re used to. It must be spring! There’s so much to do now and the sap is rising. We should get an early start. I only wish the time change came at a more convenient time for the average American. Like four PM on Monday afternoon! That way, before the time change, our weekend would be the usual length. Instead of a weekend that’s and hour too short (like this weekend) we get to go home early from a hard day’s work. The only problem with that idea would be the extra hour in the fall. What to do about that? Simple, if fall backward doesn’t happen on a weekend, I propose a Monday holiday like Columbus Day.

When the springtime comes on the mountain
And the wildflowers are scattered o’er the plain
I will watch for the leaves to return to the trees
I’ll be waiting when the springtime comes again


The spring will always be my favorite time of year. All the dark cold days are behind us and we have a whole year of longer days and more comfortable weather to look forward to. When I took my dog out for her morning constitutional this morning, she sniffed around our apple tree and I noticed the nice buds on the tips of the branches. We need more rain but everything is green and I went for a nice bike ride today in the warm weather. It’s a good year to be living in California instead of back east.

I say that not to gloat over weather differences we have with our eastern cousins. I’ve spent half my life back east and I love the seasonal changes there. This year is just unusual. And in some ways, I think the springtime season back east is more intense than it is here simply because the winter gets so unbearable after a few months in the northeast, or the southern mountains. When you see the crocuses bloom back there, you know the spring is not far behind and you’re really glad.

Spring is here! Finally! Next weekend, I’ll go to my first Bluegrass festival of the season in Sebastopol. Next month is the spring campout. All of the good stuff is ahead of us for another year!

Oh, I wish I was a lizard in the spring
Yes, I wish I was a lizard in the spring
If I’se a lizard in the spring, I’d hear my darling sing
And I wish I was a lizard in the spring


The Dutch Bluegrass Boys: the first bluegrass band in the Netherlands
Today’s column from Loes van Schaijk
Saturday, March 7, 2015


Cor Slimmen, his brother Johan “John” Slimmen, and Henk “Pim” Thomassen are the only three former members of the Dutch Bluegrass Boys alive today. The band was centered in Eindhoven, nicknamed “the light town” and home of the Philips electronics company where most of them worked in the 1960s. “It’s such a pity that Cas is gone; he’s the one you should have spoken to,” they say, referring to the group’s banjo player and bandleader Cas Mulder who passed away in 2002.
One night in 1958, Cas had tuned in to a radio station that played country and bluegrass: the American Forces Network, broadcast from Germany. Cas was hooked right away. He was able to order bluegrass albums from the United States through his local record shop. Fast forward to 1964: Cas, a carpenter by trade, is making furniture for his son’s nursery when the doorbell rings. A stranger, holding a bluegrass record in his hands, asks: “Is Cas Mulder home?” This is Thijs Gijsbers, who had expressed an interest in bluegrass music at the same record shop and was advised to pay a visit to that other person in Eindhoven who listened to this obscure style of music. They sit down to listen to the record Thijs brought, and it doesn’t take long before they agree to start their own bluegrass band. Cas asks a few friends from the Lighttown Skiffle Group and Thijs involves two fellow artists, Nico Oudejans and Cornelis “Cees” le Mair, to start the Smokey Saloon Fiddlers in 1964. As the precursor to the Dutch Bluegrass Boys, they could very well be first bluegrass group in the Netherlands. With quite a few changes in personnel the group was active from 1965 until 2000.

“Thijs and Cas were the real musicians; we were just amateurs who went along for the ride,” Cor says. “Thijs was a force of nature on the fiddle. His feeling for music was amazing.” When Thijs left the band in 1970, it was hard to find a new fiddler who could fill his shoes. Cor, Johan, and Henk had not had any official musical training, so they learned to play by ear, by rote, and by following Cas’s instructions. In Henk’s case, that meant he was playing bass on stage before he even knew how to tune it.

The Dutch Bluegrass Boys found benefactors in radio disc jockey Gerard “Cowboy Gerard” de Vries and producer Harry Knipschild. The band released two albums: The Dutch Bluegrass Boys (Starday Relax, 1968) and Five of a Kind (CNR, 1970). They performed mostly at parties for factory workers, but also appeared on national television. “They were standing in a haystack playing bluegrass music, when Buck Owens and the Buckaroos were rolled on stage in a covered wagon,” Cas’s widow Annie reads from her diary. In those days, all country-related music on national television was inevitably accompanied by stereotypical country and western visual imagery. While this rubbed some other bluegrass bands the wrong way, the Dutch Bluegrass Boys did not feel that strongly about it. Cas wanted them to dress to the nines for their performances, so they did, including elegant Stetson-style hats made by Annie, who just happened to be a professional hat maker.

The Dutch Bluegrass Boys never really felt like a part of the bluegrass community. It might have been because they were a bit older, with families to take care of; they didn’t have the time or the means to travel around the country for festivals and gatherings. Or maybe it was because they were brought up in a different era, right after the war, with a strong work ethic. Anyway, I don’t get the impression that it matters much to them. As they reminisce, they remember how much they have always enjoyed making music together, from the very start until they decided to call it quits in 2000. Old age was creeping up on some of the band members, messing with their memories and voices, hands and hearing. Johan and Henk still play the guitar in their own homes, though, and they all enjoy listening to music. As Henk says: “You have to do something to fill the days when you’re retired. You can’t just sit around doing nothing!”

This is the first of fifty-six interviews with “bluegrass people” in the Netherlands featured in the book High Lonesome Below Sea Level: Faces and Stories of Bluegrass Music in the Netherlands. The book, written by Loes van Schaijk with black-and-white photography by Marieke Odekerken, will be released on May 14, 2015. It is already avaible in pre-sale via www.bluegrassportraits.nl.


Ten Items or Fewer
Today’s column from Brooks Judd
Friday, March 6, 2015


“Let us go then you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky,
Like a patient etherized upon a table” *

Item 1: I am no longer in a band and I do miss the companionship and music making. There is a bit of an empty spot in my being that was once fueled by my ability to pluck at the right time and even break into an occasional smile. I do miss it.

There was one thing that annoyed me about being in a band and I thought I would create a rule that would address this problem.

Bluegrass Performance Payment Rule #1: Pay the band promptly. If a band performs for an agreed amount of money, said money will be handed over in cash or check to the band no longer than six hours after said band has left the stage.

It always got me a little perturbed when our band had finished a performance for an agreed amount of money and then be told:

“Hey, fellas, you won’t believe this, but I left my checkbook at home. I’ll mail your check to you the minute I get home.” (The check arrives six weeks later).

“Hey, fellas, we’re still counting up the proceeds and our accountant is on vacation. Give us a few weeks OK?”. (He was right.It was a few weeks)

“Hey, fellas, there was a mixup in our paperwork and it will take a few days to get it sorted out. You don’t mind do you? It’s only $500.” Three weeks and seven phone calls later he promises to put the check in the mail.



Because of this I made it my own personal policy that when I set up a gig I would draw the money out of my own personal checking account and pay our guys BEFORE going on stage. It is the right thing to do.I know some of you folks feel that the money is not important and just being able to play is the most important thing. I agree.That is why, like you, I have given my services free of charge countless times because that’s what we do.

Item 2: As Sheila and I gravitate into the golden silver AARP stage of our lives,it seems we are having more colorful dreams. We often share these at breakfast time.A couple of mornings ago, Sheila couldn’t wait to let me in on a dream she had just experienced.

She began,” A monkey was trying to market his own brand of cinnamon but didn’t know how to use the word cinnamon.” I asked Sheila, “What word did he want to use?”. Sheila responded, “A word that meant the same thing, but I couldn’t think of any so the monkey said that meant that,“I was a sinner who would one day go to Hell.” I thought about this for a minute and then replied, “Whoa, that dream sounds like some kind of omen.” Sheila looked surprised and said, “What kind of omen?”. I replied, “A simian, cinnamon, synonym, sin, omen.”

Thanks to Stephen Pastis and his wonderful “Pearls Before Swine comic strip.

Item 3: Jimmie Rodgers in AARP: There is a great article featuring the lean mean Bob Dylan on this months AARP Magazine. It is a juicy article and Bob’s picture graces the coveted cover of AARP. Bob is talking about his influences in the article and mentions the great Jimmie Rodgers and tells why he loves him. This is great but the good folks at AARP show a picture of the OTHER Jimmie Rodgers, he of “Honeycomb” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” fame.I do not think this is the right Mr. Rodgers. Check out the story and tell me what you think.

Item 4: Well, it happens to the best of us.Monday night about 11 p.m. my oldest daughter,Jessica,calls and asks if I was in the Philippines, if I had been attacked,stranded,and needed money sent to me. As I was mulling this over she said, “Dad, you’ve been hacked!” I laughed and told her that my e-mail password contained not only Arabic and Greek letters but certain hidden images that would make hacking virtually impossible. There was a long pause, a sigh and Jessica said, “Dad you’ve been hacked.”
Yes, I’ve been hacked.I felt violated and angry that someone would have the nerve and gall to do such a vile thing to a sweet person like me.Jessica told me that she would work on the problem the following morning.

The next morning I get a phone message from Jason Winfrey stating, “Brooksie, babe you’ve been hacked.” Then a few minutes later I receive a phone call from one of me fellow board members on the Friends of the Turlock Library asking if I really needed the money. My dear friend Rick Cornish e-mailed me and said he would double the money if I promised to stay in the Philippines.

With the help Jessica and Rhiannon I was able to send out e-mails to all those who had been contacted by this vermin. Then I found out all my incoming e-mail was being rerouted to the dunder headed pirates who stole my identity. Luckily my two lovely daughters also fixed that for me. Thank you Jessica and Rhiannon. What a mess!

”Til human voices wake us and we drown”*
The Love Song of J. Alred Prufrock.... T.S.Eliot

Until April 3: Read a book, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, eat a bar of chocolate, do a good deed. Brooks


THE DAILY GRIST… “It’s leaking on the bed!” Linda Williams at Far Horizons 49er RV Village December 14, 2014

Getting Ready to Roll
Today's column from Dave Williams
Thursday, March 5, 2015


It’s that time again. I’m going to talk about a subject I have talked about a number of times in the past and as far as I can tell it is time again to get into it.

You probably think I’m talking about bass playing or just something about bass. As you are all well aware by now, I mean the upright kind with wood and strings and not the fish, large mouth, small mouth or the chilean sea kind. I always clarify that because I have a large oval sticker on the back of my Prius that says BASS and I’m always getting asked where my favorite fishing hole is.

Anyway I was just leading you down that path as diversion. I really want to talk about my motorhome again. Bass playing (or fishing) can demand a lot of time but equally as demanding is that other mistress my motorhome.

How’d I get to this topic you could be wondering, well I’ll tell you. It seems we won the lottery again. The CBA Full Hookup Lottery that is. This is the 4th time in a row. I’ve been hoping that luck would translate into other lotteries such as Super Lotto or Mega Millions but so far no such luck. Heck I’d even take winning one the instruments in the CBA Instrument Raffle but it hasn’t translated there either. I’m not complaining though, I like having the water and sewer hook ups for that week in June every year.

So with that in mind and also a camping trip this weekend with our motorhome club, next month’s Walker Creek Music Camp and hopefully the CBA spring campout in April, I needed to get the rig sea worthy for the season. Some of the things that needed attention were……..well everything! Cleaning the inside, outside, top and bottom, back storage, galley, cab, bedroom and if you can think of other areas, I need to do them too.

Pesky little things like keeping the batteries charged and fixing a leak in the rear window have been keeping me pretty busy but I think I am fairly close to being able to confidently take it out.

This weekend Linda and I have our turn to host the monthly campout for our RV club. This will be a good shake down cruise for the rig. Sometimes it seems that every trip is a shake down trip.

In getting to host the campout, we were able to accomplish something else that I have on my plate. I got us a gig at the campout. That’s right I hired our band ‘bout Time! to play for the RV group this Saturday. “Hired” is very much a misleading word in the previous sentence. Being both the band buyer and the band seems to be a conflict of interest but with legal counsel I was available to navigate those murky waters and as the buyer I got a band to play and as the band I got a gig. Did I mention money? No I don’t think so. I convinced the band to play for the exposure. That’s right, exposure to that large untapped audience of RV camping clubs. Like I said to myself, the first one’s free but the opportunities will be many.

The weather is expected to be terrific so we won’t be able to check out our leak situation but at least the bed will be dry. Actually, it is good to get out on the road again and to get to play some bluegrass in the process.

We’ll be looking for you as we travel this spring. As always, we have the tequila on hand and are always looking to pick a few.


Looking Cool
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Live music is, of course, first and foremost an aural experience. The chance to hear beautiful music played by fine musicians is the main reason we go to musical events. We can experience great music through recorded media, too, but we know that the excitement of a live performance holds the promise of a true transcendence.

Ok, that said, let’s also admit that a great performance usually has visual aspects, and that is definitely part of the magic. And let’s further admit that while transcendental musical talent is very rare, performers who are pretty darn good but fun to watch are much more plentiful.

I attend a LOT of live music events, and I play at a lot of them too. And there are a lot of very good musicians to enjoy, and some of them are also a joy to behold.

I’m not referring to overt theatrics. Some folks just naturally look cool when they play or sing, and I can’t take my eyes of ‘em. Does this come naturally, or do they work on this?

We have a guy who plays guitar in a band here in Martinez, name of Joe V. Rogers. If there was everbody designed to sling a guitar over, his is it. He has long, sinewy arms, a magnificent billy goat beard, and when he’s playing that guitar, slung down low, feet spread apart, and singing, well, he just looks cooler than the other side of the pillow. He sounds great too, but that’s a different column.

Keith Little always seemed to me to have an appealing stage presence. He’s not at all flashy or assuming, but the way he carries that banjo on the other shoulder, and his ready smile, it makes every performance he’s in measurably better for everyone in the audience - even before he plays a note.

Old pal Dave Gooding is another good example. No, he doesn’t do the splits or backflips (so far as a I know), but his presence and his visual appeal make him interesting even while stuck in the “bluegrass penalty box” playing bass.

I don’t think any of these people had to work on this - I think they’re just being themselves. Me, I tell people if you’re going to take a picture of me onstage, you only need to take one, because if you take more than one, I’ll look the same in all of them. In my mind’s eye, I am trying to be expressive with my face and body, but whether it’s due to my frame, bulk or hairy face, it rarely, if ever shows up from the outside.

I guess I’ll have to leave the “looking interesting” business to those who are better at it!



March 2015 President’s Message
Today's column from Darby Brandli
Tuesday, March 3, 2015


New CBA Board member Maria Nadauld jumped onto the Board by sending out 1400 letters to “old” CBA members asking them to consider re-joining the CBA. We know that some of those hundreds are no longer with us, some have combined their memberships with new spouses (!) and some have moved out of the area. Membership is VERY important to the CBA. Many people simply do not realize that $25 individual/$30 couple dues are an essential part of our income and allow us to produce our Bluegrass Breakdown and produce events. Our membership numbers are important to our sponsors and advertisers. We are an ALL volunteer, ALL membership based Association and a healthy and large membership is essential to our survival as an organization. We have saved your old membership number for you. Please act as an ambassador to Bluegrass and Old Time Music and ask your friends to join (or renew). Your membership gives you discounts to events and sends the message that you are a fan of California bluegrass. We are a community and every membership counts.

The CBA Youth Academy is 70% filled as of the date I am writing this article. We are so proud of this event and wanted to add an instructional component for kids to our long list of children’s activities at the Father’s Day Festival. Bluegrass Camps for Kids produces the actual four day camp and Director Kate Hamre has years of experience with camps for kids. This is year number three and we know that we will continue to produce instructional camps in the future. If you are interested in enrolling a child please see the ad in this Breakdown and do it soon.

We will cap enrollment at 49 this year. We are serious about producing the next generation of pickers, fans and CBA members. The children who participate in this event learn how to pick and also develop friends for life. I am filled with gratitude to those of you who donate to the Youth Program in order that we may expand our offerings and issue scholarships to families. Thank you.

March 14th is the day scheduled for another (15th Annual) Sonoma County Bluegrass & Folk Festival produced by Mark Hogan for the CBA and the Sonoma County Folk Society in Sebastopol. Mark has another great event planned for attendees. Tickets may be purchased in advance on line with discounts for CBA members. The CBA Board meeting will be held on Sunday at Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. We make a weekend of it, the kickoff to festival season, and we hope to see many of you there.

The CBA website will finally be reprogrammed. We have been operating with 15 year old programming and this update has been a long time in coming. Not only does our website and e-Commerce live on our site, much of our Administrative records also are stored on the site: membership, volunteer data bases, etc. This is a huge upgrade and one which the Board has been considering for a long time. We are so grateful to Rick Cornish who envisioned our web presence 15 years ago and who has spent hours each day updating our visible site, our website www.cbaontheweb.org. We will have a new look and Rick has asked for input.

Advance ticket sales for the 40th Annual Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival are brisk. The week we take over the Nevada County Fairgrounds is jam packed with events: the CBA Music Camp which starts Sunday, the CBA Youth Academy which starts Wednesday and the festival which begins on Thursday. Many come up and camp for the entire week and immerse themselves in the music and the community. The Fairgrounds are beautiful, stores are close by in Grass Valley, the Nevada County area is perfect for day trips and recreation. We encourage you to consider making a week of it, we do. Father’s Day occurs later in June this year and most schools will be closed for the summer. We are already looking forward to a magical week under the pines.


Who Gets the Money?
Today's column from Brian McNeal
Prescription Bluegrass Media
Monday, March 2, 2015


If you've ever recorded your own CD for commercial resale, or known someone who has, you probably already have some idea of the amount of money that goes into a recording project before the project even hits the street and you or your artists/band friends begin to make anything back.

“Who gets the money?” has a multiple answer because it seems that everything and everyone the artist wants in the project, from the recording studio to extra guest artists, all want to be paid up front. I suppose that's only fair since they're hired to do their job. And, they have no investment in the project, and, therefore, no share in the potential reward.

So with that frame of mind, shelling out buck after buck to have something to sell, I suppose it's only natural for questions to arise when someone who has absolutely no stake, no investment, no connection whatsoever, starts to hold their hand out – asking for a share of the profits.

This is what happened recently to a young band when they attempted to negotiate with a festival about booking their band to play. Apparently, it was the first time they'd run into a festival that required a percentage of all merchandise sales be paid back to them (the festival organizers).

I know that some festivals do have a policy of handling merchandise sales for bands and do take a percentage for providing this service. I also know that many other festivals do not and leave all monies from such sales to the band. Whether it's right or wrong for the festival to take a percentage of CD and merchandise sales is another question, and, I'm not attempting to take a stand here either for or against such policies, but rather to bring up the subject for thought and discussion.

We should note here, too, that not all festivals are alike from the very concept of the festival to the various and numerous reasons for holding them. Some are purely profit driven for commercial enterprises while others certainly hope to make a good profit, but their purpose is to help raise funds for a non-profit entity such as a bluegrass association or a charity. These differences can have a great deal to do with any particular festival's policy toward merchandise sales.

One way to look at the situation, from the band's perspective, is to consider the extreme efforts put forth by the promoters, staff, and volunteers in order to have 2,000, 5,000, or more people in the audience. Is it right for any band to expect to just walk in the back gate, work on stage for an hour (for pay), and then have free access to that size crowd for sales of their trinkets?

Isn't the band contracted to play on stage and anything after that – like CD/Merchandise sales – something extra? Isn't the band then becoming another “Vendor” at the festival? Don't the vendors pay a premium booth rental to be there? Does the small percentage of sales paid back to the festival by the band amount to more or less than the booth rent paid by other vendors?

I'd venture to say that very few bluegrass bands have 2,000 people pick up their CD and sample even one track in any Wal-Mart store in the country, much less listen to an entire hour of their music. I think it would also be safe to say that very few of the bands in our bluegrass community have that many people in one day visit the music page of their website or sample their music from any on-line retailer such as CD Baby, iTunes, or Amazon.

Consider that many festivals actually have volunteers or staff who work the merchandise tables while the band is on stage or sometimes off the festival grounds entirely. So the prospect of more sales is greatly enhanced, which has to have some value for the band.

Another way to look at festivals whose organizers want a percentage of the bands' sales is for the band to consider their stage time as a one-hour infomercial about their music. Most businesses who use infomercial time on television or radio actually pay the the broadcast station who owns the time they're using. In the case of our festival however, the band actually gets paid for being there. So, if you're in that situation, use your time wisely and make as many sales as you can afterward. Sure, the festival will make more, but then so will you.

Remember that this is just another bargaining chip on the table at contract negotiation time and it can go both ways. Try to find a way to use it to your advantage. But, it's your option to sell or not to sell under those circumstances.

On those festivals that don't take a cut … just figure how much more you want to play there again and do a bang up job for them. That's not to say, though, that you should do less of a job on stage at any other festival.

Probably a good idea would be to track sales at all of the venues played and then take a look at the numbers from each festival for comparison.

The whole idea of this conversation brings up the notion of doing a much better job at selling product at every venue regardless of each venue's contract requirements.

I was talking to my friend James Reams about this subject just the other day and he pointed out that many times bands look at the CD sales after the show as a fearful venture, or something they dread doing. Perhaps it's the unknown factor. “What will people say to me?” “What if they're critical of the show or my music?”

Could it be that a performer can be as comfortable and relaxed on stage in front of thousands of people as he is in his own living room but exactly that UN-comfortable when faced with fans one-on-one? Yes, it can be that. And it can be many other things, but the fact remains that many performers dread going to the CD table to meet fans. James told me he never thinks of the folks who come up to meet him as fans, but rather as new friends. I suppose that there are other performers who have also found a way to defeat the fear of meeting new people; but, the point is that it is necessary for every performer to find the method that works for them and use it.

Thinking of the merchandise table in any terms other than a part of the whole picture is self defeating. Artists should do whatever is necessary to make sure that CD/Merchandise sales have every bit of the same focus and energy put into them as is put into the stage presentation. Take a community college course on retail marketing, apply some of those principles to your merchandise table. Learn how to set up more attractive displays for impulse buying. Think of setting up an assembly line for getting all of the band member's autographs instead of allowing helter-skelter chaos behind the table. Then think of having someone out front to help direct traffic and funnel fans down the assembly line instead of letting a hoard of people rush the booth. Many, many more ways of better organization can actually help make the experience a lot less hectic, and, therefore more enjoyable, instead of something to dread.

Overall, the important thing about CD/Merchandise sales to remember is that the product needs to be sold and the sooner the better. If more is sold at this festival, it means that less will need to be shipped or transported to the next festival. Either way, there are costs involved that cut into the bottom line. So the more you do to further the concept of better selling, the better everything will turn out.


Thank You!
Brian McNeal
Prescription Bluegrass Media


Throwing Stones
Today's column from Marc Alvira
Sunday, March 1 2015


“Yes, sweetie…not a problem. Yes just change plans,” my wife tells my son over the phone.
“What?” I growl across the room. “Change plans again? This is bull….”
She sets the phone down,” He said he’s bringing his fishing pole.”

This was the second consecutive weekend he has expected us to drop all our plans just because he wanted to come home for a couple of days from college. He’s finishing his senior year three hours away at Sonoma State. After we rearranged the entire previous weekend to accommodate him, he canceled at the last second explaining that something came up. Now he expected us to drop everything again. Selfish kids. And his mother always does it. But the kid is smart; he knew the old man would be unhappy with his self-centric universe, so he short circuited a certain lecture form me indicating he wanted to go fishing. Even in my kid’s most rebellious years, a good camping and fishing trip generated enough loving energy to get us through four months of trouble. We fished often. He arrived early Friday evening. We’re a good Catholic family, and it being the Lenten season, we fast and finish the day off with a nice fish dinner. Of course this Friday would be different. Whenever my boy comes home, his mother invariably buys his favorite pizza in town. To be honest, it’s an awesome pizza from a mom and pop joint, but this is FRIDAY and it IS Lent and I expected a nice fillet of sole dinner. I was looking forward to my wife’s seasoned oven roasted potatoes with her buttery sole. Instead I sat at the table eating a cheese pizza while my son wiped pepperoni from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. Well, at least we’d be fishing tomorrow.

Alex and I were up early the next morning. We had set all the gear by the door the night before, as was our custom whether fishing, snow boarding, or loading up the Expedition for a days long baseball tournament. He and I have spent thousands of hours in that car together over the last fifteen years. It was a less a vehicle and more and extended member of our family; the lynch pin in the relationship with my son. Lately however, there had been long silences in our drives. He frequently seemed more engaged in his chat room than actually chatting with his pops sitting right next to him. As we loaded the car, I recited the usual litany of questions: Do you have your sunscreen? Do you have fishing license? Do you have this or that….

“Ya Dad. Have it all. You don’t need to ask anymore…I’m not a kid. I do this all the time on my own,” he finally snaps.
“Okay then,” I reply as I move on to the loading. I’ve long quit taking exception to his impatience. “But you’re sure you have everything?” He had long since quit taking the bait, as well.

On the way up to Merced River near Yosemite, we talked about how school was going; he discoursed on his post school plans; I admonished that he had better seriously think about work. There was the typical sports talk and a few questions about some of his friends I had met over time. He got caught up on the local news. As we drove, I pondered how our conversation might sound if I were one of his buddies. What would we be talking about? Probably a lot like the conversations I had with my friends when I was in my early twenties, but would never have with my dad—not that the topics were necessarily risqué.

Young people just see and react to the world differently than us older folk. I was reminded of that great divide by a movie just recently, Boyhood. One of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen, it was actually shot over twelve years and follows a boy's odyssey through childhood into adulthood. A parallel plot follows his mother’s life and trials as she matures from a young, hip mom into cynical middle age. What stuck out to me was how as her son grew older, there developed a private world into which she was not a guest. Always having had a good relation with her son, she had no idea that as he entered his twenties, she was looking at is world far away through a telescope. By the film’s end, I suddenly realized why King Lear can really be understood when one’s children are grown and at that point when a man is looks back as much as he looks forward. Sitting in our Expedition, winding our way through the Merced river canyon, I realized that sitting next to me was an adult that I would have to get to know like I would another adult.

We parked the car, geared-up, and set off to walk a mile or so down the old Yosemite rail grade that follows the river to a spot we like to fish. We each found our spots about forty years apart. I was then it dawned on me that I had brought on of my spinning rods but brought a fly reel—a combination that is not workable. The heaving fly line stops dead in the small guides when casting. For thirty minutes I tried futilely to get the line out on enough on the water for a good drift but finally gave-up as bright yellow line heaped around me. As I was reeling the last few feet of tangled line, my son popped through trees and seeing my set-up, asked what the heck I was doing.

“Well, it seems somehow the wrong reel wound up in my bag,” mumbled dolefully. I braced for a scornful reproach. It was his “Gotcha” moment and I deserved it. And that was the worst part.

He paused and chewed on the situation for a moment. I was sure requital was tasting as good in his mouth as crow was tasting nasty in mine. “I’ll just reel in my rig then,” he finally replied. “It’s really no fun if we both don’t have a line in the water.

I wanted to tell him that when he was small, I almost never had a line in the water I was so busy helping him. Instead I told him it was alright, to keep on fishing, but he was insistent.

On the walk back, we stopped for bit to appreciate a particularly pretty piece of the river. The sun was just peeping over the rim of the canyon and the air began to warm. I glanced at Alex and noticed him searching the ground around him. He picked up a round stone from among the many sharped edged pieces of slate strewn about and said, “I’m gonna hit that large flat rock just near the other bank.

“Long throw, small target,” I said. And he let heave the stone, just barely missing left. “Almost,” I commented.

“I got it,” he responded with a slight competitive edge to his voice. My was is very competitive with everyone and everything, including himself. He let go and with a clack, his stone hit the mark. As he was picking his next target, I as setting down my pole and tackle and looking for a viable stone myself. After his next toss, I let out a breath and took aim for his original target and let my shot go. I was way short.

Alex advised with the same patient tone I used when coaching him when he was small, “You short armed the follow though. You’re gonna pull something that way.”

“Okay,” was my brief response as I took in the information, relaxed and set to throw again. Alex watched as this time the rock sailed toward its target just missing right and short by a foot.

“Good throw,” he said. “your arm had some life in that one." And for the next forty minutes or so we scurried about looking for good stones and picking new targets. The only conversation was look at this rock! Or a “I can’t believe you passed up this beauty.” And of course, “Oh, did you see that one?”

After a while, my shoulder really began to heat up and we stopped, finishing the walk back to the car while laughing over goofy things all along the way. We stopped in Mariposa at a great little brewery and took a seat at a high table with stools. Our fishing clothes made us fit right in with the locals stuffed into the small tap room. The blond waitress came over with her small pad in hand. She gave my tall, handsome son a quick look over and then turned to me for the order. I said, “I’m buying my boy a beer.”

The cute mountain gal, smiled, “That’s really neat. A father-son day out.”

“Yup,” I said. “Someday he’ll buy me beer.”

My son smiled broadly, “Yup,” repeating my phrasing, “Some day. But not today.”

The three of us laughed, and then I enjoyed a beer more than I have enjoyed one in a long time.


Candy Day
Today's column from Carolyn Faubel
Saturday, February 28, 2015


I’ve been thinking a lot about candy lately, more than I have in the last 11 months. I mean really, how can I not? I was at Wal-Mart this afternoon, and while hiking back and forth between the “food” section and the “other” section each time I remembered something I had forgotten to pick up, I noticed how the Halloween candy aisles were duplicated in both sections. The shelves were full of orange cardboard bins, each full of clear cellophane bags of individually wrapped candies. They were so beautiful! Shiny foil, colorful little boxes, pastel tablets, many with their familiar colors so you could tell just what kind they were from down the aisle.

I had a lot of good times with candy when I was little. My grandma used to babysit us in the summer, and we would take our pennies and nickels across the road to Andy Goats store, a little hole-in-the-wall with a fully-stocked candy wall and buy pixie stix and root beer barrels. Halloween was very exciting because we got more candy at one time than ever before. We’d go up the country road near our house, knocking on doors, and then return with about half a lunch sack filled. Of course we’d dump them out and compare. The treasures were all the little mini chocolate bars. The boring ones were the peanut butter taffy wrapped in orange and black waxed paper.

I’ve taken my kids trick or treating each year until, one by one, they aged out. The last year it came up, I just promised my kids I would buy them a bag of candy if they agreed to opt out.

I expect a good part of the Halloween candy for sale is actually purchased to be set out in trick or treat bowls or for party dishes, but I will bet that most of it is bought for the family candy dish to snack on for the months leading up to that celebration of candy, Halloween night. My family has held off so far, but I do plan on setting us up with a few lovely bags for Halloween Weekend. In honor of the favorite candies in this household, I have looked up their origins and share them here. Since Peanut M&Ms are my husband’s favorite, I’ll start there.

The founder of the Mars Company, Forrest Mars, got the idea in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War when he saw soldiers eating chocolate pellets with a hard shell of tempered chocolate surrounding the inside, preventing the candies from melting. Mars received a patent for his own process on March 3, 1941. One M was for Forrest E. Mars Sr., and one for William F. R. Murrie. Murrie was involved because he was the president of Hershey’s, who had control of the rationed chocolate. The first colors were red, yellow, brown, green, and violet. In 1950, a black "M" was imprinted on the candies, later changed to white. Peanut M&M's were introduced in 1954. The most interesting information on M&Ms has to do with the different colors they used over the years. Because when you get down to it, it’s just chocolate, a peanut, and a pretty coating.

Snickers is also made by the Mars family, invented in 1930. It was named after their favorite horse, “Snickers.” (snicker snicker!) What’s interesting is that in the UK and Ireland it originally sold under the name Marathon. When they standardized the global brand and named it Snickers, the bar moved from being 9th most popular to 3rd most popular. In 2005 the Food and Drink Federation in the UK got all involved with trying to make the candy industry more health conscious and “encouraged” (ha ha) Mars to do away with their King-Sized bar. So now it doesn’t say King-Sized, but “shareable” and is in two pieces.

I remember the very first time I had a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I was about 11 years old and riding with some neighbors. They stopped at Boa’s Minnow Farm and let us pick out a soda or candy. I got a Reese’s and was stunned at how tasty it was. I found out they were invented by Harry Reese in 1928, much longer ago than I’d thought, but after he died in 1963, Hershey’s bought the company. So that’s probably about the time I started seeing them advertised.

I was quite surprised to find out about Pixy Stix. In fact, this is a two-for-oner. It used to be a drink mix in the late 30’s called Frutola, but when the owner found that kids were eating the powder straight, he changed the name to Fruzola and added a spoon. It was also packaged with a candy dipstick and called Lik-M-Aid (We used to wander the halls in high school dipping and licking those little sticks.) When parents complained about the grainy, sticky powder, the company came up with a compressed tablet form called… SweeTarts!

Did you ever wonder why a 3 Musketeers bar is called that? Created in 1932, it originally had 3 pieces in one package, strawberry, vanilla and chocolate. Chocolate was the most popular, so they phased out the other flavors.

Tootsie Rolls have been manufactured since 1896! It was the first penny candy to be individually wrapped. The founder named them after his daughter’s nickname, Clara "Tootsie" Hirshfield. The Tootsie Pop was invented in 1931. Tootsie Roll industries is one of the largest candy manufacturers in the world, and as of December 2009, Tootsies became certified Kosher.

I’m really not sure what my very favorite candy is. My tastes have changed a little over the years, so I may have to start doing some taste-testing. And I’m thinking that the last week in October just might be the perfect time!

What is your favorite? What is so special about it? Why is it better than all the rest out there? And Happy Candy Day to you!


Signs
Today's column from Henry Zuniga
Friday, February 27, 2015


(Editor’s Note—Henry (Hank) Zuniga wrote a monthly Welcome column for a number of years and never once in this years did he pull any punches about who he was and where he came from. Many of his pieces were inspirational, including this one from 2007.)

Life is funny, or cruel, or wonderful, depending on whom you ask. When you ask is also something to take into consideration because life is in a perpetual state of change and we are merely players on this unfolding stage we call earth. When asked if I would do anything differently, I often tell people that I wouldn’t because I believe that when you consider the “big picture” of life as we know it, the fact that we are alive is truly a miracle and one change, one split second done differently, changes everything. Still, we all have regrets and wonder: what if?

A couple of years ago I shared a story with my CBA family about “ How I got Hooked on Bluegrass.” I enjoyed sharing that story particularly since my heart and life felt so full and the future seemed to hold endless promise. I still feel this happiness and at times even giddiness when thinking of and/or attending bluegrass related events, but, this is where my “what if,” comes in.

Without doubt, I am in the CBA because of my wife Nancy and I can’t thank her enough. The joy and friends that I’ve found are because of this great music and its people. Like many others, the first time I attended a bluegrass festival, I didn’t even know that this world existed. Having been born and raised in California, my musical world revolved around hits of the day and whatever was being played on the radio and television. In California, bluegrass was not on any radio playlists that I listened to. Occasionally I would hear a bluegrass song on a country station but those were few and far between. To be honest, I didn’t know the difference between country and bluegrass. My first true recollection of exposure to bluegrass was the song “Dueling Banjos” from the movie “Deliverance”. That movie brought bluegrass to the masses and sparked a fire that has continued to burn for millions of fans around the world. When I saw the movie I was transfixed and captivated by the porch scene and the music that those “hillbillies” were playing. I was just learning my first few chords on the guitar and like the rats behind the Pied Piper, I had to follow that wonderful sound. Everyone I knew was picking parts of that tune and I too gave it a shot. Sadly, the movie cast such a negative light on the people associated with bluegrass that it pretty much became a point of ridicule and the song came to represent a rather unsavory and crude way of life. Still, there it was! Sign number one! If only I had listened to my heart and sought out that beautiful sound! Where would I be today?

Jump forward another five or six years. It was the spring of 1978 and I was about to finish a four year hitch in the Marine Corps. While stationed in Okinawa I bought my first decent guitar, a Yamaha dreadnought, though I didn’t know a dreadnought from a doughnut, and I was learning a lot of easy listening rock and roll. I sold that guitar after fifteen faithful years of musical pleasure and bought a classical. I wish that I had kept it because I now know that it was solid Brazilian Rosewood. I was really captivated by the balladeers of the day and I got great responses from my covers of those kinds of songs and some of my own compositions. At the time, life was looking pretty good for me, (Youth can be deceiving!) It turned out that there were a couple of bluegrassers in my squadron and one day we got together and did a little picking. At the time, I was working on my finger picking and open chord tunings. One of the guys had just bought a Gibson banjo and I asked if I could give it a strum. He said sure and I found that I was able to immediately pick out a melody. Sign number two! Instead of pursuing my natural affinity for bluegrass, I said thanks and went on my way. Duhhhhh.

My head was full of dreams and I just knew that I was the next “King.” All I needed was for the “right” person to see me perform and I was sure to get that “guaranteed success, million dollar contract.” There was only one problem, where in the heck was I going to find a talent agent, or scout, or producer, or anyone of importance to listen to my stuff? Unlike these days, the television airways weren’t full of talent searching programs. There was one and even though it was rather cheesy and didn’t offer huge prizes, it was on national television and thus offered a chance to be seen and heard. That show was the infamous “Gong Show.” While watching one episode I was able to write down the phone number to make an appointment for an audition. Wow, here it was, my big break! Now picture this: a young Hispanic jarhead, playing Jim Croce tunes, trying out for a show that was generally produced as a comedy-based variety show. I laugh at the memory! If you’ve watched some of the shows that are on today, you see what goes on before and during the selection stages of the shows. They didn’t do that back then. Talk about shock! I was given the address for the audition but I wasn’t prepared for what I would see there. To begin with, the auditions were held in a closed-down restaurant that looked totally abandoned. I was told to get there in the evening but the place looked deserted. It wasn’t. Instead it was filled with every kind of weird act you could conceive. Even with my short military haircut, I felt like I was the only normal person there. I also thought that I was a “shoe in “ as one of the “serious” performers that occasionally made the show but, I soon found out differently. They hardly paid attention to my performance and soon I was back on the street and headed back to Camp Pendleton.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with signs. The ultimate irony of the situation was that the two other Marines that I had jammed with back in the barracks also went to that audition and made it onto the show. Worse yet, they got the idea and the contact information from, you guessed it, “The King of Blind Fools”: me! Of course the producers really “hillbillied” them up, complete with the overalls, bare feet, and old hats, but hey, they made it! The music that I had dismissed gave them their fifteen minutes of fame and I was out in the cold! I don’t remember the names of those fellow soldiers. I’m pretty sure that one of them was from Kentucky but I don’t remember anything else. I was the barracks NCO and really didn’t interact with the members of my squadron very much. If this story sounds like you or someone you know please contact me. I’d like to shake and say howdy and pick a tune or two. For all I know, they’ve become big stars and are playing the bluegrass circuit today.

The long and short of this story is that life often shows us which direction we should take. It’s just a matter of recognizing the signs and heeding their message. I wasted many frustrating years because I wouldn’t follow the signs. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been and it’s because of bluegrass. I’m so grateful that I was finally able to open my eyes and see the signs that directed me to this new life. I’m pretty sure that the comedian Bill Engvall would finish this story with his now famous catch phrase: “Here’s your sign!”


Grass Valley, 1985, with the Country Gentlemen
Today's column from J.D. Rhynes
Thursday, February 26, 2015


Thirty years ago I had my cowboy pard, Pat Russell come down one early morning to share a good 'ol country breakfast with me. We like to get together at least two or three times a month for breakfast and swap stories, and jes enjoy each others company. As always, I cook up a large breakfast that will keep your motor runnin' fer most of the day, without havin' to stop and "refuel" until supper time. This particular day I cooked up a big breakfast of ham steaks, the kind with the circle of bone in the middle, and about 1/2 inch thick, scrambled eggs, hash browned 'taters, along with a big pan of biscuits, and a big, black cast iron skillet of good 'ol cracked pepper gravy gravy! Wow! You talk about a feast! Well, Pat made the remark that , "this is enough food fer a whole band of Cowboys"! That remark jogged my memory of the year 1985, the year that the Country Gentlemen first played our Father's Day Festival, at Grass Valley. So, dear readers, here's the story of the time I fixed breakfast fer the Country Gentlemen, during their stay at our festival.

The "Gent's", as they were called, by those of us that knew them, arrived at the Festival grounds on a late Friday afternoon. Along with Charlie Waller, was Bill Yates, Norman Wright, and Dick Smith, three of the finest Bluegrass musicians alive. Also, three of the "eatinest" musicians I ever saw! We all had a good visit and got acquainted with each other, well into the evening, and I thought that it would be a good thing to feed the boys a good substantial breakfast the next morning,[or when they woke up] so's they would feel like playing their best for their fans. Well, I asked Bill and Charlie if'n they'd like to have a good 'ol country breakfast the next mornin' ? Without hesitation Bill Yates said , me and Charlie will be there, and if we can roust the other two out, they'll be there too! So, to make sure they knew where I was camped, I took the boys over to my camp site, where we shared a nice "cool one", and sat around a shared a few good stories until well into the night. I made sure that they knew breakfast was gonna hit the table at 9:00 AM the next morning, and they took off into the night to enjoy some Jammin'.

Come daylite the next day, I was up at the crack of dawn gettin' my fire it in my BBQ, and making sure that everything was ready fer the boys first breakfast in California, and I wanted it to be a good one. The menu that morning was Thick Ham steaks, with a ring of bone in the middle. Not the kind that you can read a newspaper through, but real Ham steaks! Along with those, I fixed scrambled eggs, fried 'taters, Buttermilk Biscuits, and a big ol skillet of Cream Gravy! To baake the biscuits, I had one of my cast iron Camp Dutch ovens settin' in my BBQ with coals under it, and piled on top of it too. I also brewed up a big ol speckled coffee pot full of real Cowboy Coffee, the kind that you can run yer 'ol truck on! Sure as daylite, about ten minutes to nine, here came the whole bunch of "Gents", lookin' as hungry as a spring starved Grizzly, fresh out of hibernation! I poured 'em all a big cup of Cowboy Coffee, so's they'd get woke up real proper, and proceeded to make the gravy whilst' the biscuits were baking in the Dutch oven. I'd already cooked up the eggs, Ham, and 'taters and they were piled on big platters, and covered with foil to keep warm. As soon as the gravy was done, I poured it into a big bowl and set it on the table, lifted the lid on that Dutch oven and lo and behold, there before me was a beautiful sight that would make any country boy's heart start to race! One of the most perfect batches of biscuits that I've ever made in my whole life! I got 'em into a big bowl, set 'em on the table, and Charlie Waller grabbed that bowl of biscuits and in a flash he had about 6 of 'em piled on his plate. Not to be out done, Bill Yates grabbed the skillet of gravy, and was waitin' fer charlie to relinquish that bowl of biscuits. Charlie sez to Bill: Bill, how's about you lettin' me have some of that gravy? To which Bill replied: You set the biscuits on the table, and THEN I'll trade you some of MY gravy fer some of YER biscuits! All the time, Norman and Dick were settin' there grinning, and jes waiting fer this, almost daily ritual, I found out later, to end so's they could dig into their own breakfast. They were amazed that I could bake up such good buiscuits over an open fire like that. Norman Wright told me that his grandmother back in Virginta had a cast iron Dutch oven like mine,and she used to bake biscuits on the hearth of her fireplace in it. Needless to say, the "Gents" were a well fed band when they left my camp that morning, and Bill told me years later, that was the best meal they had on that whole trip to California and back. I was glad to fix it for 'em, and boy did they play some good music for us that week end! Charlie Waller probably had the greatest natural voice to sing bluegrass of any one I'll ever hear.

Every time I fix a mess of biscuits and gravy, I'm reminded of the time that Bill Yates held that big cast iron skillet of gravy fer ransom of some of Charlie's biscuits. Great memories of a time long ago, that can only be relived in the memory of those of us that were priveleged to witness such fun times. I guess that I'm gettin' old, because I sure wish that we could all live those times over again, but alas, it's not to be, at least not here on this Earth, and at this time. I'm sure that on the other side of "Jordan", we'll get to relive a lot of our good times, with family and friends that are a'waiting on us! I'd be willing to bet that the "Manna" that is talked about in the Bible, is good 'ol Biscuits and Gravy! If it is, I know that Charlie Waller is right at home!


Numbers, Numbers and More Numbers
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I’ve long been a fan of mathematics. The secrets there, and the mysteries to solve have always intrigued me. Next month, we’ll encounter “Pi Day”, which is March 14th, because the first three numbers in pi are 3.14. I remember reading a novel one time - a science fiction novel - in which it was revealed that the secret to the whole universe is contained in Pi. I don’t doubt it. Consider a number - an actual number - that can never be represented completely. I have seen contests where people can recite the first 50,000 digits of Pi from memory.

In 2010, it was reported that supercomputers had worked out Pi to 2.7 TRILLION digits! And it just goes on and on. There’s a website at http://www.angio.net/pi/ where you can search the first 200 million digits of Pi for any number combination you choose. 77777, for example, occurs 2,035 times in the first 200 million digits of Pi!

So, Pi is complicated, and that’s impressive - even mind blowing. But consider this - what you are reading now, and the music in your iPod and the pictures on your phone, are ALL defined by a pattern of 1’s, or 0’s. That’s it. TWO choices, made millions or billions of times, in a certain order, makes up what we read, what we watch, what we hear. That’s amazing.

It gets out of hand sometimes, of course. I use teleconference bridges at work fairly often,
and I’m always amused by the complexity of the ID codes to get into a phone conversation - they often run to 9 digits. Am I to believe there are 100 million conference calls using that particular service at that particular moment?

Consider the role of mathematics in astronomy - this is how we know when the next full moon, eclipse, or visit from a comet will come. We have known this for centuries. Picture Kepler deducing and figuring out the Laws of Planetary Motion from observation, incredible insight and math with no calculator, and it’s awesome to behold.

Closer to home, and dearer to those of us who play music, is the number system for chords. Since bluegrassers often change the keys to suit their singing voices, it isn’t always helpful to describe the chords by their letter designation. Instead, we use numbers. Anyone that’s been to a lot of jam sessions has heard the hurried shorthand that occurs right before launching a song: “It’s in Bb, the basic pattern is 1,4,5 but in the chorus it goes to a 4, and then a 2 before the 5, and oh, there’s a 6 minor in there, too - listen for it.”

You may or may not have enjoyed having to learn math in school, and you may or may not have an affinity (or love) for math and numbers, but believe, they’re an integral part of everything you do. You can choose to lead an analog existence, of course, but you will sacrifice some understanding, and turn a blind eye to some incredible elegance and beauty.




Damned if you do and damned if you don't
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Tuesday, February 24, 2015


We're still working on getting someone to take on the 4th Tuesday Welcome column slot; if you're interested, write to me at rickcornish7777@hotmail.com. I normally peruse the hundreds of past columns in the archive and find one I think could survive another go round, but this time I'll post an old column, one from 2003, that for some reason never got posted. I think probably the reason was that I didn't want our CBA members to know I was feeling a bit uneasy about another term as board chairman immediately following our catastrophe down in Bakersfield...if you haven't heard the "Supergrass" story you should get someone to tell you about it. Anyways, the column begins with that admission and then goes on to tell an utterly unrelated story; some things never change.

DAMNED IF YOU DO AND DAMNED IF YOU DON’T

That’s sort of how I felt this year as I made the decision to run, or not to run, for the board again. For the most part, I like the work involved, I love the Association, everybody who knows me knows I love the attention. But there can also be a lot of stress involved, particularly the day-to-day chairman stuff; my wife and boys would love to see me retire; and I suppose one could make the argument that, after this past year’s financial problem, my leaving both the board and the chairmanship could generate a boost in confidence in the leadership team among the general membership. Sort of a fresh start. Well, you know my decision….you read my candidate’s statement yesterday, or at least some did. Still, it was one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’t situations.

Which brings to mind an experience I had back in my college days. There was a community of us living on South Third Street in San Jose, about 20 to 25 students, all close friends, who lived in separate flats in two huge Victorian houses converted to student housing. I’d just begun graduate school and was spending the evening the way I spent every evening—reading a novel about which I’d be discussing the next day in class, (I was a Lit major), when the phone rang. “It’s for you,” my wife said, “it’s Linda and she sounds upset.” Linda was a young woman, sort of a pre-goth I guess you could say…..always dressed in black. A stand-out eccentric even among all of us eccentrics, (after all, these were the hippie days) who lived alone in the three story Victorian across the street.

“Linda,” I asked, “what’s up?”

Our friend started sobbing over the phone. “I’m in jail. I, I can’t believe it, but I’m in jail and I’m really, really scared. You’ve got to help me, Rick, you’ve just got to. I’m so freaked out!”

Linda explained that she’d blown off a fix-it ticket on her old Dodge clunker a year before, was pulled over that night for the same broken tail light, and a quick check by the patrolman showed that she had a warrant, so off to city jail she went.

“The last buss leaves for Elmwood at ten. They told me if I’m not bailed out by the time the bus leaves, I’m gonna spend the night in County Jail. Rick, I don’t think I could handle that.” Hearing her voice, I didn’t think so either.

“So what do you want me to do? How much is the bail. I could scrape up maybe a hundred dollars from the neighborhood, but that will take time. Linda, it’s nine fifteen.”

“No,” she said frantically, “the money’s not an issue. Bail’s $175 and I’ve got more than enough to cover that, in cash, in my sock drawer. Just go to my flat, top left drawer of my dresser, under the socks. You’ll find a big wad of money rolled up in a rubber band. Please, please, Rick, hurry!”

“But how do I get into your studio,” I asked.

“Key’s underneath the welcome mat.”

“Okay, don’t cry anymore. I’ll be right there with the money. I promise.” We both hung up.

“What’s wrong,” Claudia asked?

“Linda. Jail. Got to get her out,” and I was gone.

Linda’s studio was a tiny little room at the very top of the Victorian, a sort of turret, a fashionable adornment at the turn of the century, and this old house was the biggest, the grandest, on the block. I flew up the three flights of rickety stairs, and then stepped across a little bridge with rails that led to the door of Linda’s tiny domed flat. I’d only been up there once before…..heights and I have never gotten along. I grabbed for the key under the mat. No key. I got down on my hands and knees, lit my cigarette lighter and frantically searched for the key in the darkness. No key. I tried the door. Dead-bolted.

I stood silently for a moment, breathing hard, my breath turning to steam as it hit the frigid air. It occurred to me that I hadn’t even put a jacket on when I ran out the door. I looked over and around to the right side of the dome and could see a light on in the bathroom. I leaned over the rail and could see the window. Big enough for me to fit through. Then I looked down three long, Victorian-era stories, to the ground. It was a little surreal.

“No way,” I said aloud, “no friggin’ way.” I leaned a little further over the rail and flicked on my lighter. There was a ledge, narrow but solid looking.

“NO WAY!” I almost screamed this time. I was, and am, deathly afraid of heights. Heights and snakes, my two phobias. I started back down, got one flight down the creaking steps, and then stopped.

“OH SH…..” Linda had spent her one call on me. The dependable guy in the neighborhood she must have figured. I turned and went back up. Using my butane lighter I leaned far over the rail this time and checked the ledge again. Then I looked up and saw there was some sturdy trim that led out to the window. On complete impulse, adrenalin gushing like a broken water main, I stepped over the railing and was on the ledge, inching toward the window. ‘Don’t look down, don’t look down. DO NOT look down.” Five, maybe six slow, careful shuffles and I was directly under the window. UNDER! Not at the window, but under the window. My heart sank. I couldn’t just step into the bathroom, I’d have to jump up, off the ledge, and then pull myself up and in.

With one hand vice-gripping the whitewashed trim of the old Victorian, I slowly let go with the other and reached up to see if I could push the window open. If not, if it was locked, then that was it. Mission unaccomplished, but I’d done my level best.

With a shove, the window opened. By standing on my tip toes, balancing on the ledge, I was able to get it open far enough to get my body through. At the same instant I let go of the trim and jumped up for the window with every ounce of strength I had. And in the next instant my upper torso was well inside the bathroom, my lower torso dangling in the air. I’d made it. And then I looked down. There, in the bathtub, directly under the window, sat coiled an eight foot boa constrictor. I knew it was eight feet and a boa constrictor because Linda had told us all about her pet snake, though none had ever seen it. Until now.

The snake gazed up at me with milky eyes. It’s tongue flicked out to catch my scent. It seemed to tense up, almost to constrict on itself.

In my mind’s eye I played through the scene of easing my self back out of the window, legs dangling, feeling around for the ledge with my feet while trying to regain a hand-hold on the trim with one hand while hanging on to the window sill with the other. Then I rolled through the footage of shimmying the rest of the way through the window and free falling head first into the awaiting coils of the boa, whose name I now remembered was Stinky.

I went with Stinky. I think he was more surprised at my decision than I was. In any event, I was out of the tub, out of the bathroom, out of the flat with the wad of money and down the three flights of steps before you could say ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ I made it in time to spring Linda.

“Oh, Rick, thanks so very, very much. So you found the key alright?”

“No,” was all I said.



THE DAILY GRIST

"Now some folks like the summertime when the they can walk about,
Strolling through the meadow green it's pleasant there’s no doubt,
But give me the wintertime when the snow is on the ground,
For I found her when the snow was on the ground."

Lyrics for Footprints in the Snow by Bill Monroe


Snowbirds
Today’s column from Yvonne Higby Tatar
Monday, February 23, 2015


Contrary to Bill Monroe’s Footprints in the Snow lyrics above, lots of northerners try to get away from all that snow, and go south for the winter months. They are known as “Snowbirds.”

Snowbird – Noun; A snowbird is someone from the U.S. Northeast, U.S. Midwest, Pacific Northwest, or Canada who spends a large portion of winter in warmer locales such as California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, or elsewhere along the Sun Belt of the southern and southwest United States, Mexico, and areas of the Caribbean.


Attending the Blythe Bluegrass Festival was a real treat this year. I’ve always had a good time at that event but the nights can be oh so chilly with temps getting down into the mid-30’s. Folks forget that the high desert can have big swings in the winter temperatures. But this year’s temps were mostly high 60s during the day and low 40s at night. There were lots of campfires and the festival folks provided the fire pit (a repurposed washing machine drum) and the firewood to boot! The after- hours music this year was abundant in the main campground and folks had the traditional canvas sheets clamped together to fashion jamming tents. Most of these even had space heaters going to keep things warm and toasty for those picking fingers.

With Blythe’s traditional two stages, there’s always the choice of which one to attend but that’s what keeps things lively during the day. Besides the music, there was also the annual quilt show on Saturday to attend (hope you’re feeling better Donna & Fred) and also the Saturday night cowboy dance which drew quite a few “steppers” this year.

Motorhomes were everywhere in the three camping areas. And you could see why Blythe really starts the winter festival circuit for so many who come here in the winter time. Other winter festivals in order of dates include Casa Grande, AZ at the end of January, Bullhead City, NV happening first part of February, and then Lake Havasu, AZ festival the first weekend in March. In between these festivals, RVers gather at various camps and locations, and keep the music and camping going. One main gathering happens after Lake Havasu fest at mile marker 116 just outside of Quartzsite and known as the All Association Gathering. As the end of March approaches, most snowbirds are on their way home or about to do so.

At our last night at Blythe festival, my friend & I did our nightly “jam crawl” - checking out the music going on in the campgrounds. (Every night saw quite a few crawlers checking the jamming scene.) At one jam and gathering around the ol’ fire drum, I met up with an old friend and we chatted about our lives as friends do. We talked of festivals, snowbirds, RV living, getting older (and wiser), and looked at the future a bit. My friend is planning on moving out of California this year, but will return each winter, becoming a real snowbird. She summed up her decision to do this by saying, ”I’m not a big Jane Fonda fan, but she said something once that has stayed with me. (to paraphrase) ‘Life has three acts. Act 1 is birth to 30 years old. This is your youth and filled with learning and getting started. Act 2 is your prime, ages 31 to 60 years old. It’s filled with making your mark, working and family. Act 3 is 60 years and older and that’s the time for fun.’“ With that, my friend got a great big grin on her face and said, ”And that’s my plan! I’m gonna have (more) fun!” By the looks of these full campgrounds and the snowbirds I saw, this is the plan for a multitude of others! Let the fun years ensue!

Staying warm in the Southland,
Yvonne



THE DAILY GRIST…"National Sibling Day is April 10, let’s celebrate!"--Jeanie

Sibling Harmonies
Today’s Column by Jeanie Ramos
Sunday, February 22, 2015


Sometimes when I get a phone call from one of my three sisters, I can’t tell which one I’m talking to. In fact they all sound like me and we all sound like our mother. I’m assuming that the same genetic make-up that gives us similar facial features is at work in the rest of our body, including the voice box.

When I’m with my sisters, we do quite a bit of singing together and I must admit, there is nothing like “sibling harmonies.” This is not just true in my family of course. Last month I was at a jam and my bass playing friend, Lisa Burns was also there with her sister, Shelly. While Shelly sang the lead to an old Hank Williams song, Lisa sang the harmony part and I saw this “sibling harmony” dynamic at work. In fact, that’s what gave me the idea for this column.
I believe that the “sibling harmony” may be a contributing factor to the success of many duets and family bands; groups such as The Whites, The Cox Family, Stanley Brothers, Louvin Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Gibson Brothers, just to name a few. In other musical genres, the first ones who come to mind are the Everly Brothers, Andrew Sisters, The Browns, Osmonds, Mills Brothers, etc. It appears to me that siblings or closely related family members have shared tones, and similar timbre that is hard to duplicate.

Sometimes, some of these family artists are not necessarily great soloists but when they join forces, the tight blend from the shared vocal characteristics form a sound that is unique and identifiable. It’s a beautiful thing.

Sometimes, you will hear a recording of a singer harmonizing with herself. One who comes to mind is Skeeter Davis (I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know). She began her career singing the harmony part to her sister’s vocals. When the Davis Sisters parted as a duo, Chet Atkins produced an album of Skeeter harmonizing with herself. He felt that her vocals were not suited to singing leads and this technique gave her voice a fuller sound, one that was similar to singing with her sister. Of course this was accomplished using recording equipment and over dubbing, etc. In case you’re wondering if it’s physically possible to harmonize with oneself any other way, the answer is yes. I just watched a YouTube video of a woman who did just that, she manipulated her voice box with her hand while she was singing and harmonic tones came out of her mouth. The only thing close to this is Mongolian throat singing, which is a whole different subject but an interesting one. I’ve never understood ventriloquism either…but I’ve digressed.

Of course, I am not discounting the fact that there are many great vocal groups that are made up of unrelated members that have spectacular harmonies; Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen, Longview, Sons of the Pioneers, Oak Ridge Boys to name a few. Dailey and Vincent is a good example of a vocal duo whose harmonies are especially beautiful.

We can’t all form a family vocal group of course but I have seen and heard bands that were made up of folks who are very talented and gifted individually but when combined, their voices don’t blend or mesh well even when every one is doing their part correctly. When forming a band, this is an important consideration. That’s just a bit of unsolicited, free advice.

I hope you all are having a musically good time this winter and I look forward to some fun jamming at the Spring Camp-Out. God bless.


Bluegrassian Questionnaire with Lisa Burns
Today's column from Cameron Little
Saturday, February 21, 2015


(A continuing series of interviews very loosely based on the “Proust Questionnaire” - bluegrass style!)

Whether Lisa Burns is performing onstage or teaching a workshop, you’ll notice that she is always in motion to the music. Performer, recording artist, five-time winner of the Northern California Bluegrass Society’s Bass Player of the Year award, and known aficionado of teddy bears, it’s easier to make a list of where Lisa hasn’t played or taught. A passionate supporter of bluegrass, Americana, blues, and swing music, Lisa generously donates her time and business acumen to various board, coordinator, and volunteer positions within the music community. You can find her in her element onstage with Sidesaddle & Co, recording with the Sherry Austin Band, and teaching at music camps. And yes, she has names for all of her instruments.

1. What's your idea of perfect happiness?
I am pretty happy right now. I am very happy when I teach bluegrass bass and when I am onstage.

2. What's your greatest fear?
Screwing up onstage!

3. What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
It was a Sears Silvertone guitar I got from the guy across the street. I was 12. It had terrible action, etc. I played it for several years until I got something better.

4. Which living bluegrass person do you most admire?
Missy Raines.

5. What is your greatest extravagance?
My housecleaners!

6. When and where were you the happiest?
Right now, with my boyfriend Mike Staninec. Yes, that's Annie's dad.

7. What’s your favorite cocktail recipe?
Gin and tonic.

8. Who would be sitting in your dream jam?
Rob Ickes, Mike Compton, Stuart Duncan, Bill Keith, and me. Or else it would be Sidesaddle!

9. Who are you listening to these days?
Laurie and Kathy's new Vern and Ray album.

10. If you could hear any non-bluegrass tune done bluegrass, what would it be?
“I've Just Seen a Face.”

11. What song hits your heart every time?
The James King song “Echo Mountain.”

12. Please share one of your favorite/most embarrassing on-stage blunders.
Starting a song in the wrong key at Strawberry.

13. If you were reincarnated as a person or thing, who or what would you want to be?
Myself, right now.

14. What is your most treasured possession?
My "good" bass, Rachel, named after my grandmother. Built around 1850.

15. Is there one bluegrass player tip or secret you'd like to share?
Listen, listen, listen. Listen to your bandmates, listen to good recordings.

16. What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Playing live music is Important. I have seen this to be the case over and over. I was in San Diego for the Cedar Fires. I played a show there and people came! We thought no one would show up. I played Sam's BBQ in San Jose the day after 9/11. Sidesaddle played and people came! It was important to be there, to offer some solace.

17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of bluegrass misery?
Four days of rain at Camp Mather.

18. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Flying.

19. Do you have a favorite music joke?
Q: Why are there no banjos on Star Trek?
A: It’s the future!

20. What is your motto?
Make the world better through music!

For more information about Lisa, check her website at http://www.lisaonbass.com/, her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lisaonbass, and http://sidesaddleandco.com/.


Where is our music going?
Today’s column from Don Denison
Friday, February 20, 2015


Dear Friends:

Have you ever wonderded where our music is going? Most genre of music changes over the years, even Classical has changed, or branched out over time, there's a huge difference for instance between Stravinsky and Vivaldi. Country Music has changed greatly since I began listening to it during the 40's, to the point that much of it is unrecognizable as "Country" to me. I think part of the problem of change in the genre is due to the sheer volumne of material that is produced. Most people I know, today are listening to some sort of music almost non-stop, or at least have music on whether or not they are paying attention to it. People, for better or worse expect to hear new material, and when participating in listening in an almost non-stop basis, the perceived need for new material becomes more pronounced. Let us assume that music, and the tastes for it change almost constantly, and sometimes it is difficult to figure out just what one is listening
to.

I have been attracted to and pleased by the more traditional sound of Bluegrass Music, but I freely admit I can stand only so many offerings Blueridge Cabin Home or Footprints in the Snow, and that not every one needs to sound like Lester Flatt or Bill Monroe. Having said that, I've heard some good music offered as Bluegrass that would have probably surprised our first generation performers. So how do we "keep it Bluegrass", and still accomodate the changes that are going to happen whether or not we like them.

Our first generation bands all were strongly influenced by Southren Mountain life, Gospel, Blues, and a mixture of it all with Old Time and Country (early Country) music. Most of these bands were made up of performers who shared some basic experiences. Among these experiences were rural life, small towns, a strong church background, and values that come from these influences. One doesn't have to have these things in one's background, but it makes it easier to relate to the Bluegrass genre if these and some other items are present in the personal history of the performers. One can for instance learn to sing Gospel, and Traditional Bluegrass music without having grown up in churches in the South, or having lived on a working farm in the Appalachin Mountains, but that background must certainly make the learning of it a whole lot easier.

How do we preserve that feeling, absent the experience of it? Unless one has had similar experiences to those expressed in Tennesee 1949, can the lyrics and melody have as meaningful an impact on the performer, and audience, as it would have on someone who had actually lived a similar life? In short, how much does experience influence the writing and performance of the music we call Bluegrass Music? Can Pig in the Pen, have much meaning to someone who hasn't raised hogs, fed and butchered them, or lived a rural life? I believe it can be learned, but authentic experience must surely make it a lot easier. Those who grew up in a Southern Baptist, or Pentacostal church in the South will find the timing and other nuances of the music about as familiar as breathing in and out. It can, as I said earlier be learned, but for some it is just natural.

We've had wonderful bands and music come out of urban and modern environmennts, and it will continue to do so. We have gone from a nation of farmers to a nation of city dwellers. What will happen to the music though, when the connection to the traditional environment is severed by time? It is going to be interesting to see how the music develops. We don't want to play or listen to for long, what becomes a museum piece, that is for sure. I can remember a band we had on our stage that looked like, dressed like, sang like (sort of) and had a similar stage patter as Lester and Earl did. I remember thinking that while it was interesting, it lacked the drive and passion of the original Foggy Mountain Boys. I suspect that somethings just have to be experienced to be understood and communicated. Some do it better than others, and some don't even try. Does this mean that those who have "strayed" are not playing good and meaningful music? No. It doesn't, but it is different. Only time will tell where our music is going, a strong and deep background in the first generation of Bluegrass Music will prove useful even to those who are out on the far fringes of the genre. I, if I were a performer would take it as a dubious compliment if some one said,"you all sound just like.................", you can fill in the blank with any of several of the first generation bands.

Where is our music going? We will find out over the years, I hope we do a better job of staying true to our roots than modern Country Music has, it will be interesting to find out.



THE DAILY GRIST...“No goetta for me, please!”

”If An Army Marches On Its’ Stomach, What Does A Band Play On?”
Today's column from James Reams
Thursday, February 19, 2015


I’ve really been trying to eat healthier this past year and have learned to actually like things such as smoothies, herb teas, and protein bars as I worked to get myself in better shape. But heading out to festivals has a way of setting me back as I succumb to roadside diner meals and the options that pass for food at some of these events.

As I was driving along a particularly boring stretch of highway, my mind wandered off as it’s prone to do from time to time. I must’ve been hungry, it being a long time between dinner salads, and was thinking about some of the eccentric requests made by big-name celebrities as far as food for their dressing rooms (like the “no brown M&Ms” request from Van Halen).

I got to remembering some of the items (I can’t even call them “food”) that I’ve been offered during my career as a musician after a long day performing. This one time after a show, I was shuttled upstairs into an attic and fed some hideous black meat that had been sitting in a sterno heated aluminum pan for what must have been hours. I get the hebegeebees just remembering the smell. And then there was the time I played Cincinnati and “had” to try the Cincinnati specialty called goetta which is a sausage and oatmeal concoction normally served for breakfast. Let’s just say that there’s lots of great food in Cincinnati but goetta is one I hope to avoid.

And that started me musing about what our bluegrass royalty would have requested if they’d even had a dressing room and hadn’t been so focused on just plain getting paid. Considering that they may have been a long way from home, I figured that most of them would be hankering for hometown favorites.

So here’s a fanciful look at the “Food Riders” that might have accompanied performance contracts (if there had been any!) back in the early days of bluegrass and what the venue probably delivered.

Bill Monroe’s (KY) Food Rider: Upon arrival, Mr. Monroe will be met with a freshly fried bucket of lamb fries. After the performance fresh possum burgoo with spoonbread, a side of butter beans, and blackberry cobbler (seeds removed) will be waiting for Mr. Monroe in his private trailer.
WHAT HE GOT: a bologna sandwich and black coffee setting on a dusty TV tray in the parking lot.

Lester Flatt’s (TN) Food Rider: One hour before the performance, Mr. Flatt requires a platter of Wonder bread puree topped with crispy chicken skin dippers. Immediately after the last set, Mr. Flatt expects to sit down to a dinner of “hot” fried chicken, Martha White biscuits, and cherries soaked in Tennessee moonshine. No paper plates, plastic utensils or paper napkins are to be used.
WHAT HE GOT: A box of Chicken in a Biscuit crackers and a warm bottle of water.

Earl Scruggs’ (NC) Food Rider: Before each set, Mr. Scruggs prefers to snack on pimiento cheese sandwiches (crusts removed), Mount Olive pickles, pork cracklins and watermelon sliced into perfect half moon crescents exactly 1 ½” thick.
WHAT HE GOT: A greasy paper sack containing pac o’nabs, a bag of pork rinds and Jolly Rancher hard candies.

Don Reno’s (SC) Food Rider: Immediately after the final performance of the day, Mr. Reno requires a sit down dinner at a tablecloth covered table set with fine china. The meal is to include fried green tomatoes with wadmalaw sweet onions, frogmore stew, hoppin’ john, and rice pudding for dessert.
WHAT HE GOT: A soggy tomato sandwich on a Chinet plate and carton of rice milk.

Jimmy Arnold’s (Toronto) Food Rider: Mr. Arnold requires authentic poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds), a bucket of oysters, back bacon sandwich and a flat of beer (none of that wimpy Yank beer either) before and after each set.
WHAT HE GOT: Stale potato chips, a can of tuna and a flat beer.

Roni Stoneman’s (DC) Food Rider: Ms. Stoneman’s dressing room must be stocked with a case of Perrier mineral water, half smokes (smoked sausages made from pork and beef) and crabcake appetizers at least 2 hours before her performance. One hour before showtime, Ms. Stoneman requires a steak and cheese sandwich. Don’t even think of passing off a Philly cheesesteak with that ‘what is it’ cheese stuff. Ms. Stoneman’s sandwich must contain real ribeye steak, grilled onions and real cheese on a crusty homemade roll.
WHAT SHE GOT: a can of Vienna sausages covered in Cheese Whiz, a pack of broken Saltines and a jar of sweet tea.

Now that I think on it a bit, things haven’t changed all that much since the early days. Send me an email james@jamesreams.com and let me know the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten at a festival. I’m making notes about future venues!


Writer's Block - We Need a Telethon
Today's column by Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, February 18, 2015


It’s finally happened - I don’t know what to write about. So, dear readers, instead of the cogent, tightly plotted and brilliant essay you’ve come to expect from this column, it’s going to be a rambling wreck of random thoughts, spilling out like salty tears on this digital page.

Songwriting is on my mind, for a couple of reasons. One, a friend of mine, Joe Clement sent me a CD of his songs he has recently recorded. I've known the Clements for quite some time, beginning from one jam session at their home on a New Year’s Day some years ago. It was a memorable bluegrass jam, partially because there was a piano player in the mix.

I encountered the Clements again, some years later in, a jam class in which I was a teacher. In it, I got to know Joe Clement a little better, and appreciate his musicality. I learned then, that he wrote his own songs, and these songs, rendered in Joe’s voice - which is markedly similar to Doc Watson’s had a certain something. But it’s hard to trot out originals at jams, so I really gathered more background info than deep insights.

Fast forward a few more years, in which I encountered the Clements more rarely than I would have thought, since they live only a few town away. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see an email from Joe recently, announcing a CD release party and concert coming up. He had a stellar lineup too, with noted bluegrass luminaries Keith Little and Jim Nunally. I contacted Joe, and offered him a slot at the monthly open mic/jam event I host in Martinez, but he couldn't make it, but he offered to send me his CD.

You can find the CD on CD Baby - check it out, I think you’ll like it. It’s not bluegrass per se, but it’s grassy enough and it’s touching and thought-provoking. His CD release concert will be March 14th, in Crockett, CA - see http://www.sweetthingmusic.net for more info.

The other reason I've been thinking about songwriting is, I've been asked to participate in a Singer/Songwriter Showcase. Yeah, they took their time getting around to me - but there are a lot of very good songwriters around Contra Costa County (Lynn Quinones was one of the very first asked to participate), so I don’t feel I should been asked any sooner.

Now I’m digging through all the songs I've written over the years and trying to pick the best 12 or 13. I’m not a terribly prolific songwriter, and most of the songs I've written haven’t been played by anybody for years. That includes me, so I've had to relearn a lot of them. Talk about a humbling experience! Some don’t hold up, to be truthful. Others are pretty good, and I am glad they will see the light of day. Most of all, I’m grateful to have written enough of the darn things so I can perform 45 minutes of songs I can be proud of. See www.armandosmartinez.com, if you’re interested in cheering me on (or heckling me) on Monday March 2nd.


It’s Easy When You Know How (And We Can Show You How…..At Music Camp)
By Geoff Sargent and Peter Langston
Sunday January 18, 2015

The Answer is: At Music Camp!
By Geoff Sargent and Peter Langston
Someday in February, 2015


Is anyone out there a fan of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? In the book, an advanced civilization, somewhere out in another part of the universe, asks a supercomputer called Deep Thought “what is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?” Deep Thought was a pretty crafty computer and, after 7.5 million years of computing, came up with an answer of “42”, which of course made no sense. However, Deep Thought went on to explain that answer was correct and then told the folks from the advanced civilization that they didn’t understand their own question, implying they were really kind of ignorant. But, and here’s where Deep Thought was crafty, Deep Thought said that if they allowed him to build another, more powerful computer, he might be able to tell the advanced civilization how to ask the question in a way that would get an answer they would understand. Talk about job security….Deep Thought was up-selling these folks on the idea of another couple of million years of work by telling them they were stupid. Long story short, Deep Thought built the new computer, incorporated some life forms into the machine to help with the computations, and that computer was the planet Earth! So how does this fit in with music camp? Very simple! I believe that Deep Thought was blowing smoke at that advanced civilization and already knew where the answer to the question could be found. I mean, it’s obvious to me that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is at the CBA Music Camp. How else can we make sense of the universe, life, and everything except through playing bluegrass music? Ok, maybe I’m overreaching a teenie weenie bit here, but it sure seems like everything just comes together at music camp and the Father’s Day Festival for that one magical week every year.

What we like to do every year in the run up to music camp is introduce a few of the teachers. I would like to introduce two banjo teachers to you: Wes Corbett and Joe Newberry. I wonder if Deep Thought helped to design the banjo as the computing instrument that generated the answer 42. Makes you think doesn’t it? If so, that means the banjo is a powerful instrument.

Wes Corbett is teaching Exploring intermediate bluegrass banjo, level 2/3. In this class Wes will be working on a few key elements that will help you have a great time jamming, and also help you continue to make progress on your banjo. These elements will include things like; chord shapes and progressions, cool roll patterns and how to use them, and the all-important concept of bolstering your bluegrass lick vocabulary so you can construct a break on the fly!

Wes is a native of the Pacific Northwest and has been playing the banjo since he was 15, after a split from the classical piano. He has performed with many of the most influential acoustic musicians of our time, including Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, Bruce Molesky, Sarah Jarosz, Matt Glaser, and Laurie Lewis, among many others. Additionally, he toured internationally with the Indie-Popgrass band Joy Kills Sorrow. As of 2011, Wes is the Associate Professor of Banjo at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he currently lives.

Joe Newberry is teaching Old-Time Banjo, level 2/3: Five Strings to Fun. His class will feature a mix of famous and not so famous (although they should be) tunes. Both are important. While Joe is excited to show you some new tunes, He is equally as excited to use familiar tunes as a springboard for some techniques that have served him well. Topics Joe will cover include: "Putting Drive in Your Playing," "Rhythm Tips," "The Fifth String as a Melody Vehicle," and "The Under-used Second Fret." Joe also will give you tips on how to match your playing with a fiddler's style, as well as playing in a string band setting. If there is interest, Joe can also share some banjo songs.

Joe Newberry is a Missouri native and North Carolina transplant who has played music most of his life. Known far and wide for his powerful banjo playing, he is a prizewinning guitarist, fiddler, and singer as well. Joe plays with old-time music legends Bill Hicks, Jim Watson, and Mike Craver, in a duo with mandolinist Mike Compton, and along with Mike, performs with Bruce Molsky and Rafe Stefanini as the Jumpsteady Boys. A frequent guest on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, Joe is also a noted solo performer. The recipient of the songwriting prize for “Gospel Recorded Performance” at the 2012 IBMA Awards for his song “Singing As We Rise,” and co-writer of the 2013 IBMA Song of the Year for "They Called It Music," Joe writes songs that consistently show up on the Bluegrass charts, does solo and studio work, and teaches and performs at festivals at home and abroad. “I look forward to meeting and playing with all of you. If you have questions that I have not addressed, feel free to email me at js.newberry@gmail.com, or write me at 3316 Harden Road, Raleigh, NC, 27607. You can also see photos and learn more about me at www.joenewberry.me.”

Registration for the 2015 CBA Music Camp opened on February 7 during some welcome precipitation. The 15th CBA Summer Music Camp will take place June 14th to 17th at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California. More information is available at the music camp website . And we would like to remind you that you can give CBA Music Camp as a gift for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Graduation, Birthdays Valentine's Day, and even April Fool's Day. Check it out at our web site.



THE DAILY GRIST…”Music now, more than ever before, is a national need.”…(Woodrow Wilson)…”My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell you the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”…(Harry S. Truman)

Presidential Musicians
Today’s column from Bert Daniel
Monday, February 16, 2015


Happy President’s Day to all of you out there! I hope you have the day off like I do today. Yes, thanks to some of our great American presidents (particularly two really important ones who were born in February) most of us have a much needed day off in the middle of winter. What should we do with the extra time? I think many of you music fans will take advantage of the opportunity to make some good music today and in doing so, you will be honoring many of our past presidents who did exactly the same thing.

Let’s start with George Washington. Not much is mentioned in the historical record about our founding father’s musicianship but I’ll bet he was a picker. He certainly had an appreciation of old time music. His favorite fiddle tune was Jaybird Sittin’ on a Hickory Limb. The next president, John Adams probably played some too but his son, John Quincy, was a very good flutist who also played the violin and harp.

Thomas Jefferson is the first president for whom there is solid documentation that he was a good musician. By age 14 he was writing down fiddle tunes he had learned. His favorite was Grey Eagle. He may have been the owner of an Amati violin, which would be worth a fortune today, and he purchased a Tourte bow while in Paris which had a then revolutionary (and we all know Jefferson was a revolutionary) bow design, now standard today. He also played the cello. Although Jefferson liked fiddle tunes like Grey Eagle, he was particularly fond of playing classic compositions by composers like Corelli, Vivaldi and Handel as well as contemporary works by composers such as Campioni and Haydn (I guess you could say he was in the big tent camp among the jammers of the day).

Fortunately for America, Jefferson fractured his wrist in 1786 while in France and went from practicing three hours every day at the fiddle to doing a lot of other things that proved to be much more important. But his brother Randolph carried on the fiddling tradition. Isaac, a family slave, once commented: “Randolph used to come out among the black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night”.

Our tenth president, John Tyler, was also a fiddle player. His favorite tune was Washington’s Grand March. After his time as president he spent a great deal of time playing music. His wife played guitar and sometimes they would recruit some of their fifteen kids to fill in at music parties.

Honest Abe Lincoln was a violin player. I’ll bet he would have loved Jay Ungar’s theme tune for Ken Burns’s Civil War movie, Ashokan Farewell. Two presidents played harmonica (Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan). And believe it or not, the presidential musician ranks even include a banjo picker, Chester A. Arthur. If you don’t believe me I’ll show you a photo of him posing with his banjo. Too bad he never got the chance to play on the Grand Old Opry, which started many years later.

One of our presidents did play on the Grand Old Opry though. He also had played his own piano composition on the Tonight show ten years before. His name was Richard Nixon and he was pretty good at the piano to tell the truth. Nixon also played the accordion and violin. A few months after playing “God Bless America” for the Nashville crowd he became our only president to resign from office.

Nixon was part of a Republican ticket that replaced another good piano playing president. Harry Truman got up at 5 am every day to practice piano for two hours before running the country.

Warren Harding may have been the president most inclined to play music but he probably wouldn’t have been a bluegrass picker. He was more focused on concert band instruments and he even joined the band that celebrated his nomination in 1920. He once remarked, “I played every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet.” And speaking of band instruments, who can forget president Bill Clinton ripping up Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel” on the saxophone for the Arsenio Hall Show?

Even our current president has some musical chops. Barack Obama has been known to sing a few lines from time to time. So far it’s been stuff like “Let’s Stay Together” or “Sweet Home Chicago”. We can only guess how much soul he might put into a song like “The Old Crossroads”.

Happy President’s Day everyone!

The Call of the Wild
Today’s Column from John A. Karsemeyer
Saturday, February 14, 2015,


It is Saturday, ten o’clock in the morning. I drag my lazy bones off the couch and head out for a geezer walk. Not fast, not strenuous, just something to stretch the cramped muscles and get moving. Anything can happen, or nothing can happen. If I’m lucky, once I get out of this small neighborhood and into the woods I’ll spot a ten point buck like I did a year ago.

Passing the neighbor’s house with my back now toward it, I’m walking away and suddenly hear, “Excuse me. Have you seen two bagels running around anywhere?” Stopping, I reply, “I didn’t know bagels could run.” The neighbor man says, “No, two beagles, dogs that is, must be my accent.” “How long have the dogs been gone?” I ask. He, the neighbor, who is a young man in his thirty’s, sporting a neatly trimmed black beard below his full head of hair, then hands me a flyer with a picture of the two beagle dogs, and answers, “Since seven-thirty this morning. They got away through the fence that I now realize has a gap big enough for them to escape.” “Okay,” I say, “I’ll keep an eye out for them.” Then I continue my walk up the long narrow street with modest houses on both sides. My walk, all mine, no people, no phones, no TV, no computer, just sanctuary. Or maybe not.
A quarter mile from the neighbor’s house I cross the busy street, one of only two main roads that travel all the way north and south through the Sonoma Valley. Both of these streets, or roads, or highways, whatever you want to call them, are already heavily loaded with traffic. Sometimes there are so many speeding cars I call it a freeway. Sprinting (okay, walking fast) between two cars coming from opposite directions, I make it safely to the other side of the street. “Goin’ out on the highway, listen to those rubber tires whine….”

From this side of the street the beginning of Sonoma Mountain abruptly leaves the sidewalk that I’m now walking on. The ground rises steeply and supports the vast underbrush and trees all the way to the top. It’s technically a mountain, rising quickly to a height of 2,463 feet. I have a friend from Jackson Hole, Wyoming who knows this “mountain.” When he first saw it he said, “You call that a mountain? That’s no mountain. It’s a mole hill.” And I have to admit it’s not a mountain compared to the Grand Tetons where the friend lives. Mountain or not, it beats the heck out of flat land. Whatever it is, it goes up and up, and then horizontally travels thousands of acres before it gives way to the flat land again.

Walking along the sidewalk I think, “Those dogs are long gone, or maybe they’re just hiding out in the neighborhood somewhere. Maybe they made friends and are hanging out with some other dogs having a party.” That’s when I hear barking off to my left, about thirty yards away in the old growth redwood trees. And then I see them, both of them, making their way from south to north, through the thicket, smiling and laughing, wearing their brown and white tightly fitted spotted suits. I know there is no way that they are going to come to me, a stranger, even if I get close. So I turn around and walk as fast as possible back to the owner’s house, again dodging the cars on the mini-turnpike. When the front door of the house opens I say, “I spotted them. If we get into your car I’ll show you were I last saw them.”

Reaching the spot where I last saw the beagle duo, we get out of the car and the thirty-something bearded man hands me some dog treats. The dogs are nowhere in sight, which is something that doesn’t surprise me. “Let’s go this way,” I say, and we make our way on foot through the woods, traveling the path that goes to the top of the mountain.

After about a hundred yards we hear barking, and spot the dogs making their way up the mountain along a narrow path that travels next to a slow moving “Dinky Creek.” “Here Barney, here Blossom,” the owner shouts. The dogs stop in their tracks for a moment, looking back, acknowledging and then quickly ignoring their owner. And then they keep going up, up, and up the trail along the creek bed that now gets steeper, as something calls to the dogs louder than it did before. I know the dogs can smell the treats the owner and I are now clutching in our hands, but it doesn’t matter. The dogs smell something stronger, more tempting than anything they’ve ever encountered during their short life on planet earth. And then Barney and Blossom disappear from sight.

I’m on one side of the creek, and the black bearded younger man is on the other side, on the same path as the canine duo, following and calling to the emancipated dogs. Dogs that are now constantly barking and calling to something else. Something else that is out ahead of them, not visible, not known to humans, but nevertheless is still there. The trail the owner and I are traveling upward on is getting steeper now, and the barking of the unseen dogs is fading into the distance. Then the trail gets really steep. I’m winded, breathing hard and fast. Thirty years ago I used to run up this steep trail, but that was then and this is, well, you know. The dogs’ barking is barely audible now, and I’ve lost sight of my younger hunting partner who I last saw on the other side of the downward flowing creek that makes it way past ferns, redwoods, oaks, and dog wood trees (everything is connected). “Maybe the owner turned back, it’s really steep now, heck, I’m going back down,” I reluctantly admit to myself. There was a time when I ran with the wolves, now I walk with the turtles.

Staying on flatland by myself for another hour, I turn around and walk back toward home. Out of the woods now, crossing the heavily trafficked road again, I enter back into the small tract of homes. “I don’t know how those ten month old dogs made it safely across this street without getting hit by at least one speeding car,” I say out loud as I manage a fast walk to avoid the speeding four wheeled mechanical creatures that bolt along on the asphalt with no mercy. It is a small miracle that Barney and Blossom didn’t meet their end today on this highway of pain, like the many skunks, possums, and deer have over the years. But then again you do have to consider what “dog” spelled backwards is. The so called speed limit is 35 mph on this street, but I think 99% of the drivers have dyslexia, as they speed along at 53 miles per hour and higher.

“Better stop at the owner’s house and tell his wife what is going on,” I think as I step onto his driveway for a few strides and then knock on the door. It’s been over an hour since I last saw the owner on the other side of the creek, making his way up the mountain, and I want to tell his wife where I last saw him, just in case he got lost or hurt and can’t get back. After all, the last time I saw him or heard the dogs barking, the sun was going down. “Might have to send out a search team,” is my last negative thought as the door opens.

“Hey John! Thanks for helping me find those dogs. They escaped through the fence, but now look at their new home.” Peeking into the living room I see that the dogs are in a wire cage, with frowns on their faces, even though their owner has a wide grin on his. He tells me that the dogs eventually went a mile up the mountain, and were captured close to a small lake, finally lured into their owner’s hands by the dog treats he used as bait. Barney and Blossom’s eventual hunger was their undoing (at least from their point of view).

This was Barney and Blossom’s first and most likely last escape into total freedom. They were found a hundred yards from where the author Jack London lived. You know, the Jack London who wrote, “The Call of the Wild.” And now the Jack London who is buried on this majestic land where he lived, in Jack London State Park. The beagles were most likely making their way to Jack’s grave site to say, “Thank you, I’m answering the call of the wild!” They didn’t quite make it. In the big picture it’s a good thing that they were found before the darkness surrounded them, and they became tasty appetizers for the occasionally seen mountain lions that come out at night to pounce on deer and small critters whose fate is suddenly sealed.

Walking down the street away from the now imprisoned dogs, I starting singing a line from a song that years ago I heard The Piney Creek Weasels perform on the main stage at Grass Valley, “Every time I go to town, the boys start kicking my dog around. Makes no difference if he’s a hound, you gotta quit kickin’ my dog around.” I don’t know why that song came to mind, but there is one thing I do know. Those dogs were running as fast as they could to get away from my town.

Rumor has it that Barney and Blossom will be at the 2015 Fathers’ Day Festival this June in Grass Valley, sniffing out any other CBA columnists who write stories about dogs. They will, of course, be on well secured leashes.


THE DAILY GRIST…”Just remember while you’re young, that for you your day will come, when you’re old and only in the way.”--Hazel Dickens

Hazel Dickens, a Christmas carol
Today’s column from Cliff Compton
Friday, February 13, 2015


There’s this guy I work with. I never much liked him. Sort of a buttoned down fellow...an analyticals’ analytical. Everything in it’s place. A business man always taking care of business.

And me, well I’m kind of a child of the 70’s. Sort of free flowing, creative, less interested in logic than in intuition. Operating on a different side of my brain…whatever is left of it anyway.

And this fellow was my boss for a long time and I frustrated him and he frustrated me. He, being a man of numbers, rules and order. Me flying by the seat of my pants, dreaming about impossible stuff.

Now, over time we’ve learned to co-exist and maybe even appreciate each other for those characteristics that each of us lacked, but recently there has been a big change in my viewpoint of this gent.

You see, there’s this gift exchange we do at Christmas time at my place of employment. It’s one of those affairs where you draw names and then you have to get something for whoever’s name you draw whether you like them or not, and you never know who got your name until the Christmas party, where, with a lot of hoopla those names are revealed, and then you find out what people really think of you, by however they decide to spend their twenty dollars on your gift.

Well…When my name was called, this fella brought me my gift, All wrapped up in a perfect bow, in a perfect sack. A little small thing, and with feigned enthusiasm, I opened it up.

And what to my wondering eyes did appear?

Hazel Dickens. The perfect present. The perfect C.D. Songs for poor folks, music for the downtrodden, pulled from heart of the broken. Raw and rough, and wretched and perfect in every way. The best music by the best dang songwriter in the physical universe. It seems that every song I hear that affects me at a visceral level spilled out of that woman. Songs like “Making a living by the sweat of my brow.”, “A few old memories”, West Virginia, my home“, “ You’ll get no more of me”, Old and in the way” and that wonderful paean to endless poverty, “Busted”. Songs of hard scrabble life. Songs of desparate and hopeless people, who kept on going because they didn’t know what else to do.

I understand that woman. I’ve lived on bacon ends and top ramein. Burnt broken pallets in a potbellied stove because the heat had been turned off.. Slept with a woman just to get warm. Built trailer steps for a family of migrant workers who felt sorry for a poor boy who had no home.

Life raw and unadorned.

Hazel Dickens! This fella bought me a Hazel Dickens C.D.

It made me cry.

I’ll always look at him different now.




THE DAILY GRIST..."This is the unspoken contract of a wife and her works. In the long run, wives are to be paid in a peculiar coin -- consideration for their feelings. And it usually turns out this is an enormous, unthinkable inflation few men will remit, or if they will, only with a sense of being overcharged.” -- Elizabeth Hardwick, 1916-2007, American literary critic, novelist, short story writer and one of the founders of the New York Review of Books


Warning: Shameless promotion. But at least it’s not for me.

Today's column from George Martin
Thursday, February 12, 2015


One of my Facebook friends put up a video of Eric and Suzy Thompson and their grown-up daughter Allegra a few days ago. Eric and Suzy have started a Kickstarter campaign to help them record a new CD of their family band, Thompsonia.

I happened to attend a private party last spring where the three of them played, and sight-unseen I want a copy of that CD. Allegra plays bass and sings great duets with her mother. Eric plays guitar or mandolin and Suzy plays fiddle or guitar. Their music skips around in bluegrass, blues, Cajun and what they refer to as “sarcasm-laden” originals.

The Thompsons are not only great pickers, between them they know an astonishing number of great songs and tunes in several genres. I always thought of Suzy as an old-time and Cajun fiddler, but once I heard her in a bluegrass context and you would have thought it was Kenny Baker up there. Eric is not only a great flatpicker on guitar but he is excellent on mandolin.

The CD is to be produced by Jody Stecher, another East Bay treasure, and will have guest musicians, including Bill Kirchen, and master of the Telecaster (which hints a few of the tracks will be electric).

Eric & Suzy Thompson is the title of their Facebook page. There is a video on it, in which they make their pitch and play some music. Or you can go to Kickstarter and search for them. I’m in for $50 (any contribution of $25 or more gets a copy of the CD). There are a bunch of other thank-you gifts listed for larger amounts.

Check out the video and pull out your Visa cards!

Welcome to the Comfort Zone
Today’s column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It happened again - my shirt exploded yesterday. I have a dress shirt that I really like, and I had a big meeting scheduled, so I had this shirt on. I went to brush my hair and bam! The shirt exploded - completely torn in the right shoulder blade area. I heard the sound, and turned to see the damage in the mirror. There was the rip, and to my horror, the area around the rip was as thin as onion paper.

I had loved the shirt to death. Wore it washed it, wearing off a few molecules each time until, there was next to nothing left. Men are notorious for this - I have had pants and underwear explode for the same reasons. We get a garment (or undergarment) that we really like, and it's our go-to, and eventually, it pays the price.

We're all susceptible to comfort zones, aren't we? Clothes we like, routes we like, food we like, restaurants we like, bands we like - we turn to them, knowing we'll enjoy the experience. It'll be one less thing to worry about in a world FILLED with things to worry about. What could be wrong with that?

Aside from the danger of exploding clothes, there is another problem with camping out in the Comfort Zone too often or too long - nothing grows in the Comfort Zone. There is no innovation in the Comfort Zone and there are no challenges in the Comfort Zone. And while the Comfort Zone feels safe (that's why we like it), it does whittle us down, molecule by molecule.

So, what all successful and innovative people do is, break out of the comfort zone. Some prefer to avoid being comfortable at all, but that's a little extreme. However, it's vital to make it a point to get outside that zone on a regular basis. It's nere-wracking, but it is also exciting. Sometimes, it's big excitement, sometimes it's not so big. Taking a different route to work hardly counts as intrepid, but it does require a level of attention and awareness that you don't need for the usual route.

Musically, getting out of the Comfort Zone is exciting - and often humbling and/or embarrassing. But it's the only way to grow as a musician. Even if you're not a musician, but a music lover, seeking out and hearing new music is a growth experience.

Now, I'm not advocating life on the edge all the time. Who needs the aggravation? But it is important (and worth) to step up to that edge from time to time and peer over the abyss.



Is Bluegrass the Past, the Future, or Now?
Today’s column from Ted Lehman
Tuesday, February 10, 2015

This year the Grammy's and SPBGMA fell on the same weekend. Sitting in our trailer in Lake Manatee State Park near Bradenton, FL, trying to keep an eye on both events was an interesting and thought provoking spectator sport. Much better than the sound of drag racing coming from across the street.

There's something quaint about the name Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America. It suggests that bluegrass is dying and that a major effort is required to keep it alive. The awards themselves are an exercise in nostalgia, a fan-based selection of bands, musicians, and song-writers worthy of recognition who might not have received sufficient notice in other settings. The arbitrary division of singers into contemporary and traditional divisions allows for more awards to be presented. While, as of this writing, no complete list of SPBGMA Award Winners has yet been posted (Grammy Awards were available almost immediately, as were IBMA winners last fall), it was good to see the Larry Stephenson Band win the Best Album award for his latest gospel album, Pull Your Savior In, and to Ben Greene as banjo player of the year. Nominations for SPBGMA awards are based on mail-in forms, which, I understand, can be photo-copied and sent anonymously. Final voting is limited to people who pay to attend the SPBGMA festival in Nashville on Saturday night. There is, apparently, no Society, that is an organization, devoted to the preservation of bluegrass music in America. Rather, there is a very popular winter festival held in Nashville which is, by all accounts, exciting and engaging for all who attend. The stunning disregard for attention beyond its own self-serving goals regarding the people who win its awards is obvious from the lack of publicity provided by the awards to its own winners.

Meanwhile, out in Sodom and Gomorrah...., oops, Hollywood, there was also a musical awards ceremony going on. As a matter of personal taste, merely getting past the opening production from AC/DC, looking like a group of severely aging British public (elite private) schoolers, was a real step for me. Much of the music featured on the Grammy awards is really not to my taste, and I don't seek it out for my own listening. The subdivisions between various iterations of rock music or hip hop elude me. Billy Joel wrote, “It's still rock and roll to me,” and I think that applies, broadly, to other genres as well. I spent well over an hour on Sunday night watching the Grammy's while following my Twitter and Facebook feeds. While there were differences in tone and emphasis between the two, they were useful. (The only coverage of SPBGMA winners was provided by sound engineer/bassist Rebekkah Long, who was there and provided a running list of award winners, without comment.) The Grammy Awards can be counted on for revealing dress, outrageous behavior, and plenty of pizzazz while presenting some stunning performances by up-and-comers, current stars, and legendary former headliners.

But it appears that there's a question about performances at the Grammy Awards: Is it music? Here's three responses from my Facebook feed. “Not my planet...I live amongst people who buy and actually listen to Kanye music, if that's what you call it. He got big because of you and your lack of knowing what music is” comes from one person. Here's former ASCAP VP and current professor of music business at Belmont College Dan Keen's take on the same performer. “Ok...so...I often tell my students that it's pointless to bash success. Just figure out why it works. But...well...I'm looking at the list of Top 5 Grammy winners of all time; Alison Krause - 28, U2 - 22, John Williams- 21, Chic Corea-20 - all amazingly worthy and...and...I can't say it....I'm going to throw up...oh lord...Kanye...also with 21. Life has no meaning...” and finally, a comment from Skip Cherryholmes, guitar player for Sideline, “Extremely disappointed with music in general... (If it can even be called that anymore).” I couldn't find the comment I read that there was “no music” on the Grammy show. Lots of what I see and hear isn't to my musical taste. What a sad and boring world it would be if everyone liked exactly the same music I do! And how would I ever discover new music that I enjoy and even come to treasure if I weren't being constantly introduced to more and different music? But whether I like it or not, it's still music. The very modern contemporary classical music composer John Cage presented a piece in which the performer sat down at the piano and didn't play a note for twenty minutes....the sound of silence. It was music to some ears. So let's give up this meme of what is or isn't music. It's all a matter of taste.

More interesting to me is how did bluegrass and bluegrass related/derived music fare at the Grammy Awards on Sunday? The Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album went to The Earls of Leicester's self-titled (and wonderfully ironic) CD The Earls of Leicester. When I heard this band at IBMA's World of Bluegrass in Raleigh last fall, I found it to be one of the highest impact bluegrass bands I had ever heard: a spot-on tribute to Flatt & Scruggs as they must have sounded at their very best. I imagined it must have struck me the way the original Flatt & Scruggs concert in Carnegie Hall on December 8, 1962 must have hit those who were there. This recording belongs as a key holding in the collection of any lover of bluegrass. It also reminds us of how much power the founders of the genre retain more than fifty years after the original event. How's that for preservation? The Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album went to Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer for their recording Bass & Mandolin. No one would question Thile's chops as a bluegrass mandolin player. Who would deny him the opportunity to express his genius in other ways and settings? Who wouldn't claim him as “bluegrass”? The Grammy for Best Folk Album went to Old Crow Medicine Show for their CD Remedy. Old Crow doesn't even claim to be a bluegrass band, and Wikipedia describes it as an Americana, old-time string band, alt country, or folk band. But there's no question that it's sound is bluegrass derived, has broadened the popularity of the banjo, the quintessential instrument of bluegrass, and influenced bluegrass as well as being influenced by it. Their song Wagon Wheel is heard from the stage and in jam circles at bluegrass festivals everywhere. Finally, one of the most influential of all pre-bluegrass brother duos, The Louvin Brothers, were given a Lifetime Achievement Award during the Grammy's annual Special Merits Awards ceremony. They were also given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the IBMA Special Awards luncheon in 2014. Perhaps most notably, only one performer was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year at all three events: Rhonda Vincent.

--
tlehmann@ne.rr.com
www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com


Festival Friends
Today’s column from Randy January
Monday, February 9, 2015,/b.

Festival Friends
I’m still very new to the whole bluegrass festival scene, having only attended the last two Father’s Day festivals and only one with the music camp tacked on. Still, it doesn’t take many though to start to form festival friends. You know, the people you spend the whole year hardly giving any thought to, then you set up camp and they are the first to come and greet you. It’s like time works on a different plane at the festival, for all the time from the moment you bid farewell until you meet up again don’t seem to count. It’s like you’ve never left except for the fact that you have a few more songs to pick at, and perhaps a few new licks in the old stand-by’s that you played late into the night the year before.

I don’t know why all of a sudden I started thinking a particular buddy of mine from the festival the other day. Maybe it was that dry and warm January that was making me feel like it was almost festival time (Thank goodness for the rain we got this weekend!). Maybe it was the announcements of the headliner bands, or the music camp teachers, both top notch as usual! I don’t know what it was but it got me thinking about a particular festival friend and wondering what songs he and his kids have been learning, what class he’s taking at the camp, and when he’s planning on arriving so we can get that first jam going right off.

Now there are countless jams going on at the fairgrounds during the Father’s Day festival. Down the hill from us and across the river the Old Timers are sawing away, putting up a flow of music not unlike the atmospheric river that just swept through Northern California. Drenching the soul in it’s never ending barrage of songs that seems to morph from one to another and back again in beautiful endless loops. Further away and across the parking lot numerous banjos can be heard threatening in speed to defy the sound barrier as their never ending rolls reach clear up to us. On the hill we sit though, marveling at the flashes of talent some of the kids around us are displaying, and doing our best to show them we still have a trick or two up our sleeves to ooh and ahh them with. Occasional wanderers stroll in to sit by our propane fire (legal mind you) and pick a few songs with us. Some are lost on their way to the Old Timers below, some are just lost, perhaps driven mad the dueling banjos. Heck, maybe we even drew a few in during our spirited (and loud) renditions of Mountain Dew, because I’ve heard that them that refuse it are few.

Mind you now, that we only get through a dozen (or two) versus of that good ole’ mountain dew before we have to shut it down, being high on mountain right smack in the middle of the “quiet zone”. Knowing the reasons why my wife insists that we camp back there, I certainly don’t want to tick off any mums trying to get a little shut eye before being awoken at first light to rambunctious kiddos that slept through everything the night before and are now rearing to go. So it’s about that time that we wonder, or occasionally stagger a bit, down the hill to try our hand at finding a jam or two.

I must admit, this is the part of the night can make me a tad bit uncomfortable. By then most jams have been going a little while, and everyone has had a chance to kind of feel each other out and get into a good groove. I often feel when I walk up I’m getting the look down as if they’re trying to decide I’m going to be an addition or subtraction from the group. I try to hang back a bit, take a tasteful break or two if I happen to know one to the tune, and then after counting 5 or 6 other guitarists I usually come to the conclusion that I’m not adding much here and move on in search of another.

It was on one of these outings that my friend and I found ourselves surveying the area around the hotdog stand, looking for a place to fit in. Now I can usually catch on to the rhythm to just about any song and keep up pretty good, but I kept finding myself in situations where they’d call a song I know but it would get kicked off at such break neck speeds that I had neither the courage nor inclination to take a break. So further and further back we wandered every time I’d think this porridge is still too hot, until we found one that was just right. We had a right good time and joked as we left that if we ever formed a band we’d be called the Third Lamp Post from the Hotdog Stand, because that’s about where we ended up. We truly had a great time the whole way there though, and it’s all part of the experience.

I think I’ll buck the trend this year and give Mark a call early. Maybe we’ll chat about what songs we’re working on, and maybe we’ll plot how we will get ourselves over to the second lamp post from the hotdog stand. One can dream right?



THE DAILY GRIST…“I feel good about being able to take bluegrass on to television like ‘Letterman’ and ’The View’ and I’ve heard really nice things about being able to do that. I really haven’t felt any negativity toward me or my music”… (Steve Martin)

Song of the Mountains
Today’s column from Bert Daniel
Sunday, February 8 , 2015


Not so long ago most people found out about the music that was making a stir by turning on the television set. My generation just had to watch the Beetles live on the Ed Sullivan Show. Before that there was Elvis Presley and after that Michael Jackson. So simple. Plop down on your couch, turn on the groove tube and be entertained. The Grand Old Opry was on TV. Flatt & Scruggs had a regular show, lots of stuff.

These days, it’s not often that I come across a television program where live Bluegrass music is being played but this past Friday night was one such occasion. I was bored and I wandered down to the TV room to do some channel surfing. I knew the Warriors-Hawks game was over so I checked the score first and then a few channels that I usually find good stuff on. Nothing seemed very interesting so I just dialed up the channels in order. We probably get a hundred channels on the satellite and most of them are not even worth watching.

By chance I stumbled across KCSM out of San Mateo. Honestly, I didn’t even know I had this particular PBS station on my satellite. They were playing some really good stuff from a band called Volume 5. Unfortunately the program was almost finished so I only got to hear a couple of their songs, both original, and then the theme song of the program: Cherokee Shuffle. The program was called Song of the Mountain and they ran some promo stuff at the end of the show . I wonder how many of you out there have seen this program.

It features a live concert from the Lincoln Theater in downtown Marion, Virginia. Marion is a town of fewer than 7,000 inhabitants but for about ten years the producers of the show have somehow managed to attract major stars to perform live for a nationally syndicated PBS audience. Doyle Lawson, Tom T Hall, Doc Watson, Rhonda Vincent…(just to name a few) have all played in this little town at the Lincoln Theater.

Tim White, the host of the show, is an artist and he recently painted an 80 foot mural celebrating Song Of The Mountains and the history of bluegrass in Marion on the side of the retail outlet for Virginia Sweetwater Distillery, the state’s first legal moonshine manufacturer. It is located across the street from the Lincoln Theater.
Depicted are White, the Lincoln, local music legends Wayne Henderson, Carson Cooper, Bill Harrell, Cousin Zeke Leonard, and Hobart Smith, plus several iconic images relating to old time and bluegrass music in the area.

I’m hooked. One of my bluegrass friends told me about RFD TV, which has a lot of great old country and bluegrass shows running. Unfortunately it is not part of my standard cable package and I’m not the type to pay extra. But Song of the Mountains has been on my TV every week for free and I never realized it! You can be sure I’ll be listening every chance I get. Just like I listen to Marcos and Peter and Ray every chance I get on the radio.

That is until the rain stops and the weather warms and I can get out to the live music of a Bluegrass festival. I’ll be watching less TV and listening to less radio come summer.

Punch Brothers new release review
Today's column from Marty Varner
Saturday, February 7,2015


Yes, the new Punch Brothers album. The Phosphorescent Blues has drums. Let's just get that out in the open before I begin my review of what I believe to be the greatest album the Punch Brothers have put out yet. Everything is just on a larger scale than their past works, even their first album Punch, which has Thile's 4 movement story of his divorce, "The Blind Leading the Blind". I believe the new heights the Punch Brothers are reaching are directly connected to the fact that this is the first album that producing legend T-Bone Burnett was involved with. An example of the risks taken and achieved on this album is the first track, "Familiarity". This 10:23 long track consists of an atonal string section, a key change, 4 different parts, and 3 part background harmonies. This probably isn't bluegrass, but that doesn't mean it can't be something more. This song will be one of Thile’s jewels in his crown when his career is over as he softly sings lines like “I see an end where I don’t love you like I can.” What is so ironic is that this song contradicts the title in the way it makes the listener constantly unfamiliar with where we are in the song and if it is even the same song.

And don’t even get me started on “Julep”. Thile’s wordplay is other worldly. A simple love song turns into much more with Thile’s sincerity and the bands three part harmonies that represent the beauty of death that the song is about. My favorite moment on the whole album is the last verse of this song where Thile sings, “You were the girl that I would meet/ for drinks in the backyard/ a beautiful daughter lifetimes of summer.” A huge influence on this album is that Thile is finally at peace with himself in a way he hasn’t been since his divorce. His new marriage is obviously the inspiration for this song and many more on this album. Thile’s previous music like “Blind Leaving the Blind” and “Next to the Trash” are intelligent and powerful, but now he can write songs like those as well as “Julep”, which is a song that we haven’t heard from Thile since his days in Nickel Creek.

The song that reminds me of “Next to the Trash” is “magnet” here he still reminisces about his ex wife and how their similar personalities led to them being repelled by each other instead of connecting them. This song is also very comparable to his pop rock style where he contorts the general formula into something that confuses the listener and enthralls the music mind. The little quirks in the rhythm and the peculiar back ground vocals and string make this one of the highlights on the album.

“My oh my” is a musical journey. For the first minute it sounds like a Monroe tune until it turns into one of the most melodic songs on the album. But then it goes back to the Monroe, blues style mandolin? I’m confused. And the harmonies are impeccable. After listening to this album, I heard myself singing the tenor part to the chorus instead of the lead. The production by T-Bone Burnett saw the potential of the tenor stand out and it worked out incredibly well. After running through this album a few times, this is the song I always go back to.

To throw a bone to the bluegrass fans that have faith that Chris Thile will eventually see the light, he ha given you “Boll Weevil” which has a very “Rye Whiskey”. Again the highlight of this song has to be Eldridge’s tenor to go along with Witcher’s driving fiddle that goes throughout the entire song. If one is a novice to the Punch Brothers, but likes bluegrass, this is the song to get them hooked.

The Phosphorescent Blues will be playing through my head phones and speakers very often for the distant future. The amount of thought put into this album is equal to, if not more than, the last three, and T-Bone Burnett’s production allows the band to be heard in a different way than they have before.



Where credit is due
Today’s column from Loes van Schaijk
Friday, February 6, 2015


When I think back of introduction to the bluegrass scene in 2005, a few memories play back like scenes from a movie. I remember there was a lot of alcohol involved. I remember there was a boy there with a radiant smile, who held my hand as we snuck in the back of the hall to watch a band play a bluegrass rendition of Fields Of Gold. I remember that I had a long conversation with a guy about the philosopher Derrida, and afterwards, he picked me up and said: "I'm so glad I met you!". But the memory that stands out the most, because I've played it back so many times in my head, is that I visited a workshop about bluegrass harmony. In the question round at the end of the workshop, an old man with an American accent started a discussion about the circle of fifths. I was studying to become a music teacher at that time, so I was very eager to talk about the theory of this style of music that was totally new and mysterious to me. After the workshop, I saw him standing at a table in the bar area, so I went up to him. He told me about the harmonization of brother duets, standard 3-part harmonies, gospels, and barbershops. I eagerly took notes on a coaster. When we were done talking, I held out my hand and said: "We haven't even introduced ourselves; my name is Loes." He said: "Pleased to meet you." After a short silence, I asked him: "So... what's your name?" The people around me started to chuckle. With a faint smile, he answered: "Bill Keith." The man who was standing next to him saw my blank expression and added: "He invented the melodic style on the banjo, and he used to play with Bill Monroe." When that name didn't seem to ring any bells either, everybody started to laugh. In my memory, the laughing sounded a bit more demonic than it must have been in reality, but that's what memories do when you're embarrassed that you seem to be the only one who hasn't been let in on what is clearly very important information.

Now, almost ten years later, I live in multiple worlds. One of them, a very large one, is a world in which I have to repeat over an over to strangers on the street that the instrument I'm carrying is not a cello but an upright bass, and that the music I'm so crazy about is called bluegrass, and no, it wasn't invented by Mumford & Sons. In another world, I try very carefully not to repeat my Bill-Bill experience, so I do my reading and my listening in order to hold my own in a conversation with bluegrass buffs. These two worlds meet as I'm working with a photographer to make a book about bluegrass music in the Netherlands. Chris Jones wrote a very funny article for Bluegrass Today about the nasty habit of namedropping that is common among bluegrass enthusiasts who want to make themselves sound important by casually mentioning how they're friends with all the greatest artists in the business [let me say for the record, that while I loved his article and his music, I'm guessing that Chris Jones has no clue who I am]. Obviously, that's something I want to avoid in the book, because who would want to buy a book filled with pictures of people they have never heard of, who only talk about people they have never heard of? One of the main reasons I am making this book is that I think this music, and these people, deserve more appreciation. I want the whole world to see them through my eyes. The whole world includes many people who have never heard of Bill Monroe. How can I expect those people to deal with page after page full of names of people, places and groups that no longer exist? The answer is very simple: to make the story stick, cut down on the names. Only mention those that are important. It works like that in all music scenes: namedropping really works, but you have to be selective about it. You might have caught yourself one day saying something positive about an artist or band you have never even seen live, but you actually believe they're great because you have seen their name come by so many times on posters and flyers and in the raving stories of your friends. But here's the thing: one of the thing I appreciate most about the bluegrass scene, is that people want to give credit where credit is due, and it's due almost everywhere, because everybody has an equal part in building the community. On what basis could you ever make a selection? Any name that you leave out, is hurtful in a way. The fact that people insist I mention every musician who ever lent them a record or taught them how to play an instrument, makes my job hard, but it also makes me love them more. There are two varieties of namedropping: one of them is applied consciously to make yourself sound more important, the other is an almost compulsive way of diminishing your own importance with each name you name. Naming the name is a way to say thank you to the people who have all contributed by bringing this music into your life. Funny how in Oscar acceptance speeches, people usually only thank their mothers and The Lord, but never the people who were actually more directly involved in the movie-making process: the immense list of names in the credits (which nobody reads). In my case, the guy with the radiant smile was immensely influential on my first steps in bluegrass music, and so was the Derrida-guy. But I won't name their names.


The article
http://bluegrasstoday.com/so-i-said-to-alison/


THE DAILY GRIST… “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.” Abraham Lincoln

Is Any Publicity Good Publicity
Today's column from Dave Williams
Thursday, February 5, 2015


I finally gave it up

A phone call I have been anticipating for a while came the other day. I thought it would probably come from a new energetic volunteer or maybe a seasoned volunteer roped into one of the important tasks that always pile up in organizations like this but it didn’t. Rather it came from much higher up in the food chain than that.

I wasn’t trying to pull something over on anyone and I always honored any commitment I knew about on this matter and I knew I was overdue for a while.

Even though, we weren’t really a working band these days, I checked on it fairly frequently and it always rotated up for everyone to see. The “powers that be” would give it an occasional shout out or a highlight on the splash page. I always enjoyed that too.When I first signed up for it the reason was very straight forward, get publicity so that better opportunities would come our way, festivals, clubs, big coffee houses, all of those and more. With all those views, how could we miss? We would be turning gigs away.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way but I kept it anyway. The main reason I did keep it was because supporting the organization and the website was now the driver not any potential opportunity for us.

I would’ve kept it now too if we were still a working band but it just didn’t make sense any more. You know what they say, “any publicity is good publicity.” I’m not sure “they” is right about this though but it really doesn’t matter now because we really don’t have a lot to publicize. We are still doing it some but it is much more casual these days. So is “any publicity really any publicity” if you get my meaning.

You know this coy thing really isn’t my style, I wonder if anyone can guess what I am talking about or even interested enough to keep reading this far. I could try to keep this up for about as long as one of Bert’s monthly Trivia contests but I don’t have a tee shirt to give Bob Palasek once he come up with the answer.

Last week I received a call from Tim Edes (you know Chairman of the Board Tim Edes) asking me if I wanted to continue the ‘bout Time! ad tile that rotated through the top border of the California Bands page for the last 6 years or so. Telling him that we were going to discontinue the tile was difficult as it means acknowledging where we are as band and there is some regret about that……but not too much. It was time to move on from the big time.

As I said, over time the ad tile became less about band publicity and more about supporting the website and the organization and I plan to continue to support the website and the CBA as much as I am able to going forward just not with an ad tile.

Getting back to this publicity thing, I’m fairly sure I don’t understand it. Over the course of the last 7 years or so, I have been trying to get a couple of bands on someone’s (anyone’s) radar so that we could get hired for all the big club and festival gigs that are apparently available but manage to allude us continually.

The argument remains for me, is any publicity good publicity. ‘bout time! had a website for awhile. The website was maintained by a former band member who left the band when he moved away. For those who don’t “read between the lines” the operative word in the last sentence was “was”. It still exists out in cyber land but without any activity. In our heyday it didn’t generate much activity either. We got more calls for gigs by being the first band listed on the California Bands Page (we’re apostrophe enabled) by far than the website ever generated.

I’m not sure of the point here except to confirm that I really don’t understand publicity. There has to be something to it or why would Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. keep throwing all those ads at us.

This conundrum continues for my other band. Using a nifty little musician/band friendly website development company called Bandzoogle, I built a website for the band about 6 months ago. The content is current, there is current music and video, CD’s and merch for sale. Our band pushes it at every opportunity online and at appearances but the results are still pretty dismal. In the last two months more than half of the 100 hits we got were from a spam bot in Russia.

So what is the answer? Is any publicity, good publicity? Let me know if you know or figure it out.


The Greatest Instrument
Today’ column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Nobody loves gear and instruments more than I, and I have often waxed poetically on the joys of fine guitars, banjos, fiddle, basses and the like. That love burns strong. The recent find of a Lloyd Loar mandolin in some old barn was fascinating - can you imagine?

But there’s another instrument, of vital importance to the history of bluegrass - the human voice. I have a renewed appreciation for this particular instrument because mine broke recently. I had a bit of a cold, and it arrived just in time for a 4 gig weekend, and the first two of which were on a Friday night, and with an ensemble in which I sing a lot.

My voice had been rheumy for a few days, but I have learned, that with a little determination, a lot of fluids, and some key changes, it is possible to power through the raspiness. Both gigs were well attended, which amps up the excitement and adrenaline levels, and the cold was forgotten - except for how much I was enjoying my new, deeper richer voice.

We finished the gigs that night with applause and the echoes of fine harmonies ringing in our ears. We accepted congratulations, and toasted ourselves merrily. The the after party broke up and I went happily home,

The next morning, I went to greet the dog and discovered...I had…...no…. voice. You know the sound when a fiddler has a bow devoid of rosin and draws it across the strings? It’s not quite silence, but it’s close - there’s a hopeless straining sound, and that’s what came out of my mouth.

I am not a principal vocalist in most of the bands I play in, but I have always enjoyed singing and I have actually worked at the craft. I even took some vocal lessons - I won’t reveal the teacher’s name for fear of embarrassing him - I should be better! I have not been blessed with natural talent, or notable timbre, but I can carry a tune, and I really enjoy expressing myself in singing.

But I abused my instrument - just like someone who leaves their guitar out in the rain or locked in a hot trunk for days, and now I’m paying the price. All my friends who are real singers have been helping me with voice-treatment ideas and they are helping, so I hope to be back to my version of full strength within a week or so. When I played Wintergrass a few years ago I caught a terrible cold and I couldn’t sing for about 4 weeks - I do NOT want to wait that long.

So, I’m drinking a lot of tea and honey, talking a heck of lot less (not easy!) and I am raising my glass to all you singers out there. What you do is wonderful, and for those of you who do it day in and day out are even more remarkable. I am humbled by the work that goes into the care of this wonderful instrument, and I hope to emerge a more respectful singer.

Let this be a warning to you all - I’m gonna be back and I will sing like crazy - count on it!



Valley Roots...an arc of time and heart
Today’ column from Marcos Alvira
Tuesday, February 3, 2015


(Editor’s Note—Marcos, who wrote his riveting column on the Super Bowl just day before yesterday, is back with a piece he recently contributed a piece to the popular Modesto View magazine on, what else, roots music. It’s a good ‘un.)

Long dirt roads connecting small towns; their main streets three blocks long; a mix of horse drawn wagons and Model A trucks creeping along the street leaving trails of low little clouds of throat clogging dust. That was the Central Valley in the Thirties and Forties. Add a moderate amount of pavement and takeaway a few horses, and the Valley was still much the same, it’s broiling summer climate in a pre-air conditioned era, with long dank winters fended all the most hardy of folk, or at least the most desperate. Taverns and road houses dotted the sparse country, providing Saturday night entertainment for the regions numerous ranch and farm hands.

String bands were the norm early in the twentieth century, and with the arrival of swing music. By the depression, destitute migrants, Okies and Arkies, were flooding into the state, bringing with them new fiddlers and singers who played the old music with upbeat tempos. Soon the honky-tonks were jumping to raucous bands like the Farmer Boys and the Maddox Brothers with Sister Rose, all pre-cursing rock-a-billy. The infectious, hard driving rhythm of these and like bands, and their later Bakersfield country kin, were a musical contagion, spreading across the continent.

That musical heritage is not relegated to the museum; it is alive and robust today. Home grown Valley bands, be they rockabilly, country or folk usually reflect the themes born by the people leading hard lives in a hard place. One such band is Red Dog Ash-- a self professed bluegrass band, their lyrics evince comparisons to Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the writings of John Muir. RDA has begun a concert series staged at the Westside Theatre in Newman, a beautifully restored art deco movie house with cabaret seating, a bar, colorful neon lights and a location that is reminiscent of a small Texas town in 1948! Every show opens with RDA and then a main act, usually a well known band from outside the Valley. This year’s series was kicked-off by Front Country, aa award winning band from San Francisco that has played at Rocky Grass and the Father’s Day Festival among their many appearances at prestigious national venues.

The next show on Saturday, February 14, will feature AJ Lee, a teenage sensation from the farthest northern reaches of our own Valley. At the age of 17, she has received recognition across the country and Mother Jones Magazine has posited that she may be the next Allison Krauss. Playing mandolin and guitar on stage with her band, she croons melodies and stories that belie her age. She eschews writing about trucks, beer and one night stands, choosing to compose about broad themes and conjuring ethereal images.

For further information about this show or the rest of the Bluegrass series, checkout www.reddogash.com or www.westsidetheatre.org. You can hear a live recording session with AJ and short interviews at www.aissalee.com.

There’s a lot more happening in the Modesto Merced corridor in the coming weeks:


Friday 2/6 - the first fundraising concert for the 2015 Northern California Women's Music Festival (held in October) will feature sets by local players Francesca Bavaro, Randy Mandy, Bethany Joseph and others, as well as visual art and more. 5-10 PM at cafe Deva, 1202 J St. $10 admission.

Sunday 2/8 - Sunday Afternoons At CBS presents the fifth concert of its current season, featuring Grace Lieberman and friends. One of their most popular concerts each season, Grace guides and cajoles audiences with her infectious wit and charm through a landscape of romantic and unrequited love songs, an audience sing-a-long, and a surprise or two. 3 PM at Congregation Beth Shalom, 1705 Sherwood Ave. $20 adults, $15 seniors/students, $7 children.

Wednesday 2/11 - Modesto Unplugged presents a night of twangy Texas tunes with two great acts straight from the Lone Star State. Husband & wife songwriters Jason Eady and Courtney Patton (Fort Worth, TX) will share their solid Americana and country/rock sounds; and alt-indie-country outfit The Lonesome Heroes (Austin, TX) will also be with us to rock the house. 7 PM at Barkin' Dog Grill, $10 cover.

Saturday 3/21- The Poor Valley Band shooting it up at the Hideout Saloon in Mariposa starting at 7pm. This band gets the saloon set fired up. Special guest fiddler, John Cooper! 5029 Hwy 140, Mariposa, CA 95338

Saturday 3/28 - Old Time Barn and Contra Dance in downtown Merced. The event features a live old time string band and caller. Leave those big foo-foo square dance dresses at home. This will be old school just like gramps used to do before electric guitars and indoor plumbing.
No host bar. Live music. Free. 7-9pm at Legion Hall, 939 W Main St., Merced. Contact valleybluegrass@gmail.com or 209-658-3852 for more information.


Commentary from Our Santa Cruz Correspondent
Today’s column from Kyle Abbot
Monday, February 2, 2015


(Editor’s Note—Yes, we had one once upon a time. Eleven years ago to be exact. His name was Kyle Abbott, he was a teenager…a YOUNG teenager…and his monthly column opened up wide the eyes of a certain segment of the northern California bluegrass community who were…this may be hurtful to some, grandiose to others, annoyingly obscure to still more people…ready for a glimpse of the future. Case in point—an April, 2004 primer on bluegrass instruments and one additional axe that would ever so gradually insinuate itself into the genre Bill built.)


Hi there! Well, I see no need for further introduction…

As you may know, the fine folks at Family Tradition HQ (including yours truly) try to encourage beginners to play music (or at least an instrument) whether they like it or not. This guide will help you choose your instrument.

First off, a stereo is not an instrument! So you can’t use that in your resume. In jams, if you drag out that ol’ Victrola, you’ll mostly just get frowns. Next, if you know you’ve got rhythm (ask your next door neighbor because believe me, he’ll know) and you like to stand up, your best bet is the standup bass. However, if you can’t stand up for too long and don’t own a bar stool, there’s also the guitar. Both instruments are good if you’ve got big fingers. Of course, for those people who have small fingers or got liposuction on their digits, a smaller instrument with a thinner neck might just be the ticket. Try a fiddle or mandolin. Years ago, when Luke and I first got our very own stringed instruments, I was drawn to the mandolin because I had small fingers. Plus, it was dirt simple—well, the chords were at least. I messed around with it and used open chords. Much later, when my fingers got longer, I learned closed chords. My point is, start off simple and work your way to the more difficult stuff.

One quick word about guitars: Years ago, I used to think the guitar was the dumb man’s instrument. Of course, at that time, I hadn’t tried playing guitar and thought that, while not specifically reserved for dumb people, it was an instrument the any idiot could play. Then I started doing a lot of picking on the guitar, which was challenging but fun. Later I learned some chords and strums, and after that I found out about cross-picking. That practically took over my picking style. (It made picking simpler as well ‘cause I could cross-pick through the whole break). So much in fact, that at a Halloween jam party, I dressed up as George Shuffler. Of course, now the novelty has worn off and I use less and less cross-picking. Anyway, so my respect for the guitar has grown somewhat—although my attitude on guitar players hasn’t changed.

Oh, and another thing: If you have played before and are an experienced player/picker, don’t get too good on your instrument. If you get too good, your picking may lose its soul and character and then you start sounding like everybody else and are left with a bunch of noise. Beginners should keep this in mind as well. If somebody tells you that your playing leaves a lot to be desired, just tell them, “I’m not bad, I’ve got character!” Next month, I will be discussing more of this. (that’s called a teaser)

Finally, let me discuss an instrument not often considered in the bluegrass world. If you live at Family Tradition HQ (as I do) you know that we are always trying to find novel ways to make music more accessible to the common man (like Pa). We have found that beginners usually don’t want to spend a wallet-full on an instrument they may later find isn’t what they want to play. You don’t want to invest a fortune if you aren’t unsure, right?(*) Well, the idea came up that we could teach people ukelele. Pa thought that it would be a good instrument for kids and cheapos. Luke thought it wouldn’t fit into the Bluegrass world. I thought, “Who shrunk the guitar?” Since I’m not gonna take sides here, I’ll tell you the good and bads about introducing the ukulele into the mainstream Bluegrass world.

Let’s start with the positives. 1) It’s a very easy instrument for kids and beginners. 2) It’s not inferior, meaning it’s mellow (at least the one I played) and you won’t break up a jam with it. 3) It’s cheap! Smash it on stage like the pros and it’ll only cost you 25 bucks! 4) It’s a great traveling instrument. 5) On Halloween, you can dress up as a grass skirt and carry it along! 6) By holding a ukulele, you automatically have an excuse to drink a Piña Colada

Now, let’s go down to the negatives. 1) It’s a girly instrument! I mean look at the size! This is Bluegrass! You got to have big things! Look at the bass! The guitar! The banjo! The banjo player! 2) The strings are nylon. Come on! That’s so classical! 3) I dunno. I guess the main point is that it goes against the Bluegrass’s unwritten laws. Even though most of the laws are a bit uptight, ukelele still doesn’t fit in. I mean do you eat a Sashimi with pretzels? You get what I mean.

Well, that’s about it. So in conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with taking up more than one instrument. Even though they are all different sizes, learning one will help you in another. I’ve noticed my banjo playing has helped my mando picking which has helped my guitar strumming. So don’t be afraid to juggle a few instruments at once (if you know what I mean).

Now for the joke of the month: A drunk is driving through the city and his car is weaving violently all over the road. A cop pulls him over and asks, “Where have you been?” “I've been to the pub,” slurs the drunk. “Well,” says the cop, “it looks like you've had quite a few.” “I did alright,” the drunk says with a smile. “Did you know,” says the cop, standing straight and folding his arms, “that a few intersections back, your wife fell out of your car?” “Oh, thank heavens,” sighs the drunk. “For a minute there, I thought I'd gone deaf.” Heeyyooo!!! That’s enough.

(*) A more modest investment might be to invest in Kyle’s String’s, Picks ‘n Wallets fund: Giving real strings to needy Abbotts everywhere.


The Zzzuper Bowl Breakdown
Today’s column from Marc Alvira
Sunday, February 1, 2015


Zzzuper Bowl Sunday…what’s that you ask? That “Zzz” is the sound of me taking a wonderful winter’s afternoon nap on the couch during the big game this Sunday. Deflated footballs, horses and puppies, renegade halfbacks…eeenough already. If you’re reading this column, you’re most likely of a mindset similar to mine when it comes to this peculiar U.S.-centric national spectacle. Must folks Sunday morning, I suspect are whipping their relishes, brazing the chops, and icing the beer. Instead here you are, strangely indifferent to the billions of dollars worth of media genius trying to convince you that there really is something bigger than Santa Claus.

I wasn’t always like this regarding the Super Bowl, or even football in general (there IS a different football enjoyed by the other 95% of the world world). A subtle shift began in my thinking a few years ago when I came home from evening Sunday Mass to watch a 49er game I had recorded. My remote at the time had a button that allowed me to skip forward about 35 seconds. The time allowed between plays in the NFL is 40 seconds. Including a couple of replays, I was done with the game in about 25 minutes. There wasn’t enough time to go to the bathroom, make a sandwich or finish my beverage.

This got me to thinking: if the median number of plays in a game is about 130 and a play takes about five seconds, then there are approximately 650 seconds of real action, or about ….10.83 minutes! Consider that only a small fraction of the players even get to play half those minutes. And I began to wonder, why are all those fat guys panting so hard? Why is that running back sucking on oxygen after ten seconds of work with a 40 second rest in the middle? Could it possibly be from the strain of lugging around a ridiculous amount of plastic padding and helmut totaling about 20 pounds whilst wearing ludicrous skin tight knickers? That would wear me out. (That carbon steel face mask is surprisingly light, however).

And so the spectacle that is American football began to wane among my interests. My feelings were corroborated by an article published by Wall Street Journal that statically analyzed the game.The article’s focus is to break down what the networks are actually spending their time broadcasting since the typical broadcast length of an NFL match is three hours, thus leaving 169 minutes of 180 to fill with whatever is necessary to keep viewers engaged. Sportsonearth.com has a fascinating analysis of what actually occurs on the filed itself in that three hour span.

Now those of you that know me well, or even through Facebook, are going to call me out as a hypocrite. You’ve seen me post about games before. I have to own that: I grew up watching Brodie, Ted Kwalick, Montana, Lott, Young, and Rice. But my roiling, youthful enthusiasm has cooled to a low simmer. I’ll sit through about half 49er games a season…uh, make that recline…usually with a newspaper tented over my face like a piece of foil on a Thanksgiving turkey. Have a good Sunday at church, or sitting in front of a cafe with a cappuccino…or even in front of the television watching some commercials, replays, and yes, even an eleven minute game.


Banjos, Billions, and Blueberry Pancakes Memories of Warren Hellman
Today’s column from Chuck Poling
Saturday, January 31, 2015


I’m glad I got to know Warren Hellman as well as I did. I met him in 2002 at the second annual Strictly Bluegrass Festival. The “Hardly” was added the following year. My wife, Jeanie, and I and our band performed on the stage reserved for local acts, and Warren, who could have spent all day with the big stars at the main stage, made a point of meeting as many of the musicians as possible.

When we played on Saturday, I schmoozed with him backstage and we established our bona fides as native San Franciscans. I did my best to impress upon him just how much it meant for lovers of American roots music to have such a patron as him. Beyond the insanely generous material support he provided, he gave so many of us a feeling of validation that learning and playing this music is worth all the time and effort we put into it.

Since that time, I’d see Warren a few times a year and would chat with him. He was always very friendly and very genuine. If it seemed odd or eccentric to some that the billionaire descendant of California pioneers took pleasure in playing obscure folk tunes on a banjo and hanging out with a motley collection of professional and amateur musicians, Warren couldn’t have cared less. He was a having a good time doing what he wanted to and didn’t feel the need to impress anyone.

Warren’s old-time string band, the Wronglers, provided him with a musical outlet and an opportunity to perform. The band was formed by fellow students of Bay Area folk-music guru Jody Stecher, along with Colleen Browne, Warren’s executive assistant and a veteran bass player of several rock bands. Warren’s wife, Chris, was also in the group for a time.

I emceed a number of shows featuring the Wronglers and never passed up an opportunity to rib Warren a bit. “Ladies and gentleman,” I’d announce, “please welcome five very talented musicians – and a banjo player.” He loved it! Warren had more than a little bit of the ham in him plus a self-effacing sense of humor that made him the perfect foil.

It was a few years later that we got to spend a good bit of time with him and really got to know him. In April of 2010, Jeanie and I took a three-week road trip through the Southwest. Our ultimate destination was Austin, where we planned to attend the Old Settler’s Music Festival in Salt Lick, just outside of Austin.

It was an ambitious trip for us that required a lot of planning and an equal amount of flexibility. Because we like music festivals, we did some research on what the Lone Star State had to offer. Old Settler’s seemed like our kind of deal – a tasty mixture of country, rock, bluegrass, blues, and folk. While perusing the lineup, we noticed that the Wronglers were playing. Great, we thought, we’re going anyway and it’ll be just be that much better to see some hometown faces around.

Before we left, I contacted Colleen to see if she could arrange backstage passes for us. I’m always trying to get backstage, because that’s where the stories are. Colleen did us one better and provided not only backstage passes, but put us on the guest list as well, saving us a chunk of change.

We arrived at the Ben McCulloch campground on Thursday, the first day of the festival. The skies were cloudy and rain was predicted, but no one seem too concerned. We found a nice spot and quickly set up our camp close to Onion Creek, which winds through the campground.

For the first two days the rain didn’t come down in torrents, or in great, gullywashing waves. The rain wasn’t trying to rout us with a spectacular frontal assault. No, the rain was fighting a steady war of attrition. It knew that the campers were there for four days, and it wasn’t about to unleash all its artillery in one cataclysmic barrage.

But down it came, heavily and steadily. Our camping spot, which had looked so inviting when we set it up, became a tributary of Onion Creek. Two to three inches of water flowed briskly through our camp kitchen, and, while the popup shelter and tarps kept the rain off us, it made preparing a meal a challenge. We arranged several large stones to step upon so we could get in and out of our van, thankful at least that we were not sleeping in a tent pitched in the streambed of a now incessantly babbling brook.

On Friday morning we set out looking for Warren and company and found that they had wisely rented a couple of trailers. The trailers were equipped with nifty little kitchens and all the necessary pots, pans, utensils, and dishes. Unfortunately, they didn’t include any food. The Wronglers thought they could snag something to eat from local vendors, but both the backstage food and the concession stands were located about half-mile away at the Salt Lick Pavilion.

Suddenly, an idea popped into my brain. We had food – they had shelter. “OK, Mr. High Finance Hellman,” I said, “we’re going to revert to the ancient barter system here.” So for the next two days, I cooked blueberry pancakes for the Wronglers’ breakfast. Warren made such a fuss over my pancakes, you’d have thought that the recipe came from Julia Child instead of Aunt Jemima.

Warm and dry in the trailer, Jeanie and I enjoyed the company of all the band members. There’s a deep bond of friendship among this crew, forged by endless hours of rehearsing and the shared love of the music. Talking with Warren was always fun. He had a zest for storytelling and loved to hear tales of other folks’ adventures. If you didn’t know who he was, you’d just think he’s some nice old banjo picker with some funny stories.

Occasionally, we’d be reminded just how wealthy and influential he was when he made an offhand remark about a politician (“He’s so vain about his hair.”) or a trip he took (“Have you ever been on a Lear Jet? The aisle is really narrow…). But when he was hanging around musicians, Warren just wanted to be one of the guys and was in every bit as starstruck by artists like Emmylou Harris and Hazel Dickens as any of their other fans.

A couple of months later, Warren was our breakfast buddy again at the CBA summer music camp. He and Jeanie were in the same banjo class and he spent a lot of time at our campsite, playing, sharing meals, and talking. We brought Warren along to our friend Lou Felthouse’s camp for a memorable feast. The other dinner guests were thrilled to have the opportunity to tell Warren how much they loved Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. He clearly enjoyed the attention and graciously answered questions and listened to comments and suggestions.

One of the best parts of music camp are performances by campers and instructors. Warren asked us to help him perform “End of the Roll Blues,” his epic tale of finding, then losing, than regaining his prized Whyte Laydie banjo. He’d even written new verses that included a response from his banjo asking why he’d dumped her in the first place. The first line began “Loser, loser, why did you leave me….”

We quickly rehearsed the song and Jeanie sang the new verses. Warren was kind of nervous about performing without his regular band, but we assured him we’d be fine. When we hit the stage, we made it through the first half of the song perfectly. When her turn came, Jeanie momentarily stumbled on the first words and I frantically shout-whispered “loser, loser” to prompt her, and we all three started giggling hysterically. We never made it to the end of the song.

Warren laughed his assets off and we had to laugh at ourselves. Ever since then, we tried to find a chance to perform the song again and get it right. We never did get that opportunity, but I don’t feel too bad about it. We were very fortunate to have been as close as we were to him and we are just two of thousands of people whose lives were enriched by knowing him.

A couple of months ago we saw Warren playing his banjo at a rally supporting a public employees pension reform initiative. The rally was sponsored by several unions that had worked with Warren on the compromise plan. He gleefully plunked along with Colleen on bass and Nate Levine on guitar and got the crowd singing with him on choruses.

I cornered him after his performance and said, “Warren, you are the sorriest excuse for a capitalist I’ve ever seen. What kind of titan of finance plays banjo at a union rally, for crying out loud?” He laughed and replied that putting the crowd through his performance was the price they had to pay for his involvement in pension reform.

I saw Warren one more time after that – at an event at UCSF where he was also receiving treatment for the leukemia that was to eventually take him. Frail, but game, he played a couple of songs. He left shortly after his performance, but there was time for us to exchange a few words – just small talk. I wondered when I’d see him next.

The memorial service was one of the most touching ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed. The governor, the mayor, a senator, and many other civic and business leaders came to pay their respects. Emmylou, Ron Thomasson, Heidi Clare, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore were among the many musicians there, and the Wronglers played the original “End of the Roll Blues.” A particularly poignant moment came when Warren’s twelve grandchildren sang “I’ll Fly Away.”

I’ll miss Warren Hellman. He was the best friend bluegrass music ever had in San Francisco and a good friend to me. His life is an inspiration to all of us to reach out and share what we have with others. You may not be a billionaire, but you have something to give, whether it’s teaching someone a G-run or working the gate at a festival. Let’s all remember Warren’s spirit of generosity and neighborliness as the new year begins, and do our best to give just a little bit more.


THE DAILY GRIST
Ten Items or Fewer
Today’s column from Brooks Judd
February 6, 2015

Item 1: There’s a multicolored vehicle running around our friendly town of Turlock. The guy who owns it apparently is in the pest exterminating business. The motto on his truck says, Just Say “No!” to Bugs.

Item 2: I received three calls last week from a gentleman identifying himself as Steve Martin. Steven has a very thick Indian accent and he was kind enough to inform me that I have some very serious “tax” business I need to attend to immediately. In a very concerned tone he tells me that the treasury department wants to talk to me. Mr. Martin needs all my vital personal information so he can “help” me out of this pressing difficulty.He tells me it is important I trust him and provide him with all the information he needs.

UMMM! I wonder how many senior citizens unfortunately fall for Steven’s little scam. Some do. If these vermin are apprehended senior citizens everywhere should be able to stone them with family sized full bottles of Geritol.Read on.

Item 3: Two weeks ago my oldest daughter was in Fremont and decided to take a little stroll around the local park before picking up her son from school. She pulled into a parking space, and hid her purse carefully under her sons car seat so it would not exposed. She came back 30 minutes later to find the back window bashed in and her purse taken.

My daughter spent not one or two but four hours at the Fremont DMV to get a new license.Then she spent another couple of hours canceling checks, other credit cards, passes to the zoo and other various child friendly establishments. She phoned the local police but was informed the incident was a very low priority. (On January 23 the Fremont Police called my daughter saying someone had turned in her purse completely intact save the $30 in cash that was in it.) There is hope.

I hope the jerks who do the smash and grab will someday have to suffer for their transgressions and serve some time as punishment. Maybe they should be sent to the DMV to stand in line for a day or two.

Item 4: It’s 2015, a brand new year is upon us, filled with hope and yet the terrorists are in full bloom striking us down. It seems all sanity is lost. What a marvelous idea if our Just say “No” to Bugs man could wind his way around the world spraying these vermin and then have them ferried across the River Styx into a place they so richly deserve, the fiery pits of Hades.

Item 5: I just got back from another vigorous one hour five mile walk and was feeling quite proud of myself, that is until I sit down to read about the two men who spent 19 days on El Capitan scaling the sheer face of the rock using only their fingertips, toes, and grit to inch themselves up the 3000 foot sheer cliff.They are the first climbers to accomplish this feat.To repeat, that was 19 days AND NIGHTS on the sheer face of the rock suspended only by a safety rope and nothing else.

While I am devouring this bit of news my eyes are directed to another article. This item is about a San Franciscan who just completed seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. To make this more remarkable the young man completed all seven marathons in five hours or under. Somehow my five miles seem so insignificant.

To make my own claim to fame I will eat a Snickers Bar under seven seconds, on seven consecutive days in seven different rooms of my home of the seventh day of the seventh month of 2015. I do not feel so bad now.

Item 6: Sheila and I just got back from the wonderful Gallo Theater where we saw the great Johnny Rivers perform. Johnny is seventy-two years young and he put on a wonderful show. The theater was sold out and the fans were appreciative and boisterous. It was a rewarding show.

Johnny played all his hits and was able to use his shiny red guitar he used when he recorded in 1962 the million seller “Johnny Rivers at the Whiskey A Go Go.” The wonderful “Memphis” is on this album and Johnny played a rousing version to a wildly appreciative audience. Thanks for the great show Johnny.Next stop at the Gallo.... The Buddy Holly Story and then the dynamic Buddy Guy.


Until March 6: Read a book, enjoy a film, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, eat a bar of chocolate and .... “IKIRU”


Exploring The Secret Life of Banjos
Today’s column from Bill Evans
Thursday, January 29, 2015


(Editor’s note—Well, we’ve got ourselves a nice little knot of FIFTH days of the month, so we’ll be doing some strolling down memory lane. If you’re going to go exploring the banjo, not many better to take on the trip than Bill Evans, who published this piece right here for the first time in 2010.)

Like a lot of us, I discovered bluegrass and the banjo in a somewhat non-bluegrass kind of way: I saw Roy Clark playing banjo on “Hee Haw” and said to myself, “I think I could do that!” It’s been an interesting journey since 1970 along the banjo road but one of the most fascinating side trips has been following the five-string banjo back in time, back to the classic days of bluegrass in the 1950’s, and back further still to the early recording era (not just the 1920’s but even earlier to the recorded banjo music of the 1890’s and 1900’s cylinder recordings) and even farther back still to late 19th and early 20th century ragtime and classic banjo and mid-19th century minstrelsy and ultimately back to the “root of the root,” exploring the foundation of today’s banjo music in African and African-American culture and music dating back 200 years and more.

One of the things that I’ve discovered along this journey is that the banjo has been right in the center of many of the most important intersections in American music history for more than 200 years. It was sometime in the early 1800’s that a white person, probably in the Chesapeake Bay area near where I was raised, or perhaps in New Orleans or New York City, became so fascinated by the music played on banjo-type instruments by African and African-Americans that he decided to learn to play the instrument himself. A truly American music was born at this moment.

In the 1840’s, the banjo, along with the fiddle, was at the forefront of blackface minstrelsy, America’s first popular music form. Minstrelsy popularized the banjo all across the United States and brought the banjo to California and England. The banjo, which usually now sported all five strings, was the electric guitar of the mid-19th century: it was so popular that instructional manuals were written, teachers hung their hats out for students and small factories started making the first production banjos.

In the 1860’s, fingerpicking guitar styles began to be adapted to the banjo, leading to a flowering of complex and virtuosic playing styles that today are grouped under the heading of “classic banjo.” The classic banjo movement in the United States and England led to frets being put on banjos by the 1880’s and created stage stars like Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps. Classic banjo music directly influenced Scott Joplin, Tom Turpin and other early ragtime composers and performers. Ragtime was America’s most popular music at the turn of the last century, enduring into the 1920’s before evolving into early jazz.

Many of us are more familiar with the folk and bluegrass styles of the 1920’s recording era and beyond, populated by such performers as Charlie Poole, Uncle Dave Macon, Dock Boggs, Molly O’Day, and, by the mid-1940’s, Earl Scruggs and his three-finger bluegrass style and beyond.

What I’ve learned from this lifelong adventure is the complexity and beauty of the American music story. The flowering of folk/popular/jazz and beyond five-string banjo styles that we enjoy today is the result of the rich history that laid a foundation for the diverse styles we enjoy and play today.

I’ve tried my best to learn as many of these historical styles as I can and I’ve collected a few instruments from various eras. Check out my YouTube channel to experience some of these historical banjo styles: http://www.youtube.com/user/BillEvansBanjo.

With the banjo, there’s always strength in numbers and I’ve had the great pleasure of working with old-time and bluegrass music legend Jody Stecher over the last several years, as we explore together the various side streets of banjo history. We’ll present our latest discoveries at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse tonight at 8 p.m. as we present the return of “The Secret Life of Banjos” for one show only (learn more at http://www.freightandsalvage.org/secret-life-banjos-jody-stecher-bill-evans).

Come join us if you can!

All the best,

Bill Evans

bevans@nativeandfine.com


A Sound for the Ages
Today’s column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Not too long ago, Ted Lehmann wrote about the difficulty and improbability of a band developing a signature sound, and what he says is true - regardless of the musical genre. Anyone that goes to bluegrass festivals can tell you, there are an awful lot of great pickers and singers out there. But there are only a handful of musicians whose sound is so distinctive that it is instantly recognizable.

These rare talents are so distinctive, they often have long influential careers, with a variety of sidemen. Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, and Ralph Stanley, for example, played with dozens and dozens of sidemen over the years, but whatever band they were in bore their names - and for good reason. The core might be a duo, like Jim and Jesse, or Flatt and Scruggs, but with these names at the top of the marquee, an audience will know they will hear something they can’t hear anywhere else.

The recent passing of Bill Yates reminded me that sometimes, whole bands can take on a soundthat carries on its appeal despite numerous personnel changes. Yates was in the Country Gentlemen, and that band’s sound was defined by Charlie Waller’s amazing voice and (for me, at least), John Duffy’s searing tenor and cyclonic mandolin playing. I always loved Eddie Adcock’s playing too.

Seldom Scene went through many personnel changes, but they maintained their appeal, and to my ear, at least, preserved their smooth, highly polished sound. That’s probably why I liked the Duffy years the best, because his great vocals were a natural fit in that band, but his frantic mandolin lent an edge that I really liked.

Some of these seminal bands provide a rich training ground for excellent musicians who go on to well-deserved fame on their own. The most famous example, of course, is Flatt and Scruggs splitting off from Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys.

If these talents are so rare, how can there be so many great bluegrass bands? LIke I said, there are lots of great musicians out there, and they often get together and make bands whose music is exciting and fun - and get high profile gigs at bluegrass festivals all over the place. But I bet most of us, with our backs to the stage, might have a hard time telling who’s playing the banjo, or even singing lead, unless we have already heard that band do that song.

But if the singer was James King, or Allison Krauss or Ralph Stanley, we’d know right away. If it was Chris Thile or David Grisman on the mando, you’d know. If it was Tony Trishka or JD Crowe on the banjo, you’d know. If it was Michael Cleveland or Vassar Clements, you’d know. If it was Clarence White or Tony Rice on the guitar, you’d know that, too.

I remember the first time I saw Chris Thile play. I thought, “Wow, this must be how people felt when they first heard Jimi Hendrix play guitar!”. His talent was so obvious, and so singular, it had an instant effect on me.

I have hundreds of records and CDs - do they all contain these major talents? Nope - I like lots of different types of music and every good musician has something to say worth hearing. But some have a sound for the ages.



Mentors
Today’s column from Nancy Zuniga
Tuesday, January 27, 2015


(It’s hard to believe it’s been this many years since Nancy retired from her Welcome columnist job. Here’s one of her pieces from 2010. As always, a fun read with a point worth making.)

This coming Sunday, I'm looking forward to a visit with one of the greatest people I've ever been privileged to know. Flossie Lewis was my English teacher during my sophomore year at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco. As the classic nerd, I wasn't a happy kid in high school, but Mrs. Lewis' class was the one bright spot in my otherwise gloomy school days. A gifted writer, Mrs. Lewis encouraged her students to stretch the boundaries of their imaginations, often through methods as non-traditional as climbing atop her desk to make a point, or lacing her speech with pithy Yiddish aphorisms. This tireless educator was in her seventies when she returned to school to earn a doctorate degree. Whatever pleasure or inspiration I've ever had in writing anything, be it a letter, song, or CBA welcome column, I have my old teacher to thank for her acceptance of my sometimes unorthodox means of self-expression. I was especially fortunate in that Mrs. Lewis (or “Flossie”, as she asked me to call her in later years), became a family friend, which made it possible for us to keep in touch through the years. Now in her mid-eighties, Flossie still writes short stories for publication in magazines. She always looks forward with delight to hearing my newest original songs, and, since meeting Henry, she has embraced him as if he had also been one of her students. In a sense, we both continue to be disciples of this remarkable woman. The boundless fountain of inspiration and creativity that is Flossie Lewis has nurtured generations of students and enriched countless lives.

so why am I talking about Flossie Lewis in a bluegrass welcome column? Flossie was and continues to be my mentor, someone who believed in and encouraged me even when others were less than enthused with my endeavors. I've witnessed this mentoring spirit numerous times since joining the bluegrass community. Some folks have natural talent and intuition and seem to require little direction, but there are so many more who might have become discouraged after their first feeble attempts at playing an instrument or singing a song, were it not for someone who gave of their time and showed an interest in that individual's progress and potential. So often, someone within our bluegrass family will take a newcomer aside and teach him or her a guitar lick, a breathing technique, a more comfortable way to bow the fiddle, or a pointer on jam etiquette. Those persons may just think that they are passing along a bit of friendly advice, and it may never occur to them that they are, in fact, mentors. Nonetheless, they are imparting their wisdom based on years of experience and observation, and in doing so, they may be setting their protegé on their way to many years of enjoyable playing by helping them to develop good habits and by nipping bad ones in the bud. Sometimes mentoring takes a more formal and intensive approach, as in music camp or festival workshops. Who has mentored you? Who have you mentored?

When Flossie earned her doctorate degree, her former students surprised her with a congratulatory party where one person after another stood up to give a testimonial on how their beloved teacher had shaped their life's successes. Rest assured that when you give of your time and attention, your gift may impact the recipient in ways that you can't imagine, and may be passed along to enrich the lives of future generations.



THE DAILY GRIST…”There's a little white note on a gate by the road, That a man put up yesterday, And when we saw it we all ran out, Just to see what it had to say, And when we read it our eyes filled with tears, And they fell to the cold hard clay, Something 'bout a mortgage, Something 'bout foreclosure, Something 'bout failing to pay.”—Fred Eaglesmith lyrics to Thirty Years of Farming

A Special Treat to Start 2015
Today’s column from Yvonne Tatar
Monday, January 26, 2015


News flash……..Much to the amazement of many bluegrass fans, James King made a surprise appearance at the 28th Annual Blythe Bluegrass Festival held just last weekend January 16, 17 & 18th at the Blythe, CA fairgrounds. You see James King was not on the festival lineup to perform. Both Seldom Scene and Larry Efaw & the Bluegrass Mountaineers (on the bill) delighted the crowds there as they had James join them on stage to perform a couple of songs with the band. The audience was enthralled as he sang and strummed along on the guitar. What a way to start the 2015 Southwest festival season!

Showing the effects of his current battle with cirrhosis of the liver, James appeared much thinner and weaker, but he still was the consummate professional as he belted out 3-part harmonies with icons Dudley Connell and Lou Reid of Seldom Scene and the boys from Larry Efaw’s band. While on stage, he took a couple of minutes to update the crowd of his latest medical status, i.e., he needs a new liver. With mounting medical expenses, he has been trying to perform here and there and sell some CDs to raise needed funds. He also had a DVD of a recent concert he did that he was selling, as well as raffle tickets for a quilt to be raffled off at the Gettysburg, PA fest in August. His friend in VA has made a unique quilt depicting James’ life moments in photos, such as a photo of when he was a Marine. It’s a very pretty and heartfelt tribute to James. There is also a website at www.GoFundMe.com where folks can donate to his medical expense fund. You can read more about James and what’s being done to help him at www.bluegrasstoday.com/tag/james-king.

On and off stage, James humbly thanked his fans at Blythe many times for their ongoing support throughout his long bluegrass career. And he personally spoke with many who stopped to wish him well or who contributed to his fund. It was hard not to tear up seeing this all as we listened to him singing and performing for us there. As I watched him perform, I knew I was witnessing a very special moment in bluegrass. He so touched the crowds that his booth after each show was mobbed with well-wishers. Many, many fans just came to shake his hand and give him cash without buying any products. It was touching. It is what bluegrass folks do.

James, here’s hoping your medical expenses are covered and you have a bright and healthier 2015! Your bluegrass fans want to hear you sing Thirty Years of Farming many more times in the future.

Best 2015 to ya’all, Yvonne



THE DAILY GRIST…”Life is a song – sing it.“—Sai Baba

The snowbird sings the song he always sings…
Today’s Column by Jeanie Ramos
Sunday, January 25, 2015


Greetings from sunny Yuma, Arizona, a place where the snowbirds come to roost for the winter; some of us come to “pick.” So far, every person I’ve met here is retired (except for those who work in the local businesses).

The rules of the road don’t seem apply here in the Foothills area; it’s not uncommon to see people riding golf carts, ATVs, and other off-road vehicles on the city streets and on some of the four lane roads. Terry brought his Polaris RZR with us for desert exploration and trail riding but when in Yuma, we do what the locals do.

One thing about retirees in a resort area (including myself), they are not big on fashion, but they are real big into comfort. I should buy stock in Rockport, Easy Spirit, Hush Puppies and Birkenstock. I didn’t come prepared for weather in the mid 80’s but never fear, Thursdays are garage sale days, the old folks are out in force buying each others junk. I got a whole new summer wardrobe for seven dollars.

Every morning I put on my Rockports and my garage sale T-Shirt that advertises a Casino I’ve never visited and I take a long walk. It’s always wise to take some “walking around money” with you. The citrus fruit is at it’s peak and the folks hang sacks of fruit on their gates with either a sign that says “free” or there will be a coffee can for donations.

On our street, there is a public “library,” well, actually it’s like a large birdhouse on a fence post and it’s filled with books. You take what you want and put your used books inside for others to read.

For the non-picking people in the area, the two big social events of the week are going to the Laundromat and the grocery store. I’ve been warned not to go to Fry’s on Wednesdays, as that is Senior Discount Day. The parking lot is usually full; a handicap placard is of no consequence. The grocery aisles are filled with shoppers and you will find carts parked around with no owner in sight and sometimes you will see a bewildered shopper walking around trying to find their cart. I’m tempted to attach our dune buggy flag on my cart next time I go shopping. I also had a hard time finding slightly green bananas. As my buddy JD Rhynes says, “Nuff said.”

As I mentioned before, some of us come here to jam. There are regular weekly jams at nearly every RV Park and at many of the churches. During my first week here, I went to four jams; made lots of acquaintances and lined up one gig at a church. All the jams I’ve been to are made up of retirees.

Many people my age and older suffer from hearing loss and when we are jamming, someone will call out the Key of G and everyone says in unison , “Huh?” It’s like that child’s game of “Gossip.” One person says, “I believe I heard him say C ,” and the next person says, “Alrighty then, D it is,” and the person next to him Capos on the fourth fret to play in B. At one jam I went to, someone came up with a solution to the problem. They had a big wheel (think Big Spin) with all the keys marked out. When it’s your turn, the person with the best hearing will turn the wheel to where the arrow lines up with the key you called. Don’t laugh, it works…well it works if they remember to spin it. This leads us to another topic, memory.

When we are on vacation, which is most of the time, I have trouble remembering what day of the week it is, that’s where my pillbox comes in handy (if I’ve remembered to fill it). Being a senile…I mean senior citizen has its challenges but we laugh it off and carry on. Laughter is good medicine.

I went to a jam one day with a couple other ladies; I’ll refer to them as Lucy and Ethel. While at the jam, I saw a woman (Let’s call her Maxine) coming through the door. She seemed a little unsteady on her feet (she should have worn her Hush Puppies). When she sat down across from me it was obvious that her boots were on the wrong feet. I wondered if there was some tactful way of making her aware of it without causing embarrassment. I kept on picking and figured that her feet would probably begin to hurt and she would discover the problem herself. Needless to say, at the end of the jam they were still on the wrong feet.

When the jam was over, I packed up my guitar and other gear and began to load it into a van I was sure I had arrived in…wrong! I almost went home with Maxine, the shoe lady. After a bit of shuffling things around, Lucy, Ethel and I were on Interstate 8, headed in the right direction in the right car. As we neared the neighborhood where we were to drop Lucy off, she began rummaging for her house keys in a large black purse. She pulled out a cell phone with a pink cover and handed it up to Ethel, who was driving. She said, “Here’s your cell phone, I have no idea how it has ended up in my purse.” “And, I can’t seem to find my house keys.” “Are you sure that’s your purse?” asked Ethel. “Of course!” came the reply. “Well I always keep my purse right here by the console, I guess we’ll have to go back, I must have left it at the jam.” Then Lucy exclaimed, “Oh wait! Here’s another purse, oh, I think it’s mine.” “ I guess that’s why I was finding all your stuff in that other handbag.”

By then we were all laughing and I said, “I guess this would be a good time to tell you ladies about something I saw at the jam.” “Someone showed up with their shoes on the wrong feet!” Instinctively, they both looked down at their shoes and we all burst out laughing. Later that evening, I received a text message from Ethel saying that Maxine had called her and told her how her feet had been killing her all day and she had just noticed that her shoes were on the wrong feet. I have a feeling I will have fodder for some future columns before our vacation is over.

We will be in the desert a little while longer. As I mentioned before, there are many jams to choose from, the weather is perfect and the people are interesting. Until next time, read a book, eat an orange, learn a new song, and take a walk. Just make sure your shoes are on the right feet. God bless.


When You're Tongue-Tied and Just Don't know What To Do!
Today's column from Prescription Bluegrass Radio Host & Blog Editor, Brian McNeal
Saturday, January 24, 2015


One of my disc jockey friends was having an unusually and incredibly tough day this past week. This is the sort of thing that happens to all of us from time to time and sometimes it is just so overwhelming, it can seriously impact the way we function.

Some of us can find ways to get by, to mask the situation, to shrug it off and plow through. But for radio announcers, it can get so bad as to even effect the way we speak. Our tongues get tied in knots similar to a sheepshank. Every word we utter over the microphone can sound like your old cassette tape that was left on the dashboard of your car mixed with the CD you disc'd and plowed under last year and then found come spring planting … “skip-whir-skip-whir-skip-whir.” Pretty hard to hold an audience, wouldn't you think?

So for my friend and anyone else who finds themselves in trouble – especially the inability to speak clearly due to “one of those days,” I offer this:

Maybe a refresher course at the Brian McNeal School of Broadcasting would help … we have a full semester on "Coordinated Articulation with Digital Gesturing On the Air".

We'll put you through all the paces of a real broadcast studio with real audience members listening. You'll learn to announce the time and temperature and to correctly pronounce the names of at least 50 obscure cities that may or may not pop up in a newscast. Your full final semester is your final exam. After working as hard as you can, but at your own pace, we'll give you the test. You must pass the test with 100% in order to graduate. The final exam consists of stuffing your mouth full of marbles and doing your show on the air. Each day your listeners are invited to call in and give us just ONE word you said that they understood. If they get it right, we'll allow you to spit out one marble each day they answer correctly. Of course it gets easier with practice but finally at the very end of your semester, we'll grant you Full Broadcast Certification to be an honest-to-goodness Radio DJ … when you've lost all of your marbles.

If you wanna take the Brian McNeal Night Club DJ course, it's just a bit more advanced and difficult. With our Night Club DJ course, you must continually prove on a daily basis that you have lost all your marbles.

Don't forget that we also have the Brian McNeal School of Public Address Announcing course … it's a lot easier. Many of our students have gone on to successful careers working on the P.A. at Wal-Mart and other such fine institutions. This course is where you keep all the marbles in your mouth while eating a peanut butter sandwich and talking on the mic simultaneously. No one can understand what you say and that makes it easier for the company who hires you to ring up higher-than-sale prices when the customers get to the checkout counter.

So, if you're ever having a day that is just too tough to handle by yourself, remember, we're here to help. Contact us by phone for an audition but remember, if we can understand what you say, you probably don't really need us so have a great BLUEGRASS day!


Thank You!
Brian McNeal
Prescription Bluegrass Media



Afternoon Delight
Guest column from Bob Schwartz
Friday, January 23, 2015


(This piece, from back in 2007, continues to be one of our favorites.)

So this is how it starts: with a simple, deceiving phone call to my wife. I told her I'd be in an afternoon meeting and would be unreachable the rest of the day. I hoped that I sounded convincing. The truth was I had arranged -- by email -- a secret rendezvous with someone I'd never met. We had agreed to meet that day, in a nondescript location near the airport at 4 p.m. I needed to leave my downtown office, get to our destination, take care of "business," and return home to my family by dinnertime so that no one would be the wiser. Could I really pull it off?

I left my office around 3. I was excited -- I was, after all, on my way to what I hoped would be the first of many encounters with a tall, slender beauty, but I also knew that such pleasures don't come cheaply. The email said she was Asian -- I hoped we'd be able to communicate with each other, and that my clumsy American style would nonethless strike a responsive chord. I boarded the BART train and watched the stations go by one by one as the train hurtled toward the airport. Finally, the train arrived. I grabbed a cab to our meeting place, hoping that this object of my desire and I would hit it off.

I entered the room and wasn't disappointed. She was beautiful. I admired her for a few moments, and then ran my hands lovingly along her neck. She let out a soft, low sound. I put my arms around her waist and traced the contours of her curves. Her foreignness was alluring; she was much younger than I, but I'm hardly the first man to succumb to the allure of a fresh beauty. We spent some time getting acquainted (in a manner of speaking), and I was smitten -- I hoped that this curvaceous beauty would have a place in my life for a long time to come.

The hour grew late. I got back on BART and headed home. I spent the hour-long train ride knowing that I couldn't keep what had happened that afternoon secret for very long. I was going to have to explain this to my wife, and I fretted about how she would react. Gail is an understanding woman, but a secret Friday afternoon rendezvous? This would take some doing.

I got home and began my confession. I told my wife that I hadn't really been at a meeting that afternoon. She looked at me with a worried look on her face -- just what had I done, she wondered. I explained that if she would just come outside, she would realize where I'd been. We walked outside together and there was the Asian beauty on our porch, displaying her classic curvature for us to admire.

My wife shrieked with delight. She had been wanting a new bass for awhile, and she loved the new Chinese bass I had just brought home on BART. She thanked me profusely for going to Steve Swan's shop in Millbrae and picking it out for her. I told her that she deserved it -- she is and always will be the love of my life, and it was time for her to upgrade from the used starter model that we'd made do with for the past year. It had indeed been a delightful afternoon, and the three of us -- Gail and I and the Asian beauty -- went back inside to make some beautiful music together.


Too little temptation can lead to virtue.
Today’s column from JD Rhynes
Thursday, January 22, 2015


I apologize to you folks for missing my fourth Thursday welcome column last month. About two or three times a year, for some unknown reason I cannot focus my eyes properly for a day or so, and that struck me again on the Wednesday before the fourth Thursday when my column was due. Thankfully I can see good this month.

Here is the column that I was going to write last month to honor the memory of my friend Joe Carr who passed away early last December. Joe was one of the funniest men I've ever known, and his sense of humor was second only to his ability as a world-class musician. Joe, along with Alan Munde, delivered the keynote address to the attendees at IBMA in 1996. It was one of the funniest presentations I've ever seen, and brought down the house. In May of 1997 Joe and Alan were appearing at the Mariposa bluegrass Festival, and we got to talking backstage of that keynote address the previous fall in Owensboro, Kentucky. Joe perked up and said hold that thought, JD. He rummaged through his guitar case and brought out a copy of that same keynote speech and said here you can have this. So believe it or not, I still have it right in front of me as I write, and you're going to get to read that whole keynote speech courtesy of Joe Carr, although it is posthumously. Later this week I'm going to send it back to the IBMA bluegrass music Museum in Kentucky for their archives. So for now, enjoy the humor of Joe Carr and Alan Munde.

Dateline favorite 24th 2005, Nashville Tennessee.

Bluegrass conspiracy theorists around the world were vindicated when Nashville police stormed into a suburban residence today, and arrested the man responsible for keeping bluegrass music off the radio across the nation since the 1950s. One bluegrass fan commented, its going to be so good to be able to hear bluegrass on the radio anytime day or night.I just hope they play the right kind of bluegrass and I hope it doesn't get too popular or it might ruin it.

Dateline May 6, 2010, Los Angeles California.

The national collegiate bluegrass Association announced the second season of college level bluegrass band competition this fall. The colleges recruited heavily at bluegrass festivals this summer and they have signed many of the top-ranked high school pickers and singers in the country.

Last season was marred by a scandal involving the use of hormones to help male singers saying in higher keys. This year mandatory pre-jam testing will hopefully stop this practice. Teams in the big 12 conference include the Fighting Flat pickers of Notre Dame, Alabama's Crimson Grass, The Seldom Sooners, of Oklahoma, and the Nebraska Shuckin' the Corner's. All-star musicians from each region will compete at the end of the season for the coveted Bluegrass Bowl Trophy. The college bluegrass bowl will be held on New Year's Day. Halftime entertainment will feature a brief football game.

Dateline; June 22, 2025, Everywhere USA

Experts are baffled at the growing popularity of bluegrass music among American teenagers. At shopping malls and on street corners in major cities across the nation, the teens, or grasser's as they refer to themselves,gather to jam using guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins. Periodically, one of the youths overcome by the intensity of the music begins to clog dance, much to the enjoyment of the crowd. Scattered throughout the crowd our kids dressed and jodhpurs, I riding boots and Ralph Stanley for Pres. T-shirts.

IBMA officials attribute the phenomenon to B – TV, the 24-hourr bluegrass music cable network that features videos by newsgroups such as Lazergrass, and old-timers such as Alison Krauss. The animated series"Bevis and Banjo"has become the most popular program.

Dateline; October 5, 2051. Lunar colony, Delta 4

Delta 4 hosted the IBMA [the interplanetary bluegrass music Association] convention this year, marking the first time the organization has met on the lunar surface. The event proceeded without a hitch with the exception of a brief interruption of gravity service during the popular fan Fest. Performers and audience members alike floated aimlessly about the festival site for several minutes until service could be restored. One picker had to be rescued from the support structure of the helidome. The lineup included; Jimmy Martian and Sun Mountain, playing his hits; "my rocket shoes don't fit me anymore"and "on the sunny side of the moon".

Also on the program; the Moonrow Brothers, 75th Timeout, the Good Ol' Lifeforms, and Sonny and Bob, The Airborne Brothers.

the theme of this year's event was"bluegrass music; it's out of this world". Keynote speaker Joe Carr who turned 100 years old this year commented, whether you like space grass or traditional musicians like Bela Fleck, it's all here. Bluegrass music is alive and well in the 21st century.


So there you have it folks, the 1996 Keynote address as delivered by Joe Carr and Alan Munde to the IBMA attendees, while we were still in Owensboro Kentucky. They got a standing ovation at the end of their presentation, and later Joe told me backstage; JD we would have been a lot funnier if the audience was a little bit drunker. That was my friend Joe Carr and his irrepressible sense of humor. Rest in peace my friend, and may God bless your soul. Yer friend, JD Rhynes


So Many Moving Parts
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I attended the band scramble at the Great 48 jam, and it was very interesting to see a series of ad hoc bands consisting of members with wildly varying amounts of skill and experience, doing a performance on a real stage. I’m sure the performers’ own assessments of their show was wildly varied too. I bet some players who were pretty confident initially were left a little shaken, and others who expected to flop surprised themselves with their aplomb.

The fact is, it is hard to master all the things that go into a compelling performance.

There’s the playing of course. You have to be able to play a song all the way through, obviously. And ideally, get all the way through it with as few discernible mistakes as possible. Hardest thing of all, your rendition has to be interesting somehow. Everyone expects the folks on stage to know how to play their instruments - so how is your perfect (or nearly perfect) version worth listening to?

Then, there’s the stagecraft aspect. A stage is a crowded place, with a million things to bump into (other musicians, mic stands) and trip over (other musicians, monitors, cords). And there’s the darn mics - which I could tell surprised a lot of people in the band scramble.

We know what the mics are for, of course - they amplify our instruments and voices so the audience can hear. But to get a good, consistent quality sound, one must position their instrument in the precise spot, and only move it when you want to alter the sound. Let this slip your mind for a second, and you’re a bull in a china shop, bumping into the mics, or getting too close and causing feedback loops - all of which make your performance much less interesting.

Then there’s the ensemble aspect. I’m sure many folks who play really well by themselves are shocked to find it difficult to play along with others - there’s a lot more listening involved than one might expect. Similarly, many musicians who are veteran jammers find it a challenge to tighten up for a brief set onstage. Everything’s condensed! Whereas in the jam, you’re hitting your best solo the third time around the circle, onstage you get one shot, and you may have the “wait, I know I could do this better!” blues.

Experience and quality practice helps all of these things of course. I hope any of the musicians who found the band scramble daunting will continue to seek out more chances to play onstage, if that is their desire. Bit by bit, all the pieces come together, and eventually, everyone knows their parts and can deliver them effectively through the mics without wreaking havoc on the stage. And they will be very interesting and very entertaining, and they will have a lot of fun!

Knowing firsthand how difficult it is to perform well on stage also makes us appreciate the professionals who make it look so easy. Although I have seen professionals trip over stuff onstage...



Phil
Today's column from Rick Cornish
Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where, though it seems quite impossible, Lynn and I are about to celebrate our fifteenth anniversary living up here in relative isolation. ("Relative" is the key word here; the move reduced the number of citizens with whom we share our town by 1,000,324, a reduction mostly to our liking, with a few notable exceptions, probably the most painful being dependent on Sam Walton and his little store on Sanganetti Road for nearly every purchase we make. (We learned soon after moving up here that WalMart had just opened two years before we arrived, and during the 24 months that followed no fewer than 45 commercial establishments shuttered their doors, utterly unable to compete with an enterprise whose inventory required a store the size of two and a half football fields.

But all that's neither here nor there. What I'd like to tell you about isn't a what so much as a who, the who being my oldest son, Phillip, and how it was that he took up playing the same music his pop plays...read "tries" to play. Now I have to warn the handful of people who, when they begin reading a story feel a moral obligation to finish it. With this story, you have NO SUCH OBLIGATION, moral or otherwise. It's a long one and I quite understand that you have missions to accomplish today, or a least reading to do that's in one way or another better aligned with your personal wants and needs than some rambling tale about a son by his father. So, you've been warned. It's a long one, but if you DO take the time to finish the story, you'll understand that it took as many words to tell it as I used, and not one syllable less. So here goes...


The story starts on a warm July evening in 1997. I’ve driven to the BART station in Fremont to pick up my oldest son, Phillip, who’s traveled down from school in Berkeley so he and I can attend a little bluegrass festival together. Though we’ve gone to probably a couple dozen such events since he was a toddler, this one, the Good Ole’ Fashioned Bluegrass Festival, will be the first that just the two of us have attended, without the rest of the family, and the first Phil’s gone to as a ‘picker’. Always in the past he was dragged along by dad and his step-mom, by middle school kicking and screaming, and by high school, he’d quit going altogether. But this evening’s different—my son has been playing the mandolin for several months now, and singing too, and he’s ready to venture out and try his hand making music with other people, he’s going to jam. And I am thrilled beyond words.

On the way down to Hollister we stop at a Super K-Mart store to buy the necessaries…beer, bottled water, apples and cheese, peanuts in the shell and Irish whiskey, ice…and as we walk back to the old, beat up F-150 in the parking lot my son asks if I’d like him to drive. I say sure. There’s something different about this, something not quite the same as the adventures we’ve taken since my boy was tiny. There’s a camaraderie not unlike that shared by two friends, peers, and it makes us both a little giddy.

Once we’re on 101 the commute traffic slows to a crawl but we hardly notice. So much catching up to do, easy, relaxed give and take about his classes, my work and, of course, we now have the music…bluegrass…to talk about. We luxuriate in it, we joke and laugh and, for just a moment I find myself trying to remember if I’ve ever been happier. We’re headed to a bluegrass festival, picking buddies, with plenty of cold beer, a bottle of hooch and no textbooks to read or inter-office memos to write.

We consider stopping in Gilroy to grab a bite, but both of us are too excited to eat and, besides, we want to get to the fairgrounds before the sun sets to set up camp. Once we pull off 101 and are headed east on 25 the traffic thins to almost nothing. Even though the sun has begun its descent, the evening is still quite warm and, though we’d be cooler with the air conditioner on, we just roll the windows down to let the rushing wind wash over us. The pungent, musty smell of garlic, for which Gilroy is known, fills the cab. Fields of tomatoes and peppers and lettuce stretch brilliant green in all directions and beyond the Diablo Range begins to darken into gorgeous pastels of purple and mauve.

We’ve been quiet since turning east, the natural beauty of the lower Santa Clara Valley too richly textured, too beautifully painted by the gigantic orange sun behind us to have to compete with words. But then Phil reaches over, takes my left hand and places it on his neck.

“Feel that?” he asks, “whatcha think that is.”

“A ganglia,” I say, “I got ‘em all the time when I was your age. Or is it ganglion? Anyway, a cyst. That’s what it feels like to me. But you should get it looked at.”

“Right.”

“I mean it, Phil, you go in next week and have them look at it.”

“Yeah, yeah, pop, I will, I will,” my darling boy, my sweet little boy, the offspring I’d sworn never to bring into the screwed up world, promises.

“Well, you’d better. You go in on Monday and have it looked at. I’ll be checking to see that you did. Do you hear?”

“Yup, I hear.” And as quickly as that, with a just slightly impatient, “Yup,” the conversation ends and will be forgotten by me for sixty-three days and four hours.


I love to share with friends the story of how my oldest son got “hooked” on bluegrass. It’s an unlikely story and, really, it’s beginning had nothing at all to do with music. When Phil went away to college after high school, his mother and I had every reason to believe it would be a simple transition for him. Our son had always been very mature for his age, always up for adventure and never one to shy away from change; he was a confident kid who made friends as easily as some people nod and smile hello to a stranger in the check out line; and, after all, he’d be close by…the drive from San Jose to Berkeley was not much over an hour. For all of these reasons, then, Claudia and I were surprised when he came home for Christmas break and, without really admitting it, was showing clear signs of having been very, very home sick.

It was after pizza and a movie, (the notoriously bad Batman and Robin) the night before I was to drive him back up to his dorm in Berkeley that Phil came into my study and made a strange…really, you could almost say bizarre…request.

“Hey, you got any of those Grass Menagerie thingies left,” he asked with forced nonchalance.

“You mean the band’s cassette? Are you kidding, I’ve got boxes of them. Why, you wanna buy one? I can give you a good deal, buddy,” I laughed.

“Well, as a matter of fact, ah, I would like to have one. Of course I don’t want to pay for it if I don't have to.”

I turned away from my Mac and looked at him square on.

“Wait a second, you want a Grass Menagerie tape? A tape of MY band? A BLUEGRASS tape?”

“Sure,” he said, “why not? What’s so strange about that?”

“Hmm, let’s see. Where to begin? Ah, you don’t like bluegrass music and never have. Your opinion of my band is, well, we won’t even go into that. You wouldn’t be caught dead listening to hillbilly music by your dorm friends. Shall I go on?”

“That is not true,” Phil said, “I like some bluegrass music and I don’t think your band sucks that bad. Just…are you gonna give me one or not?”

I studied my boy’s face, looking for signs of an impending punch line, but there was none to be seen. He’d learned to be a big kidder from his dad and, like his dad, favored edgy humor. But there was nothing.

“Sure, I’ll give you a Grass Menagerie cassette. I’d love to give you one, son. I gotta admit, though, I’m a little curious about why you would want it.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is. I like lots of different kinds of…” Phil stopped mid-sentence and his eyes teared.

“Okay, so I miss you guys. That’s all, I just miss you living so far away and that’s the reason I want the stupid tape.”

“Sonny boy, there’s nothing wrong about missing someone,” I said quietly.

“I know there’s not, so just hand it over, would you?”

The next time Phil came home from school there was no mention of being homesick, he was upbeat and talked in quick bursts about his classes, new friends, dorm life and especially living in Berkeley. He loved Berkeley, he said, and he couldn’t think of any reason he would ever leave it. It was his new permanent home. And neither of us mentioned the Grass Menagerie tape called ‘Buffalo Bluegrass’.

In fact, I’d forgotten all about the incident by the time June rolled around and it was time to head up to Grass Valley for what was, and still is, the biggest bluegrass event of the year—the California Bluegrass Association’s Fathers Day Festival. I hadn’t missed a single Fathers Day Festival since I began going back in 1976…in fact, Phil never missed from age three until he was in high school. I remember particularly well the festival in 1998, and especially the second day of the festival. It was a balmy, early evening and a half dozen of us were standing around two huge bbq grills watching our dinner of chicken and sausage and baked potatoes cook. When my turn came around I banged out, without announcing the song, the first two slow, droning chords of High on a Mountain…D…Cmin7th…and instantly the entire circle fell deftly into the slow, wistful cadence of Olla Belle Reed’s beautiful ballad.

“As I looked at the valleys down below,” I began, “they were green just as far as I could see. As my memory returned, oh how my heart did yearn, for you and the day that used to be. “

And then, as I sang the first line of the chorus, “High on a mountain oh, wind blowin' free” an amazing thing happened. From behind me, a clear, strong tenor voice came in above my lead, pitch perfect and phrasing the lyrics in exactly the same way I was. Without missing a word, I continued on the chorus…”wonderin’ where the years of my life have gone…” I spun around and there, to my absolute amazement…shock even…was Phil. Aside from humming along with his brother to the theme music of their favorite video games, I’d never heard my son sing a word…not a single note, and there he was, dead on the not-uncomplicated high tenor part of a relatively obscure Appalachian Mountains song. We sang the last two lines and ended the song.

“What in the hell are you doing here,” I asked, wrapping my arms around him, fiddle in one hand, bow in the other, in a tight bear hug. “You haven’t been to a festival in three years.”

“Well, looks like I’m back, eh?”

“But why? What the…”

“Where else am I gonna find somebody to sing High on a Mountain with,” he said with a broad grin, “these two guys suck at it.” He gestured toward the two dorm buddies who flanked him.

Over dinner the three told me the story behind the surprise appearance at the Fathers Day Festival. When Phil had returned to Berkeley after the Christmas holiday he played the Grass Menagerie cassette tape continually. Most nights the dorm residents…boys and girls, Channing Hall was co-ed…would come down to the unit Phil shared with his roommate, Kenny, (since pre-school my oldest son had always been pretty much smack in the middle of things) and share the music each had brought along to school. Phil’s contribution was Buffalo Bluegrass. At first the hillbilly-sounding music with its twangy banjo and down-home lyrics about mountaintops and rivers flooding and barefoot Nellies was a joke, a novelty.

“But after a while,” Kenny said, “I don’t know, the shit…” he stopped…”ah, you know, the songs on the tape, just sort of grew on people, probably because Phil played it so much. Kids would come down and ask to hear this song or that song on the ‘buffalo tape’.”

“Yeah, dude, it became ‘the Cult of the Buffalo’,” laughed Daemon, gulping down his third chicken leg, “that’s what it was called, and Phil was its Jim Jones. People would memorize whole songs and then sing ‘em together in the shower.”

“Yep,” said Phil, “that’s pretty much what happened alright. It was weird…but cool, too. And, no, dad, the showers ARE NOT co-ed”

Phil and Kenny and Daemon stayed through Sunday. Mostly they just hung out, checking out the girls, sneaking beers when they got the chance, but my boy and I did sing a bit more together. He really had memorized the lyrics to each and every song on the cassette, but, even more…and this is what amazed me…he’d picked up the tenor parts on each song and had the phrasing down…my phrasing. “So I could sing along with you, pop,” he explained. (In retrospect, of course, it wasn’t all that amazing. Bluegrass music, a fair amount of it sung by me, had been seeping into the poor kid’s head since just after he started walking. It’d been there all along and, almost coincidentally, it’d been awakened.)

When Phillip returned to U.C in September he asked if he could take along my old baritone ukulele, essentially a miniature four-stringed guitar, and a handful of bluegrass tapes. I said sure, wrote out a simple chord chart for him and pulled all five of the ‘Bluegrass Band Albums’, (a series of records done by the top five singers and instrumentalists in the business at the time that included pretty much all the traditional standards you’d need to get started.) And that, as they say, was that. The kid who’d never shown a lick of interest in music, except the kind that blared on underground f.m. radio, had all along carried around somewhere deep in his frontal lobe a remarkable gift. It seemed that each visit home from school Phil had some new discovery to report…a new band, a new cd, a new sub-genre within bluegrass music, a different way to split harmonies. By Christmas the boy had devoured the chord chart I’d given him and had begun working the uke’s fret board, and by spring he spoke longingly of a Kentucky mandolin he’d seen. “Where I’d get five hundred bucks to buy it,” he said glumly, “I just don’t know.” He knew.


A year and a half later, the summer between Phil’s junior and senior year at Berkeley, we attended our first bluegrass festival together “as pickers,” (the Good Ol’ Fashioned Festival in Hollister). By then my son was a passable mandolin picker, a better than average tenor and lead singer and we’d played a whole lot of bluegrass together. He and Ivona, the love of his life with whom he’d been sharing a tiny flat on Shaddock Avenue for a year, would take BART down to Fremont once or twice a month for the jam I held each Friday night. And he began showing up to Grass Menagerie gigs with his college chums and, before long, was being asked to come up on stage for a song or two. Truth be told, everybody in the band was getting a kick out of seeing this young kid soak up as much of the music we all loved as he possibly could.

It was because Phil had gotten some solid stage experience that summer sitting in with my band that in September we asked him to fill in for our mando-tenor, my long-time bluegrass pal Bill Schniederman, for our regular monthly gig at a little coffee house in Mountain View. Bill was stuck back in New York for the weekend and we didn’t want to give up the job. Cuppa Joe’s was situated smack-dab in the heart of Mountain View’s downtown district on Murphy Street and, with more than four dozen restaurants and pubs and clubs and shops, the place was jumping on a Saturday night. Phil was downright nervous, (a condition I was unaccustomed to seeing in my boy), leading up to his first, honest-to-God gig, but after attending a rehearsal the Wednesday night before and making sure he had all the starts and ends down, jitters gave way to pure, high-octane excitement. The second to the last semester before his graduation had just begun, he was living with the woman he planned to marry and make babies with, and he was going to do an actual job, as an actual musician, with his pop. Hard to imagine a kid flying any higher than my boy that last week in September of 1997.

Joe’s was completely full, with people lining the walls and waiting in a queue outside, even before we’d finished setting up the sound system. Phil had invited half the kids in his U.C. Environmental Studies Program, all of the old high school pals he’d left behind in San Jose and anyone else he could think of. Even his mom and step dad had driven up for Phillip’s ‘stage debut’. As we did our sound check, it was me who was feeling a little queasy, me who’d been front man and bandleader for going on twenty years, who’d played run-down coffee houses to elegant soirees, cheap dives to corporate picnics, music festivals and more weddings than a Methodist minister. But never, of course, with my boy standing next to me. He chopped into his instrument mic and then ran up and down an A scale, sound-checked his vocal mic with a dangerously high key of B tenor line from ‘I’m Lost and I’ll Never Find the Way’. And all the while he smiled that broad, not-a-care-in-the-world smile of his. I recognized it as the same smile he’d worn standing at the free-throw line in the All-League game held at the San Jose Memorial Auditorium, his last high school contest. It was the same vibe…exactly the same vibe. And I felt the same butterflies standing on stage next to my son that I’d had sitting alone in the stands four years previous. And then, I counted the “one, two, three, four…” into my mic and we were off and running, full tilt into ‘Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone’.

And in what seemed like just moments later we’d finished the encore to our first set and were inching our way off the stage and through the tightly packed crowd, still thundering their applause and hoots and hollers of approval. “We killed,” I whispered to Phil. “We did,” he grinned.

I went straight out the door of Joe’s onto Murphy Street and straight back into Johnny’s Moonlight Lounge right next door.

“Old Bushmills neat and a Negro Modela,” I said to Sally as I passed the bar on the way to the men’s john. When I returned Sally had me set up and I handed her a ten.

“Sounds like the hounds were set loose next door,” the barmaid said over her shoulder while making change.

“Big crowd, bigger than usual. My boy’s setting in with the Grass Menagerie tonight and a big bunch of his friends came in to cheer him on.”

“Well, whatever it took to fill the Joe’s up, keep it comin’. We’re gettin’ major spill over.”

I drained the shot glass and took a long pull on my beer.

“You know, Sally, I’ve been doing this music for a pretty long time, standin’ up in front of crowds singin’ and playin’ my butt off. But I’ll tell you, I don't ever remember having more fun than that last set next door. Being up there on stage singing with my kid…I don’t know, there was just an intensity to the experience that was new to me…brand new.”

“I can dig it,” she said, “tonight’s a special night for you, and that’s for sure. Would be for me. I’ll bet you never forget this night, Rick.”

“I’ll bet I don’t,” I replied and finished my glass of beer in two long gulps.

When I edged back into Cuppa Joe’s Phil was waiting at the door.

“Hey, come on,” he said, taking me by the hand and plowing a path through the long, narrow room. When we got to Claudia’s table he pulled her out of her chair and guided her forward through the crowd. Phil held both our hands now as we continued to snake towards the back of the coffee house.

“Come on,” he said, now leading us through the double doors of the brightly lit kitchen, past the busy baristas and finally out the back door and into the night.

“Too loud in there,” Phil said. He still hadn’t let go of our hands. It was a warm night, lovely and still, and we’d moved just far enough from the kitchen entry that only the light of the moon illuminated our faces.

“I found out yesterday that I have cancer,” Phil said, “and this is the best way to tell you. The three of us, me and my mom and my dad, here alone. Sorry, but this is the best way.”

Claudia gasped. I jerked my hand out of my son’s.

“WHAT,” I said angrily, “what do you mean? No, that’s not right…you’re not. No, I just don’t…”

‘It’s true, pop. I’ve got cancer all right. Kind of have known for the past week, but found out yesterday for sure from the doctor.”

“Past week,” Claudia asked in a whisper, “past week? How can that be, Phillip. How is it possible you’ve known for a week and not told your father and me?”

“I didn’t know, mom. I just kinda’ knew. They had to do tests and stuff, to make sure. But now they’re sure, so now I’m telling you.”

The clanging of dishes and cups coming from Joe’s kitchen and, beyond that, the low rumble from the room jam-packed with people, seemed far, far away. It was as though we three were in another place, soundless, featureless.

“What…” I began but then realized I could not make another word. I was in a kind of paralysis, my body’s only possible movement the involuntary shaking of my knees.

“I’m gonna be okay,” Phil said, “I’m gonna be just fine. The doctor at Kaiser says I’ve got a good kind of cancer…actually, the best kind I could have, Hodgkin's Lymphoma.”

Claudia began to sob quietly and covered her face with both her hands. Standing between his parents, Phil put one arm around each of us and drew us in.

“You guys need to trust me,” he said softly, I’m telling you the truth. I’ve got a kind of cancer that’s very curable and I’m going to be cured. That's it. That’s the whole deal.” Our son pulled us closer together and Phil’s mother and I sobbed in his arms for a long while. We’d become the children, he the parent.


When the potency of despair reaches a particular level in the mind, certain natural phenomena are triggered and I’d been unaware of this fact until that weekend in September of 1997. One presented itself the very next morning after the show at Cuppa Joe’s. I remember so well, in such great, vivid detail, the seven or eight seconds of waking up to the sunshine streaming into our bedroom, my eyelids fluttering open, the nothingness of dreamless sleep slowly giving way to conscious thought, kernels of the new day beginning to take shape, then reaching back to find a temporal context, nine seconds, ten seconds, stretching, toes curling…and then the instantaneous and indescribable pain of remembering. The paralyzing sense of loss falling like a heavy, black curtain. In the days and weeks that followed I got used to this strange phenomenon, actually found myself half-way looking forward to the eight or ten seconds out of the days 86,400 that I forgot about my boy’s cancer and life returned to normal.

And there was another strange discovery I made after my life changed that night at Cuppa Joe’s. I found that my sensory perception, the way I saw and smelled and heard the things around me, shifted ever so slightly. I don't’ know how else to describe it. It wasn't a bad shift or a good shift…things just appeared different to me. The color of the sky, the smell of coffee, the sound of a car door slamming. I didn’t, and still don’t, know what to make of that, how to quantify it and certainly not how to explain why it happened, except to say that learning that my oldest son had cancer altered every aspect of my life, every cell in my body, every thought and memory and feeling, good or bad, that I’d ever had.

I need to give a little explanation here. It really was despair I felt. It settled over me like a heavy, suffocating blanket as the three of us stood in the shadows in the alleyway in back of Cuppa Joe’s. Despair is a powerful brew of human emotions, with equal amounts of intense sadness and terror, but mainly what despair is is total, complete hopelessness. Hopelessness is the key ingredient in the human emotion we call despair, and from the instant my son uttered the word ‘cancer’, it fell upon me with such a completeness that makes me shutter to this day. You see, seventeen years before Cuppa Joe’s my mother’s cancer had taken its sweet time to properly educate me about the true nature of despair. For just a little short of three years my mother’s cancer made its slow, plodding but inexorable march to the sea, winning small skirmishes here, wiping out whole cities and armies there. Each hope…a new test, a different treatment plan, yet another specialist…was in turn cut down and set ablaze until finally, I lost the most important person in my life. In those two years and ten months I‘d progressed through grade school, high school, undergraduate and graduate studies, and on June 23, 1980 I was awarded an advanced degree in the scorched-earth campaign that is cancer, and in turn learned the true nature of hopelessness.

So then, when on the Wednesday morning after Cuppa Joe’s all of the parents, Claudia and her husband Bruce, my wife Lynn and I, met Phil at Kaiser Hospital on West Macarthur Boulevard in Oakland I came fully prepared to see right through the inevitable line of crap we’d be fed by the doctors. Phillip’s upbeat manner, broad smile and easy banter, all unmistakably genuine, shamed the adults into doing their level best to put on buoyant faces; it was, of course, hardest for me, the only one of the four parents with an advanced degree in cancer’s special brand of despair.

It was clear that the people in Oncology had been expecting us. We were immediately ushered into a small, windowless conference room by the receptionist and hadn’t waited more than a few minutes before Dr. Thomas Gordon, the doc who, through a cosmic throw of the dice, had had our boy’s life placed in the palm of his hand, joined us. Gordon was of medium height, bald, trimmed facial hair, gold framed glasses and eyes that seemed just slightly too small for his head. He was, for the five of us who sat at the conference table when he walked through the door, the most important human being on the face of the earth. And when Dr. Gordon began to speak to us I knew within thirty seconds, maybe less, that he was a disingenuous asshole who wanted nothing more than to get himself out of the room and away from his patient’s family in the least amount of time possible. And here’s the thing—by the time we finished the sit down, which included an almost formal presentation by the oncologist, complete with slide projector, x-rays and thick packets of written materials to take home and study, followed by a question-and-answer period that lasted roughly twice as long as the presentation, what I thought of the doctor didn’t matter a hill of beans. A non-issue. (Years later, Phil would sum it up very succinctly…”Yup, Dr. Gordon had a fake personality. He tended to gloss over a lot of stuff and get out of the room as fast as possible every time I met with him. But I decided this was because I was an easy case and he had way more important cases to worry about.”)

My assessment of the oncologist who’d been given Phillip’s case didn’t matter a hill of beans because of what he told us about the Hodgkin’s type of cancer that was growing inside my boy. It was, he said simply, the ‘cancer of choice’ for young men and women Phil’s age.

“The cure rate,” Gordon told us, “even for patients at your son’s stage, is nine in ten. That’s pretty much the best odds you’re going to find in my line of work. So, that’s the good news. The GREAT news.”

“And the bad news,” I asked impatiently, well trained in detecting the old medical bate-and-switch, “what’s the bad news, doctor?”

“The bad news is that your son’s disease went undetected long enough for it to reach stage three. Again, infinitely curable but we’ll have to work harder…a lot harder. Longer, stronger drug therapy…chemo…and in all likelihood radiation after that. But again…and please hear me, moms and dads, this is extremely doable.”

And here’s the thing. Despite the nearly three years I’d spent twisting in the wind while my mother’s life slowly drained from her, clinging desperately to each new reason, in an endless succession of reasons, for holding out hope, I’d taken what my son’s oncologist said as the simple truth. The ‘cancer of choice’. Sure, I’d have plenty of doubts in the months that followed, I’d play back old, painful scenes burned into my brain a decade earlier, but I…we…were starting this battle on solid ground.

When we finished and were filing out of the room, I held back and positioned myself between Gordon and the others and turned just as the last person exited, effectively blocking his way out.

“Dr.,” I said in a hushed tone, “one last question. When you spoke of Phil’s cancer going undetected long enough to have to warrant radiation, what time frame are we talking about? For instance, if this thing had been caught, let’s say in early July instead of late September, might we be looking at a lesser stage of development?”

Gordon didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” he said, “that’s a distinct possibility,” and with that he brushed by me and out the door. As I stood in the empty conference room, I looked over and saw that the oncologist had left the x-ray of my son’s neck and chest in the light box. It was still illuminated. I studied the dark spots Gordon had pointed out to us and I could feel my eyes welling up with tears. “Well, you’d better. You go in on Monday and have it looked at. I’ll be checking to see that you did. Do you hear?”


No amount of discussing, ordering, cajoling, demanding, threatening or pleading from his mother and father would budge Phil. Yes, he said, he absolutely agreed that the optimal place for him to live while beating his cancer was at home, and the little apartment on Shaddock Avenue that he shared with Ivona was his home. As for school, yes, he said, he knew he would have to drop his classes, but only for one semester; his chemo would be finished in March and he had no doubt he’d be ready to jump right back in. And finally, yes, he agreed that at least until he was all through with treatment he would add meat back into his diet. (I found out years later that it’d been a nurse practitioner at Kaiser rather than his mom and dad who’d convinced him that protesting the slaughter of animals via diet restriction was fine for healthy kids but not ideal for those in mortal combat with one of earth’s deadliest killers. Common sense seems so much more, well, sensible when it comes from perfect strangers.)

And so began what was the darkest six months of my life, and I’m sure the lives of Lynn and Claudia and Bruce. But when Phil started his six months of chemo all of us, even me, who’d been so horribly jilted by false, bullshit hope all the while my mother faded away, believed absolutely that our kid would be among the nine in ten that beat Hodgkin’s. We knew too, though, there’d be a cost; every other week this strong, healthy and vital twenty-year old would take the bus down to Kaiser for his three-and-half hour ‘hook-up’ as he called it. The oncologist had warned us that although Hodgkin’s was one of the easiest cancers to conquer statistically, the treatment needed to do it was one of the hardest on the body. “Fortunately,” he’d told us, “95% of Hodgkin lymphoma victims are young, in their late teens or early twenties, and their bodies are strong enough to hold up under the ABVD protocol.” (ABVD stood for a hyper-potent cocktail of Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine and Dacarbazine developed in the early ‘70’s by an Italian research group in Milan.) “It’s going to work,” Gordon said, “but it’s going to kick the crap out of your kid.”

For quite a while it didn’t. During that winter we saw Phil and Ivona a lot…we’d gotten them a car to make traveling between Berkeley and San Jose easier…and we saw them most weekends. He’d have his treatment early in the week, feel lousy for a few days but, by the weekend he’d be almost back to normal. The kid had no nausea issues at all and, in fact, was eating better than he had since moving down to Berkeley four years before; Ivona made sure of that. By Christmas time Phillip had lost all of his hair…scalp, eyebrows and lashes, even the hair on his arms. (Right up until the time I retired I kept a framed photo of my son hanging on the wall in my office; in it he wore a stocking cap to cover is entirely bald head, had deep, deep dark circles under his eyes…really more like around his eyes ala-raccoon and was playing his mandolin and singing. I kept that photo there on the wall to prevent me from ever taking either of my boys for granted. Now it hangs in my study.)

Phil practiced his mandolin almost obsessively during this period. He’d always been an excellent student in school and, now suddenly with no studying to do, he poured all of the energy and determination and concentration he’d applied to academics into his Kentucky mandolin. Those six months of playing hours and hours each day gave him a huge bump and quite literally transformed him from a beginner to an advanced player more quickly than most of those around him thought possible.

The other accelerated transformation, driven in part by the six months of raw and exposed emotions, ever-present highs and lows and always just-below the surface dread of the unexpected, occurred in the relationship between Phillip and Ivona. For the better part of the year leading up to my son’s diagnosis the two seemed like a well matched couple with a better than average chance of making a future together; but by the time the dark winter of intense chemotherapy drew to an end, the bond between them had taken on the look and feel of a connection forged from decades of sharing a life together. What young woman, so beautiful and so vital, just graduated and ready to jump into a new life and career, wouldn’t have hightailed it away from the immediate job of caregiver and, longer term, the partnering up with a cancer survivor and everything that can mean?

By the time the Christmas holiday had come and gone the massive quantities of Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine and Dacarbazine pumped into my boy had begun to take their toll. Phil was slowing down and regaining less and less of the bounce he’d seen in the days following his treatments. Then, in late January, Phil’s veins started to give out and were becoming harder and harder to find. Eventually his team at Kaiser had to start drugging him to get to an adequate vein. By then Phil was sleeping through the three to four hour treatments; and he was sleeping more and more in his tiny Shaddock Avenue apartment too.


Sunday, March 15th, 1998, was going to be a day of great celebration; at least that was how I had it planned. The next day, Monday, Phillip would go in for his last chemotherapy treatment. All the testing and x-raying and scanning showed exactly what they were supposed to show—the tumor shrank and shrank and shrank until there was nothing left of it. On Monday they’d zap the damned thing one last time for good measure so, of course, there was reason for celebration. Phil and Invona had driven down to San Jose the day before and spent the night at his mom’s. They’d be showing up at our house by noon so we spent the morning getting ready for them. Lynn made a big poster that read “Phil 1, Cancer 0…GAME OVER, MAN.” I went to the Safeway and loaded up with everything I could think of that were my son’s favorite’s to eat and drink. Together we blew up balloons and then waited for the two to arrive.

At one o’clock I wanted to call Claudia’s house to see what was up but Lynn said no. “They probably slept in…some people do that on Sundays, you know.” At a little after two I’d just picked up the receiver to make the call when we heard the back door open.

“It’s them,” I said bolting our of my chair, “they’re finally here.” We both rushed excitedly into the kitchen to meet Phil and Ivona but what we saw stopped us both in our tracks. Our son was bundled up in his green Army surplus coat, a heavy woolen neck scarf and a fake fur hunting cap with the ear flaps down. His eyes were those of a weary old man, sunken into his skull with deep purple circles around them. His skin had a grayish pallor to it. When he saw us he made a half smile with what was obviously great effort. Ivona, who looked as though she’d been crying, spoke first.

“Hi, you two, sorry we’re late. Phil…Phil isn’t feeling very well. We had a long night last night. Phil was pretty sick…a lot of pain in his stomach and...”

“But no throwing up,” Phil interrupted, “not once in this whole thing have I thrown up.”

I rushed over and gave them a big hug, one in each arm. Ivona stiffened slightly, Phil felt limp and seemed unsteady.

“Well, you’re here and that’s what counts,” said Lynn, “come and sit down in the living room.”

“I need to use the bathroom first,” Phillip said and Ivona followed behind him.

“So much for Cajun fried prawns and steak fries and coleslaw,” I said after they’d left the room.”

“Well, what did you expect? The kid’s sick. All those toxic chemicals, they were sure to take their toll sooner or later.”

“I expected this,” I lied, “I expected EXACTLY THIS. I just didn’t…I didn’t.” My voice trailed off into silence.

“I know, I know,” said my wife in a whisper, holding me now, cradling my head on her shoulder. “We just have to hold out, just a little while longer. If he can do it surely we can.”

“Of course we can,” I said, “yes, of course. I just, I don’t know why I…” Again I stopped mid-sentence, now on the verge of breaking down.

“I’ll tell you why. It’s simple. You’re reacting this way because you…we…have only had to deal with the IDEA of Phil’s cancer, at least for the most part. For most of the treatment he’s held up fine…great really. But now we’re at the end, thankfully, and it’s caught up with him. It's terrible to see him like this, but we’re at the end. Now, don’t be moping around, be happy to see them…I know you are, but show it. Let’s make him comfortable and happy to be here.”

So, for most of the after noon, that’s just what I did, in my inimitable way, in the always-larger-than-life, more-is-better way I do everything. I followed him around the house. “No lunch…okay, how about a little fruit…I bought mangos, your favorite…Burned you a CD of Stanley Brothers stuff, the ‘Complete Columbia Sessions’, let’s go in the study and listen to a bit of it…How about a little walk…Just around the neighborhood, get some fresh air…Oh, I picked up some Snyder's sour dough, best pretzel’s in the world, and of course some Newcastle to wash ‘em down…Whaddaya say…Warm enough…I could build a fire…I taped the Clippers-Golden State game last night…Did you see it …How’s your stomach…Are you gonna be able to have dinner…deep-fried jumbo prawns… with golden steak fries…or I could make potato skins…Or, you know, like, ah, stuffed potatoes the way you like…Or…”

“ENOUGH,” he finally said late in the afternoon. We were alone in my study, he still bundled up and sitting in the over-stuffed leather chair, me at my desk. “NO MORE, PLEASE, NO MORE!” There was anger in my son’s voice, no longer weak and tentative, and there was anger in his eyes. We stared at one another for a moment.

“I was just trying to…”

“I KNOW what you were trying to do. Do you honestly think you have to explain it to me? Am I an idiot? Don’t you get that you can’t have your way every single solitary friggin’ time, dad?” His voice had lowered but was strong and steady and angry.

“I…I just…thought…”

“Ya, I know what you just thought. You thought you were going to take care of the situation just like you always take care of the situation. Except, guess what—this time you can’t. YOU CANT! I’m really, really, really sick, dad. I feel awful and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Absolutely nothing. Do you understand? Please, can’t you try to understand? I know you love me, I know you’re hurting having to see me like this, but there is nothing in the world that you could do to make me feel even a microscopically tiny bit better.”

“Okay,” I said, “okay.”

We sat in silence for probably five minutes. It wasn’t an awkward silence, or tense in any way. The anger had drained out of Phil and was replaced by a deep, deep weariness. After a while he closed his eyes, and soon after I got up and left the room.

A few minutes later I returned to the study with my leather jacket on. “Here,” I said, tossing him his stocking cap. “Put that on and come with me. I have a quick errand to do. Ride along with me. Will you?”

Ten minutes later we were driving north on 101 in my old Ford pickup truck. It was a cloudless March afternoon, but bone-chilling cold. I’d read the day before that a front from Alaska had settled in over the upper half of California and would be with us for another couple of days.

“So cold,” I said. “Isn’t it odd that we can be effected by Alaska’s weather.”

“Well, it’s not Alaska’s today, it’s ours.”

“Do you remember the last time we were on 101 in the old F-150, headed in the other direction?”

“Ah,” he thought for a moment. “Was it the time we went to Hollister? Last summer?”

“Yep, we were headed toward the Good Old-Fashioned Festival. Just about this time of the day, but with the temperature about sixty degrees warmer. Seems like a long, long time ago, doesn’t it?”

“Well, it was a long time ago. So, like, dad, where are we going? What’s the errand? Is it far?”

“Not too far. Do you remember on our drive down to Hollister, do you remember that you had me feel the lump on your neck?”

“The ganglion?” he said with a chuckle, “yeah, I remember that. It was a good guess, but no cigar.”

“I told you not to worry about it.”

“That’s right, but you also told me to have it checked out.”

“I did, and I made you promise you’d do it right away. And I told you I’d keep bugging you until you had it checked out by a doctor.” My voice cracked and I gripped the steering wheel hard with both hands so Phil couldn’t see they were trembling. I’d waited so long to have this conversation, never knowing for sure whether I’d ever have the courage.

“I know, and I promised I would but instead I waited till school started and I’d be covered by our student health insurance plan...to save money. To save sixty bucks. Can you believe it? Dumb”

“I keep asking myself…over and over and over…why, why didn’t I…

“Huh? What? Why didn’t you what?”

“Why didn’t I call you the following Monday to make sure you went to the health clinic. And the next Tuesday, and the next Wednesday and every day until you went? Do you know that that could have…” My son interrupted me.

“So that’s what this is all about? Sure I know, of course I know how things might have been different. You think I haven’t thought about it? If we’d found it in July instead of at the end of September there’s a chance the tumor wouldn’t have gotten as big as it got. And that might have meant the chemo would have been a lot shorter. And that I wouldn’t have to do the radiation part of the treatment. Yeah, I know that…Gordon told me that. But if you’re telling me you’re the cause of that…you know, for not staying on me about seeing a doc, well, that’s pretty much just bullshit, isn’t it. The never-ending Rick Cornish to the rescue scenario…the my-dad-can-solve-everybody’s-problems principle. But you can’t. You do know that, don’t you? Oh, my God, you don’t, do you? “

“Look, I just wanted to get clear with you on this. To ask your forgive…

“And let me guess what’s next. It turns out that, in fact, the radiation treatments next month do cause me to become sterile…the doc says there’s a thirty percent chance of that…so now you get to take credit for fucking up my entire life, and Ivona’s, too. Do you know how crazy that sounds, dad?”

“Now, wait a second, dammit...”

“No, YOU wait. You followed me around all afternoon. The ‘fixer’. Well, you’ve been fixing things for me my whole life, you’ve been fixing things for everybody, whether they like it or not. But this time, this one damned time, you can’t fix it. I feel like shit, a steaming pile of dog shit, and there’s nothing in the world that you can do to make me feel one little bit better.”

“Come on now,” I began, but then stopped. Something had changed about my son since last fall…since Cuppa Joe’s. It was gradual, almost imperceptible, but every time I saw him I could sense the difference. The cancer, or more accurately his way of dealing with it, and dealing with the possibility that he would die before he really even had a chance to start his own life, was speeding up the natural maturation process. He was learning and becoming aware and taking on new understanding about life and people and relationships and what is and isn’t important…and, yes, a new understanding of his father…all, it seemed, at the speed of light.

“This is our exit,” I said as I took the Oregon Expressway off-ramp and headed west toward the El Camino.

“What’s in Palo Alto?”

“My errand. It’ll just take a second,” I replied without taking my eyes off the road.

We drove the five minutes to Lambert Street in silence and parked in front of an old, white-washed converted warehouse

“Gryphon’s?” Phil said with more animation than I’d seen all day, “your errand is at Gryphon’s? Cool, I want to come in with you and look around.”

Gryphon’s Stringed Instruments had for close to forty years been the preferred source of fine instruments among serious musicians throughout Northern California. No one had a better selection of the brands and models of the stringed instruments of bluegrass music…the guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, dobros and basses.

When we walked through the door and into their cluttered showroom brimming with treasures, vintage and brand new, a salesman, actually a picker that both Phil and I knew, approached us.

“Hey, John,” I said, “My boy and I are looking for a mandolin.”

Phillip laughed out loud and a broad smile, the first I’d seen all day, washed over his face.

“The fixer,” he said, shaking his head, “always the fixer.”


The next day my kid had his last chemotherapy session. April 3rd he had the first in a one-month series of radiation treatments. The last week in May Phillip was pronounced cancer free and in remission. The following month we camped together at the Fathers Day Festival and by then his hair had nearly grown back. In September 1998, Phil proudly announced to his family that he’d graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. (I’ve never fully understood how he managed this after dropping out for a semester…extra units he’d squirrelled away as a junior, then some requirements picked up post-illness at summer school.) By late fall my boy joined the Grass Menagerie and for a blissful eighteen months father and son played every date we could get our hands on. Exactly five years after living through massive doses of toxic chemicals and dangerously high levels of radiation, my son was formally proclaimed a cured cancer survivor, (Phil one; cancer zero…game over, man). In 2005 Phil married Ivona; the next year they bought a condominium, less than a mile from the house he’d grown up in in San Jose’s Willow Glen district, (so much for NEVER leaving Berkeley); three years later they had their first child, a girl named Lexy; then two years and a few months after that they had their second daughter, Ava. I am called gramps. Phillip still plays the Red Diamond mandolin he picked out at Gryphon’s that cold March day in 1998. He’s tried a lot of other axes, he says, some very, very expensive ones, too, but he’s never played a mandolin that sounds as sweet as the Red Diamond.

Me, I’m still playing my fiddle and still ‘fixing’, or trying to, whenever the need arises. But thanks to my boy, I take it a little slower.



THE DAILY GRIST…“The high speed hum of a passenger train becomes a part of the heart and the soul and the mind of a boy who’s raised by the railroad line.”… (Chris Ledoux)

The Fifty Eight Hour Jam
Today’s column from Bert Daniel
Monday, January 19, 2015


What could possibly be better than jamming at the now famous Great 48 Hour Bluegrass Jam in Bakersfield? There’s nothing I can think of that even comes close, especially during the otherwise slow first weekend after the New Year’s holiday. One fall day I mentioned to my fellow weekend jammers how much fun I had had at the two Bakersfield jams I had been to. I was planning to go again this year and I hoped at least a few others might be interested. Sure, it’s nice to meet new people at a big event but it’s nice to see familiar faces too.

Many of my fellow jammers had heard of the event but I was one of the few who had ever been. “If I only had the time” seemed to be the sentiment, Then Jason, came up with a truly brilliant idea: “If I could go, I’d go on the train. You could jam all the way down and back”. The train ride happens to be five hours each way. Thus was born the idea for the fifty eight hour jam.

Lorraine took Jason’s idea and ran with it. She had ridden the Central Valley AmTrak train too and knew all about it. Before you knew it, Jack and Lori were on board. Now there’s a band! But it’s only guitar and bass with some good singers. They need a mandolin but at this point I’m reluctant to go by train because I took my bicycle last time and had some fun rides down in sunny Southern California. Lorraine e mails me some information about how I can easily take my bike on the train so now I’m wavering.

Meanwhile, several of us show up at a great party at Jim’s house the first weekend in January and jam like there’s no tomorrow. Except there is a tomorrow. Jim might be interested in going and bringing his guitar and mandolin. I decide this is a rolling party I don’t want to miss, bike or not, so I’m in with both feet. Too bad Jason, who had the idea in the first place, can’t go. He’s an English teacher and it’s tough to get coverage for your classes at his school.

But at the last minute, Jason finds a substitute and I’ve got a roommate to halve the cost of my room! All we need now is fiddle and banjo. Nobody else signs on from our group but when we gather at the train station in Martinez on Friday, I meet Fred the fiddle player whom several of our group know from music camp. He’s decided to take the train too from his home in the east bay and he’s happy to have fellow Bluegrass jammers in his midst. Everyone is excited, we’ve got a great jam all the way to Bakersfield.

Excitement on the platform turns to disappointment on the train. First, we are told by the conductor that we can’t bring a stand up bass onto an AmTrak train. Lori explains to the conductor how she had already cleared it with Amtrak and had even bought a separate ticket for her bass. We ask about playing our instruments and are told that it is not allowed. We ask about relocating to play in the next car, where there is only one passenger and we are told that we can’t do that either (even though the passenger does not object). After an hour of silence on the southbound train we decide to sing some a cappella gospel songs. The few passengers within earshot seem to enjoy it but the conductor walks by and tells us that people have complained about the noise so we have to stop. We do but in retrospect, i wish we had held our ground and let them throw us off the train so we could sue.

As advertised, the 48 hour segment of the 58 hour jam went seamlessly. We had some great jams, met some great people, ate some great food and heard Michael Cleveland live! We even got a few hours of sleep between about two and six. We hated to leave, especially knowing that we might be silenced on the train again.

Fortunately, the train ride home was the complete opposite of the train ride down. We found a space on a different kind of rail car that was split between storage and seating. It was just the right size for our group, but three other people chose to sit with us and listen. Two of them independently said it was the most enjoyable train ride they’d ever been on, and a few curious music lovers crowded the open space, applauding after each number. One listener took video and said she’d post it on You Tube.

Let me tell you, that was a great jam! We had lost time to make up and everybody had their favorite train song ready for the occasion. And the acoustics in that sardine can were awesome!

I hope we can make the fifty eight hour jam happen again next year. If enough people are interested, we could rent out a whole car or two and call the shots both ways. Fifty three hours this year maybe, but I’m looking for the whole enchilada next year.


It’s Easy When You Know How (And We Can Show You How…..At Music Camp)
By Geoff Sargent and Peter Langston
Sunday January 18, 2015


I used to be crazy about fishing and I particularly enjoyed catfishing. I would use a nice chunk of smelly bait, made out of liver, bread dough, and cotton, (a very secret recipe) press it onto my hook, and cast the line out. In my neighborhood the best way to catch catfish was bottom fishing, no bobbers allowed. We would set our rods in the crook of a y-shaped stick stuck in the ground and watch the line. You would know when a fish was tasting the bait because all of a sudden the line would go a little slack, and it was almost time to set the hook. Sometimes the fish would run with the bait and set the hook itself, sometimes you would wait for that moment when the line went really slack, letting you know the fish had picked up the bait, and whammo you would pick up your rod and set the hook. With a little practice on how to read the line you and your buddies could spend all afternoon catching nice cooking-sized catfish; easy when you knew how. But it didn’t really matter if the fish were biting. There was plenty of time to fool around with your friends while waiting for the fish to figure out there was free food on the bottom of the lake.

While I am pretty sure we won’t have workshops on catfishing, or how to make secret bait, at music camp I am sure that we will be able to show you how play a lot of good music and maybe tell you a few bluegrass secrets. And yes, there will be plenty of time to fool around with your friends and there will be plenty of time to pick all that music you are going to learn.

We have a really good lineup of teachers and some we haven’t seen for many, many years. Jack Tuttle will be teaching Bluegrass Band II?, Kathy Kallick will be teaching Bluegrass Band III?, while Bruce Molsky is going to be teaching Old-Time Band II/III?. The ever popular Bill Evans will be enlightening all those early stage 5-string prodigies with Bluegrass Banjo I?, while Wes Corbett will be focusing on Bluegrass Banjo II/III? and Joe Newberry of the Jump Steady Boys will be teaching the secrets of Old-Time Banjo II/III. Trisha Gagnon, a name familiar to many of our campers as bass player for John Reischman and the Jaybirds, will be teaching Acoustic Bass I? while Sam Grisman, who already has a bluegrass, jazz, and you name it, bass pedigree will be teaching Acoustic Bass II/III?. Since Geoff owns one of those guitars modified with a hubcap he is partial to the camp lineup for dobro. Mike Witcher will be teaching Bluegrass Dobro I/II? while Sally Van Meter, who we haven’t seen at camp for an awfully long time, will be teaching Bluegrass Dobro III. ? Our fiddle Corps…oh fiddle sticks we don’t have fiddle corps in bluegrass. Our Fiddle teachers are John Mailander, Beginning Fiddle I; ?Paul Shelasky Bluegrass Fiddle II/III?; and Tom Sauber Old-Time Fiddle II/III?. Jim Nunally is coming back to teach Guitar with Singing I/II?, while Rafe Stefanini will be teaching Old-Time Guitar Backup I/II, and Molly Tuttle teaching Guitar Solos II/III?. Between the music camp and the 40th Father’s Day Festival we are going to experience Monster Mandolin Madness (imagine a deep echoing voice announcing that while you picture a giant mandolin spewing flames out of its headstock….forgive my flights of fancy here). John Reischman is at camp this year teaching Mandolin I?, Chris Henry is covering Mandolin II?, while Mike Compton will be off the starting line with Mandolin III?. Some of our most popular classes are the vocal workshops. Carol McComb will be teaching Traditional Singing Styles II/III while Keith Little & Laurie Lewis are teaching Harmony Singing. No music camp would be complete without Kathleen Rushing’s Fungrass which is a music-based program for kids aged 4-10 involving song, dance, musical games, jamming, tie-dye and crafts, water and bubble play, and serendipitous moments of musical fun and learning!

Registration for the 2015 CBA Music Camp will open on February 7 come rain or shine. The 15th CBA Summer Music Camp will take place June 14th to 17th at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California. More information is available at the music camp website http://cbamusiccamp.com. And we would like to remind you that you can give CBA Music Camp as a gift for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Graduation, Birthdays Valentine's Day, and even April Fool's Day. Check it out at our web site.


Bluegrassian Questionnaire with Roland White - Part I
Today’s column from Cameron Little
Saturday, January 17, 2015


Due to extenuating circumstances that I don't need to bore you all with, I wasn't able to write a column for today, so I decided to repost the first half of my interview with Roland White from 2011, which was one of my first columns. It's a rather lengthy interview, which is why it's broken in half, but it's one of my favorite interviews, so here goes:

Roland White, legendary mandolinist, devoted family guy, bluegrass community icon, and beloved teacher and mentor. Along with brother Clarence, just happened to help guide and shape bluegrass music into what it is today. Roland is a humble guy, a real gentleman whose calm personality belies a whip-smart mind and a blazing talent. Patient and gracious, and dare I say it, also rather mischeivious. A guy after my own heart. Marty Stuart said it best when he called Roland a “timeless musical spirit”.

Roland White simply IS bluegrass music.

What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Well, I would be happy if I could play music until the day I die, with my wife, Diane, and my friends. I have a lot of friends in Nashville who play good music, a lot of good musicians.

What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is if I should lose my friends and my loved ones. I don’t fear death, you know. I want my children and my grandchildren, all my relatives, to be safe - no harm to come to them.

What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
Well, my first instrument was actually the guitar. My dad was a musician, an old-time fiddle player, and he had a couple fiddles, maybe two guitars. He was French Canadian, and he had a lot of the French Canadian style too, that he played. One day I came home from school and he had a mandolin. I heard this instrument and I walked into the house and he was playing “Rag Time Annie”, then he played “Soldier’s Joy”. Then when he finished that, I said, “What is that instrument?” And he said, “The mandolin.” I said, “How’d you learn to play it so fast?” He said, “Well, it’s tuned the same as a fiddle, it has frets so you don’t have to guess at your position, and you play it with a flat pick.” He played another tune and then he handed it to me and said, “Here!” Never gave me a lesson or anything and I just started playing it. That was my first instrument - and it was mine. It was an old one with the round bottom, we called them “tater bugs”. That was the first mandolin I had.

What bluegrass event or recording first “blew your mind”?
I went by the music store one day walking home from work after school and I asked the man, “Where can I buy some records?” He sold mostly pianos, organs and sheet music there. But he said, “Well, there’s a catalog here on the counter. What are you looking for?” I was looking for Bill Monroe but I didn’t know any of the names so I pointed out “Pike County Breakdown”. A week or so later, I went in and picked it up. I had seen 45’s but I’d never handled one before. When he handed me that I thought, “How’d he get all that music all on this little disk?” [laughs] Really that’s what I thought!

I took it home. And it just blew us away, it changed our lives. That instrumental just changed our lives, we never heard anybody play so fast.

What blew my mind is that on Christmas evening Bill Monroe was a guest on the Town Hall Party show. It was sold out but we watched them play on the television, and we saw how they did it. By this time I had a couple of Monroe records and we could hear the G run on the guitar but we weren’t sure exactly how it was supposed to go. So Clarence got to see how they did that. And I got to see the mandolin chords, that’s how I learned my mandolin chords, because all I knew were open C, G, D, open A. I didn’t know the chop chords yet. Those two things really blew my mind.

Who are you listening to these days?
A friend sent me a cd of Bill Monroe instrumentals. Really good stuff, all instrumentals that I listen to that in the car. I’ve got some early blues cds, we have a couple of radio shows we listen to, old-time blues, as far back as the 20’s. And a lot of jazz: Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald. Thelonious Monk, I love his stuff, ah! All the jazz of that era. We have all of that music. All kinds of jazz. We call it “real” jazz [laughs].

When and where were you the happiest?
Right now! I was happy growing up and everything. But right now I have a lovely wife, great children and great grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and they’re all doing well. I’m just very happy.


Today's column from Don Denison
Friday, January 16, 2015


Dear Friends:

I have been thinking lately about how frequently bands come and go. Even bands that stick around for years seem to change personnel frequently. I once wondered why bands were not more stable, but over the years working with the CBA on the board, as a Festival Coordinator, and Entertainment Coordinator, I no longer wonder. We are fortunate that the bands are as stable as they are.

The first difficulty is getting the sound and the personnel that one wants, then learning to work together towards a common goal. Egos, abilities, musical tastes, leadership, or the lack of it, all make it difficult just to put together a band with a sound that the leader and the band can agree on. Once an approach is established, it is necessary to keep everyone working together. This should be easy, but with 5-6 different personalities it is a tough job. Some of the top bands seem to do this better than others, usually behind a strong leader. This works until someone wants to go a different direction, or leaves the band. This is not unusual, indeed with 5-6 musicians, it is the rule more often than not.

The second problem is having enough work, work that pays enough to hold that perfect band together. Producers being who they are naturally try to hold down their entertainment budgets, bands would like to get paid more. Enter the booking agent. Bands that play regularly and that are paid enough find that they need the help of an agent. Here again personalities and conflicts can emerge, most bands change agents at least two or three times during their existence. Having dealt with Agencies and agents, I can tell you that the range of competence varies tremendously. At best a good agent will prove to be a good advocate for the band, keep it in work, arrange appropriate compensation, and interface well with the producers. At the other end of the spectrum, an agent can make a producer and band both wish they had never seen or heard of him. I've worked with good ones, and some that tried my patience to the breaking point.

So far we have got the band developed to the point they are touring, and are making at least enough money to make it worthwhile, these things are difficult enough, but touring and living on the road with the band and whoever else tours with it often proves the undoing of many good ones. Think what a national tour means for a few minutes. First of all the band will be separated from home and family for extended periods. With some individuals, this is a good thing and probably prevents domestic problems between the family members. For almost every one else though, these extended absences put a strain on marriages and relations with the children and the missing family member. I had one band leader tell me that they had played in excess of 320 dates the previous year. I can't imagine how that would effect family life, even if many of the appearances were near home.

Related to the family situation are the problems of touring. Such mundane things as getting regular and decent meals become almost impossible, then come simple things like getting clothes washed, maintaining the vehicle, or getting everyone on the plane on time. Living in a bus with the band and probably a driver and another assistant maybe 2-3 additional assistants, has got to cause lots and lots of stress, or even open conflict. Even best of friends or husbands and wives often have difficulties under such conditions. Then there are the annoying personal habits of other band members, I imagine a simple little habitual gesture can wear thin after the first few days, God forbid that someone have intestinal difficulties, or flatulence while trapped in a bus or on a plane. Problems at home that one can't attend to because he isn't there also cause difficulties, these and many other problems occur on the road.

Given the things that are possible, it is a wonder that bands stay together or stable at all. Having had to help out band members with problems that arise when they are absent from home, I know how much stress is put upon a traveling band, I am glad we have so many that are willing to put up with the difficulties and stay together long enough to entertain us. I have heard some stories that would make you all wonder how these bands we love are able to do it. Last but not least is that new member that proves to be a major pain in the butt. I heard one story of a good musician, after being warned repeatedly, was put off the bus with the words, "this is as far as you go son". Thankfully these events are rare.

The next time you sit down to enjoy your favorite band at the festival or elsewhere, think of the things these men and women have to do just to play the event you are attending. Be sure to thank them for what they do and for the grace that they do it with. I often wonder at the patience and dedication of the bands who put on good shows even if their day or week for that matter has been one from Hell. Lets hear it for the bands!


THE DAILY GRIST...“Looking at 2015 through Bluegrass Colored Glasses”

”A Man Can Dream, Can’t He???”
Today's column from James Reams
Thursday, January 15, 2015


If you’re like me, you get really excited about having a brand new year stretching out in front of you…the possibilities are endless and as to probabilities, well fuggedaboudit! I love watching all those “Year in Review” shows too as they look back over the major happenings and then make predictions about the upcoming year. And it got me to thinking about living in a perfect bluegrass world and what might be in store for the next year. I popped the top off of the best bottle of bubbly I could afford, Pabst Blue Ribbon in case you were wondering, put on my bluegrass colored glasses and settled back in the recliner while visions of the following monthly headlines floated off the calendar.

January – At last the United States Post Office recognizes the demographic that still uses their blasted stamps by announcing the latest addition to its Music Icon series…slap bass, please…it’s a commemorative stamp honoring the Stoneman Family!!! And no one in bluegrass circles argues about who it should have been. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

February – In one of those “what took you so long” moments, the Grammy’s finally embrace banjo-toting Steve Martin as the host of the award show. The enormous popularity of the bluegrass sound rocks the music world as Coldplay takes Best Album with Hillbilly Lullaby featuring Chris Thile. Lady Gaga and Ralph Stanley win Best Song for the revamped “I’m Not A Man of Constant Sorrow Anymore.” Bill Monroe spins like a vinyl record in his grave.

March – Bluegrass fans had practically turned blue in the face waiting for the Bill Monroe film “Blue Moon of Kentucky” to be released. But our patience paid off as the movie swept the Oscars including Best Film, Best Soundtrack (duh!), and Best Actor/Actress for Michael Shannon and Olivia Wilde. Ed Helms and John C. Reilly dueled it out for Best Supporting Actor with Ed just edging out John by a pick and a peg. Move over “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” there’s a new blockbuster in town!

April – UN Peacekeeping Ambassador, Si Kahn, wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in bringing about world peace through bluegrass music. When the humble songwriter was reached for a comment about his achievement he replied, “I’ve always heard that music soothes the savage beast – I shoulda known it would be bluegrass music!”

May – In honor of Bluegrass Month, everyone involved in bluegrass finally reaches agreement regarding what defines bluegrass music. And now for the weather report…hell has finally frozen over.

June – As presidential candidates start coming forward, the US is rocked by the announcement that Alison Krauss, the Queen of Bluegrass, will seek our nation’s highest office. With seasoned veteran Del McCoury as her running mate, polls are predicting a landslide victory. Even critics agree that her angelic voice will charm the pants off…no wait, scratch that…win over the most hardened world leaders.

July – The #1 Show on TV is the breakout hit “The Wives of Bluegrass.” Americans are glued to their sets on Tuesday nights, fascinated by the inner workings of the bluegrass world. From the makers of Duck Dynasty and The Wives of Orange County, this reality show includes such great episodes as “The Bluegrass Spa” and “Don’t Make Me Get the Skillet.”

August – Inductees into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame are announced and Hazel Dickens finally made it! In a related event, hospitals are overrun by bluegrass fans experiencing symptoms similar to a heart attack.

September – Bill Monroe’s birthday (September 13th) is declared a National holiday and every radio station in the US is required to play bluegrass music for 24 hours straight in tribute. Folks everywhere pulled out their folding chairs, popped the tops on cans of Vienna sausages, and jammed along. In financial news, Walmart posted the lowest earnings ever for a single day.

October – As host city for “World of Bluegrass” (only the biggest event of the year!), Raleigh, NC announces that they are changing the name of their airport to the Earl Scruggs International Airport featuring bluegrass themed restaurants, shops, art and live bluegrass music. Officials claim, “We wanted to make the airport a destination, not just a starting point.” The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) adopts the slogan “I’ll Fly Away”.

November – In response to demands by its top customers ? yup, you guessed it, bluegrass bands ? Cadillac releases it’s new tour bus line. Models include the Breakdown, the Jammer, and the top of the line? Well, what else could it be but Rocky Top.

December – The Official Times Square New Years Eve broadcast features Rhonda Vincent as the host. The traditional ball drop is replaced by a giant rhinestone studded banjo sliding down the flagpole while picking out Bela Fleck’s international #1 hit “Old Dang Sign.”

And then I woke up.

In Praise of Amateurs, Gifted and Otherwise
Today’s column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I really enjoyed Ted Lehman’s column from Monday (“Risk and the Issue of Professional vs. Talented Amateur”). In it, he outlines the considerable distinction between true professional musicians and amateur musicians, even extremely talented amateurs. I have peered across the gulfs between myself and extremely talented amateurs, and the even wider gulf between me and true professionals.

The pros play a level consistently beyond my reach, but the times I’ve had a chance to share a jam (or even a stage on rare occasions), it was fun to fantasize about “what if” - what if I could close that gap? Well that’s not going to happen.

Truth be told, nearly every musician I encounter has something about their playing I admire. For me, admiration is not a source of painful envy, but actually an emotion to savor. It helps add flavor to personal interactions, doesn’t it? It’s like when you have a conversation at a cocktail party with a really interesting person. You wish you were as interesting, but there’s a thrill sharing their orbit for a while.

I had this sensation over and over again at the recent Great 48 Jam in Bakersfield. I lapped it all up. Iplayed with people of all skill levels, and every single jam had something I could admire and music that made me feel good that I made the trip.

Great feelings were the order of the day, every day. Every nook and cranny of the Doubletree had folks picking and grinning! It sounds like a cliche but it was literally true - folks were in circles, some standing, some sitting, picking bluegrass, and everybody was smiling. Some were truly gifted amateurs, and they strove to get everything right - getting the solos just right, and seeking a precise vocal harmony stack.

Others were not looking to polish anything - they were just in the moment, and so what if the jam had three mandolins, four guitars, two banjos, three fiddles and a pair of basses. Harmony stack? How about three parts lead, two parts tenor and three baritones. And mixed amongst the joyous cacophony, peals of laughter as friends revel in each other’s company. There is a great deal to admire in this setting, believe me!

So, it’s jam, jam, jam, and laugh - then repeat, repeat repeat until the hands of the clock meet at the top. You know what that means, right? Yes! It means finding Deb Livermore’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich Factory! Ingest some carbs and curds and then get back at the jamming.

I don’t know of any endeavor that brings so many people together, often for the first time, for such easy pleasure. Music is the conversation that binds us all together, and we get to ignore that “real world” that can be so annoying - if only for a few days. For the CBA, and many of the other bluegrass associations in California, this event is a way to announce the thawing of our barely discernible winter, and whet our appetites for the festival season to come.



Ten Items or More (A Nod to Brooks Judd)
Today’s column from John A. Karsemeyer
Tuesday, January 13, 2015,


1 – “Hoard your energy” (Bob Dylan). Yes, I agree. Save it for all things bluegrass
(festivals, jams, events, thoughts).

2 – The future is unknown, but the past is certain. Learn from your mistakes;
Like not attending that bluegrass festival you missed last year, and then
making sure you it attend it this year.

3 – Nothing lasts forever. We lost the Susanville and Plymouth festivals last
Year. Aren’t you glad you went while they existed, or disappointed because
you didn’t?

4 - Renew you license for eccentricity. Own two banjos.

5 – If think you are too old to camp at a bluegrass festival, do the next best
thing. Rent a motel room, or rent a nice RV. Lots of folks younger than you
do just that.

6 – Joan of Arc was not Noah’s wife. Noah and Joan missed out a lot in life
because bluegrass music wasn’t around back then.

7 – “If you are fortunate, there is a point in your life when you stop lying about
your age, and then start bragging about it” (who said that?) Seize the day,
and your bluegrass instrument.

8 – Make the rest of your life an unwritten one. Attend a bluegrass event that
you’ve never gone to before.

9 - “Music can exist without the world, but the world cannot exist without
music” (author unknown). And, Bill Monroe could have existed without
bluegrass music, but bluegrass music could not have existed without Bill
Monroe.

10 – “He who sings prays twice” (St. Augustine). And if you sing a Bluegrass
Gospel song, well, think about it….

11 – “All music is folk music. I never heard a horse sing.” (Louis Armstrong)

12 - If you are reading this and are not at the “Great 48” bluegrass jam in
Bakersfield, make an appointment with your therapist. And if you are
at the “Great 48” and are not reading this, that’s okay.

13 – “Alcohol free bluegrass festival.” Thanks, I’ll take a six-pack!



Risk and the Issue of Professional vs. Talented Amateur
Today’s column from Ted Lehmann
Monday, January 12, 2015


Recently, a well-respected regional musician from New England, posted something of a rant on Facebook. He asked (maybe challenged would be a better word) major label artists whether, before they won a contract, they had other jobs and played covers before they made it big by obtaining a major label contract and broadcast recognition. He also challenged the legitimacy of the PRO's (professional rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC) to charge venues a fee for playing copyrighted and otherwise protected songs. Asserting that playing covers in minor venues (coffee and alcohol related bars, churches, vineyards, etc) provided these artists with the experience and publicity that made it possible for them to achieve their current prominence and have honor of being awarded a recording contract.

Let's start with the PRO's. Who would deny the opportunity for the music creator, the writer, to obtain the royalties due him or her from being performed. Why should local venues be able, essentially, to steal content by not paying for the music they offer? Despite the rapidly changing media and online environment, there are still ways to assure that artists get paid for their creativity. If a venue is gaining business from presenting “free” music, thus exploiting both the performers and the creators of the music, it's behaving in a less than ethical fashion, even if it doesn't get caught. But it's encouraging to note that NOW is the heyday of the singer/songwriter and the independent artist. A musician with a message and style to share can do so today in ways that were inconceivable less than a decade ago. A few microphones and a mixing board in the basement and an inexpensive HD video recorder on a tripod is all it takes to produce a relatively high quality video. Making titles and posting it to You Tube costs nothing. An inventive self-promoter can use a variety of social media, including focused music sources, to get the word out and publicize the work. Performances that can generate interest can attract significant audiences, make real money, and get an excellent shot at a tour and a career. It's an increasingly open system every day.



Now to the more important matter, at least for some, of moving from local or regional band into national status. I probably could make it into some sort of a formula like: Talent +Hard Work+Some Luck = Success. But everyone knows that's not exactly the whole story. The formula does at least suggest a process, rather than a formula. There's no guarantee it will work out for any particular band, because what we've taken to calling the “it” factor always comes into play. Not every band, not even every well recognized band has the “it” factor, and almost none have “it” with everyone who encounters their music. Irene and I have spent hours seeking to define “it”, but no go.

Most bands form at some point from a group of people who come together to have fun making music. For the vast majority of bluegrassers, that activity, the jam, is as far as becoming a band ever gets. Some, however, will say, “Let's form a band” and start performing, perhaps at their local bluegrass society, at homes and hospitals, for a friend's wedding, or at the local farmer's market. They meet together on Tuesday evening and rehearse, but many of these “rehearsals” are just a good opportunity to continue a weekly jam. The hard work of moving into regular paying gigs across an increasingly wide geographical range is only about to begin.

Perhaps the most difficult task a band faces is to find and develop a distinctive sound that can become recognized within the first few notes of being heard. If you listen to satellite radio or your mp3 player, you know that you hear many bands that leap out at you, while tons of others require you to look at the screen to realize who's playing. What knowledgeable bluegrass fan won't immediately recognize Del McCoury, Ralph Stanley, or, today, the Gibson Brothers when they come on the air? But it's fiendishly hard work to achieve this goal, and many bands never do. Along with the sound, a band must move towards developing a stage show and learning to make direct connections with their audience. These connection opportunities (requirements?) have become increasingly important, largely due to technology. A band must have a personality that reaches out not only from the stage, but through the ozone. A band's ability to make connections through social media and their web site have become increasingly important. To neglect that aspect is to court doom. Yesterday, as I was preparing a festival preview, I came across a band calendar that was completely blank. Since I knew they were booked at the festival I was previewing, this sort of neglect sends a clear message about the band's priorities. No, it ain't just about the music! All this work takes commitment and teamwork. Every member of the band has to be involved and active in some aspect of forwarding the band's prospects.

While every band begins life as a cover band, exceptionally few bands create a national reputation through their covers. At present, the very high impact “tribute” band The Earls of Leicester are making quite a stir channeling the vibe of Flatt & Scruggs. On hearing them live, one is immediately struck by the thought that this is what it must have felt like to hear Flatt & Scruggs for the first time. But this doesn't happen often. This anomaly should never be expected. Not to say that a band shouldn't play covers. It's crucial in bluegrass to honor the shoulders on which each band stands. Covers are a way to do that. A band must find itself and then either write or select original material adequately representing the unique vibe they wish to establish. This is an extremely difficult task, may take years, and requires time and energy. One element helping to make all this possible is staying together and working together with very few personnel changes over time. Look at long lived successful bands. The ones not having considerable continuity are notable as exceptions.

Finally, it comes down to being willing to take the risk. Most successful bluegrass musicians, it must be said, have a spouse with a full-time job including benefits. This aid can't be overestimated. The further personal support it suggests is beyond overemphasis. However, it's a trying commitment and means that many music marriages don't last, or else the careers don't. The rewards can be great, but the personal costs horrific. The simple four letter word “risk” carries a terrible, often unbearable, burden. Most people who have achieved top recognition have learned both the reward and the risk. In the end, nothing guarantees success, but the work, commitment, and, yes, suffering are all apart of what it takes to gain the reward.

--
tlehmann@ne.rr.com
www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com


Welcome Columnist's note:

The welcome column rotation is currently experiencing an aberration. Life will return to normal once the Bakersfield Great 48 is over.


THE DAILY GRIST..."The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.” -- Edmund Burke (1729-1797) Irish statesman, orator, political theorist, philosopher and member of Great Britain’s House of Commons.


Two sad farewells
Today's column from George Martin
Thursday, January 8, 2015


Two members of the music community passed away in recent days. The one who got national coverage, including even an obituary and photo in the San Francisco Chronicle, was Little Jimmy Dickens, who died January 2 at the age of 94.

But before getting around to Little Jimmy, I want to add my voice to the many who have expressed their sadness at the passing of our own Jim Carr, who died December 30. I wasn’t best pals with Jim, but we knew each other for at least 40 years, and played now and then at parties and jams. I always admired him because he had taken the time and made the effort to play Earl’s tunes pretty much note-for-note, and when he took a break on a bluegrass song you knew the style was going to be solid and traditional. He knew a lot about fine instruments and only played the best. He had an old Martin D-45 for years. People kept offering him larger and larger sums of cash for it and he finally gave in and sold it to a collector in Japan, bought a new Martin for himself and kept the rest.

He was a gentle soul, and he seemed to know everybody in bluegrass, not only in California but he had lived in the East some years ago and had befriended a goodly number of the best pickers back there. A conversation with Jim would usually yield a little nugget of gossip from back in Nashville that made one feel like we were one of the “in” crowd ourselves.

He and his wife, Linda, seemed to be devoted to each other. It is very sad that he was taken away at the relatively young age of 69.

By contrast, Little Jimmy Dickens was a flamboyant character, larger than life in spite of only being about 4-feet, 11 inches tall. He was born in 1920 in a little town called Bolt in the coal fields of West Virginia. “All my people are coal miners, but I never wanted to go into the mines,” he said. “From childhood on, I wanted to be an entertainer. And I set out to do that when I was still in high school.”

Dickens’ obituary in the Nashville Tennessean mentions that he played high school basketball in spite of his small size and 85-lb. weight. He also was senior class president in 1940. In spite of his small size he had a big voice, and in the days of small, inadequate sound systems, the crowd could always hear Dickens, even in the back of the room.

Dickens was brought to the attention of the Grand Ole Opry by Roy Acuff, who met him while on tour. Dickens was unusual in that he became an Opry member in 1948 before he had even made a record. The next year, though, he recorded “Take an Old Cold Tater (and Wait),” which made it to Number 7 on the Billboard magazine country chart. The song provided him with a life-long nickname, “Tater,” courtesy of Hank Williams Sr. Most of his hits were comedy and novelty songs such as “Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed,” “I’m Little But I’m Loud,” and his biggest hit, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.”

In later years he was a folksy, avuncular, charming old fellow, but there was another side to Dickens that I found some months ago when I read Charlie Louvin’s excellent autobiography, “Satan is Real.” I highly recommend this book for its straight-talking, take-no-prisoners recollections of a tumultuous life in country music. It’s largely the story of the difficulties Charlie’s brother, Ira, had in life, starting with his brutal father, poverty-stricken childhood, and adult struggles with alcohol.

One caveat: Charlie uses a lot of salty language in telling his stories. If that disturbs you, give the book a pass. Here’s the interesting story of a fight between Charlie and Ira (and a bit about Dickens), not long before they broke up their partnership. The brothers had been arguing and had agreed to “take it outside.”

Here’s the story as Charley writes it:

“As soon as I stepped out the door, he swung at me. I dodged, got him by the hair on his head and bounced his face off the ground. Then I jumped on him and started hitting him.

“We were really getting into it when Jimmy C. Newman and Jimmy Dickens came out the door. Back in Newman’s younger days, he was an extremely muscular man, and he just reached out and lifted me off Ira by the head. I mean, I was on top of Ira, putting his face through the ground, and he just reached down, got me by the crown of the head and lifted me straight up.

“Ira started getting up, and Newman looked at him. ‘If either of you wants to whip somebody,’ he said, ‘you just try and whip me. I’d love to see either of you try it.’

“Neither of us wanted to fight Newman. We both knew that neither of us would have lasted a minute if we tried. But we all stood there cussing each other. We were really raising a ruckus, but we didn’t figure anyone could hear us out there in back of the armory. Then all of a sudden we were lit up by headlights.

“We all stopped talking and looked up and saw it was just some guy trying to get out of the parking lot, and went back to cussing. Well, the next thing we knew, the guy threw his car into park and stepped out. He was at least six foot six inches tall, bigger even than Jimmy Newman, and he walked right over to us and said, ‘Gentlemen, I got my wife out here in the car and I don’t appreciate language like that.’

“Little Jimmy Dickens turned and stepped right up on him. I believe his nose came up to about that fellow’s navel, but he didn’t care. He stood right up to him and put his finger and thumb almost together and said, ‘Mister, you’re just about this far from having me all over your ass.’

“Well that old boy just looked down at Dickens for a minute, then he pushed him out of the way and walked back to his car and he and his wife spun their wheels getting out of there. That was it. We all started laughing and couldn’t stop.

“That stuck with Dickens for all those years, too,” Charlie writes. “You can go up to him any time and put your finger and thumb together and he knows exactly what you’re talking about....

“Dickens was mean, though. If he fought you, he could slip up between your legs and de-ball you before you knew what happened. He was a dangerous fighting man because he was so low-down. He whipped Webb Pierce once, I’ll never forget that. Webb weighed over two hundred pounds and Dickens beat him up bad.”

Rest in Peace, Jimmy. I trust you’re not sleeping at the foot of the bed.

[The Grand Ole Opry's web site has a bunch of remembrances and videos of Dickens. And WSM is live streaming a memorial service for him this morning (Thursday) at 11 a.m. Central Time]

THE DAILY GRIST…”How many reruns of 'Abbot & Costello" can a guy watch on television?”—Bud Abbott

Sometimes, Reruns Are Just Fine
Today’s Column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, January 7, 2015


I have a large collection of books, and when people see them, they have two questions: One, “Did you read all of those?”, and two. “Why keep 'em after you’ve read ‘em?”

The fact is, I enjoy revisiting books. Many books (not all) have rewards in rereading them a second time or a third time, or in some cases, over and over again. Yes, the surprises are gone after the first read, for the most part, but a really good book continues to entertain.

I feel the same way about good movies, and in some cases, TV shows. There are some movies I could watch anytime, and some of those, I would be glad to watch any random 15 minute segment within them. Similarly, some books are written so well, I could open it up and read any page at random and enjoy it all over again.

Recurring jam sessions can be like this. Time and time again, we seek out the folks at these events with whom we had jammed in previous months or years, and we do it all over again. Now, obviously a jam session is much more dynamic than a finished film or a printed book. No two jams are the same, even with the same songs and the same people.

Often, a wonderful comfort zone is created at these events. You will almost certainly meet people you’ve never met before, and jam with people for the first time ever, and great times and memories will ensue. But, typically, you’ll find some old friends, and darned if you don’t drag out those same songs you play last year and the year before. Then, it IS like reading a favorite old book, and just as comfortable.

I haven’t been to the Great 48 Jam in the past couple of years, but I am going this year. And I intend to find some old friends and do some picking and singing, and I just know,halfway through at least one tune, I’ll be thinkin’ “Dang! I played this same tune 3 years ago with these same people!”. And I’ll be thrilled to revisit the fun at the scene of the crime!

Jeannie Ramos, Cliff Compton, Duane Campbell - I sure hope you’re going to be there! Rick Cornish, Larry Kuhn, Tim Edes, Montie Elston - I hope to see you there. Randy Weese? Paul Sato? Any chance? Cory Welch, Melissa Blas? Alan Bond, John Kornhauser? I hope our paths cross at some point! The two Larrys (Cohea and Chung) - will they make the trip? Jeanie and Chuck - the Ministers of Musical Mirth? I’ll be looking for you!

Maybe I won’t see ANY of these people, but I’m still gonna have a lot of fun!



One of Those
Today’s column from Marcos Alvira
Tuesday, January 6, 2015


(Editor’s Note—What we’ve noticed about Marcos’ Welcomes is that, most often, they seem to have a huge invisible arm that reaches out and grabs his readers somewhere during the first paragraph. This 2012 outing is no exception.)

This is one of those columns. Upon reading those words, every columnist know what I’m saying. It’s 11:40PM, and I’m struggling to stay awake as I type. I eschewed my customary tumbler of column-writing-Irish-whiskey for a pot of freshly brewed coffee; and lively music is streaming from Pandora on my computer. It’s not like I procrastinated writing. I’ve been thinking about this piece for over a week. There are about a half dozen themes on which I’d like to expound, but my eyelids are far too heavy at this moment.

I didn’t start out the day thinking, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great to wait till midnight to write. This Saturday was supposed to start with a run after the morning paper and coffee, the column, and then kick-back to watch some Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants playoff baseball. I was about to pull on the ol’ sneakers torn tee-shirt for the run when the phone rang. It was my daughter, Annie. I knew she was in Fresno helping her best friend shop for a bridal gown.
“Hello Daddy.” I wandered what she wanted. My 24 year old was calling me daddy in the same tone as when she was eight years old. Winds up she had a gig that night at six that she had forgotten about and was imploring me for my help. She hadn’t realized that she needed two 45 minute sets. Well, normally I love picking with my daughter-- any dad that wouldn’t is an absolute Cretan—but I really wanted to see that Giants game. Not wanting her to think that her father had abandoned her in her early twenties, I resigned myself to the idea of watching a recorded game. As I was throwing-on my old tattered sneakers and sweatshirt to get my run going, two good friends of ours walked up to the door. They were just dropping of some teaching material for my wife and only had a couple of minutes to say hello. Two hours later, we were waving goodbye, and I knew my column would have to wait till tonight.


The gig wound up being a dinner show as part of an Octoberfest celebration. The evening temps were perfect and there was a nice little crowd amicably chatting away, swilling beer in the patio area where we were to play. This was perfect. Most folks would be busy and not focused on us. The lack of preparation really didn’t bother me. Annie and I have played enough shows that we had the material covered. Mostly, it was that while warming up earlier, I was having a decidedly unmusical day. And this is the crux of this column: why is it that one day one can be playing licks almost supernaturally well and the next day…even hour, the sonic emittance from one’s instrument sounds like rusty nails. So had been my case while we were warming up at home. Most of us have had those nights—the one when our otherwise steady rhythm is skipping beats and playing music feels about as comfortable as an American League pitcher with a bat in his hands.

This phenomenon is capricious and shows itself at the most inopportune moments. Of course, there is an inverse corollary as well: you absolutely don’t feel the music, but every note you play comes out sweet, pure, completely in sync. No amount of preparation, or lack of the same, seems to deter the course of this musical maelstrom. When our show began, the plan was to keep things simple until the veil of harmonic malaise lifted. Gladly, by the second set, it did. The audience was very appreciative and someone even requested Blue Highways, “Born With a Hammer in My Hand.” (I’ve got to learn that song—it’s a good one.)

Well, I’m typing at about a sentence every minute now as I dose off and begin dreaming about the music playing on the computer. (Note: Bryan Sutton’s barrages of notes can damage sleep). While I never did see the Giants game and my run will have to wait for later, I did get to spend an evening on stage with my beautiful and talented daughter--which is a lot more than an old dad can ever hope for in most cases. It’s all worth losing a little sleep.

Happy New Year
Todays’ column from Rick Cornish
Monday, January 5, 2015


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where it is 3:15 a.m. and I am sitting in front of my computer updating the web site of the California Bluegrass Association as I have done for just shy seven months of fifteen years. What’s different about this particular morning, however, is that I am dressed in flannel long underwear, wool socks, a heavy sweat shirt, a full length robe, an enormous ranchers jacket with thick liner, a wool scarf and faux fur hunting cap and fur-lined gloves and yet I have never been so cold in my life. How, you’re wondering, can I type. Well, I cannot. I am dictating my Welcome into the computer and will hopefully be able to use my fingers to edit the amusing mis-cues taken by the Dragon software at a more Godly and, hopefully, warmer time…say, like, eight o’clock.

I should note that my old bluegrass pal, Ron Murray, bass player for the Grasskickers, is in Princeville this morning...that's at the southern tip of the Island of Kauai. I HATE Ron for being there in the tropical warmth. When I'm finished with this Welcome I will go through the CBA web site and delete every photo of his bluegrass band, every MP3 the band loaded, every reference to the band going back fifteen years and Ron's Hooked on Bluegrass story. I’d also destroy my copy of “Fresh Cut”, the GK’ers latest CD, except, well, by manipulating the balance and GQ controls on my player I can pretty much remove his bass work. Hope it rains today, Bear.

But much more seriously, we lost an awfully good one this week. If you haven’t heard, Jim Carr has died. Here’s what John Hettinger posted on the Message Board:

“Jim Carr, consummate banjo/guitar/dobro picker and jammer, passed over Jordan in Sacramento on December 30, 2014, due to complications from diabetes and congestive heart failure. He was 69, too young to leave us. Jim and his wife Linda had lived in the East Bay area for many years before moving to Sacramento about four years ago. He was a regular at our Thursday night jams and always kicked them up another notch or two. In addition to his excellent musicianship in both bluegrass and folk genres, Jim was also a fine teacher and luthier, especially for banjos. He was a former DJ with KCSM in San Mateo and became a walking encyclopedia of the history of bluegrass music and the many bands in the field. Jim also served on the CBA board a number of years ago. Jim very graciously shared music from the early days of bluegrass with his many friends and will be missed by so many of us. He was also a US Navy veteran. Memorial services are pending. If you would like to share any of your remembrances of Jim, you can send them to Linda Carr, 5064 Connecticut Drive, Sacramento, CA 95841.”

My friendship with Jim goes back about twenty-five years; I met him at a Santa Cruz Bluegrass Society campout at Mt. Madonna and, after having my socks knocked off by his incredible banjo playing, I was taken by the matter-of-fact way that he spoke of the greats in bluegrass music. Jim wasn’t a name dropper, not at all, but it was impossible to talk with him about bluegrass without hearing some fascinating tales wrought from so many years of living and breathing and eating bluegrass—the guy just knew and play with EVERYBODY. Jim Carr has left a hole in California bluegrass music that I’m afraid will never be filled.

And then there’s the case of the old Mt. man who, having fairly credible evidence that he was having a heart attack, was taken to the hospital via ambulance only to find that he had an E. coli blood infection, which the docs were able to chase away with anti-biotics and hospital bed rest, the latter causing a level of consternation in the old man that virtually oozes from his MB narrative about hospital beds. I’ll let you read J.D.’s account of the experience on the Message Board, but I did need to at least acknowledge it here, him being a particularly good old partner of mine...”old partner” being his term for our friendship, not mine.

And speaking of my study, where I can still see steam coming out of my mouth as I dictate to my computer, it looks like a hurricane has ripped through the room, and has for the past three days. You see, this is GREAT 48 week and I’ve been making buttons that we’ll be selling (giving away with a donation) down there in Bakersfield. You may recall my great button enterprise, which was to raise enough money to cover the costs of re-building the CBA web site. Well, like nine out of ten of my GREAT IDEAS, the button business fell well short of meeting the original goal; actually, according to our Treasurer, Montie Elston, the scheme has barely ended up breaking even. A lesser man might be discouraged after spending the hundreds and hundreds of hours the project has swallowed up…but not me. I look at it philosophically—even if they didn’t make the CBA a fortune, the buttons ARE purchased and ARE worn and the Association, and bluegrass music in general, are all the better for it.

A much, much, much more successful scheme, the running of a bluegrass and old-time music camp JUST FOR KIDS, has just launched Year III and enrollment is already at 40%, this after only four days of camp registration opening. Darby Brandli takes, quite deservedly, full credit for the Youth Academy and she has approached the project like she approaches everything else…with the grace and poise and absolute dominance of a Marine Drill Sargent. I’m certain Darby would like me to tell you that if you have or know of a child or children who you think would enjoy and benefit from the Academy experience you should get them signed up right away. There’s no doubt we’ll sell out again this year, and it looks like it’ll be sooner than later.

There is, of course, a lot more I could ramble on about, but I won’t. Today’s officially Marty Varner’s day for Welcoming; he missed this one but promises to be back next month. Have a terrific week and, if you’re able, join us down in Bakersfield for another GREAT 48.


"When You Wear My Flower, You Make It Beautiful"
Today's column from Marcos Alvira
Sunday, January 4, 2015


Some columns are simply difficult to conjure. As I write, it’s January 1 and and my wife and I have just finished a 24 hour celebration of the New Year and my her birthday with some close friends and family. By the time you read this, my we will have spent three days in San Francisco to continue the celebration with more friends and family. In the course of all the revelry, I’ve made a resolution for this new year: I will attempt to look at everything in the most positive light possible.

I am put to the test on the first day of 2015. Sometimes writing a column can feel a bit like homework, including all the procrastinations like eating an extra snack, paying the bills, and changing the oil about 1,000 miles earlier than necessary. After 24 hours of almost no sleep, spirits, and delectable feasting, my system is slowed to a sluggish crawl and and my creativity as palatable as a bowl of cold, plain grits. In the spirit of my recent resolution, I consider this deplorable state to simply be conditioning for the true test of one’s constitution, the Great 48 in Bakersfield, the most stupendous jam west of the Mississippi January 8-11. [What’s that you say? The 8 through the 11 is four days? Ya…it’s so much much that we needed another day to fit it all in.]

I should have simply bought a membership to a gym as a resolution. I may have a better shot of actually keeping fit than I do at seeing things in a brighter light. My family is rife with smart alecks and cynics, and as the current patriarch of the clan, I wear my mantle of wise guy and trenchancy seriously. These preceding two years, however, has seen the passing of some fine friends, and most ironically, this has forced me to look at my own sardonic temperament with a great deal of cynicism. In contrast to my own acerbic character, James Stewart plays an optimistic role in one of my all time favorite films, the 1950, Harvey. This character is the model upon which I will attwmpt to rebuold my surly character. Stewart portrays the imperturbably affable Elwood P. Dowd whose constant companion is Harvey, a 6’ 3.5’’ invisible pooka rabbit. Elwood explain his perpetual sanguineness:

“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

It was in this movie that the mild mannered, stuttering persona of Jimmy Stewart was born. My wrinkled forehead, hunched, rounded shoulders, and propensity to speak exuberantly preclude anyone from ever confusing me with Jimmy’s erstwhile character; furthermore 5’8 frame would never be confused for Stewarts own 6’3”. Nonetheless, In my quest to be positive, there are small behaviors I could adopt that are exhibited by Elwood P. Dowd.

1) He was kind—heartfelt compliments flowed naturally.
2) He listened with compassion.
3) He exercised humility—he welcomed those with less resources into his life and treated them as genuine equals.
4) He felt the joy in all things—he was grateful to meet a new companion or share a drink with a stranger.
5) He always gave the benefit of the doubt—when confronted with ill-will, he accounted it to unintentional accidents

Throughout the movies plot twists, Elwood refuses to see anything but the best of people and of his situation. Of course, life is not a movie, and sometimes we are wise to exercise a little skepticism, but overall Elwood’s approach might do one—or last me— well to remember. Films of that era did not often have a soundtrack as we know them today. If the movie were to be scored nowadays, we’d just might see Elwood enter his favorite tavern, Reilly’s, and in the background, hear the jukebox playing the old Carter song, “Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side, keep on the sunny side of life.”

Don’t cook tonight call Chicken Delight; or how my Sicilian surrogate Auntie Frances almost made me a priest
Today’s column from Brooks Judd
Saturday, January 3, 2015


(Editor’s Note—We went way, way, way back in the archive for this re-run…July of ’08 to be precise. Probably Brooks’ first Welcome. [Believe me, if it wasn’t his first, we’ll hear from him.] Anyways, this is the unvarnished Judd, the pre-Ten-items-or-less Judd, the Judd whose ultra-sophisticated and ever-nuanced style is still just a glimmer in his bespeckled eye. Oh, is there a Part II? We don’t know but will most certainly hear from Brooks on this as well.)

Part 1

First a little background.

At the age of 59 ¾ in April 2008 I took an early retirement from work. I wouldn’t be bringing home a weekly check (other than my subbing check from the local school district) and I got curious when I did start to bring home a weekly paycheck. I rummaged around and found my yearly social security statement and saw that my first actual checks were from 1964, my sophomore year at Hayward High School. They were from Chicken Delight. Actually I had been bringing home money much earlier than 1964. I began earning money while I was in 4th grade at the ripe old age of 10.

I had an Oakland Tribune paper route. I lived at one end of Highland Blvd in Hayward. Highland Blvd. started at Mission Blvd (or at the bottom of the hill to the locals) and ran up past my house up to Highland School about 50 yards from my house. Highland School was my alma mater K-6.

My paper route began a few houses down from my home on Highland Blvd and ended up about a mile farther on down the road. I didn’t use a bicycle on my route I preferred to walk. It was easier for me to make sure that my papers were always porched. I thought it was a sin to leave a paper on the lawn or in someone’s petunias.

Sunday deliveries were the best. I hated to get up early on Sunday mornings to do my route so I decided on another plan of action. An old green bobtail truck with chains hanging down the back of the truck, replacing the roll up door, would drop off the Sunday papers at about 2 A.M. Sunday morning. I wouldn’t go to bed Saturday night. I would wait for the truck to come. The Sunday papers were huge and were accompanied by inserts (ads) which I would have to manually insert into the main paper. Along with the rest of the ads each Sunday Tribune weighed about 3 pounds. It would take about 30 minutes to place the inserts in all the papers and to count the stack to make sure all my papers were there.

The papers were too big to be carried in the normal heavy cloth paper bags we all used, so my father, who was a welder-machinist, made a two wheel cart out of steel that stood about four feet high that was shaped like a tall lean triangle. It was narrow at the top and at the bottom was a metal plate the unfolded papers could rest on. I would start my route about 2:45 A.M. in the morning. When I got to each house I would carefully grab a Tribune and walk up the door. I would gently lay the paper face up facing the door so when my customer opened their door they could look down and the first thing they would see would be the Sunday morning Tribune headlines.

I would get back from my rout about 4-4:30 in the morning, and I would make a breakfast of hot chocolate and toast. I would read the Tribune (and the Chronicle) and go to bed about 5 A.M. I loved the stillness and solitude of the early morning hours and the quiet of those Sunday mornings was something that even as a young boy I could truly appreciate.

The Tribune didn’t send you a pay check. They did send you a monthly bill based on how many papers you were sent. You, as the paper boy, had the job of going to your customers once a month, usually at night to “collect” what your customers owed you. After collecting from all of your customers you would have your parents write a check to the Tribune and the money that was left over was yours. Making sure I put all the papers on my customers porch insured that I did receive my fair share of tips when I made my monthly collections which of course added to my earnings. It was a good business practice.
In 6th grade I realized that my paper route wasn’t providing me enough cash to live my lifestyle. There were baseball and football cards to purchase, weekly movies to go to at the Hayward or Ritz Theaters on Mission Blvd. in downtown Hayward and I also needed to add to my collection the latest 45 releases from Bobby Darin or the 4 Seasons. As I would do my daily route I would notice lawns that didn’t seem to get mowed regularly. I would pay these people a visit and hire myself out to take care of their lawns. This worked out for a while but it still didn’t provide enough capital.

I started asking some of my other customers if they needed any yard work done. I was surprised at how many people said yes. Come Saturday I would don my work gloves, put on an old pair of cutoff Levis, tie a bright red handkerchief (borrowed from my dads top dresser drawer in my parents bedroom) around my neck, lace my tennies up tight, grab my hoe, rake and shovel and march on down to the work site.

As I surveyed what had to be done I would look at the morning sky, smile and begin working. Mostly it would be weed pulling, raking, more weed pulling, more raking etc. Sweat would cascade down my face, trickle lazily around my neck onto my dirt covered tee shirt. I enjoyed working alone amid the dirt, weeds, and dust.

At the end of the day my employer would take out their check book and carefully write out my check. They would then hand me the check and I would stare down at the name written on the check, BROOKS JUDD, in big bold blue letters. It stood out like a neon light. I would then look lovingly at the amount. Wow! I was rich! I would carefully fold the check and gently place it in my Woolworths wallet. I thanked my employer and headed home as the sun slowly began to disappear into the shimmering San Francisco Bay. I was earning my keep and I was only 12 years old.

I told you that so I could tell you this. When I was in 8th grade, 1962 for those of you who are counting, I began my working relationship with my next door neighbor, Frances Tingley or more commonly known as Auntie Frances. She was a mad hatter Sicilian, a financial wizard, who had the energy of three tsunamis. She had purchased one of the very first Chicken Delight restaurants that were built in the Bay Area. She bought the store as an investment and a way for her three sons Steve, Frank and George to earn money.

Steve was three years older than me, Frank was two years older than me, and the musical prodigy George, the youngest, was two years younger than me. Auntie Frances was a dyed in the wool Roman Catholic and she felt it was her duty and calling to have one of her sons enter into the priest hood. She took this very seriously. But it wasn’t in the cards.

Steve was a track star, who loved women, Frank spent most of his time reading, and George spent all his time mastering the violin, piano, organ, guitar, bass guitar etc. There was no time for her sons to become priests. Auntie Frances set her fiery brown Sicilian eyes on her next best bet, me.

More to come…….


Ten Items or Fewer
Today’s column from Brooks Judd
Friday, January 2, 2015



Welcome to 2015: A few thoughts I would like to share with you.

1: I will no longer “embellish” stories or tales from the past with accounts of incidents that do strain the limits of reality.I am a grown man approaching the age of 40 and after several stories in the New York times and the less read San Francisco Chronicle a man of my character really does not need to rely on such subterfuge. In good faith I ask you, the reader of the “Daily Column” to email me at brooksjudd@yahoo.com or post on the message board if I fail on my attempt at true journalism. My inspiration is the master of truth, reality, and non-fiction,the existential Rick Cornish who I strive to be like every day.

2: I will no longer use Rick Cornish as some form of a “cheap laugh.To think that I or anyone would be willing to do this not only smacks of child’s play but demeans the whole process of professional journalism.I am better than that and gosh darn it there are better ways to make my point.

3: My beloved San Francisco Giants show the great state of California how a sports organization should be run and the San Francisco 49ers show our great state how a sports organization should NOT be run.

4: I received something called an I Pad for Christmas from Sheila, Jessica and Rhiannon. They tell me it will improve my life. I’ve been spending the last couple of hours trying to find an extension cord so I can take it into the computer room but I’ve had no luck. I misplaced the instructions but with a little help from Sheila I think I may get the hang of this little machine.


5: No more really lame jokes. Yes, I understand the jokes I have given to you have been of an A+ grade quality but someday down the road a clunker may fall in my column and what would you the reader think of me? Just the other day Rick told me the joke about the blonde, the plumber and the zebra. Rick begged me to use it in my column but in all honesty I felt it did not meet the standards of the CBA ethics board. For those interested you may e-mail me.

6: I resolve to spend a little less time writing about bluegrass and spend some more time writing about other significant and not so significant things. Folks can only take so much Bluegrass information in a month.

7: It’s getting late.Time to say,“Enjoy 2015 and keep good thoughts.”

8: Rick will probably censure this political piece but I have to say it.
Isn’t it strange _______ and then_______ the whole political party _______ would make you _______ and not only that ________ there is______ the gall of _____ wonder____ they have ____ temerity ______ statement for all the American Citizens_____ justice ____ in a million years. I do feel better.

9: But wait: There was this blonde. She wanted to energize her skin and decided to take a milk bath. She left a note for the milk man saying she wanted 25 quarts of milk.The milk man read the note and thought something was wrong and maybe what she really wanted was 2 1/2 quarts of milk. He knocked on her door and she answered. He asked her if she really wanted 25 quarts of milk. She said she did and then explained how she was going immerse herself in the bath tub filled with milk to rejuvenate her skin. He nodded and said, “Pasteurized?” and she replied, “No just up to my elbows. If my eyes need it I’ll splash some milk on them.”

Until February: Read a book, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, eat a bar of chocolate, walk a few miles in your neighborhood and enjoy.



THE DAILY GRIST… “My New Year’s Resolution is to not make any New Year’s Resolutions and now that I’ve broken it, I’m all done with resolutions this year.”

Happy New Year
Today's column from Dave Williams
Thursday, January 1, 2015


I’m ready to get back to normal. What is normal? No colored lights hanging from the gutters and ledges, the pine tree out of the living room and back outside, minus the lights and ornaments, drinking coffee from a real mug, without Christmas bears on them, all that is a start. Moving my bass, stands, stools and music back to the front room and Linda getting her mandolins and guitar back in there too are a very big part of normal.

Did I mention not having to play Christmas songs or carols for another 11 months?

All that stuff above is the comfortable appearance of normal. What really is normal is getting back into my routine, my regular exercise days, band rehearsal on Tuesday, two jams on Wednesday, maybe a rehearsal on Saturday, Mexican food on Friday and afternoons free to walk up to my bass and play some, sing a song that is stuck in my head or pick a little with Linda.

Is it okay to be a scrooge after Christmas if you behaved yourself during the season? I actually had a festive holiday with my family that I enjoyed thoroughly. Dinner with everyone, presents and, most importantly, spending time with them.

Helping my normalcy is that the days are getting longer now and have been for about 10 days now. I don’t know about you but I look forward to the 30-40 seconds a day of increased daylight. I’m in awe of the ancient humans who figured out the solstices and the equinoxes through observing nature. They seemed to be in tune to these natural changes and didn’t need any calendar to tell them when the days got longer or shorter.

As the grist quote lets you know, I’m not big on resolutions. I don’t need a calendar turnover to motivate me to make any necessary changes. I’m way to stubborn for that. I know I need to make changes periodically but I like to think that it happens more naturally for me than by the calendar changing to January 1. Nature could be the long days of spring inspiring me or it could be a different kind of nature, Linda telling me to get my self in gear. Both work well for me.

Along with getting back into my daily routine, I am looking forward to the adventures 2015 will bring. Camping trips, gigs, festivals, family vacations and hopefully more are on the agenda for next year.

Speaking about routines, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that this Sunday January 4 is the first Sunday of the month and that means the Santa Clara Valley Fiddlers Jam is happening from 1:00 – 5:00 at the Hoover Middle School in San Jose (at the corner of Park and Naglee.) Now that is a routine to get into.

I hope everyone has a happy and prosperous New Year.

Catch you next month.



Happy New Year!
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Three great things about 2014: I got to be the Welcome Columnist for the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's!

Our notion of when a year begins or ends is arbitrary, of course. There's nothing global or astronomically significant about December 31st. But in life, as in business, it's interesting and sometimes helpful to turn a page and begin a new cycle.

It gives us a chance to look back over the period (in this case, our calendar year) and reflect on what has transpired. We mourn our losses, celebrate our victories, and steel ourselves for the challenges that lay ahead of us. In some cases, we use the occasion to make promises - the much-maligned "New Years Resolution".

The newspapers will be full of "2014 in review" articles, and we will marvel at the things that have happened - some will seem to be years ago, reading about them again now. I don't have the time or the inclination to look back and recount what 2014 contained.

I very rarely make New Year's Resolutions. I made one 3 years ago - to build more exercise into my life, and I have stuck to that. In 2015, I expect to become more involved in the CBA. A couple of years ago, I resigned from the Board and the Membership and Publicity duties - I had become burned out. I was a victim of my own enthusiasm - there's always so much that needs to be done, and it is exhilarating to be able to contribute, but I over-promised my time and needed to step back. I have agreed to step back into the Publicity role in 2015, and I am looking forward to getting back on that horse, actually.

I would like to attend more bluegrass events this coming year. In 2014 I attended more bluegrass concerts than festivals, so I got my listening in, but I'd like to get some more public pickin' in too!

It's all good - 2015 should be a great year for the CBA and for bluegrass, and partly because of that, it should be a great year for me and you, too!

President’s Message
From Darby Brandli
Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Happy New Year to all. The Great 48 Hour Jam in Bakersfield is almost upon us and I hope to see many of you there where we can ring in the year bluegrass style! This event gets bigger and more fun year to year. It is a time to meet up with all our bluegrass relatives from the north and south of the state. We hold a CBA Board meeting on Saturday (open to the public) and it is a place where you can join the CBA, register a child in the 2015 Youth Academy, purchase Early Bird tickets to the 40th Annual Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival, donate instruments to our Lending Library and donate money to our Youth Academy scholarship fund and/or the Youth Program. I will again sit at a table and introduce you all to our Association and to our events. Bring a checkbook, a credit card or cold cash and I will exchange your money for something special in 2015.

David Brace, Board member and Director of the Father’s Day Festival, and I attended a meeting with other event producers at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in November. Nevada County is rapidly becoming a music mecca with the Father’s Day Festival, Strawberry Music Festival, California World Fest, the Celtic Festival and Music in the Mountains all producing events there during the summer/early fall. We reviewed the 2014 season and began to make plans for 2015. It is always wonderful to meet face to face with those who produce similar events and to share ideas and information. The Fairgrounds staff were very pleased with the 2014 season and look forward to a successful 2015.

The CBA is the only event that allows pets to attend and we were reminded that ONLY Service Animals are allowed in the inner Fairgrounds and that dogs must remain on a short leash in the camping area and pet owners must pick up after their animals. We had some complaints last year that a few inconsiderate pet owners were present with their animals and there were reports of dogs off leash or on a long leash, dogs chasing ducks and geese and dog excrement left on the grounds and dogs in the audience area. The CBA instituted the pet policy to allow people in RVs who travel with their pets to bring them. We never intended for there to be an open invitation for everyone to bring their animals (my dogs always stay home) and we will print the Fairground Dog Policy in its entirety in this issue. The Fairgrounds reported to us that a flock of Canada Geese are now making their home on the Fairgrounds and dogs and geese are not usually compatible. Please know that we have not issued an open invitation for all to bring pets to the festival. There are dog boarding locations in the immediate area including boarding for about 10 immediately adjacent to the grounds. We expect to see fewer dogs June 14-21, 2015 and hope that most will be those animals who travel with their owners year round. We know that those of you who choose to bring your animals will review the Fairground rules and the CBA rules.

The Huck Finn Jubilee will not be held on the same weekend as the Father’s Day Festival this year for the first time ever. Huck Finn will in the future be held on the second weekend in June and Father’s Day falls on the third weekend in June this year. We are excited that maybe many of our friends from BMSCC, SWBA, BASC, SDBS, North County Bluegrass & Folk club will make the trek north this year for the first time. We are celebrating our 40th anniversary and it would be super to share the celebration with others who work so hard for their own organizations. Heck, many CBAers can also travel south for Huck Finn! We have quite a lineup booked this year. It is possible to spend an entire week on the Fairgrounds: enroll for the CBA Music Camp (June 14-17) and stay for the festival (June 18-21). We have week-long opportunities for kids: FunGrass (during Music Camp), our instructional Youth Academy (June 17-20), our recreational KidFest (June 18-20). Kids on Bluegrass is a performance event that occurs during the festival and is a highlight of our festival. Nevada County has numerous opportunities for tourism and fun. Drive north this year and join us and celebrate our anniversary!

Please make this the month to join or renew your membership. We have not raised our dues in years and years and your active membership is important to us. We are a volunteer driven, membership supported Association and your active membership is essential. We have saved your membership number for you if you have let your membership lapse. Our advertisers and sponsors always want to know how many active members we have so our total numbers are really important. Send in your $25 or $30 check or pay by credit card. Please make renewal or joining your New Year’s resolution.



THE DAILY GRIST…”Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”—Scott Adams

Random Acts of Kindness
Today’s Column from Jeanie Ramos
Sunday, December 28, 2014


The end to another year has nearly arrived. It’s a time to reflect on what lies behind and contemplate the possibilities for 2015. I won’t spend too much time thinking on the past because nothing can be changed. I can learn from mistakes I’ve made, forgive the trespasses of others and make amends for my failures and shortcomings.

I’m writing this just before Christmas and I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook saying “Happy Festivus.” As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a TV watcher, I had no idea what this holiday was. I Googled it and it turned out to be something that gained popularity through the Seinfeld TV show. Part of the celebration was to air all your grievances. Wow! That ought to make your day! If you are on Facebook very much, you’ll see there are people who carry on this celebration the year ‘round.

While I don’t watch TV, I do keep up with current events through various Internet sources. I found that television has a way of burning unwanted images into my brain; I try to keep that to a minimum. We are bombarded from every side with a lot of negativity; a constant barrage of stories that focus on everything that is wrong with our world. I’m not suggesting we bury our heads in the sand, but we need to have a balance. Fortunately, for most of us who belong to CBA, we have the diversion of bluegrass music and related events to bring us relief from the stresses of life. Many of us have other hobbies that help us find the balance. Within our CBA membership, we have luthiers and other woodworkers, quilters, writers of prose and poetry, dancers, gardeners, fishermen and hunters, etc. I cannot relate to people who have no hobbies.

Of course there are many other ways to find some peace and joy in troubling times. Go out into the world; stop, look and listen for beauty. We are surrounded by it, in a fleeting cloud formation, in a sunrise or sunset, a flower in full bloom…It can be found in the song of a bird, the rain on a tin roof, the laughter of a child, a distant train, or a fog horn along the shore.

Every newscast seems to include some senseless random act of evil or violence and the most horrendous acts are broadcast over and over, and it seems some people just can’t get enough of it. I’ve decided that 2015 is going to be my year for “Random Acts of Kindness.” Who wants to join me?

Kindness is contagious. I would like to see an epidemic. It’s as simple as doing for others what you would like done for you. Many kindnesses can be done with little or no expense to you. It can begin with something as simple as smiling at a stranger, or surrendering a seat or parking spot to another. Try to remember a time when you were helped through a single act of kindness; when someone did something for you without expecting anything in return. Remember how it made you feel?

Kind words whether spoken or written are free and can make a big difference in someone’s life. If you are the praying kind, you can do that for someone at any time and any place. Last Sunday night I sang a song especially for a veteran at the hospital in Livermore and gave him a hug afterwards. He was pleased and I received more joy than he did. Didn’t cost a dime.

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you can look around your house and see a whole bunch of “stuff” that you no longer need. Wouldn’t it be fun to gift-wrap some of those treasures and leave them in a public place like at a bus stop, coffee shop, Laundromat, with a note to the finder, telling them to enjoy the item or pass it on to bless another. You get an opportunity to make someone’s day and to downsize at the same time. You could also do this with a book, leaving a kind message on a bookmark. Maybe you have some CDs that you no longer listen to or would like to “re-gift,” be creative.

Did you know that February 9-15, 2015 is Random Act of Kindness Week? Neither did I. No need to wait. I’d love to hear about the random acts that some of you come up with; you can post them on the message board.

I hope your New Year is one that is filled with all the things that bring you joy. We’ll see you soon. God bless.

"The Charge of the New Light Brigade"
Today's column from (Prescription Bluegrass Radio Host, Brian McNeal)
(Saturday, December 27, 2014)


Well, it seems that Bluegrass Music is not the only entity suffering from the clash of the modernists and the traditionalists. Just take a look around and you'll see it elsewhere as well.

The most obvious confrontation presenting it's discordant and ugly face occurs every night just after sundown and continues throughout the dark hours everywhere on the highways and by-ways, parking lots and city streets all over the world.

You see it in the on-coming traffic. It's the incompatible mix of the old-school yellowish headlights conflicting with the new-age blue hued headlights.

Also evident are the various factions of the two sides who don't always agree with the majority of their party, but partake in and observe only those aspects that appeal to them, ignoring the rest.

One odd-duck faction is the conflicted driver who has one headlight from the old school with it's yellowish glow and the other from the new-age with it's blue tincture. These are the same folks you see walking around with the Garth Brooks style western shirts popular in the early 1990s – blue on the left side and red on the right.

Another group are the folks, who for unknown reasons, choose to drive with no headlights at all - especially at dusk and dawn. It has been noted by some of the spectators that perhaps they are those who didn't quite hear clearly when the word HEADLIGHTS was spoken … as in: “What type of headlights do you want?” They must have misheard the statement as, “What type of HEAD LICE do you want?” and therefore replied “None”.

Still, and not to be left behind, are the folks who think that the old American “More is Better” song is the only way to go and you'll see them coming at you with four or more headlights from at least five miles away.

Lastly, don't forget about the professional drivers of the 18-wheel contingent. Headlights, schmedlights! These guys and gals don't stop there and cause the proliferation of lights of all colors to cascade down both sides, top and rear of their truck and trailer so that no matter where you happen to be driving, you're convinced that all of Las Vegas is headed toward you at 75 miles per hour.

So the next time you hear someone arguing about the merits and disadvantages of the bluegrass differences, remind them that they have no monopoly on disagreement. Just take it on the road for proof.

____________________________________

Nagging
Today’s Welcome from Rick Cornish
Friday, December 26, 2014


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, which, even during the height of a down pour, which we’ve had, thank you Lord, plenty of, isn’t running much this year because a landowner upstream from us has decided, for whatever reason, not to replace a 36 inch culvert that has collapsed on his property. By now I would surely have spoken to the fellow, urged him to fix the problem, probably even offered to spearhead a fund raising campaign among the other down stream landowners to help with the expense, were it not for the fact that the guy with the caved in culvert is known in our county far and wide as an individual whose interest in collaborative problem-solving is limited to only solutions that involve fists and/or shotguns. Well, that’s not entirely true—there was a while back a story circulating about an issue he and a neighbor “explored” with the use of a 20-pound sledgehammer…his, not the neighbor’s.

But none of this has one bit to do with the subject of my Welcome column this morning. I want to talk a little about nagging and then finish up by doing a little nagging.

Women, specifically women who are wives, have a reputation for being naggers. Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath here, brace myself, and just come out at say it…it’s a reputation that is generally well-deserved. The fact is, most wives do nag their husbands. Lord knows mine nags me. My neighbor’s wife nags him, sons’ nag them, United States of America First Ladies nag theirs, rich women, poor women, young women, old women, neurotic women, spiritually enlighted/psychologically well-adjusted women…most all of them nag their husbands. True, there are some exceptions, but they’re nothing more than the exceptions required to prove any rule.

Now, I imagine more than a few husbands who are reading this are asking themselves, why in the name of God would this idiot PURPOSELY choose to write about PUBLICLY, and no less during those few days each year that much of the human race dedicates to GOODWILL AND PEACE ON EARTH, a topic so toxic and so utterly taboo? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because after close to thirty-five years of marriage I’ve finally come to understand that not only is wifely nagging as natural a part of matrimony as noodles are to chicken soup, it’s also very, very important to the fabric of society. And that’s society with a CAPITAL “S”…that’s all societies in all ages since Eve told Adam to hang up his fig leaf or put it in the dirty clothes hamper. The truth is, somebody’s got to make sure that stuff gets done in a household, and for whatever reasons, (and social scientists and cultural anthropologists have as many theories about this as there are social scientists and culture anthropologists,) women are stick with the job.

So, now on to my reason for risking the wrath of roughly fifty percent of the earth’s population. If wives have the job of nagging in marriage, then top leadership has the job in 501`c3’s…that is, not-for-profit, tax exempt organizations. I remember not more than a couple weeks after first being elected by the CBA board as chairman that I received a telephone call from Carl Pagter, the man who I’d just succeeded. Carl told me that the purpose of the call was to make absolutely clear that I understood the primary responsibility of my new job. It was, he said, to NAG. And boy oh boy oh boy, was Carl right. By the time I was finished with the twelve or so years as our Association’s leader I’d done such a thorough job that members would turn and run when they saw me coming.

Now, of course, I’m a civilian just like 99% of our wonderful Association’s membership, but, as they say about Texans, you can take ‘em out of Texas but you can’t take Texas out of them. Once a nagger, alas, always a nagger. So, in recognition of this fact, and as a special day-late Christmas present to our two current leaders, let me do just a bit of nagging for them. Please…

Consider making a contribution to our special Youth Academy program when our funding campaign opens next Thursday. If you give a wit about seeing that this music of ours continues into the future, nothing…ASBOLUTELY NOTHING will help more than getting kids playing it;

Look around the attic, in the rafters out in the garage, maybe even your uncle George’s attic or garage, and see if there’s a stringed instrument that is just collecting dust. Our Darrell Johnston Kids Lending Library has put scores and scores of axes into the hands of kids, but still there are needs we haven’t met.

Keep your CBA membership current. I’ll tell you true, friends, there’s very, very little that can be more discouraging to the men and women who work tirelessly to keep the Association humming along than to discover that Joe and Mary Whomever, who never, ever miss a CBA event and haven’t for years, let their membership lapse in ’03 and have just enjoyed a free ride ever since.

And most importantly, please finally give some serious thought to stepping up and taking on a job in the CBA’s leadership. It could be as a board member, one of our many team coordinator jobs, an area vice president…there are many, many jobs that need doing. If your life is enriched by the California Bluegrass Association, now may be the time to pay back.

Okay, that’s it. All done. Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?


My Old Fireplace
Today’s column from JD Rhynes
Thursday, December 25, 2014…Christmas Day


(Editor’s Note—From Christmas time last year.)

In the living room of my house there is a beautiful old fireplace
that I just dearly love. The first time I used that fireplace in the
fall of 1994 it filled the whole house with smoke, due to the fact
that the smoke shelf was not high enough. That ain't no problem for a
country boy like my own self that understands how fireplaces are
supposed to be built, so I just outfitted it with a shroud on the
front to contain the smoke, and while I was at it I built a pot crane
to hang a pot of beans on to cook real slow on a cold winter day. I
have cooked many a big cast iron pot of beans that way, served up
with hot cornbread fresh from a Dutch oven cooked right there on the
fireplace hearth. Gourmet country vittles without a doubt!

A couple of weeks ago when it snowed 12 inches here on Bluegrass
Acres, I was sitting in front of the fireplace enjoying a nice hot
fire one evening and I got to reminiscing about when I was a little
bitty redneck, and how I used to wish that we had a big fireplace in
our house to enjoy on a cold winter evening. That wish did not come
true until I bought this old house back in the summer of 1994. As I
sat there that cold snowy night a week or so ago, I got to thinking
and wondering of how many young children over the years had played
right before this very fireplace on a cold snowy evening over the
last 80+ years that this house has been here? Even today I usually
lose power two or three times a winter when it snows. How many
families had to use this as a light source and cooked over an open
fire in the fireplace during power failures? How many times did a
mother have to melt snow for drinking water and to cook with over
this fireplace? I also wondered how many times a mother had heated
bathwater for her children in this old fireplace? It's about 100
yards one way to the spring for water, a distance that would seem
like 2 miles when there are 2 to 3 foot of snow on the ground. How
many families over the years used this as their only heating source
during hard times of unemployment or heavy snow bound winters when
the roads were closed for extended periods of time. Also, I wondered
how may times this old fireplace sat here cold because the people
that lived here had ran out of firewood during an extremely hard
winter, or simply for the fact that they could not afford to buy
firewood, or could not get out to cut some. I took solace in the
fact that I have a huge woodshed that is chock-full of dry oak,
cedar and pine firewood.

As I write this month's column, it is Christmas Day of 2013, and it is hard not to wonder how many young children over the years hung their Christmas stockings on the big thick slab of cedar log that they used for the mantle piece. I know it was quite a few, because there are several small nail holes that bear witness to that fact. They are kinda hard to see now, since I have my 50 caliber flintlock rifle mounted on front of the mantelpiece. Hey, this is a MAN CAVE! A REAL MAN lives here now not some pencil neck wimp.

I would be willing to bet that there have been several Christmas turkeys roasted right in this fireplace as well. A lot of the old-timers used to cook their turkeys over an open fire, and was the preferred method because it was so easy. You simply rigged a turkey on a spit, over a big pan of some kind to catch the juice and grease and set before a fire and turned it occasionally. Comes out perfect every time. I have a grill that I built especially to use in the fireplace. When I get a craving throwed on me for a barbecued steak in the dead of winter, I just rake a bed of coals out and place my grill over it, and within 20 minutes I have a piece of meat that's been cooked over a "wood far", the way God meant fer meat to be cooked!

There have been several nights I have also set in front of my fireplace and wondered just how many jam sessions have been held right here in front of this old fireplace on a cold winters night? How many times have fiddles guitars and banjos livened up the air and got folks up and dancing? It has probably happened more times than I can imagine. If I could only pull the notes out of the soul of the old fireplace that is stuck between the bricks and in the chimney, and stacked them up they would probably be as tall as the chimney itself. And speaking of the chimney, about three years after I moved here, I took that ugly chimney cap off and threw it away and built one that is in the shape of the pyramid about 3 feet tall. On top of the pyramid is a weathervane that depicts a Comanche warrior on his Buffalo pony with his raised Lance, chasing a wild buffalo, and they are both mounted on a huge six-foot long arrow. The warrior is about 12 inches tall and the buffalo is at least eight or 10 inches tall. The weathervane rotates and always faces into the wind, and it is a joy to watch clouds go scudding by on a windy day, which gives the illusion that the buffalo and the horse is running. There have been several nights when the wind was blowing extremely hard I'll swear I can hear that buffalo and that pony in hot pursuit running across my roof! I have a huge buffalo robe on my easy chair next to the fireplace and I have fallen asleep there many a restful night, wake up about daylight throw some kindling on the fire, go turn the coffee on, and in 20 min. I got a nice warm "far" to enjoy with my first cup of coffee of the morning. That is one of the most joyful things I get to experience with this old "farplace" of mine.

Looking back over my life, I thank God Almighty for the multitude of blessings that he has heaped on me. Ever since I was about eight or nine years old, I always wanted to live in the West Point area of Calaveras County. Twenty years ago God answered my prayers and put me here on bluegrass acres. I marvel every day when I wake up and realize I did not do one thing to earn this, other than pray to God every day for an old house that had a nice fireplace in it, one that my children and grand children can enjoy for many years to come. As I set here tonight in front of a nice warm fire I know that I am the luckiest man in the world, because God does answer prayers. I have been enjoying my prayers for a"farplace" for the last 20 years! It ain't no secret, you just have to believe and keep praying. May God bless and keep all of you, my big bluegrass family.


The Faces of Hope
Today’s column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Seems like there’s been a lot of nasty things happening in the news lately. Whether there’s more cruelty in the world, or it’s easier to report with modern media, I don’t know. But any student of history knows that mankind’s capacity and willingness to inflict harm on suffering on fellow humans is a sad thread that runs all through history.

Now and again, it just seems too much. When the stories seem to pile up, or a particular incident strikes a nerve, things can seem hopeless.

There’s always hope, and in hope, there’s strength, Strength to give yourself permission to take some time to enjoy the positive things in the world, and strength to devote time to ease some of myriad ills that plague us. There more problems than you and I can solve, of course, but that doesn’t make the situation hopeless.

Recently, I’ve been privileged to witness the faces of hope up close and personal. I have been working in Martinez as the town’s Santa Claus this month, and have had delightful interactions with hundreds of children, and they are hope personified.

We come into this world blessed with absolute innocence, and truly limitless potential. Life has a way of stripping away innocence and idealism, and potential seems to narrow with the years.

If that gets you down, take a moment and watch - really watch - the faces of the children. Hope and unlimited potential dwells in them, and therefore, in the world.

Magic can work, at times. Believe it! Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa - anything that returns your focus to the positive and recharges your emotional and spiritual batteries! And let’s make 2015 the best year - ever!


Greetings from Pyongyang
Posted by Kim Jong-un
Tuesday December 23, 2014


Good morning my fellow blue grassers. My what an eventful week it has been. First my country was accused of hacking into that whiney, Walkman-producing, excuse of an entertainment company that is a transparent tool of proletariat regimes intending to spread their propaganda and lies about my glorious country, which by the way we all know is the envy of the free world. And then Comcast goes and pulls the plug on our internet connection with the excuse that there was an outage due to construction in our neighborhood. Likely story….anyway when I called customer service to complain, I was on hold for 45 minutes…..capitalism at its finest, and then read a sales pitch requiring me to upgrade my account before they would investigate the so-called internet problem. Personally I think Comcast turned off our internet connection to sell my country a more expensive connection plan that would also prevent us from accessing Netflix. Whoever claimed that communist regimes were guilty of manipulating the world-view of our populations never met the Comcast marketing department. But I am not here to complain about my problems, rather I wanted to enlighten your fair readers about the state of bluegrass in North Korea!

Bluegrass is alive and well in Pyongyang. Due to producing too many aluminum O-rings for our missiles, we had the wonderful idea of using them as tone rings for banjos and now we are ready to flood the world market with banjos made from missile parts with necks made from an overrun of AK47s. Our ultimate goal is to destabilize the international money market by making banjos so cheap that everyone in the world will want to purchase one causing rampant inflation and earthquakes from all the racket made by beginner banjo players picking impossible to tune cheap banjos. Genius! But banjos aren’t the only infamous bluegrass instrument we can produce. My friend Dennis Rodman is a wonderful slap bass player….who knew? Maybe the tats were a giveaway. In collaboration with Dennis, who is embarking on a new career as a professional bluegrass musician, we are embarking on another strategically remarkable plan to flood the market with Korean basses that can be converted to a micro-RV with full electric hookup. We are still working out where to put the holding tank, maybe a hollow endpin….but come to think of it I’ve never seen a bass player take a potty break so maybe a holding tank isn’t necessary. Keep tuned (I’m so clever with my puns) for future developments….just be forewarned, we plan to test launch a fully armed bass over the Sea of Japan next time your government annoys me.

You might be asking how the humble son of a minor, though ruthless, dictator was invited to write a guest column for such a prestigious organization? Well I wasn’t. Let me just say: first Sony, next the CBA, and then those rogue capitalist music licensing companies whose names we are afraid to say in case they decide to come to Pyongyang to shut down our jams in retribution. Even we are afraid of those whose names we cannot say. However, we are very envious of how they operate and how they instill such fear and loathing.

Until next time comrades! If, at the next Father’s Day Festival, you happen to see a short portly man with large sunglasses carrying a banjo, dressed in a tank top and flanked by tall mean-looking bass players, please stop and say hi….unless of course you are Seth Rogen or James Franco. Then you better run! Be careful out there folks and don’t make any movie parodies about unauthorized interviews with leaders of repressive regimes!



DAILY GRIST… “Christmas time’s a-comin’; Snow flakes a-fallin’; My old heart’s a-callin’; For the folks at home; When Christmas time’s a-comin’.” – Bill Monroe

Christmas Times A-Comin’

Today’s column from Yvonne Tatar
Monday, December 22, 2014


Well, Christmas time is indeed a-comin’ … and I’m very fortunate to be part of a couple of worthy bluegrass endeavors that warm the heart with the true giving spirit.

First of all, the San Diego Bluegrass Society tried a new kind of jam format last month. Because of how the calendar dates fall this year, our annual 4th Tuesday jam for December lands on December 23rd, so the board cancelled this get together knowing the turnout would be low with folks busy with holiday plans, etc. Since I do the planning for these jams, I suggested we move this year’s festivities up one month to November and we planned a big ol’ Christmas gathering titled Christmas Times A-Comin’. And for even more festiveness, SDBS also wrapped up this whole gathering as a toy drive for Toys 4 Tots where admission to the jam was the donation of one new unwrapped toy. For the evenings entertainment, we kept the open mic and featured band slots, but added a Christmas sing along. So, press releases were created and sent out via Facebook, emails and newsletters. And the excitement built like the proverbial snowball rolling down that holiday hill! Local members really helped spread the word.

At the night of the event, the place was packed! Even past members we had not seen in a long time came out, as well as the club faithfuls. Grinners and pickers abounded! There was much jamming outside, a healthy open mic to open the evening and then Wayne Rice & Co. (which was a stellar cast by themselves with Wayne on guitar, Peter Varhola on bass, Tom Cunningham on fiddle, and the one and only Dennis Caplinger on banjo) led a ½ hour sing along that reveled something out of the ,Christmas Carol movie. Even Capt. Aveeda from the Marines showed up and talked to the crowd about their Toys 4 Tots drive. To cap off the evening, Next Generation (Zach Caplinger on guitar, Sebastian Green on mandolin, Orion Johanning on banjo and Steve Green on bass) really impressed the crowd with their bluegrass prowess at such young ages. And at the end of the evening, we were thrilled to see that not one, but two large boxes of toys had been donated, along with a sizeable amount of cash for the toy drive.

This fresh and new approach to the holidays was invigorating for SDBS members and gave a real feeling of togetherness. Hopefully, SDBS can do this again next year. I think the variety if entertainment and the inclusion of a good cause really got everyone in the holiday spirit. Bluegrass folks are so generous and are “salt of the earth” types when it comes to camaraderie and helping out others.

Another worthy bluegrass event would have to be the upcoming annual Cruise2Jam bluegrass cruise hosted by Jerry Turner. Each January Jerry hosts the bluegrass jam cruise on Carnival Lines that leaves out of Long Beach right near the Queen Mary. In the last couple of years he has expanded this cruise and now includes a jamming night on the Queen Mary the night before the first day of the cruise. This jam benefits disabled veterans (DAV). The money raised on the Queen Mary jam goes toward paying for the cruise expenses for one DAV to cruise. Lots of folks come out for this, even those who are not going on the cruise. This year the goal is to raise enough funds to send two DAVs. These veterans are usually pickers. They enjoy the trip, and really like the jamming onboard. Check out this 2015 cruise coming up in January at www.cruise2jam.com. It’s really affordable and a great little “getaway for a few days” trip.

I’m proud to be a part of the outreach done by San Diego Bluegrass Society partnering this year with the Marines in their Toys 4 Tots 2014 toy drive. Because of Toys 4 Tots, many more children will awaken on Christmas Day to find a toy who otherwise would have received no Christmas gift at all. And I’m equally proud of Jerry Turner for keeping the Cruise2Jam going these many years, and his work with the disabled veterans. The support this cruise provides to those worthy disabled vets is a real blessing indeed. Thanks to SDBS, Cruise2Jam, and the many, many others out there (you know who you are) with that giving spirit. Good on all ya’all! I can just hear Bill singing this now…Can’t you hear them bells ringin’, ringin’; Joy to all, hear them singin’; When it’s snowin’, I’ll be goin; ’back to my country home..

Blessing to ya!



Recipes for a Well-Baked Music Camp
Posted by Geoff Sargent
Sunday December 21, 2014


I think Julia Child would have made a great music camp teacher. Alas, to my knowledge she wasn’t a picker, but I see her as a banjo player. You know the kind of person, someone who, against all odds, makes a uniquely awkward-looking instrument sing beautiful music. Julia Child almost single handedly introduced and demystified French cooking to the US and made it accessible to everyone. I wasn’t paying much attention back then, but it seems like French cooking was considered something out of reach for the typical American home cook. Something that required special ingredients, a tricked out kitchen, and a culinary sense that just wasn’t part of our upbringing. Julia Child introduced French cooking with a style that was irreverent, full of panache, humorous, enthusiastic, yet graceful and sincere; the same traits our music camp instructors share. I believe that one of the hallmark successes we can be proud of with music camp is how we try to make the music accessible to students at all levels, and we try to do it with an enthusiasm and style that infects everyone passing through.


The part of Bluegrass and Old Time history that I am really fond of is how the music was shared at home between family members and neighbors. I want to imagine folks gathering at homes of friends and relatives, over a potluck of food, to jam and pick, making the music a family and community event. Maybe that history is part myth part truth but it is something I believe. We are carrying on that fine tradition and doing it during a time when it seems like our sense of community is certainly changing or maybe even disappearing. This community is now an important part of my life and one that I didn’t realize I was missing until I naively purchased this crazy guitar covered by a hubcap, that you play with a steel bar, and then went to music camp to learn how to pick it. My adventure started because all I wanted to do was learn how to play the dobro and then it turned into something far more important.

Most of the Father’s Day Festival main stage acts were signed over the past three to four weeks so Peter and Janet are frantically contacting potential teachers for the 2015 music camp. Stay tuned to the web site because we will be posting faculty announcements as we get the commitments. One of the wonderful things about cooking is that every cook gets to personalize the recipe. Recipes are just the starting point and really good, creative cooks know how to make something in the classical style and then know how to change it to create something unexpected. Peter and Janet are master music camp chefs…need I say more. We expect a few changes, some to try out something new, some changes in response to student and teacher comments. One of those changes will be a shorter meal line that if not a little cooler, will be shadier…but not in the criminal sense. I think this might have been one of the highest profile issues we had last summer. You can also look forward to more of the intensive morning classes, and a faculty to do the 40th Father’s Day Festival week proud.

So start the countdown, mark your calendars, set your alarms because registration for the 2015 CBA Music Camp will open on February 7. The 15th CBA Summer Music Camp will take place June 14th to 17th at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California. More information is available at the music camp website http://cbamusiccamp.com. And we would like to remind you that you can give CBA Music Camp as a gift for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Graduation, Birthdays Valentine's Day, and even April Fool's Day. Check it out at our web site.


Open the Door
Today's column from Cameron Little
December 20, 2014


It’s an easy thing to cozy up to a fire that is already blazing. But it’s much harder to start a fire from scratch, to nurture the embers, and to help guide the fire to its full potential. Building a fire is hands-on and takes patience, time, and a bit of skill.

There are generous people in the bluegrass world who have fanned a spark in others, myself included. They’ve encouraged me in my writing and music, included me in their jams and gatherings, and offered guidance. They took time to share some wisdom, welcome me, and yes, they definitely put up with me. They took the time to fan a spark, a spark I didn’t even recognize was there. I call these people Fire Starters and here is a sampling of that Fire Starter wisdom in my life:

Roland White taught me about GRACE AND HUMILITY. It’s been my experience that the more of a bonafide star a person is, the more class and modesty they possess.

Rick Cornish taught me that EVERY STORY IS WORTH SHARING. Storytelling is an art that is already present in each of us.

John Reischman taught me that WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW IS VALUABLE. Start with that and build on it.

Rick Rinehart taught me the value of a GENEROUS HEART. Go full throttle or not at all.

Wayne Nolan taught me that ONE KINDNESS CAN CHANGE A KID’S LIFE. I picture him smiling from bluegrass heaven every time I play a G-run.

Cliff Compton taught me to INCLUDE EVERYBODY. Cliff is gifted in the art of bringing people together.

Kids on Bluegrass taught me EVERYONE HAS TALENT. And everyone deserves their moment in the spotlight.

Bill Wilhelm taught me that EVERYONE IS WELCOME. Bill was a natural bluegrass ambassador who helped newbies feel at home.

My mom taught me that EVERYONE MATTERS. She has shown me how each and every person is necessary for the whole.

Open the door.

So, next time you attend a bluegrass event and have a closed-jam area, or a “by invitation only” gathering, consider opening the door now and then in a different way. Open the door to newbies, to the shy bluegrass fans, to the people who are not players. Open the door to the people who aren’t fans yet, and to the people who are afraid they won’t be accepted. To the screechy Old Joe Clark’s and the self-conscious singers. Open the door to the people who are just waiting to be invited in. These people might be our future members, friends, fans, volunteers, benefactors, and bluegrass enthusiasts.

Open the door.

“Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

(Cameron Little promises to keep the door open as often as he can, and wishes everyone a warm, bluegrassy kind of holiday season.)


Dear Friends
Today’s column from Don Denison
Friday, December 19, 2014


Sitting here in front of my fireplace I have been thinking long and hard about the consequences of growing older. One of these involves attending my favorite events. Since the beginning of my involvement with The California Bluegrass Association, almost all of the events involved camping. I have reluctantly decided that I will no longer be able to come to our outdoor events and camp. The arrival of Suzanne and I on the Saturday or Sunday before Grass Valley was something we looked forward to all year long. Getting set up, renewing old acquaintances and friendships, meeting new friends, watching the event unfold as preparations began was part of the ritual for us for many years. I had looked forward to resuming these and other activities during the coming years. It isn't going to happen. If finances allow, I may be able to use a motel room, and attend the events whether they be the Festival, Camp Out, or any other outdoor event, but this in no way equals the experience of spending a week to 10 days with my friends and fellow members as the events unfold. Perhaps on a future date, I will be able to resume bringing a trailer and setting up early as I enjoyed doing in the past.

Since back in 1986 when I attended my first CBA event, the camping experience has been the center of my enjoyment of the events. To have to give this experience up has been a difficult decision for me. I am going to try to find a room for these events, but it just won't be the same. I have so many wonderful memories wound up in the Festivals and Camp Outs, that at this distance it seems I will be giving up the best part of these events.

The purpose of this lament is not to make you all feel sorry for me, but to impress upon you all what a wonderful privilege it is to be able to come early to the festival and be a part of it, to host jams, organize pot-luck dinners, catch up with what is going on in the lives of the friends that are seen only at these outdoor functions. Be sure to treasure the blessings involved in the camping experiences, none of us knows how much longer we will be able to participate in our events this way. I'm going to miss it a lot, indeed during the time Suzanne and I couldn't come because of her declining health we both missed seeing our friends very, very much. I'm going to make the motel/event program work as best as I can, but I will miss being on the grounds more than you all can imagine. Come to our events, support them, and most of all enjoy the experience of just being there, it doesn't last forever.


THE DAILY GRIST...“IBMA shines on in the cloudy skies of bluegrass”

”Yes, Virginia, There is a Silver Lining”
Today's column from James Reams
Thursday, December 18, 2014


The Internet has been a warzone of bluegrass-related activity lately as words fly back and forth across the sticky lines of the WorldWideWeb. At least we know that folks out there are actually gobbling up the recent articles, posts, and emails about the IBMA and not saving them, cocooned in the silken threads of email boxes and favorite folders, to be savored at a later time.

As a lifetime member of the IBMA, I want to do whatever I can to help this valuable organization continue to be successful in the years ahead. The fact that membership is growing faster than anticipated is a good thing! It means that some things are being done right.

The World of Bluegrass event this year was a phenomenal accomplishment. Kudos are deserved by everyone who had a hand in it. Yet, anyone who has ever managed even a small festival knows about the exhaustion that sets in once the event is over. Think about rolling weddings, birthdays, graduations, holidays and anniversary celebrations into one week long, non-stop, overload of entertainment featuring the entire extended family. How would you feel when everyone finally left for home?

The pressures of putting on a world-class event of this type takes a toll and it looks like the Board Members of the IBMA paid a heavy price for it. I was sad to see that so many of those I respect and am privileged to call friends have decided that the price just isn’t worth it anymore. I don’t know all that went on behind the scenes and behind closed doors and perhaps there are some accountability issues here; but as a wise friend once told me, “Sometimes no reaction is better than the wrong reaction.” Cooler heads will eventually prevail and, hopefully, this wonderful organization will emerge even stronger and more committed to its primary goal: promoting bluegrass music globally.

In an effort to encourage solidarity, I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring to be considered for one of the available seats on the Board. I may not be the best qualified for the task, but sometimes the dedication and devotion of a foot soldier can be the spark that unites a diverse group of battle weary leaders behind the ultimate goal. If elected, I have no intention of going into this fray with guns blazing, rather, I’ll be waving a flag of truce.

There are plenty of positive things about this organization that we need to capitalize on and develop so we can continue to gain respect in the world of music. In light of all the recent chatter, it’s easy to lose sight of the many good things the IBMA does to bring international attention to bluegrass music.

Any bluegrass organization knows that connecting with young people is the key to future growth. The IBMA does an outstanding job of reaching out through programs like “Bluegrass in the Schools” that includes Teacher Workshops, matching mini-grants, on-line tools and resources, as well as the newly updated educational DVD “Discover Bluegrass: Exploring American Roots Music.” Plus, the affordable Youth Membership Level provides full member benefits encouraging up and coming bluegrass artists to stay with the organization that has supported them from the start.

As a retired educator, I’m also impressed by the various options for continuing education that are available through the IBMA including Leadership Bluegrass which has over 350 graduates since its’ inception in 2000. Competition each year for the limited slots is fierce and why wouldn’t it be? The list of graduates reads like a “Who’s Who” in bluegrass! This outstanding program pools the talents of the whole bluegrass community into a classroom experience that helps foster an understanding about what it takes to be successful in this industry. In addition to the annual Leadership Bluegrass program, the IBMA offers affordable monthly webinars on all kinds of trending topics (to members and non-members, I might add!). But many bluegrassers don’t take advantage of these opportunities.

The benefits of belonging to an organization like the IBMA also include things like insurance plans and access to databases to help grow marketing lists. And, the IBMA looks out after those in the bluegrass community that have been affected by disasters, family emergencies, and other needs through grants and loans from the Bluegrass Trust Fund. There’s just so many great benefits to membership that maybe we tend to overlook them or, sadly, take them for granted.

The IBMA has met and continues to meet the needs of so many in this music industry. Personally, this organization has been instrumental in my development and success as an artist. Yes, there are other groups that also serve the bluegrass community, but it is my humble opinion that none are able to offer as much to their members as the IBMA. Rather than focus on the deeds of a few, if we look at the organization as a whole we can see that the IBMA is a silver lining in the sometimes cloudy sky of bluegrass.

Send me an email james@jamesreams.com and let me know your thoughts.


James
Randy Pitts
Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Thoughts, sounds, and memories of the benefit for James King held at The Nashville Palace Monday night continue to swirl around in my mind this morning, two days later. James' musical peers in the music community came together in support of a comrade in need--as they always do in these instances-- and that was a heartening thing to see, particularly at this time of year, when the spirit of giving is supposed to prevail. The line up at the benefit would easily rival that of some of the better summer festivals I've attended over the years, featuring acts of the stature of JD Crowe w. Don Rigsby and Ricky Wasson, Doyle Lawson's crack band, The Grascals, and Marty Raybon, along with several other wonderful acts. The crowd, given that the benefit took place on a rainy Monday night as the holidays loom, a time when many people are consumed with shopping for friends and family and preparing for the busy season ahead. Saw lots of old friends and acquaintances from the bluegrass community in the crowd, plus a lot of familiar faces of people I don't know personally but that I know as members of this ever growing but still small and remarkably tight knit community. No doubt as many people from that community as could make it did so.

The truth of the matter is , sadly, that it is probably too small for the sort of challenge facing James, who in the best of times has never been a top tier musical star, even in our relatively small world, though his talent warrants that kind of stature and recognition. James has never been more than a road musician, struggling at times to hold a band together. This time last year, I dared to think that James might be poised on the brink of a major breakthrough; he'd recorded a wonderful, unique, Grammy nominated album, his first album of new music in eight or so years, and there was a significant amount of chatter about it, inside and even outside the world of bluegrass. I had hopes that a lot of people, not just me, my friends and family and discerning musicians, industry insiders and fans of the old school, Stanley Carter and Jimmy Martin influenced vocals of which James is the master, were going to hear him, and that things were going to get a lot better for James. The album, conceived by perhaps James' biggest booster, Rounder founder Ken Irwin, was, aptly enough, called "Three Chords and The Truth." I'm on record about my feelings regarding James' talent in general and this album in particular, capturing as it does James' ability to take a well fashioned lyric and sing it in a way that just takes a listener's heart and flings it over yonder, embodying, for me at least, the reasons that I've learned to love the old stuff so much.

What a difference a year makes. The wheels fell off for James last summer in a big way, and now he is in dire straits financially, is in desperate shape health-wise, and is facing a bleak future. He needs our help, financially, for sure, and lots of people are doing lots of things to help James financially...but at a time when the spirit of giving is upon us, I find myself pondering how it must feel to be in James' shoes this year as the holidays approach... I can't, of course...no one who hasn't been there can, but It has to be a lonely feeling for a man who has stood on stages all around the US and given everything he has time after time until he is emotionally spent-- if you've seen James in performance you know what I mean, and if you don't, go buy his recordings, you'll understand. There aren't many left like James, and I feel inadequate to the task of saying what his music has meant to me, and I doubt that I'm alone in that. But I bet he'd like to hear us try...

Donations can be sent to:

James King Medical Fund
c/o Deonia Jones
Wells Fargo
201 Jefferson St.
Roanoke,Va; 24011

And do yourself AND James a favor...go buy all the James King albums you can, and give them to yourself, your family, and friends. You'll be glad you did.


'Twas the Night After Christmas
Today's column from Bruce Campell
Tuesday, December 16, 2014


(Editor’s Note—Bruce Campbell gets all Christmasy on us in 2009.)

‘Twas the night after Christmas, and all through our home,
It looked like a place where a cyclone had blown
There was wrapping and ribbons and tissue and bows
Where my wife’s new earrings went, nobody knows

All the gifts were attacked on the previous morn
Ribbons were ripped and wrapping, violently torn
Till every last toy was exposed to the air
Games and pajamas and new teddy bears

The buildup to Christmas had taken far too long
It started before the Halloween candy was gone
Then came the shopping, on which hours were spent
Black Friday’s big sales came and then went

We Googled, and Overstocked and even E-Bayed
Brave online visits to the mighty Amazon were made
Our credit cards moaned and creaked from the strain
Till not the tiniest morsel of credit limits remained

And after all the frantic months and frenzied pace
The gnashing of teeth and the running in place
The day finally came we had been longing for
We shopped and spent and bargained no more

Christmas morning, of course, belongs to the young
And it is for they for whom the stockings are hung
But the feasting, the singing, and the happy hours spent
It’s for the whole family, these precious moments are meant

As Christmas day passes, with families together
With Christmas moments we’ll cherish forever
Like the feast at the table, and the children’s delight,
Happy holidays to all, and to all, a good night!


WEB TEAM NOTE--We're back at it with GODADDY...once again we cannot post image files on cbaontheweb.org. At least this time we know what the problem is.


THE DAILY GRIST…”I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means 'put down'.” (Bob Newhart)

Old Country
Today’s Column from Bert Daniel
Monday, December 15, 2014


Suppose you decide to play a recording from Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, or the Stanley Brothers or Flatt and Scruggs. You’re about to listen to some Bluegrass music, right? After all, these are the bands that form the pillars of the genre we now call Bluegrass music. But I’m not sure this hypothetical question is all that simple. I submit to you that much of the time you play that tune from the founders, you will really be listening to what I would call Old Country. The classic “Bluegrass” tune you just selected might not have any three fingered banjo rolls. It may not even have banjo at all and yet most people listening today would call it Bluegrass just because of the artists who are being featured.

he originators of Bluegrass did not set out to create a brand new form of music, even though that’s what they eventually did. These bands were just trying to make a living back in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s. You can bet they listened to everything that was popular on the Grand Ole Opry or anywhere else, and they wanted to cash in any way they could.

The result for a lot of aspiring Bluegrass musicians of the day (even though they didn’t yet know that they were Bluegrass musicians) was a flood of tunes more in the style of a Patsy Cline or a Hank Williams. And if Elvis Presley changed the timing on Bill Monroe’s waltz, Blue Moon of Kentucky and sold a lot of records? Well that’s what you did too.

Old Country sounded great back then and it still sounds great now. Go to any modern Bluegrass festival and you’ll hear as much Old Country as you’ll hear straight ahead “hard core” Bluegrass, especially around the camp side jam sessions. For one thing, it’s hard to find good three finger banjo pickers. And for another, people still really love that traditional Old Country sound. Many lament how modern Country music has lost its soul in some respects by catering to the marketplace with amplified instruments and influences from Rock and Roll. Bluegrass by contrast, has held onto the traditional acoustic instruments including the fiddle, which like the steel guitar seems to be disappearing from Nashville.

In retrospect, Bluegrass music may have started when Bill’s new band, featuring Earl Scruggs on banjo, started playing a new dynamic version of the music. But it wasn’t codified as a new style until 1948, when the Stanley Brothers completely altered their musical style from a Wade Mainer style to a Bill Monroe style. For almost twenty years, the founders of Bluegrass didn’t know that what they were playing would one day be called Bluegrass. That happened in the mid 60’s, when Carlton Haney and Ralph Rinzler, both former managers of Monroe, staged an outdoor festival in Fincastle, Virginia showcasing the distinct style of music that Bill Monroe’s band was evolving.

Look at the list of inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Bill Monroe is there (1970). Flatt and Scruggs are there (1985). Incredibly, the Stanley Brothers are not there. Granted, they had a very distinct individual style, often a mountain music style. But they composed and performed a ton of great Old Country music.

Lester Flatt’s famous “G run” is familiar to every Bluegrass fan. And fans of Old Country will recognize what I call the Country bass run which consists of the notes (in the key of G, all quarter notes): D,E,F#,G. If you haven’t heard that run a thousand times you haven’t listened to very much Old Country. And if you’re playing bass on an old Stanley Brothers song like God Gave You To Me, Little Glass of Wine, The Old Home, The Fields Have Turned Brown or the Lonesome River, you will have a tough time not playing the Country bass run.

What about some of the respected Bluegrass bands that followed the founders? Did the Osborne Brothers play Bluegrass or Old Country? How about Jimmy Martin? J.D Crowe? These bands are all steeped in the country music of their day and many of their greatest songs reflect that.

Good music has many voices. If a folk singer sings an Old Country or Bluegrass song well, I’ll probably like it just as much as when a Bluegrass band adapts a pop tune to their own style. Bluegrass as a genre is really an amalgam of many musical influences, from the Old Time fiddle playing of Bill’s Uncle Pen to the Blues guitar playing Bill heard from Arnold Shultz to the Gospel songs of the 1920s. Bluegrass has never been one thing and it still isn’t.

But for my money, one of the very best things that Bluegrass is… is Old Country.


THE DAILY GRIST…”Little Bessie was nearly three years old. She was a good child, and not shallow, not frivolous, but meditative and thoughtful, and much given to thinking out the reasons of things and trying to make them harmonise with results. One day she said --"Mamma, why is there so much pain and sorrow and suffering? What is it all for?””…(Mark Twain)

Little Bessie
Today’s Column from Bert Daniel
Sunday, December 14, 2014


One of the great things about the music we all love is that there is so much room for interpretation. Any good artist can take a tune people have heard many times before and put their own spin on it. As a listener, I’m often wedded to the first version I hear of a tune I like. It’s only natural to want to hold onto the moments of joy you experienced when you first heard a classic tune done well. But when a tune is done well one way, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be done a totally different way to very good effect.

The way we listen to music has changed drastically over the years since recorded music came onto the scene. People went from exclusively live music to 78s to LPs to 8 tracks to cassettes to CDs to digital downloads. Now a lot of people just stream the music they want over the internet. You can use an app like Shazaam to identify any tune you’re interested in and search for stuff like that. You can also use the internet to search for new versions of any tune you might be interested in.
That’s exactly what I did recently when I started to listen again to the tune Little Bessie. I had found a CD in my car which I had never listened to. Strangely enough, I didn’t even know how it got there. I may have bought it previously and forgot, or some friend might have loaned it to me because I liked the artists. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that a tune I had heard many years ago was on it and the brand new version sounded fresh and interesting. So today, I thought I might share some of the various versions of this song I have listened to recently. They’re all different and they all add a richness to the knowledge of the tune.

The first version of Little Bessie I ever heard was by the Country Gentlemen. For those of you who are not familiar with the song it’s a song about a little girl who dies in her mother’s arms:

Hug me closer, Mother closer
Put your arms around me tight
For I’m cold in here, dear mother
And I feel so strange tonight

Something hurts me here, dear mother
Like a stone upon my breast
And I wonder mother wonder
Why it is I cannot rest

I’ll always love that first version I heard of Little Bessie. It’s from the Country Gentlemen’s Live in Japan CD. But after hearing the alternative version I had found in my car, I decided to use the internet and find more versions. One of the first versions that interested me was by Ralph Stanley. It’s very different. The Stanley’s sing “closer” both times as quarter notes whereas the Country Gentlemen sing a dotted quarter note for the first “closer”. And instead of singing “I feel so strange tonight”, the Stanleys sing “I feel so strong tonight”.

When I first heard the Stanley’s version, I thought I had mis-heard those lyrics but then I listened to a Ricky Skaggs a cappella version and, as one might expect from such a Stanley’s protege, he sings exactly the same lyrics. The original tune comes from about 1870 (lyrics by R.S.Crandall and arrangement by W.T. Porter). As you’ll see later, both of these variations are present in the original lyrics but they come at different parts of the story.

There is an abundance of lyrics available for this particular tune. I like to sing Molly and Tenbrooks at a big jam because it has so many lyrics and if you can remember only most of them, everybody gets a solo. But I’ve seen more printed lyric verses for Little Bessie than just about any other tune I’ve come across, including John Henry. I’ll give you all the lyrics I know for this tune but you might want to skip around some if you have a train to catch.

All the day as you were working
And I lay upon my bed
I was trying to be patient
And to think of what you said

How the King, Blessed Jesus
Loves his lambs to watch and keep
Oh, I wish He would come and take me
In his arms that I might sleep

Just before the lamps were lighted
Just before the children came
While the room was very quiet
I heard someone call my name

Most versions you hear omit the middle verse of the above three, The Blue Sky Boy’s 1938 is the model for most of the versions that followed, and they also omit the next five verses.

All at once a window opened
On a field of lambs and sheep
Some out in a brook were drinking
Some were lying fast asleep

In a moment I was looking
On a world so bright and fair
Which was filled with little children
And they seemed so happy there

They were singing, oh so sweetly
Sweetest songs I ever heard
They were singing sweeter, Mother
Than our own dear little birds

But I could not see the savior
Though I strained my eyes to see
And I wonder if He saw me
Would He speak to such as me

All at once a window opened
One so bright upon me smiled
And I knew it must be Jesus
When He said come here, my child

One of my favorite versions of this tune comes from the singing of Peter Ostroushko, accompanied by Norman Blake. The chord structure and tempo are a little different, more of a dirge. Ostroushko includes the last of the five stanzas above, which most performances skip and he alters some of the other lyrics a bit for dramatic purposes. For example, the line “just before the children came”. Ostroushko sings “just before the darkness came”.

Come up here, my little Bessie
Come up here and live with me
Where little children never suffer
Through the long eternity

Though I thought of all you told me
Of the bright and happy land
I was going when you called me
When you came and kissed my hand

And at first I felt so sorry
You had called and I would go
Oh, to sleep and never suffer
Mother, don’t be crying so

Now comes the alternative extra stanza that the Stanley Brothers and Ricky Skaggs place earlier:

Hug me close dear Mother closer
Put your arms around me tight
Oh how much I love you mother
And I feel so strong tonight

Now “feel so strong tonight” makes sense in the context of the full version. The little girl has been comforted in the image her mother has created and she is able to face death bravely.

And her mother pressed her closer
To her own dear burdened breast
On the heart so near its breaking
Lay the heart so near its rest

At the solemn hour of midnight
In the darkness calm and deep
Lying on her mother’s bosom
Little Bessie fell asleep

Many versions end with this last line but the Country Gentlemen add another one which I think is very appropriate given that they skip a number of the original story telling verses:

Now up yonder past the portals
That are shining very far
Little Bessie now is tended
By her savior’s love and care

Surfing the internet for alternative versions of a tune you like can turn up a lot of interesting ideas that add to the appreciation of a song you thought you already knew. Even amateur You Tube versions can be worthwhile to listen to. Let me warn you though, you might hear a Pandora version that is just too good to not own the CD or digital download. Here are some of the versions of Little Bessie you might enjoy listening to:

Country Gentlemen: Live in Japan and The Award Winning Country Gentlemen
Stanley Brothers: Old Country Church
Blue Sky Boys: (1938 recording)
Norman Blake and Peter Ostroushko: Meeting on Southern Soil
Norman Blake and Tut Taylor: Flat Pickin in the Kitchen
Ricky Skaggs: Ancient Tones
J.D.Crowe: Bluegrass Holiday
Red, White and Blue (Grass): Very Popular
Roscoe Holcomb: The High Lonesome Sound


Byron Berline – Fiddler off the Roof
Today’s column from John A. Karsemeyer
Saturday, December 13, 2014,


If you have learned, have been learning, or are just starting to learn to play the fiddle, you know that it is a difficult instrument to conquer. It has to be said that a person really never learns all there is to know on the fiddle, because like all musical instruments, you never stop learning (unless you quit playing).

There is a reason that the would-be beginner fiddler in the family is relegated to practice in the bathroom, basement, or wood shed outside the house. And it’s on record that sometimes the spouse learning the four string (sometimes five) wood and wire contraption ends up in the “dog house.” Learning the fiddle has been known to introduce another dimension of irritation into marriages. And there are known and unknown reasons why the fiddle has been referred to as, “The Devil’s Box.”

Be that as it may, in the year 1944, a person was born that eventually made the sound of his fiddle something that is music-in-the-ears to folks that appreciate fiddle music. That person is Byron Berline.
Sometimes you only hear or read about a thing or occurrence once, never again to be repeated. That’s the case when I heard about a recent book, “Byron Berline, A Fiddler’s Diary.” If you’ve been following bluegrass music throughout the years you probably know who Byron Berline is, and that he is a fiddle player who has graced the main stage at the CBA Fathers’ Day Festival held at Grass Valley, California (which has occurred for the past thirty-nine years). Byron has played the CBA FDF at least three times, but those three times are almost like three grains of sand at the beach compared to the number of other places he’s performed; which I found out from reading his book.

“A Fiddler’s Diary,” begins with “Forwards” by Mark O’Conner (fiddler), Douglas Dillard (banjoist), John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Herb Pederson (Musician/Performer), Ranger Doug (Riders in the Sky), Mason Williams (musician, composer, writer, musician), and other noteworthy individuals in the roots music business. Reading what the aforementioned musicians wrote definitely motivated me to keep reading.

Byron’s book starts by letting us know that he came from a musical family, and that he started playing the fiddle at age five, growing up on the family farm in Oklahoma. He was ten years old when he entered his first fiddle contest, and from there he went on to enter and win many contests throughout the years. Bryon entered his last fiddle contest, The 1970 National Old Time Fiddle Championship in Weiser, Idaho, and won his division (his third win at this contest).

The book goes for seven chapters, eighty pages, telling the reader about Byron’s fiddle experiences on the farm, during high school, at Oklahoma State University, meeting and recording with The Dillards, The Newport Folk Festival, life in the U.S. Army with a fiddle instead of a rifle, and being a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. There are many funny stories about Bill Monroe that have been told, and at one point Byron relates that Bill couldn’t pronounce “Byron” quite right. So Bill called Byron, “Barn.”

After Chapter Seven, the “diary” portion of the book begins, starting in 1969 and going through 2010. Turns out Byron’s wife, Betty, kept detailed notes on the who, what, where, when, how, and whys of Bryon’s playing (what a gal!). At first glance the next 300 pages of the diary section appear to bog down in copious journal entries, but that is not the case. If the reader sticks with it, the potential to find more than a few “gold nuggets” is staring you in the face. Here are a few highlights, brief in nature, but some have noteworthy short stories to go with them (you have to dig for ‘em yourself in the book).

Bryon recorded and/or played fiddle with The Byrds, The Dillards, The Rolling Stones, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Dillard Expedition, Linda Rondstadt, The Kentucky Colonels (sometimes at Clarence White’s house), Country Gazette, Flying Burrito Brothers, Stephen Stills, Emmy Lou Harris, John Denver, The Eagles, and a bunch of others you can read about. Byron also played on sound tracks for a number of different movies, and appeared in some (“Fiddler on the Roof” was not one of them, but “Star Trek” was). During this time Byron was the go-to-fiddler in Los Angeles and Hollywood for records and movies. Like I related, there are many good stories to go along with the above, including his world-wide music performances playing his fiddle in bands.

Byron now resides in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where he owns the Doublestop Fiddle Shop, and he produces about twenty shows a year at his Music Hall in Guthrie, and still does some touring. If you are a fiddler, or just interested in an accomplished fiddler’s world, this book that follows the music career of Byron Berline, one of the world’s premiere fiddle players, is a good read.*

“Do your young men still fiddle with thoughts of growing rich?
And slowly turn to old folks, whittling on a stick?” Those two lines are from the song, “Arkansas.” They do not apply to Byron Berline!

(*information in this column from, “Byron Berline, A Fiddler’s Diary,” used with permission from Byron Berline. No financial interest on my part)






STATUS OF CBAONTHEWEB.ORG--GOOD NEWS. TWICE.

The three day image loading problem has been resolved. Expect to start seeing fresh content on the CBA's web site again. And the second piece of good news is that we tracked the problem down to GODADDY, our ISP. In short, not a CBA problem, a GD problem, and, of course, the tens of thousands of their customers. And finally, thanks to Josh Micheals for staying with this. He took a ration of you-know-what from the web master and still hung in.


THE DAILY GRIST…”The problem with the banjo is that it makes you want to happy dance even if you are determined to enjoy your misery. ”--The Bard

Christmas times a'coming
Today's column from Cliff Compton
Friday, December 12, 2014


It’s Christmas time, and I’m thinking about gifts. The family sent a bunch of them to Samaritans purse, a faith based organization that disperses them to third world children and spreads a little cheer to places that could probably use it. Gift giving is fun. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and broke, and it’s one of the best things you can do to justify your existence on this here celestial ball, …and gift getting, well, that ain’t half bad either.

I thought I’d address both sides of this process.

Now if I were to ask my thirteen year old son what he wants for Christmas, he’d present me with a list of electronic gaming devices and computer games that, if I were to purchase them, would bump the stock for “Best Buy” up to Reagan levels overnight and would send my son into ecstatic bliss for a solid week, after which he would be ready to present me with another list.

Now as for me…I have simpler tastes. Just send me the latest C.D. put out by one of my friends. Every day is Christmas when you’re friends have recorded a new C.D.

And it doesn’t always have to be a new one. Sometimes it’s a great surprise that sort of shows up out of nowhere… I was perusing the used C.D.s at the local Goodwill, and came across a sweet Recording of Pete Grant playing a bunch of fine instrumentals on Steel guitar and Dobro. Now I’ve picked with him at grass valley, but I was unaware of this C.D. Well… that situation has been rectified and I’ve been blessed with some great traveling music.

And I remember when Snap Jackson came up to me at Colusa and showed me the new C.D. that he had just brought out of the recording studio, and he let hear it before anybody else, and I soaked up so much pixie dust that I could hardly sleep. And that gift just kept on giving. I’m still reaping the benefits.

Randy Morton brought me into the studio to listen to the touch up on the final mix of his “Pine Ridge” C.D. And that’s where I learned that he had put Kelly Broyles and Me into one of his murder ballads , combining Kelly’s first name and my last name to make the murder victim. What a gift! …I guess…
About the same time “Rock Ridge” came out with their fine C.D. and I got to enjoy Rick and Josies buttery voices and John Shaffer’s sand paper gospel singing. And it was Christmas, right there in the middle of the year.

And anyhow…I guess I told you all that so I could tell you this.

I got a package in the mail yesterday from Dave Neilson. It was in a familiar shape, a little square package remarkably similar to that of a C.D. I opened it (I never could wait till Christmas), and what to my wondering eyes did appear?...This precious piece of gospel plastic in a cardboard square that said “Amber Cross” My kind of church. This was a live gospel set recorded at Parkfield this last year by Dave N. and it wasn’t just her kind of church…It was my kind of church. All these great heaven songs (mansion over the hilltop) Christian life songs (working on a building) and personal pieces she had penned herself (like Walking in the fields of summer). Here’s a sample of the lyrics.

We walked just one mile to get to God
Spent the Afternoon playing in the church yard
Walking to the church just beside you’re dad
Two steps to his one, ain’t half bad.

And them lyrics ain’t half bad either. In fact they’re about as good a set of lyrics as you’re ever gonna find in any Christmas present.

I remember the first time I heard Amber Cross sing. I was walking across the fairgrounds inTurlock and Yoseff Tucker was pickin’ with this little gal that looked like she’d have humming birds voice. But that was not the case, When she started to sing the sound cut through that spring night like a buzz saw on steroids. Shivers went up and down my spine. It was like hearing Hazel Dickens for the first time, only better. I recently bought what I believe to be her first C.D. It was a masterpiece. The lyrics, honest at level rarely seen in music, the arrangements were impeccable…, and that voice….whew!

You might say it sort of spoke to me. Maybe in the language of my DNA. Amber it the daughter of a Baptist minister. I’m the son of a Pentecostal preacher, and we grew up with the same hymn book.

As far as I’m concerned, Dave Neilson is Santa Claus, and Amber Cross is a Christmas present. And if you haven’t heard that girl sing, you ought to.

Merry Christmas, all you pickers. Happy Yule to you all.



THE DAILY GRIST..."Right now I am just taking things a week at a time. I plan on putting my trust in the Lord and turning this all over to Him. My wife Greta and I do ask for your prayers and support during this difficult time.” -- James Alan Shelton, in May 2014 as he learned of the advanced state of his cancer.

Gone but not forgotten
Today's column from George Martin
Thursday, December 11, 2014


Probably 20 or so years ago I saw an ad in the back of Banjo Newsletter for a leather banjo strap that could be personalized with one’s name. It was offered by one “J.A. Shelton” of Weber City, VA. The strap I ordered was beautifully made, thick high-quality leather in a rich, dark brown shade with my name in a lighter tan. It was hand-tooled, looked great and was very comfortable.

The only down side was that with “George” emblazoned on the strap, everybody I met would say, “Hi, George,” and I would have to figure out if I had ever met this person/jammed with this person, could know his/her name, or should know his/her name.

Not being the shiniest string on the banjo, it took me some years to realize that “J.A. Shelton” was actually James Alan Shelton, Ralph Stanley’s lead guitar player. When that finally dawned on me I thought that strap was cooler than ever, and I started noticing that a lot of the pro pickers who came through Grass Valley, or whom I saw on TV, were wearing that same strap. It was like being in an exclusive club, except anyone with $50 and a banjo could join.

In the fall of 2013 Dr. Ralph and his band were making their “Farewell Tour,” and played at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. Barbara and I felt it was imperative to catch the good doctor for the last time and went to the show. (During which, Ralph’s grandson, Nathan, announced that the old man was reconsidering the “farewell” thing and might be back again -- but that’s another story.)

After the show I talked to Shelton in the lobby and asked if he still was in the leather business. “Oh, yes,” he said, and offered me a business card. I ordered three guitar straps the next day: one each for Pauline, my long-time singing partner, Kenny, my niece, and one for me. They came in a few weeks, beautifully done, and I salted them away for Christmas.

Those were among the last straps Shelton made; in April he was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer was far advanced and nothing could be done. He passed away a month later at the age of 53, leaving the bluegrass world in deep mourning.

James was by all reports a sweet guy, a great guitar player and family man. He was Dr. Ralph’s close associate, handling most of the band’s business and serving as road manager. In previous years he even did the booking.

After he was gone I began to wonder if anyone was going to continue the strap business. I didn’t know if it was a one-man operation, or if he had friends or kinfolk helping him. Jamesalanshelton.com remained up on the internet, with CDs available for purchase, but the straps vanished.

Then some weeks ago the e-mail I regularly get from Janet Davis Music arrived featuring the “Golden Gate Shelton Hand-Tooled Banjo Strap.” The photo looked just like my strap, said it was made of “Scandinavian leather,” and was priced at $39.95 plus shipping. I figured I could do without my name on it, and send off for one, to put on my other banjo. I also phoned Saga, to see if I could get any information on how the company took over the brand, and if the Shelton family was getting any royalties. But I never got a call back.

I wish I could tell you that James’ beautiful straps are still available, but this version is made in China of very thin leather. The deep embossing James used to do is now shallow and ill-defined. The Chicago screws that hold it on the banjo are tiny and difficult to manipulate, with very fine threads that are hard to start.

Sometimes in this world a wonderful product just disappears, and there is no way ever to get another one. In my lifetime, Bireley’s Orange, a lightly carbonated soda in a wide-mouth bottle (that tasted of real orange) went away, as did Sun Drop Citrus Cola (which I understand is still around in Kentucky, Tennessee and other parts of the South). Original Fosters English Muffins are only a memory. If, as the hints I am reading in the press are true and JC Penney is about to go broke, where will I get my heavyweight T-shirts and tighty whities?

I hope my original Shelton straps last a long time. No more will be forthcoming.

IMPORTANT NOTE FROM WEB TEAM--Those who visit the CBA web site regularly may be noticing that for the past three days we've been posting OLD material (news items, mastheads, etc. The reason--we are experiencing a problem with the administrative side of cbaontheweb.org and are unable to load any new images. We thought we had the problem fixed on Sunday, but it's reared its ugly head again. We're shooting for getting back to normal by the end of the day. For 15 years the web team has taken great pride in delivering fresh content to our web site visitors each and every day, so this bug has been especially frustrating. Please bear with us.

The Overwhelming Presence of Presents
Today’s Welcome from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Well, it’s that time of the year again. The Christmas season, also known more by the more secular Holiday Season. Whatever the reason, a lot of good things happen this time of year. By and large, families are together more, and we all - all of us - try to take the time to get along and do nice things. Personally, I like to think I act this way all year long, but everybody needs some reminders, I suppose.

It’s a time of giving, too. Donations to charities tend to peak during the holiday season, as people get swept up in Altruistic Fervor. Soup kitchens are actually advising people NOT to volunteer their time at Christmas - they are awash in volunteers looking to cram 365 days worth of kindness into a 2 hour stint of ladling out soup. Donations of cash will be more useful to keep these charities running past the Christmas season.

Among our families, friends and other acquaintances, the giving means gifts, too. This is the area where I am exposed as someone who doesn’t do well when it comes to gifts. I hope this isn’t because I’m shallow, uncaring and self-centered. I actually spend a great deal of time mentally appreciating all the wonderful people in my life. I have trouble, however, translating that admiration and love into gift ideas.

I am not advocating the abolition of the exchange of gifts during the holiday season. I just wish I was better at shopping for, and choosing gifts. I suppose enhanced wrapping skills would come in handy too...

Luckily, musicians are easy to buy for, like anyone with a hobby. Like all hobbies, music requires constant replenishment of consumables such as strings, picks, rosin. Also, there is always the need for new capos and tuners.

I tried to change up last year. I bought little boxes of candy and gave them out to bandmates, and reveled in my creativity and thoughtfulness. Recently, however, I was reaching for a mic in a cable bag and found the box of candy from 11 months ago. The Bad Gifter has struck again!

If there are bad gift givers, I’m sure there are bad gift getters, too, and maybe the prevalence of both (they walk among us!) is what makes the overall gifting culture and customs so complicated.

The whole notion of giving gifts is rooted in thoughtfulness and generosity. And for every mediocre, marginal or horrible gift giver and gift getter, probably 20 perfectly chosen gifts find recipients who are genuinely delighted and touched. Who would want to mess with that?




Big Tent – Small Tent Reconsidered (the Beginning of a Musical Autobiography, Part I)
Today’s Welcome from Ted Lehmann
Tuesday, December 9, 2014


For about a dozen or so years my wife Irene and I have spent a goodly portion of our lives listening almost exclusively to bluegrass music, that grand amalgam of old English folk music, gospel, jazz, western swing, and, yes, pop that emerged from Bill Monroe's restless search for a way to express the music within him and make a living some other way than in the factories of northern Indiana. My first exposure to bluegrass came in the mid-sixties when a friend gave my mother a reel-to-reel tape of Flatt & Scruggs, I think it may have been the Carnegie Hall concert. I listened to it some, but didn't much like it, although between that recording and the album of 10” 78 RPM recording from my childhood of the Almanac Singers (Millard Lampell, Lee Hays, Woody Guthrie & Pete Seeger) called Sea Chanties sparked lifelong interest in the banjo. But these weren't the only musical influences in my early life.

Our house was filled with music. There was album after album of the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan. These now nearly forgotten pieces of late nineteenth century comic musical plays featured operatic singing supporting wonderful melodies and always interesting plots. We also had a book of the plays themselves, allowing me to listen to a song, then read the dialogue. I can still sing a few of these songs. My Dad loved Broadway shows, so soon after the invention of the LP record, albums like South Pacific, Annie Get Your Gun, Guys & Dolls, Kiss Me Kate and many more were available, and I avidly devoured them. Finally, the great bass Paul Robeson's 1940 recording of Ballad for Americans captured my imagination so much I wore it out. At the height of the Red Scare in the late fifties, I scoured the record shops around Greenwich Village in New York City seeking a used copy of this wonderful patriotic piece. It was then I learned the Robeson was a communist whose works shops wouldn't carry. When I went back to my Aunt Dot's home on 15th street, she said, “Oh, we have a copy of that. Why don't you take it?” I was thrilled. At around the same time, Dot's husband Frank Mollenhauer, a fine artist, took me to his studio, where I heard him play his White Lady banjo and his 1940's era Martin dreadnought for first time. Uncle Frank had grown up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. We went to the Yankee v. Cleveland Indians double header in 1955 which the Indians swept on their way to winning the pennant and breaking a five year Yankee run of World Series victories. During the same period, my mother took me to see Arturo Toscanini conduct the New York Philharmonic. Toscanini conducted without a baton, and she talked a lot about his beautiful hands. Meanwhile, my Dad took me to the Metropolitan Opera to see Rigoletto. During this period, while my parents' marriage was dissolving, I was studying violin, which I not-so-cordially hated. I wish there had been electronic tuners then! It was a pretty big tent.

For me, as for so many people for whom music has been important (that's most of us, isn't it?), high school and college were crucial elements in setting my musical tastes as they coincided with puberty and sexual awareness, where much of our musical consciousness resides for the rest of our lives. Read Daniel Levitin's excellent book This is Your Life on Music, the best explanation I know of why we love the music we love. I graduated from high school in 1959. Westtown School was a Quaker boarding school in suburban Philadelphia.

A bunch of us spent endless hours in the dormitory listening to music - Dave Brubeck's jazz, Chris Connor, a magical, sexy blonde jazz stylist, Ella Fitzgerald's songbook series of Gershwin, Porter, Rogers & Hart and others, The Kingston Trio, The Limelighters, and on and on. Somewhere during this time I picked up my first guitar, and took a few lessons from a graduate student in Philadelphia who later became the chair of the Folk Music department at the University of Texas. There was a group of guys at school who regularly traveled to Sunset Park in West Grove, PA to listen to country and bluegrass music, I wasn't one of them, and the music escaped my attention then. So, for the most part, did Elvis and the Beatles. I think this was because I was fat, awkward, and didn't think I could dance very well, so I stayed away from dance music, although during this period I did see the Louis Armstrong All-Stars at Sunnybrook Ballroom in Pottstown, PA. I also saw live concerts by Pete Seeger, Josh White, the Chad Mitchell Trio, The Stan Kenton Orchestra, and Ray Charles, along with 15,000 mostly black fans in the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania. During this time I met Irene at a football game and we began our journey together.

While she majored in Physical Education in college, she had been an active member of the band in high school, sang barbershop quartet, played the flute and other woodwinds, and (still maddeningly accurate) sang close harmonies to anything we heard on the radio. Her listening background was in her father's beloved Big Band music and her mother's preferred country music.

What has sparked this first effort at exploring my own musical roots? A couple of weeks ago I began reading a new biography of Billy Joel. I also realized that I was at home in New Hampshire with unlimited bandwidth. I re-activated my Spotify membership. Since Spotify streams almost every recording a listener could imagine, I embarked on an orgy of listening to Joel. As I read about his life I was introduced to some of his early music I was unfamiliar with, allowing his intense driving musical hunger to again reach into my consciousness. It was wonderful way to experience his music, even with the ads, and I think I wrote a pretty good review of the book. Next on my book list was a new thriller by Tim Hallinan. At the end of each of Hallinan's wonderful books he attaches a list of the music he listened to while writing. I jotted down Tim's list (he has become a Facebook friend of mine) and started listening to it. He introduced me to a bunch of new Indie musicians I'd never heard of, but some of whom I found I really liked. At the same time, our son Alex, a guitarist and lover of, particularly, the works of Bob Dylan, but also widely literate in rock music mentioned some of his favorites I should try, too. The easy availability of Spotify and some new influences have begun leading me down some new paths. While writing this piece, I revisited many of the artists mentioned, each raising wonderful memories. Next month I'll pick this up after Irene's and my wedding in 1964, and continue down the musical journey, which has given our life such richness during not only the last decade or so, but for the past fifty years.

--
tlehmann@ne.rr.com
www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com


Future Leaders
Today's column from Randy January
Monday, December 8, 2014,


I was shocked and disappointed to see in the message boards that yet another fine bluegrass festival, Bluegrassin’ in the Foothills, is no more. Shocked because it seems like the few small bluegrass festivals that are left are dropping like flies, and disappointed because in the two years since I got “hooked” on this music, I was unable to make it up to Plymouth even though it was the closest festival to my home. It also got me thinking that though these types of things tend to run their course, as we can only ask so much of such legendary organizers as the L&S duo, where is the next round going to come from?

As an organization, the CBA has done an excellent job cultivating the musical talents of the youth. When you see of some of the musicians that have been involved in the programs such as A.J. Lee, Luke Abbott, Molly Tuttle, and countless others, there is no denying the success. Now granted, many of them would have been great musicians anyways, but giving them a venue to perform at and bringing them together for collaboration and growth; that is the value in the programs and it is paying dividends in the preservation and growth of the music in California.

Certainly those youths that were involved in the program are doing their part to continue the education aspect. Molly is a regular as an instructor at the CBA music camps, Luke is an excellent music teacher and has been really great with the kids at the Youth Academy, and in general most of the up and coming younger bands in the area are really dedicated to giving back to the kids (Front Country comes to mind!). It’s covered, check the box, hats off to all involved, the youth programs have been a huge hit and I hope everyone continues to support them (see Darby’s current call for donations and keep giving!).
The question that is burning in my mind though, is where will the future leaders come from? Not necessarily the ones with phenomenal musical talent, but the ones behind the scenes making it all come together. Who will organize the next set of festivals for all that talent to showcase itself at? Who will champion for the youth that come after the next generation? Who will organize volunteers, run the website, print the newsletters, build the stages, run the sound booths, put together the camps, and essentially keep the association alive and new and fun and prospering?

It’s just astonishing what the current group of leaders, and those that came before them have accomplished. There are so many great people involved to be mentors for the next generation, but are there enough in the next wave to fill the big shoes someday?

Now I know I’m generalizing here, since my initial thought processes was triggered by the L&S scale back and those festivals were not technically “CBA”. I’d still wager a pretty good bet that most of the folks going were card carrying CBA members though, and it’s certainly in the CBA’s interest to foster and encourage these smaller and more personal privately organized festivals. If there is one thing I’ve learned about this music, is that it is about community. To keep these traditions going that community will have to continue to grow and thrive, so I think it is well within the CBA charter to encourage all aspects of that community whether it be CBA controlled or not.

So I think the message, for me at least, is that us Generation X and early Generation Y folks should try to get involved early and do what we can to be a part of this, as in another ten or twenty years from now we will be the ones trying to fill the voids and keep the torch moving forward. It’s not an easy task at times trying to find time to be involved. My own personal schedule involves two young kids, a full time job, and a desire by all of us to experience as much of this wonderful world as we can. Free time is a non-existent thing, so tasks must be weighed and prioritized. Still, it’s not efforts of one that make a great community, but the culmination of the efforts of all. Doing what you can in one small part of the equation can have a profound effect on the whole. Now if I can just resist that urge to kick up the feet and unwind after a long day, and dedicate just a little bit of time here and there, then maybe I can help make a difference too.
Happy holidays to you and yours!


A Peculiar Duel
Today's column from Marcos Alvira
Sunday, December 7, 2014


The fine mist floated a half meter above the damp pampas earth. The sun had not quite lifted its sleepy brow above far off mountains that formed a crooked line at the extent of the plain. Octavio de Ponferrada Suarez Scarambolli sat in the wooden folding chair; the seat wobbled on the uneven ground. Blowing warm moist air into his cupped hands to keep his gnarled joints loose for the grisly business at hand, he shivered— his black wool morning coat, silk vest with the white ascot wrapped snugly around his thin, long neck were not enough to ward off the chill in the early amanacer. Even in the thin light of predawn, when the world is still flat and grease gray, he could clearly make out the thick form of Gregorio Zarrate, or simply Tio Goyo to his faithful lackeys, goons and street mobs that served and adored the caldillo, a brutish local boss of this remote region.

Zarrate commanded the loyalty of the area’s simple campesinos and tough independent gauchos. He understood their distrust of the soft politicians from the large cities. Through his defiance of national politicians and his indefatigable ability to sit and share yerba mate with those whose hands were calloused from a lifetime of rough work, he had gradually attained control of the local consejos and bureaucracies. Octavio, however, knew the truth--the undeniable fact that Zarrate, for almost three decades, had built his hinterland empire upon propaganda, broken backs, lies and ultimately fear from those that opposed him. His common man reputation dissembled the monster that he was. Octavio was the last voice of reason, and he had come to this particular moment when his words of truth would prevail.

Goyo stood among the tall grass, before the sun would cast its first long early morning shadows, his heavy overcoat draped over his broad round shoulders and the sharp, large blade facon tucked into his built as was the traditional style of the gauchos. His thick right hand gripped the rosewood handle of the revolver that he had chosen has the weapon, its bright steel frame contrasting against the flat, colorless sky and earth. Forty feet from him sat his antagonist of many years, the local publisher of a third rate newspaper, a thin periodical that was more innuendo and vitriol than fact and news.

Scarambolli had come to the area many years before, following a young woman who had left the pampas to make her way in Buenos Aires but returning a year later. She had never accomplishing anything more than serving tables at the small street cafes; dancing the Tango at night for a few pieces of copper, and her grand achievement: luring the emaciated young writer, Scarambolli, to her small town. She thought that his education would make him powerful in such a small place as her village and outlying area. Instead, he had engaged in a holy crusade against the ascension of Goyo. To defy and fight Goyo could only result in death, a broken body or poverty. The latter was the destiny for poor Scarambolli, with the ridicule of anyone with enough education and ability to read his preposterous publication.

Eventually the young woman found an other amorous interest in the arms of teamster passing through. On an icy spring night, Scarambolli lay cold and shivering in bed without his beloved, green eyed maiden by his side to keep him warm. Of course, the writer could only blame the great satan, Goyo for this calamity, for who else, in the beguiled academic’s mind, could possibly drive his woman away from true love?

The charcoal sky began to lighten to a hazy gray. Goyo watched, as the intermediary dropped the handkerchief, thus beginning the duel. In the dim light, Scarambolli rolled a white sheet of paper into the ancient, oversized black typewriter. The glowing tip of the cheroot bobbed up and down as the writer held it between the fingers of the same hand he used to turn the roller in the carriage. Even through the mist whisping upwards in long fingers, somewhat blurring Scarambollis extraordinarily thin frame, he could make out the long thin strands of gray hair that hung about man’s ears and collar like the an old bare mop.

“Octavio” shouted Goyo, “don’t be a fool. You are going to die. Pack and leave.” Scarambolli hunched over the typewriter.

Goyo could never understand the nature of animosity between the two. Although his rise to prominence had occurred without the occasional use of forceful persuasion, Goyo had treated his people well and protected them against the exploitation that had befallen many other rural areas such as his. He even provided them with bread and beef when harvests were poor, and he would help rebuild their homes when great storms swept across the plains reducing the earthen hovel to piles of rubble and mud. But now he was tired and wanted to retire from his accomplishments and leave the work to his son. That, however, had become increasingly difficult as Scarambolli tripled the vehemence against his progeny that had once been reserved for him. Moron. Puppet. Idiot child. Child of the beast. Slaver. The insults proliferated the weekly paper until Goyo could take it no longer.

One damp afternoon, as the two passed on opposite sides of the square, Goyo abruptly stopped and called out, “Scarambolli, you are a liar, a coward, and a despicable snake. You were not man enough to find the thief that stole your woman and defend your honor. And now you hide behind your paper and print words that you would never defend to my face. I wish I had really taken your women, for you would do nothing but talk and write. A real man would use his facon to carve his message into his enemies heart.”

Goyo’s voice boomed and echoed. Fine gentlemen and their ladies stopped mid stride. The delivery men reigned in their large draft horses to a stop. Everyone was familiar with the voice of the strong lunged Goyo from his many speeches proffered from the center of this very plaza, but there was menace in his tone today.

And then the unexpected happened: Scarambolli cleared his throat. Just as he had thought--indeed, Goyo had been responsible for the loss of his woman. No doubt he had used her and then sent her away to become one more of his capital assets. Scarambolli could feel his throat tighten with fierce anger...so much anger that tears began to collect around the folds of his small, wrinkled eyes.

He screamed, “You are vile, Zarrate. No woman or child is safe in the streets with animals like you roaming them. It’s time we finished this business. I swear before all present that I will claim justice for every injustice and and evil that you have perpetrated upon me and our citizens. I will exact justice in the form of your life.”

Even the the ladies attired in the finest silks and richly adorned hats could not help but smile mocking at the folly of Scarambolli’s bravado. He had actually threatened Goyo to a duel to the death. Word spread rapidly through the region, but it wasn’t until a few days later after the most recent publication of the paper that it was learned that Scarambolli had chosen as his weapon, his decrepit old typewriter. Some had supposed that the publisher might attempt to drop it on Goyo’s head, but Scarambolli was clear in his message: the printed word was more powerful than brute might.

He would argue to anyone within hearing that his accusations born out in fact would bring Goyo to his knees and put an end to the monster. In fact, he would defend himself with his typewriter in the field. And so that is how Goyo came to be here this dark, bone chilling morning. And now with a shrug, he raised his arm with the pistol. He noticed Scarbolli’s hand begin to move rapidly toward the typewriter as he glanced up at the hulking caldillo. “That typewriter has killed the damned fool,” he thought as he looked down the sights of the American .45 caliber.

Octavio saw the white handkerchief drop to the ground. Strange, he thought that it might poetically slowly float there, but the morning dew had made it heavy and it fell like a stone. His typewriter was loaded, and he put down the cheroot. In the distance, the hollow winded mourn of a great horned owl called out, perhaps for the last time before it’s wide amber eyes closed sleep. For a moment, he thought he heard Zarrate call. His voice had always reminded Octavio of a bears deep snort, huffs, and growl. He began to type, his long delicate fingers accustomed to striking the heavy, chrome rimmed round keys; simultaneously as he glance up in time to to see the orange muzzle flash and hear the thunderous report of the gun slowly roll across the forty feet like a storm gradually crawling across the pampas.

“Odd,” he thought, “I would have thought the bullet would travel much faster.” He saw the elliptical point slowly float toward him, emerging from the blue cloud emitted from the barrel, spinning, in a line with a singular purpose and destination. “Well, then, I suppose I really must get busy,” he continued to think as he began typing furiously, banging the keys, so fast that the black oily levers with the letters on their tiny heads would not come to rest before five more were already driving toward the paper with a fatal force. “Zarrate is a dead man,” he mused and he hammered out paragraph after paragraph of detailing the the litany of Zarrate’s cruel acts over the many years. He wove the murders, the bribes, the extortion, and the torture together in a journalistic tapestry that be worthy of hanging on the walls of a large city newsroom. His arm was like a teamsters whip, it moved so rapidly striking the polished carriage return. And he stacked each completed page in a neat little pile to the left of the typewriter. Zarrate is a dead and he doesn’t know it.

He arched his back to provide relief from the tension from his hunched position and he noticed that the eastern clouds were tinged pink. He glanced up to see that the bullet was had covered half the distance between the two. He was amused with the irony that the lead cone was now the inverse color of the gradually brightening world around him. This observation vitalized him. The world was awakening this morning to the truth of his words, for his words were truth and light. Evil cannot hide in the light and this morning, once and for all his light will slay the beast, Zarrate.

His eyes pinched closely together as he strained to see the bullet and estimate its accuracy and velocity. He was sure he had time to write more, for his tome was complete, the indictment and evidence against Zarrate sat right there on the rickety little table. He was sure that in a moment he would see Zarrate fall into dirt and grass with a perplexed expression of bewilderment, permanently fixed by death, over the irony of his demise at the hands of Octavio. He wondered if Zarrate would fall face forward strike the earth with a loud thud or would he rumple at the knees with his head arched back as to plead with the heavens one last time for mercy and understanding?

The bullet continued its course, but he decide that he had time to continue to write. Looking up again at the dull flat face standing across from him, he decided to write a poem to the woman whose love was stolen from him. It would be grand, perhaps in the tradition of the sonnets written by the English poet Robert Browning to his beloved Elizabeth Barrett. Or perhaps he will show the world his passion and longing for the woman that that had inspired his own light, like the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario. And he began to type, his words breathing, dancing, twirling adagios of love, his words of light illuminating a bleak, humorless world just as the sun was breaking across the horizon. His words spread a myriad of light and color across the sky, the clouds absorbing their pink, orange and yellow from the word that pour from his chest into his hands, onto the paper and into….

The second, standing a mere ten feet away flinched when Octavio’s head snapped back and then lurched forward again in recoil. Bits of skull, brain and blood sprinkled through the air as if the pink clouds of the sunrise decided to shower the earth with red. The second hesitantly stepped forward. The journalist’s white ascot was rapidly turning crimson, and remarkably, Octavio’s hands had managed to remain on the typewriters keyboard. The second’s eyes followed the path from the writer’s arms , to hands, to machine, to paper. At the top left corner of the blood splattered sheet was one neatly typed word, “Banjo.”


The elephant in the room
Today's column from Loes van Schaijk
Saturday, December 6, 2014


Welcome, and pleased to meet you! My name is Loes, I am a new columnist here on the website of the Californian Bluegrass Association, reporting to you from Europe (zooming in: Rotterdam, the Netherlands).

I would like to devote my very first column here to the elephant in the room. On multiple occasions I've heard of American artists cancelling their tour to Europe or not even considering going there in the first place, because they're afraid the whole continent is a war zone or is generally underdeveloped. I've also heard rumors about American citizens being targets for terrorist organisations in the whole world, making it unsafe for them to travel.

If an irrational fear keeps people from doing things that they would actually love to do (like connecting to people from another culture by way of your passion, which is bluegrass music), I think that's sad, a waste both for the artist and the audience that have to miss out on what could be a fantastic experience. So of course I could be really quick to say that the Netherlands are not only very far away from Ukraine and Russia but also perfectly safe (and we have the best drinking water coming from the tap in the whole wide world!). But it would be naive to deny the political tensions between Russia and "the West". So, is the fear irrational or not? I thought the best thing to do was to ask an American living in Russia for his take on things.

Robert Palomo was born in Columbus, Ohio, went to high school in Cleveland and studied music at Indiana University. That's where, in 1971, he first heard Earl Scruggs, and started playing bluegrass banjo himself. The bluegrass image was a bit too conservative for his taste, though, so he dropped it until he encountered The New Grass Revival and Steve Martin in the late 1970's. He fell in love with a Russian woman, and they married in 1992. They moved to St. Petersburg, Russia in 1996 and have lived there ever since.

Q: When you moved to Russia, how did the people around you react to that?
A: On the Russian side, I would say with curiosity and warmth. On the American side, with a lot of head scratching. (That's an English expression meaning they wondered what the hell I was thinking of!)

Q: What was your motivation for moving there? Was it a hard or easy choice?
A: First of all, it was never intended to be a long-term move. I had been working in the computer software industry in Seattle and Silicon Valley for some 5 year without a vacation and I was burned out. Since my wife had an apartment and a job waiting for her in Saint Petersburg, we decided I would take a 1-year sabbatical over there. The added benefit would be that my 2 step-daughters would keep up their native Russian language. We always wanted them to be thoroughly bi-lingual, which they did!

Q: Did your opinion of the Russian people, and your contact with them, change after you learned the language and learned more about their culture/history?
A: I still don't speak the language well. I really improved a lot when I started meeting and playing with Russian bluegrass musicians who don't speak English. Motivation + music, the universal language. I think I was pretty open-minded about the people. My paternal grandfather was a linguist and businessman, and used to host people from all around the world at his home. There I encountered people from Spaniards to Saudis. I was used to conversation going on around me in languages I didn't understand. What I did not really know about Russians was how warm and generous they can be when you meet them on an individual/personal basis. They can be pretty tough and unpleasant to deal with officially, but I guess the same could be said of many peoples. I was impressed with their ways with children and the amazing after-school institutions and programs that were available free to our kids. I am firmly convinced that you can't begin to get close to a people or their culture without some of their language... more than just "hello", "thank you", and "beer please".

Q: What's it like for an American to live in Russia? How would you compare that to life in America?
A: In most ways, it's just living life. There are things that are great, and there are things that drive you crazy. They are just different things. St. Petersburg is a beautiful city. After almost 20 years I still am a little amazed when I drive or walk around in the center. We just don't have architecture like that in the States.

Q: Do politics influence your everyday life?
A: Considering my wife is the chief editor of the Saint Petersburg edition of the opposition newspaper "Novaya Gazeta", I do hear a great deal about what's going on in politics. To the extent that she comes home agitated or stressed out, I'm affected. I probably hear about a lot of stuff that never gets reported internationally. I think the biggest influence politics has on my daily life is to inspire me to make and share music in such a way as to bring people together, countering in some small way the damage the political types inflict on the rest of us.

Q: What was it like over there when the M17 crashed? What did Russian media say about it?
A: My language skills pretty much preclude me consuming Russian media, so most of what I know is second hand. Of course, 99% is state controlled. Mostly the government line sought to focus blame on Ukraine and the West. As in the U.S. there are some rabidly extreme media, not directly state controlled, who were putting out some pretty off-the-wall stuff, like saying it was done by the CIA to discredit Russia, etc. I think not too many people outside of the lunatic fringe actually believed any of that.

Q: Have you ever felt any anti-American sentiment or even hate, living in Russia?
A: Personally, no. Not once.

Q: Have you ever felt unsafe, being an American living in Russia?
A: The streets of Saint Petersburg are one heck of a lot safer than any other city of 5 million I can think of. If I have ever felt unsafe, it was not due to my nationality. As in any big city, there are those who target foreigners generally. At the same time, I would be naive to act as if there were no anti-American sentiment around, so I am somewhat cautious about revealing my nationality to people I don't know.

Q: How are homosexuals treated in Russia these days? Are there ways for a gay tourist or musician to safely visit the country?
A: I am not part of this community, so most of what I do know is second-hand. I've been a musician so long that sexual orientation is about the last thing I care about when I meet someone. Russian officialdom, both religious and secular, is of course very down on LGBT. They have passed some pretty draconian laws, but the thing here is they love to pass tons of laws with no thought to implementation or enforcement. So laws often don't affect anything. However, they are on the books and if someone does something that pisses off the wrong person, the law might be used as a retaliatory weapon. There is certainly a gay community active in the major cities. If someone visiting Russia has a history of activism, or gets invited by persons or groups associated with LGBT or activists, they might get hassled by the authorities. Worst case would likely be detention followed by quick deportation. The official reason would be "visa irregularities".

Q: Is there any bluegrass going on in Russia (Russians playing bluegrass themselves)? If so, would you please tell us something about it?
A: Yes, but not on a large scale. I've met pickers from Novgorod, Moscow of course, and a few other places. When I came here, it was mostly unknown. I'm pleased to be able to save I've had a small hand in helping it to become better known, like organizing the Russia-America Bluegrass Jamboree since 2010. I play regularly with a bluegrass band, the "house band" for the St. Petersburg Country Club. This is not what Americans think of - it's a club whose members are aficionados of American country western and and roots culture. There is no problem with them existing or having activities. Russians in general still don't know bluegrass. They know "country", but not the bluegrass sub-genre. But when they do hear it, they love it. It's hard for bluegrass musicians to form bands, and for bands to find venues because the bar and club scene is very rigidly partitioned into major genres. There is little in the way of variety or art clubs. I know some folks here in Petersburg that are trying to change that and I've already done one show in one place, and am looking to do another couple of places in town next year.

Q: Who's a Russian bluegrass artist of whom you think: everybody in the whole world should know his/her name?
A: Natasha Borozilova. She's on the same label as Donna Ulisse, who was over here several years ago.

Q: What would you advise bluegrass musicians on tour who want to steer clear of the tensions in Russia-Ukraine?
A: I should think they would want to steer clear of travel near the Russia-Ukraine border (Uncle Sam has an advisory out on this), but I think it's unlikely they would be going anywhere but Moscow, Petersburg, or Yekaterinburg. I would advise them to consider who is sponsoring them. If the sponsor is any kind of NGO, or activist or political group, something like that, then the potential for hassles exist. If they would be paid for their gig, they should check carefully about receiving any money in Russia. It's probably best not to. The pros I know who have performed here received payment in their home country. I would also advise them to bring good photos of their instrument, and any documentation they might have of the purchase, and check with Customs officials on entering the country to see if they should have it documented, so they can take it back out with no hassles. This is especially important for instruments in the violin family. They have had a lot of problems with people illegally taking old instruments out of Russia. Guitars, banjos, resos, and probably Gibson style mandos should be no problem, but it never hurts to check with the Red Line customs. They'll probably just send you thru the green line.

Q: What would you advise bluegrass musicians who want to support bluegrass in Russia?
A: Come and perform, meet musicians and jam, and maybe teach a class or two.

Q: How cold does it get in winter where you live?
A: Minnesota is worse. :-) Petersburg is on the Bay of Finland, which tends to mitigate the harshness of winter. We can get a week or more of Siberian style arctic deep-freeze, usually in January. The worst part is the northern latitude. We have the famous White Nights in summer when it never really gets dark, but in winter we have a long period where it never really gets light. That's harder than the snow or temperature.

Q: What are your plans for the holidays?
A: Looking like a visit to the American southwest and a visit with family in southern California. A respite from the long dark winter here.

Q: Are there any important issues that I forgot to address?
A: "Do Russian really drink that much vodka?" Yes. But they can hold it. Don't think you can keep up with them. You can't.


Read more:
Robert Palomo: http://www.robertpalomo.com
Russia-America Bluegrass Jamboree: https://www.facebook.com/russiaamericabluegrass
Natasha Borzilova: http://natashaborzilova.com/


Ten Items or Fewer
Today’s column from Brooks Judd
Friday December 5, 2014


Item 1: October 1970. A friend of mine had a cat that had just had a litter. He asked if I would like to pick out one for my own.I said OK and went to his house and saw six tiny kittens all curled up beneath their mother.My eyes fell on a gray Persian mix and I knew that was the one. I named her Disraeli Spoonful (Dizzy) for short. Dizzy was in our home until 1984.

November 26,2014: Piper, our beautiful cat given to us by our daughter,Rhiannon 7 years ago suddenly became sick and we had to say good bye to her. For the first time in 44 years there is not a cat or a dog or a cat and dog or a cat and dogs living under the Judd roof.

Much has been written about “empty nest” situation. Children grow up and move out into the world on their own leaving a huge empty vacant house for their parents. Sheila and I have been able to adjust to our empty house especially now since we have four grandchildren who visit frequently.

Adjusting to having no pets can be in itself quite an emotional experience. Seven short years ago we were sharing our home with three dogs and Piper. One by one our dogs left us.It is an eerie, empty feeling not having your dog wagging it’ tail at you when you say, “Wanna go for a walk?” and what better start to your day to have your cat curl up beside you on your favorite chair as you drink your morning coffee and do the daily crossword.

All that is gone now. There is a silence that we will have to get used to. Sheila and I have made a promise to ourselves that after we do some traveling and are able to tear out and replace all the carpeting our pets lovingly “marked” for us it will be time to bring a pet back into our home.

Until that time a huge debt of gratitude to: Dizzy, Spot, Vanessa,Betsy,My beloved Sadie, Pepper,Chloe,and to Piper.

Item 2: Just because it is cool: Christopher Walken: “MORE COWBELL!!!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCd0OjjCz88

Item 3 Things that are beautiful and don’t cost a cent.The changing of the leaves on our thousands of trees here in Turlock. Sheila and I have been fortunate to spend the last 34 years here and as every autumn turns into winter a colorful painter’s delight awaits us all. We do love it so..... And now the rains have come! Thank you.

Item 4: A few years back I was going through a very tough time. Of course Sheila, my two daughters Jessica and Rhiannon and my sister, Maria Nadauld (Above the Bay Booking) were there every step of the way. I phoned Rick and carefully explained my situation and Rick simply said, “What can I do?” I knew all I had to do was ask and I know he would be there.

I would like to offer this quote to everyone one out there who has a trusted friend they can rely on. From Epicurus: “It is not so much our friendship that helps us as the confidant knowledge that they WILL help us.”

Item 5: Many years ago Rick and I attended our K-6 Highland School. I would walk over to Rick’s home every morning and wait while Rick would finish his breakfast and get ready for school and then we would take the walk to school.

One morning while waiting for Rick to get ready I began reading the Oakland Tribune and came upon a poem that for some reason I memorized right there. It was called “An ode to an aging hipster.” I think Herb Caen had just come out with the term Beatnik and from that that came the phrase “hip cats” and then “hipster.” This poem was an early ode to the aging beatnik with a green thumb looking for employment.

Man like I’m tired of making this scene,
It’s a slow drag, you dig what I mean.
This looking for work man, leaves me cold
Like all I get is daddy-o you’re too old.

So like I’m a 49er, but man I feel fine.
I have muscle will hustle
And I don’t tap the wine.

If you want a real gone cat
With a hoe and spade,
Well turn me loose dad
You’re garden is made.

Like this is no jazz man,
I dig the cool soil,
You can’t bug this gate
With honest toil,

So call my pad man
And offer me bread,
And I’ll grow your hip flowers,
As big as your head.......

Item 6: Not to be out done Rick had memorized “his” poem and would recite it to his dates prior to asking for a good night kiss.

They strolled down the lane together,
The sky was clustered with stars,
We reached the gate together,
For her I lifted the bars

She did not heed or thank me
For she did not know how,
For I was only the hired hand,
And she the Jersey Cow.

Rick said this worked every time and I do believe him.

Item 7: Thanksgiving at JJ’s in Fremont: All the family, grandchildren etc. came together for a wonderful Thanksgiving Day celebration and feast. Our three grandsons decided to stage a play in their bedroom. My youngest grandson, five years old, came up to me in the living room with a self made ticket and program handed it to me and said the play was about to begin.My other grandson’s blinked the lights off and on to notify everyone else the play was about to begin.I reached for my can of Pepsi and my grandson said in a matter of fact tone, “No unopened cans or bottles allowed.” I quickly reached into my wallet and pulled out a $1.00 bill and offered it to him. He quickly grabbed it and said, “Be careful and don’t spill it.”

Item 8: This column would be longer and more legible but I just got released from Kaiser Hospital in Manteca for minor surgery and my thoughts are still under the spell of anesthesia and therefore more scattered than usual. I’ve double checked it and I hope I didn’t mention politics, religion, or Rick in my column. If so I’m sure I will hear about it.

Until January 2015: Read a book, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, eat a bar of chocolate, and say something nice behind someone’s back.



THE DAILY GRIST…“Never lose the groove in order to find a note.” Victor Wooten, The Music Lesson

Chasing the Groove
Today's column from Dave Williams
Thursday, December 4, 2014


It is Tuesday and I need a welcome column by Thursday morning. Even at this late to my deadline date I’m not sure what I am going to write about. This will be my 36th column and I have never missed a deadline although there are some months when I’ve done a better job than others.

So I sit down to get started writing but in my normal procrastination routine, I decide to go surfing first. Obviously not the surfboard and the ice cold water kind but the kind with the keyboard and monitor. I surf all my normal spots, email, Facebook, Yahoo, check for hits on my band’s web page and finally the CBA website. On the top of “News” column on the left side, I spy the name Edgar. A click on that and then I am an hour and a half down the road (I watched them more than once). For those that haven’t had the chance, please do yourself a favor and go to the archives and go back a couple of days and click on Edgar. It takes you Bluegrass Situation article that is in honor of Edgar Meyer‘s 54th birthday and has links to six videos of Edgar playing the bass, some solo pieces and some with an all-star group of collaborators. Anyhow thanks to Rick, I found my hook for today. It must be editor or webmaster intuition. Good news for me but for you it means I’ll be talking about bass playing again.

Listening to Edgar play is both very humbling and very inspiring. It’s all about the groove. Whether he was playing solo or with others there is always the groove. I am not a good enough writer or musician to describe it but fortunately I am in tune enough to hear and more importantly feel it. The one with Bela called “B’ song is all outside the lines but the groove is there.

My favorite video was the collaboration with another of my favorite bassists Victor Wooten. This video has a bass solo performance, on one bass, shared by these two masters of the instrument. They play two on the bass and also switch off playing without dropping the groove and they are obviously having fun. I posted this one on my Facebook page.

Getting back to the illusive groove, I’m always chasing it and actually find it on occasion and when I do I remember why I play the bass. When you have a good groove, all the music comes together. The leads are better and the fills are hot.

In getting to the groove, I’m not sure where talent and nature take over from the hard work and practice on the bass. It is an age-old question that I think answers itself. Could I practice enough to be able to play like Edgar Meyer? What is enough and how far back in the time machine do I need to go in order to have that much time?

The answer from my perspective is that, most assuredly, I don’t have the talent that Edgar has and I believe that part of that talent is a different level of love of the instrument above all other things in his life that give him the motivation and freedom to put the extraordinary amount of time necessary to play like that.

A friend of mine who is a very accomplished jazz bass player in the bay area told me that the first time he saw Edgar Meyer live he didn’t know if he should go home and practice more or burn his bass.

I’m keeping this all about the bass (sic) but I’m sure it is the same for all instruments. The talent of the top musicians is very evident and that includes the work developing the talent.

So what do we do? We can’t go back and claim all that missed practice time but if we can draw on the inspiration of the Meyers, Flecks, Grismans, Bushes, Thiles, Rices and others, we can find the freedom and enjoyment to put more quality time in on our instruments.

Works for me. I’m off to the woodshed to work on my chops so that the next time I play out, I’ll be ready to find the groove.


b>The Scottish Umbrella
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Well, the rains finally came, and that meant I had to learn all over how to include an umbrella into my life. But there was another, more disturbing development - my little Scottish umbrella is getting beat up, and that makes me sad.

This Scottish umbrella was the first umbrella I’ve ever owned. And I bought it in Scotland, and it reaching the end of its useful life means one less physical connection to a great time in my life. The scotch I bought (Mortlach, single malt) is long gone. It wasn’t really a Scottish umbrella, except that I purchased it in Scotland, and it was plaid. I’m sure it was made in China or Thailand.

I had similar pangs as my marriage outlasted all our wedding gifts. One by one, over the years, these useful reminders of one of the greatest days of my life simply wore out, or became lost. How does one lose 11 cheese plates?

I don’t really collect mementos that are only useful as souvenirs - I like to buy real stuff I can use in everyday life. I relish the connection between these (often mundane) thingsand the stories behind them. So, instead of posters, stickers or little silver spoons, I buy shirts and glasses and, an umbrella.

I try to be the same way with instruments. I still have the very first guitar I ever owned, although it’s no longer playable, and too cheap to be worth repairing. Every instrument I own has a story - some have very long and interesting stories, and I treasure thinking about those stories almost as much as I enjoy the music that comes from them.

Other instruments have slipped through my fingers. I pawned a guitar once to go on a date with a very special girl, and although I miss the guitar, I still have the girl, so I think I came out ahead in the deal. Other instruments were sacrificed to upgrade efforts - an Aida banjo was sold to buy an Epiphone banjo, for example. But my wife bought me the Aida - so it hurt to lose that connection.

Another guitar - also a gift from my wife --slipped away, but not in a bad way. My oldest son needed a quality acoustic guitar, and having it now reside at this house with his wife is a pleasing continuation of that instrument’s story.

So, it’s not really the things I cherish - it’s the stories within them. The umbrella, and cheese plates, the guitars and the banjos. The good news, even when the “things” slip away, or wear out or get passed on, I still have the stories.




How far would you go?
Today's column from Carolyn Faubel
Tuesday, December 2, 2014


(Editor’s Note—In 2014, just in time for Thanksgiving, one of our regular columnists at the time, Carolyn Faubel, asked us this question.)

How far would you go to make your host or hostess feel comfortable, that is, not embarrassed, by a his or her culinary lapse or anomaly?

Let’s say you are having dinner with your sweet mother, or your dear auntie, and she has served your favorite—meatloaf topped with barbeque sauce and caramelized onions. You slide some mashed potatoes over to join the beef and take a big bite. It’s then that you feel the unmistakable sensation of a hair in your mouth. What do you do? Do you abruptly stop chewing, squint your eyes, stick your thumb and index finger into your mouth and grope around until you find it, pulling it out and then holding it up for inspection? “Oh look! I found a hair in my food!” Or do you discretely spit the bite out into a napkin, not saying a word?

Maybe it’s not a foreign object in the dish, but the dish itself. It tastes weird, not to your liking at all. In fact, you would rather not even try to choke it down.

Perhaps you are eating over at your best buddy’s house, or maybe your in-laws. You didn’t know until you took a bite that the chicken was baked with a curry powder crust on it. And the soup tastes sort of swampy. What do you do? Do you say, “I can’t eat this. Do you have any peanut butter so I can make a sandwich?” Or do you politely pick at it and then stop by In and Out Burger on the way home?

When I was a kid, we used to go visit the relatives in another state. One aunt invited all her family over to join us in a dinner, using the “good china” in the top cupboard. As luck would have it, I got the top plate. Which was dusty. The pattern hid it, but when I sat down to my food, I could see the layer. It wasn’t that appetizing, but I did feel very noble about not embarrassing my aunt.

The best story I heard was from my sister. She was visiting her husband’s family and was served pheasant. The host was very proud of his presentation. She was served her section. Crunch! He had forgotten to remove the craw! She ate around it, not wanting to embarrass him by pointing it out. Yikes!

I knew one man who was so terrified and disgusted about the mere idea of a hair in his food that he required his wife and daughters to have very short hair. Does a hair do it for you? Or is it bugs? Grit?

Would you be discreet? Or do you feel like all the participants need to know what you found, or how you think the food tastes?


December President’s Message
Today's column from Darby Brandli
Monday, December 1, 2014


The CBA has had a very busy autumn. Please read Lucy Smith’s article on the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) World of Bluegrass in Raleigh, NC in this issue. Almost every Board member attended as did our hardworking team of volunteers. There were many California Bands in attendance and six of our very own Kids on Bluegrass: Josh, Jake and John Gooding, Jesse Personeni, Helen Foley and Amaya Rose Dempsey were invited to participate in the IBMA Kids on Bluegrass program. We were able to provide $500 to each young person to help with travel and hotel reservations because of your very generous continuing contributions to our Youth Program. Lucy Smith did a fabulous job as “captain” of our team and has volunteered again for 2015. Put this event on your bucket list for 2015: Raleigh estimated that more than 180,000 people attended various events this year at the World of Bluegrass and $10.8 million was deposited into the local economy.

The Fall Campout and Annual Membership Meeting was held in Lodi and attendance was good and the weather perfect. Thanks to David Brace for working so hard to produce this event. Board members were elected (minus me and plus Maria Nadauld and the other incumbents), year round officers and Coordinators were confirmed, Tim Edes was reelected Chairman of the Board, I was reelected President (hence this monthly message) and the Executive Committee now consists of Tim Edes, Montie Elston, Geoff Sargent and newbie Mark Hogan.

The annual donation drive for scholarship money for the 2015 CBA Youth Academy is in effect and there is almost $1000 in the fund. $3000 was collected last year and all was distributed to attendees and the goal is to surpass that amount this year. Donations (tax deductible) can be sent to me at 2106 9th Avenue, Oakland 94606 with checks made out to the CBA Youth Program. Registration for the 2015 event begins January 1 and tuition will remain at $300 per child for the four day camp. There must be a scholarship fund in order to offer scholarships so please consider donating again this year. We have increased attendance to 49 children this year but remember that the 42 enrollee event was sold out with a waiting list by May 1st last year so get those registrations in early (registration information will be on the website and in the January issue of the Bluegrass Breakdown).

Festival Director David Brace and I will meet with the Nevada County Fairground staff on November 14th in Grass Valley along with all the other festival and concert directors of the Fairgrounds. We met last spring when it was announced that the Strawberry Music Festival would make its temporary home on the Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds is fast becoming the place to hear music in Northern California with Father’s Day, Strawberry, World Fest, the Celtic Festival, Music on the Mountain all making their home on the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

Early Bird tickets are available for the 40th Annual Father’s Day Festival now (available to members only) and the Full Hook Up raffle (again for members only) is set for January so get busy and purchase tickets and fill out your form for the raffle. Membership in the CBA is paid for when an Early Bird Ticket is purchased. All volunteers for the festival and Music Camp must also be members (volunteering is a privilege only afforded to members) so make plans to join or renew a membership. All contracts are out for performers and performers will be announced when we receive the contracts. A great lineup is planned for the 40th Annual.

The next big event is the Great 48 Hour Jam in Bakersfield held Thursday through Sunday, January 811, 2015 in Bakersfield. As of today (10/29/14) close to 200 rooms have been reserved at the discounted price. If you do not act soon you will be staying in a neighboring hotel (within walking distance). The Bakersfield event is almost entirely planned with showcase performances Thursday night in the Presidential Suite, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper concert Friday night and special events (KOB, Band Scramble among others) on Saturday night.

There will be round the clock jamming and the event (except for the Friday night concert) is free. The Brotemarkles will again be hosting a Teen Jam Room and we even have teens from Nashville coming to celebrate with us. Various California associations and Music Caravan will host suites with entertainment and space for celebrating the music. The Amtrak station is a couple of miles away so consider taking the train (we are thinking seriously about it this year). Every year this event is attended by more and more people, which computes to more and more fun. Lots of our Southern California family shows up. There will be opportunities to: join the CBA, purchase Father’s Day tickets, register for our camps and simply meet us.

Thank you all for your continuing support of the CBA (demonstrated by active membership) and just wait to you see who will be performing at Father’s Day this year. Please keep your membership current. We count on the income and also count on the numbers of members to demonstrate to our advertisers and sponsors that we are an Association worth their while to support. Active membership is very important to the Association. Give a membership for a holiday gift. Happy Holidays and Happy New.


Top Ten Tips for Happy Bluegrassers
Today's column from Cameron Little
Sunday, November 30, 2014


(EDITOR’S NOTE—Cameron’s tips from last spring seemed to have worked for a whole lot of pickers interested in upping their game at the FDF. Here they are again.)

The California Bluegrass Association Father's Day Festival is a breathless 27 days away and counting. Here are our top ten festival tips to keep you knee-deep in bluegrass happiness:

1. Use Your Sunscreen
Just do it. Nobody needs a leathery, peeling neck just to prove their redneck-ed-ness. Also good to use on the top of your feet if you're the Birkenstock type.

2. Bring Cash
Not just for my tips, mind you. You'll want cash for the late-night hot dog stand, for purchases big and small, and to snag that new guitar you've been lusting for.

3. Give Yourself Permission
Deconstruct your schedule. Roam the booths, sit in the best seats (when empty), stay out of the sun, cool off with the luthiers, jam in the campground, schmooze with the vendors, take a nap, hang out on the grass, drink in the night. It's a whole festival kind of experience and you deserve it all.

4. Wear sturdy shoes, ladies
I'm not kidding. Most of the lovely womenfolk I know have this one down, but every year we download our entire supply of mole skin, bandaids, and golf cart rides to the clueless fashionistas. Don't be one of them. I'll give you a ride even if you don't have blisters.

5. Goodwill
It's a nice thing to remember that mentors and celebrities always hobnob with us regular folk at bluegrass festivals. At one of my first Father's Day festivals, I was between sets at a side stage, chitchatting with a gentleman and his wife. We were laughing about something and he crossed his legs to reveal a very one-of-a-kind cowboy boot. Well, danged if I wasn't shooting the breeze with the legendary Doyle Lawson. I'd never seen him without a hat and snazzy jacket but man, I'd recognize them boots anywhere!


6. A Canopy for Your Flamingo Lights
Just sayin'. They could be little martini glasses or bass fishes or leg lamps from the "Christmas Story" ("FRA-GEE-LAY. That must be Italian!")

7. Baby Wipes
Okay, okay. Just work with me here. Good for cleaning your feet before you get into bed if nothing else. Great for wiping all the blackberry crumble off your shirt.

8. Bring Earplugs
Seriously. These tiny little pillows of love have saved my sanity at bluegrass and other festivals more times than I can count. Not only do they help insulate you from honking vocals and off-key serenades that sometimes define after-hours in Bluegrass-land, they also let you sit a little closer to the speakers if you need a nose-to-the-glass view of your favorite headliner.

9. Pace Yourself
It's practically a rite of passage to stay up all night at a minimum of one festival in your bluegrassing career. Not too long ago, my pal and I did just that, chugging contraband Starbucks in the wee hours of the morning. I had great plans for the daylight hours that day: volunteer for gate duty, jam in the campground, and catch some main stage acts, especially the Seldom Scene. All of this SOUNDED good at the time. The reality was that after our volunteer shifts, and musicating, we basically crawled to our seats, determined to bask in the glow that is the Seldom Scene. Could I keep my eyes open? No. Did my mom take pictures of me, head all the way back on the lounge chair with my mouth wide open? Oh, yes. Am I ever gonna do that again? No. At least not as long as she has a camera in her hand.

10. Bring your Attitude
Healthy, workable, and playful festival attitudes result from experience but here's a tip Bluegrassers of any stripe can benefit from:

No matter how early or late you get to the campground, you might encounter a "grumpy person" or two. Sometimes folks just need to decompress after a long drive or whatnot, and sometimes a little tizzy is thrown to let off steam. Cocktail hour is often the prescription the doctor ordered, but if you or anyone you encounter needs a little help in this area, just direct them to a staff member. These guys EXIST so you can have a great time and believe me they'll do everything possible to ensure you do. Plus we love using our walkie-talkies because it impresses the girls.



THE DAILY GRIST..." That pygmies could cast such giant shadows, only to show how late in the day it has become."--Erwin Chargaff

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."--Isaac Newton


Grist
Today's column from Bert Daniel
Saturday, November 29, 2014


(On this fifth Saturday of the month, we reach into the vaults for an essay from Dr. Bert, whose “grist” quotes he selects for his columns are matched only by the gritty quotes he manages to produce himself. Remember, a week from today we have our first-ever across-the-Atlantic Welcome column.)

One new thing I like on the CBA web site is the grist feature. It's a series of pithy quotes, not necessarily directly related to Bluegrass, that makes you think as you start your day. I used to check the Wikipedia page every day for similar intellectual stimulation but now I don't have to. My favorite web site has it covered already. And if I forget, it's no problem unless the quote is lame, which it rarely is. How do these great quotes get up there? I heard at one point that there was a contest with prizes but I don't know if anybody ever won. Maybe I missed it. I sent in a few good quotes, but I never won the prize.

I love grist so much that I even created a file in my computer to save ideas for future welcome columns. I had to bypass it just now when I tried to save the draft of this column. Sorry, that file name already exists. I guess I'll have to just knuckle down and finish writing this column.
Like I say, I never won a grist prize but I did try. Maybe I should have sent in the two quotes above. They are two of my favorites. Erwin Chargaff was a biologist who discovered a very important fact about DNA. The base ratios he documented allowed Watson and Crick to figure out what the physical structure of that molecule was. Maybe Chargaff was envious of the fame Watson and Crick had suddenly achieved when he penned his pithy imagery.

Newton was one of the greatest geniuses who ever lived. We all know about Newton's laws. Calculus originated with Newton and with his contemporary Leibnitz. Although the quote is associated with Newton, it was actually first attributed to Bernard of Chartres centuries earlier. If I had been as smart as Newton, I doubt I would have been quoted with such modesty.

If you've read this far you're either a nerd like me or you're desperately hoping for some Bluegrass content to hold your interest. Your buddy Bert usually gets to the point. Doesn't he?

Here's the point. Good grist, like the two quotes above, applies to Bluegrass just like everything else. It's up to the modern practitioners of Bluegrass to live up to the promise of the genre that was created by people like Bill Monroe, the Carter Family, Fla