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And I saw him every day of the festival, up front, to the left of the stage, from the time the music started, to the time the music stopped, Dancing. Dancing like a well oiled machine, legs pumping like pistons, arms swinging in perfect time.

And as I began to attend every festival I could find, I saw John everywhere. Dancing to Dave Grisman group at Wild Iris, to Flo and Eddie at Kate Wolf.

I saw one of the Bands pull him up on stage with another dancing girl at Plymouth, bluegrassin in the foothills,” where he got to shine in the spotlight for a short time, still pumping those legs like pistons and swinging those arms in perfect time.

I’ve seen him at grass valley when it was hot enough for serpent to seek out a refrigerator to keep from shriveling up and dying, still dancing like a Wildman, sweat dripping down his shirt, holding a gallon water jug to drip on the ground to keep down the dust.
And It really didn’t matter where the festival was or what kind of music was playing, he doesn’t care. He just dances.

And I’ve got to know him over time. Gotten to know that he has gone to hundreds of festivals. Gone there to listen. Gone there to dance.

And for some folks, it just ain’t enough to listen. To some folks music is not just an intellectual past time, or a heart expression. Some people just feel it all over and can’t contain it. Like that old gospel song that the central valley boys sang…

God’s not dead he is alive
God’s not dead he is alive
God’s not dead he is alive
I feel it in my hands
I feel it in my feet
I feel it all over me

I was down at Tres Pinos at the good old fashioned this month, and I watched party Patty the massage lady dancing to the right of the main stage after working hours. She danced with the joy of total release. Danced with every fiber of her being, shaking off the dust of this hard life, periodically shouting out like Bob Wills in a jammed dancehall.

….and over there, on the other side of the front of the stage was dancing John, a little older, maybe nursing a few overworked tendons, but feeling that music right down to his bones.
Keep on Dancing, John, keep that fire burning.

THE DAILY GRIST..."No man ever repented that he arose from the table sober, healthful, and with his wits about him.” -- Jeremy Taylor (1613 - 1667) [Taylor was a Church of England Cleric famed as a writer during the time of Oliver Cromwell.]

MMmmmmmmm....white lightning!
Today's column from George Martin
Thursday, August 13, 2015

We all know it’s rare to get hit by lightning, in fact getting struck is frequently used as an example of unlikelihood, as in “It’s easier to get struck by lightning than to win the lottery,” or other unusual possibilities.

But when you are standing under an E-Z UP canopy at Bolado Park in Hollister at 1:30 a.m. and the rain is falling and lightning is starting to strike VERY NEAR, well, one reassesses the odds.

Factor in a full bladder and a 60-yard walk across an open field to the porta-potties, and one has a serious internal dialogue about just how badly one wishes to pee, and just how important it is that said urine be deposited in a respectable and sanitary manner, rather than just be allowed to flow onto the already damp grass.

This ethical debate happened last Thursday night at the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival. The TV weather person had accurately forecast the day before that Thursday night was going to be a lightning storm in San Benito County. But that’s a big place and the little valley along Highway 25 is a small place, and besides it’s very rare to get hit by lightning, right?

The evening began with bright flashes from far away over the ridge, followed by a long pause and then some thunder. Some of the flashes didn’t seem to make thunder; I suppose they were very far away. But the flashes came closer and closer and finally the strikes started hitting right in “our” little valley. Only a few, really, but VERY close and VERY loud.

My grandson woke up in his tent and he and my son retreated to their minivan. My wife had been asleep in the tent but the close flashes woke her up. She stayed put; there is almost no metal in our tent and we were sleeping on thick inflated foam pads. I sat down on a camp chair and watched the show for a while before finally just abandoning the idea of walking to the potties. I just did it on the ground, while thinking, “well, I’m grounded now, for sure.”

I had to abandon my usual GOF system of watching almost all of the acts. The grandson wanted to see Pinnacles National Park, so we left the fairgrounds most of Friday to go hiking in the caves. Then on Saturday family members from Hollister and Fresno showed up for a family reunion, and that shot most of that day. We were camped in the field not far from the stage and the music made a nice backdrop to all the socializing that went on. Thanks to Bruno Brandli for helping entice my (electric guitar-playing) son into picking some bluegrass tunes. That hardly ever happens and was pretty much worth the price of our ticket.

I am reluctant to buy CDs lately because I already have too many, but Barbara picked up a Central Valley Boys CD. We played it in the car today as we ran some errands and it is terrific. Great song selection, great vocal trio (and quartet), great breaks, fine sound. Beautiful cover and inside art. A top-drawer effort.

Crossroads and Milestones
Today's column from Bruce Campbell
Wednesday, August 12, 2015

When I was a boy, it seemed like my grandfather began every conversation with my parents with the line “You know who died yesterday?” There have been times when the CBA Message Board had that same grim aspect. As a lad, I figured it was just stuff old people worried about. Now that I am of an age I would have considered “old” from the perspective of an under-10-year-old (notice how I avoided calling myself old), I now know that eventually, most people live long enough to be able to view someone’s life from the longer perspective.

That perspective is important - it reveals (or seems to reveal) some insights into what a person’s life came to mean, and frankly, when that life ends, the sum total of the person is a complete work. So now I understand my grandfather was just preparing to render some thoughts on persons recently deceased now that he had the whole picture. The older you get, the easier it is to imagine someone doing the same for your own life, once it ends.

I want to seize this bully pulpit for a few words for a couple of people who passed away quite recently - one I knew fairly well, and the other barely.

The first was a man I met 10 or so years ago, a bluegrass musician (and CBA member) named Andreas Muno. We were friends, but not inner circle buddies - I had never been to his house, for example. But Ihave jammed with him frequently over the years, and enjoyed socializing with him and his wife at picking parties and the like, He was an amateur musician, like me, and enthusiastic about playing and quite a scholar of all things bluegrass. He was one of those guys who, if you mentioned a bluegrass song, knew of 5 or 6 versions and who played on each one.

He was a big man, and played the teeniest of bluegrass instruments - the mandolin. He was born in Germany and sang bluegrass with a German accent. If that sounds comical, it wasn’t - he was too earnest for that to be so. The feeling and effort he put into playing the music he loved was serious and his accent was part of his delivery. Being around anybody who loves music passionately is always pleasant, and he seemed to take great pleasure in the details of bluegrass, and his enthusiasm was very infectious - in short, he was a joy to be around. He had a hugely positive impact on the people around him, from his family on outward, and what else is life for?

The second was a lady I met only once, named Audrey Auld. The Whiskey Brothers had a gig playing a wedding reception at a park in Berkeley, and the bride’s mother said there would be a special guest - a well known artist and she would like to do a few songs. Nobody in the band had heard of her, but we looked her up on the Internet, and it was intimidating - she was some sort of superstar, and we hoped she wouldn’t scorn our “gifted amateur” musical abilities.

The day of the gig came and we met Audrey and her husband Mez, and she was a delight. We had heard she was very ill, but on that day in July, you wouldn’t know it. She watched us play and listened for a while, and then played a few songs by herself, and then invited us to back her up on some songs. We had rehearsed a number of songs from her albums, so we were prepared. If there any apprehensions about the unknown (would she be difficult or impatient? Haughty?), they were dispelled immediately. She and her songs were beautiful and the music seemed to flow effortlessly from her. Also evident was a lively (and a little bawdy) sense of humor, which had everybody laughing and at ease - band and audience alike. It was immediately obvious why she was such a celebrated musician, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

It was a shock to see an announcement yesterday from Larry Carlin that she had passed away - and chilling to realize how ill she must have been that day, but didn’t show it. If she had been so memorable to hang out with for one afternoon, imagine how the thousand and thousands of people she’s touched over the years must feel. We were all fortunate to be exposed to her considerable gifts, and the world is diminished by her departure from it.

RIP my friends. You may be gone, but the positive effects you had on those around you live on.

Both of these people died of cancer. Great strides have been made in the fight against cancer, and I suspect both Andy and Audrey lived longer because of those strides. Obviously there’s more work to be done.

Writing Criticism
Today's column from Ted Lehmann
Tuesday, August 11, 2015

(Editor’s Note: Ted, we’re told, is a “week out of sync,” no doubt due at least in part to the crushingly frenetic pace he and his wife keep each summer bouncing from one bluegrass festival to another. In any event, we’ll run a piece he wrote back in 2008 about the craft of writing reviews, which, if you’ve ever written one, you know IS NOT as easy as falling off a log.)

There’s been a thread running on Bluegrass-L about the role of criticism writing within bluegrass. It began with a discussion of the imminent demise of the online version of Bluegrass Now magazine, which had switched from print to electronic publication last spring. Someone commented that CD reviews in BN, and later, by extension, the music press, tended to be bland, supporting bands almost without regard to whether the music was any good. Some people involved in the conversation held that the bluegrass press was unnecessarily kind to CD releases, not criticizing them sufficiently. Another current ran suggesting that writers present their material so that thoughtful readers reading between the lines could see lack of huge enthusiasm on the part of the reviewer. Ron Block, with his usual restraint and wisdom, commented: “We must do our best to understand a recording - its purpose and intention - and give it several listens before making judgment calls. It's the only way to deal with reviewing something justly. Expectations must also be put aside. Many reviews, especially on Amazon, are like this: "I expected A. The artist did C, D, and E. Therefore I'm giving it two stars, because it isn't what I wanted the artist to do." There are other reviews which are simply variations on this theme - the reviewer's likes and dislikes running the show.” Lynwood Lunsford chimed in that reviews are just someone’s opinion, and it’s up to the review’s reader to decide how much credence to give the comments or commentator. Several issues grow from this discussion.

In 2008 I wrote 35 book reviews, 7 CD reviews, and 83 festival commentaries, including both previews and reviews, out of 130 blog entries so far. There may be some overlap in these categories. I received or bought a number of CDs I have not yet written about, partly because I find writing good reviews (as distinct from positive ones) to be the most difficult task I face in blogging. Earlier in the year a group called Woodpecker and billing itself as Indie, Punk, Bluegrass sent me a CD titled “f-hole.” This title, or course, referred only to the sound hole on an f-style mandolin. I listened to the music and lyrics several times through, finding its content quite scatological and the music abrupt and generally devoid of melody. Our son listened to the CD and remarked that it sounded like pretty good Punk music to him. In the end, based on the sexual content of much of the lyrics and my lack of any background in punk music to which I could compare this work, I decided not to review it. In doing so, I made a less obvious decision not to pan it. This raises the question of whether I’ve been untrue to my critical muse by not writing a bad review.

A quick look at any mass market or special interest magazine easily reveals that they depend for a significant portion of their income on advertising. Whether it’s “Vanity Fair,” “The New Yorker,” “Field and Stream,” “TV Guide,” or even “Bluegrass Unlimited,” magazines rely on advertising. In these days of changing economic and technological relationships, advertising support becomes even more important. In a bluegrass magazine, advertisements from instrument manufacturers, festivals and other events, and recording companies constitute the bulk of advertisers. Publishers take on these people to their peril. Media outlets must always balance their editorial independence against the risk of lost revenue. Even little bloggers like me must consider their comments before publishing material too critical of the organizations on which they depend. While I don’t accept advertising (yet) and insist on paying for tickets to all events we attend (still), my ability to do my job well depends on my developing and maintaining good relationships with artists and promoters. I’ve developed a reputation among members of bands for not divulging information they’re unwilling to go public with. This enables me to know and understand events in the bluegrass world in ways that some others may not be able to. Nevertheless, it behooves me to maintain good relations with performers, promoters, record publishers, and so-on.

I’m not without opinions about what I see and hear, but I’ve become increasingly reluctant to express negative ones on first exposure, especially where it concerns bands. I can think of several instances when I’ve been unimpressed with bands on first hearing them and then found them growing on me as I became increasingly familiar with their work. One good example is the very good Tennessee band Blue Moon Rising. On first hearing them at a festival, I thought they were pretty good, but unspectacular. They played and sang well, but exhibited little stage presence or showmanship and their singing didn’t set them apart from the many other good regional groups out there. Over a period of something more than a year, we encountered them at several festivals, and with each hearing they seemed to me to have gained along every front. Furthermore, Chris West and Keith Garrett’s song writing was excellent as was the group’s presentation of these very good songs. Garrett’s baritone voice is truly excellent. Harold Nixon on bass has added a new vibrancy to the group. I see them now as truly excellent. The question is: Has their work improved or has my ear and attention? It may be both, but I’m certain I approach their performance with a greater willingness to see the excellence that may have been there all along. I’ve learned to allow my opinions of a group to mature, especially when my first impression tends towards the negative.

Thoughtful criticism is hard work, and I like to think I work hard at it. But it’s also clear to me that good criticism is not just “one person’s opinion.” A critique becomes increasingly reliable based on a body of experience attained with an open mind and heart for the spirit of what’s being offered. In many ways, Earl Scruggs’ standards to tone, taste, and timing govern bands, CDs and even festivals. Bands who allow bad taste to dominate their performance can perhaps bring in fans for a while, but ultimately they’ll lose their audience. Attention to audience is crucial to both bands and promoters, and to critics, I might add. Carefully thought out criticism can illuminate the strengths and weaknesses in performance. A critic has a responsibility to his audience as well as to his critical stance. I try to be very consistent in my pleas for a large tent approach to bluegrass and to bluegrass promoters for their responsibility to educate their audience to a broader version of bluegrass. I seek to apply the tone, taste, and timing criteria to assessing bluegrass performances, both live and on disk. I also try to place a band’s performance within the context of their goals as a band. I don’t want to judge a traditional band by a standard saying they’re not progressive enough, for instance. Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy writing about my experiences in bluegrass and giving thanks for the new and exciting opportunities it has offered me so late in life.

There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.
- Norman Vincent Peale

Bluegrass enthusiasm as engine of mediocrity
Today’s Column from Marty Varner
Monday, August 10, 2015,

Howdy readers. While you are reading this, I will probably be in the middle of an everlasting slumber as a result of Dave Gooding’s Birthday Weekend, also known as The Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival. While The Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival has the big crowds and big names, GOF brings the best California bands and pickers together for an always memorable weekend, and this one was no different. One of my buddies who I saw this weekend was Yoseff Tucker. Along with being one of the best guitar pickers out there, he has also decided to run for the CBA board this year. I urge every member to vote for him. Along with having a younger voice in the board, Yoseff is also a very busy musician who can understand those types of issues as well. And even though he publically is very pro-traditional bluegrass, I know that Yoseff appreciates all types of good music and will be a very balanced member of the board.

Now let’s talk about that balance. I have nothing against traditional bluegrass as most of you know, but I do have a problem with any type of art form becoming static. Rock and Roll, R&B and other popular genres are becoming more diverse, entertaining, and active because of the large role critiques play in the music. When buying new bluegrass albums one does not make a decision based on what bluegrass listening experts have recommended. One simply picks up the next CD from a band they are already familiar with. I do not think that this is because of a lack of desire for this knowledge, but just a lack of people commenting and writing about what they are listening to. And when reviews are written, they are frequently merely publicity pieces describing what the album is and who is on it. There is never the “how” or the “why” that, in my opinion, is necessary for a good CD review.

Now this isn’t against any album that has recently been reviewed by Bluegrass Unlimited, but there is no way they are all good. And if they were all good, some would still be better than others. Just like album sales, there needs to be some type of critical hierarchy, where the listeners know what bluegrass bands are better at their craft than others. If listeners were more critical of bluegrass projects and truly praised the ones that succeeded, there wouldn’t be a stain on the bluegrass festival circuit like SPBGMA, whose awards ceremony has as much integrity as FIFA. Another problem that would be solved if listeners were more public with their opinions is less bands like Mumford and Sons being mistaken for bluegrass. If bluegrass listeners as a whole decided some bands and some songs were actually better than others, actual bluegrassers would have more control about how they are represented by people who are not really aware of them. Also writers would be able to negatively critique bands like Mumford and Sons and separate ourselves from that pseudo genre.

Local radio stations are a saving grace during these times. But those can only go so far. A radio host can’t play a song on the radio and say, “That was Mumford and Sons with that terrible song I will never play again.” Radio hosts can ply listeners the good stuff, but usually the good music that is played is already known by the listener, since that is what most listeners search for when they are trying to find a radio station. Radio hosts would be the first to agree with me, that the more we can separate what is great from what is good, and what is okay from what is bad the more successful bluegrass will be. But radio hosts can only do so much, it is up to the listener to have a critical ear and let other people know about that critical ear.

This Bluegrass Life – The Gig
Today’s Column from John A. Karsemeyer
Saturday, August 8, 2015,

“Hey fellow band members, I got us a gig,” the banjo player said.

“Oh yea, tell us about it,” the rest of the four piece band responded, in unison, with harmony.

“Okay, it’s at a little place on the corner of the town square. It’s called the Almost Bluegrass Café, a brand new venue for live music, food, and beverages. It just opened for business. The owner is a closet banjo player, and he loves bluegrass music.” The banjo player was excited. “Come on gang, this would be our first gig in a long time. I think we should do it. After all, the only place we’ve been playing for the past six months is my garage.”
Ten Items or Fewer

“Hold on just a minute,” the fiddle player spoke up, “how much does it pay?”

“Uh well, that’s the down-side of it. At least the potential down-side of it,” the frowning banjo player answered. “The owner said because the Café is so new, he can’t afford to give us a set amount of money, but he did say the band will get all of the door proceeds. What do you all think?”

“That’s a pretty shaky deal,” the lead singer and guitar player chimed in. “What are the play times?”

The hopeful banjo player answered, “We’d start at nine, and go to midnight. I think it would be fun, and we’d probably make at least a hundred bucks. Maybe more, since it’s going to be on a Friday night.”

“I’ve got a good feeling about this gig,” the smiling bass player said.

“Well, I don’t have a good feeling about it,” the concerned mandolin player stated, with a loud voice. “This is not a bluegrass kind of town. This is an uppity tourist town that is more in interested in pop music and a hundred dollar bottle of wine than bluegrass and a three-dollar brew.”

“Maybe we can convert them, and get them to change from Jimmy Buffett to Jimmy Martin,” the banjo player responded, full of more hope than before. “Let’s take a vote.”

“I’m for it,” the bass player said, plucking all four open strings at once.

“I’m not,” the guitar player jumped in, playing the introduction to, “Dueling Banjos.”

“Me neither,” said the mandolin player, suddenly playing the melody to, “Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake.”

After a long pause the fiddle player said, “Okay, I don’t have a very good feeling about this gig, but I’ll go along. It is, I think, worth a shot.”

“Wow, okay, so it’s up to me,” the banjo player said, eyes twinkling. “Let’s go for it!”

So, Friday’s sun came up and went down, followed by the band’s starting time at nine in the evening. The Café’s owner stepped to the mike and announced, “Here tonight ladies and gents, we have a special treat for you. Let’s give a big hand to the ‘Well-Fed Bluegrass Band.’” The owner’s words were followed by the sound of only two hands clapping; his.

“This is a bummer,” the guitar player whispered. Then he kicked-it with a bluesy bluegrass guitar intro, and launched vocally into Jimmy Martin’s, “Sunny Side of the Mountain.” The banjo player started the second song of the set, Bill Monroe’s, “Way Down In The Blueridge Mountains,” with nothing said to the audience; because there was no audience.

As the band started the third song of the night, a couple walked in the front door, and took seats at the bar that was located just to the right of the stage. “Okay, two is better than nothing,” the whole band thought to themselves.

During the fifth song, “Man of Constant Sorrow,” by the Stanley Brothers, three more folks came through the door, and sat down at a table directly in front of the band. And the night slowly went on.

By the start of the third set, after eleven, the band was going strong, having left its mark on the meager audience by playing all traditional bluegrass songs (no New-Grass, or pop music icons covers stood a chance). Yes, going strong, even though there was a grand total of twelve people in the aforementioned establishment. The songs went on, with mild applause (as had been the case all night).

After what was to be the next to last song last, “Freeborn Man,” by Jimmy Martin, a man, who appeared to be in his sixties, turned his head from the bar toward the band. He had been sitting at the bar all night, saying nothing, and now he suddenly asked, “Hey, can you play Louie-Louie?”

“That’s it!” the lead singer yelled. “I’m outta here.”

Later, when the band had reassembled for the ride home in the old Chevy van, the inevitable question was raised by the lead singer. “Hey Mr. Banjo player, how much did we make?” The banjo player said nothing, reached into his pocket, and handed each member of the band $2.40. After that, nobody said anything; even as each band member left the van and went home on that very late Friday night.

The following Tuesday’s headline of the town’s bi-weekly newspaper read, “Local banjo player in bluegrass band missing for three days.”

Today's column from Brooks Judd
Friday, August 7, 2015

Item 1) After a few weeks of remodeling, the Judd household has new laminate flooring throughout the household and two bathrooms have been completely remodeled.We are pleased with the results. Once your thirty year mortgage is paid off you can start over and make your home the castle you always wanted, humble as it may be. Alas, the two month around the world voyage will have to be put off for a few decades.

Item 2) Dustin, the young man who spent three weeks tearing down and then rebuilding our bathrooms is quite skillful and in demand. We had to wait one month just to have him come look at our bathrooms and another month before he could begin the project. He did an excellent job.

Item 3) Last night was the big debate.This is being written before hand so I can only predict what might happen. The whole show should be interesting.

Item 4) My sister Maria Nadauld (Above the Bay Booking) put aside my copy of J.D.Rhyne’s wonderful cook book for me and I am now a proud owner of J.D.’s finest recipes. It is a wonderful tasty treat for all of us even if most of us are not talented as J.D. in the kitchen. To all those involved great job.

Item 5) I do have one request concerning J.D.’s book. His calorie laden gourmet food fest is filled with wonderful photographs that have no captions telling us who, what, when, and where. Maybe J.D. or CBA folks who have the book would be willing to sift through the pictures and create some sort of index for these pictures. Just a thought.

Item 6) The wonderfully talented Larry Carlin posted a video of this years Strawberry festival where an electric band urged the folks to get out of their chairs, come to the front of the stage and dance. They got up and danced destroying what once was a sacred bond between audience members at these types of shows, “Thou Shall Not Block the View!”

Larry commented how the mixture of alcohol and lack of social curtesy can turn a pleasant outing at a concert into a frustrating day at the fair grounds. It brought back many memories of the countless rock shows where something similar has happened. I could write an entire column how my concert experiences were spoiled by one or more rude,smug,self-entitled individuals.

Item 7) On a similar note: A few years back Sheila and I went to the cozy Berkeley Community Theater to see Ringo Starr and his All Star Band. The venue is clean, well kept, acoustically sound, a great place to watch and hear a show. We had really good tickets near the front of the stage. Right before the show started four young men came down the aisle and sat right behind us. One man was loud and drunk yelling out, “Ringo! Ringo! I wanna see Ringo!” We heard them say that it was the loud one’s birthday and his friends brought him here as a birthday gift. He had loved Ringo and had never been able to see him perform.

I looked at Sheila and she gave me the,“Don’t you dare start something look.” I smiled and told her I would wait until the show started to see if the loud mouth was going to continue to bellow. The show started and we didn’t hear one peep from him during the show.

It was a gratifying fun filled show. When Ringo finished “A little Help From My Friends” and waved good bye to his fans I turned around to see how Mr. Loud Mouth enjoyed the show. Birthday boy was being shaken awake by his three mates.Apparently he had passed out right as the show started and missed the entire show. I couldn’t help but smile, but in a way I felt bad for the guy. At least he didn’t wreck any one else's experience in enjoying the show.

Item 8) Any CBA folks have a story of a rude audience member or something similar? Let us know. I will say that in all the shows I have seen at Grass Valley not ONCE have I ever felt that an audience member being rude or disrespectful. Class acts all the way.

Item 9) Gotta go #1 Urine Be-Gone paint: Urinists (?) in San Francisco beware! City workers have painted “tainted” walls with an anti-urine paint. Apparently when the offender uses the wall as a urinal the offending liquid is splashed back onto the pant leg of the law breaker. Local officials say it is working so far.

Gotta go #2: As of this time no paint has been developed for this problem.

Until September 4: Read a book, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, enjoy a bar of chocolate, and smile.
Posted:  8/14/2015 6:44:51 AM

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