Author: Poling, Chuck

Preparing and Preaching for Festival Season

Bluegrass music fans in California are starting to feel that itch. We’re past the chilliest days of winter and it’s time to start thinking about going through the camping gear and preparing for the summer festival season.

There’s the inflatable mattress that needs patching, a box of kitchen utensils to organize, and sleeping bags to air out. Maybe there’s some new camping gadget that a friend showed you last year. “Gotta get one of those.” Maybe it’s time to replace your pop-up tent that you’ve been holding together with duct tape.

To the uninitiated, it might seem kind of obsessive to be thinking out this far ahead. It’s like a duck hunter cleaning his gun in June for a season that begins in October. But I’m sure that veteran bluegrassers (as well as experienced duck hunters) understand the value of preparedness. Besides, it’s something we can do now that helps us think of what we’ll be doing then – sitting around a campsite with our friends playing the music we love.

Besides checking the gear, there are other practical considerations. Most folks who work regular jobs need to put in for vacation for the days they’ll be taking off. If you’re planning to stay at a motel rather than camp, you’ll need to make your reservation.

These tips apply to not only seasoned festival-goers but to the vast sea of casual bluegrass fans who have yet to experience the wonders of bluegrass al fresco. They’re out there. You know them. They show up occasionally or even regularly to your local jam. You see them at performances and have chatted with them, but you never see them at CBA events. Maybe you’ve got a co-worker who thinks it’s really cool that you play bluegrass and may have come to a gig or two that your band played.

There’s a huge pool of people who enjoy bluegrass music yet don’t know much about its roots, tradition, instrumentation or where bluegrass stands in relation to other forms of American music. But even if they don’t know Ralph Stanley from the Rolling Stones, they hear something in bluegrass music that speaks to them and moves them.

So now’s the time to educate these potential recruits and start them on the high lonesome road to enlightenment. We have plenty of time until the Fathers Day festival to spread the word and give people time to reserve vacation days, replace missing tent stakes, and pick up some propane.

If you invite these newbies to camp with you and your friends, you’ll make the experience all the better for everyone. Your guest has a good camping spot with convivial company, and your jam circle has added some new talent and some new songs to the mix.

Jeanie and I have had great experiences bringing new folks up to Grass Valley. A couple of years ago I invited a work colleague to join us. He made it up Saturday morning and we were soon introducing John Hatcher to our circle of friends. As we walked around the tent camping area we ran into Brijet Neff. I introduced her to John, and through their casual chatter they discovered a connection – railroads. John’s father had designed railroad switching yards all over the world, and Brijet was a longtime employee of Southern Pacific. After a couple minutes of railroad talk I left them to their own devices and figured John would do just fine without me.

David and Linda Myers are regulars at our monthly bluegrass jam in San Francisco. Though neither are musicians, they love the music and the way it brings people together.
We even got Linda to sing a little bit and found out not only does she have a sweet voice, but also that her dad was a huge country music fan who collected records. Growing up in Ohio, she got a steady diet of Hee-Haw and the Porter Wagoner Show and always enjoyed the bluegrass performers.

As usual, I have an assortment of ulterior motives. Increasing festival attendance is a good thing. I’m not sure what the numbers were last year, but it looked kind of down. These gas prices aren’t likely to do anything to make it any better. But if you’ve got room in your vehicle for another traveler, bring ‘em along. And if your protégé has a really fine time, it shouldn’t take more than the softest sell to get him/her signed up as a CBA member.

So add one more item to your festival checklist – bring a friend!

Here’s the first of several reminders about our annual
Bluegrass Pickin’ Picnic
May 12 in Golden Gate Park
All the details and a map will soon follow
Posted:  3/26/2012

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