Author: Compton, Cliff

Pretzels and Bluegrass

(Editor’s Note: Our several days in Turlock at the annual CBA Spring Camp Out caused more than a few glitches on No excusese…just didnit ‘git ‘er done.’ We’re catching up today with Cliff Compton’s Welcome from Friday.)

Pretzels were the reason I saw bluegrass live for the first time.

My friend Gordon Mustain, had a dream. A dream about making a million dollars one pretzel at a time. Not those little pretzels in the chip department at the local Save Mart, no, those Big Hot Soft ones you get at the mall. And Gordon could talk. He had Piercing black eyes a frank and earnest way of speaking that could have sold typewriters to Microsoft, and I was young, just out of the military, living on the ten dollars a night I made playing rock and roll on the weekends, and I believed everything he said. Thus I found myself, with Gordon, in the pretzel business.

Gordon built a pretzel vending cart painted red white and blue, and he bought a red white and blue apron, and a straw boater hat, and we set that cart out on a street corner in Portland Oregon, and I became a pretzel vendor. We were wildly successful and quickly ended up with a fleet of about 29 carts which we began trucking out to special events all over Oregon, rodeos, shopping malls, art shows, county fairs, the state fair and in the small town of Molalla…a bluegrass festival.

Now, I didn’t know bluegrass from beer glass, I just figured there would be people there, and if there were enough people, somebody would probably want to buy a pretzel., so I set up a cart, and decided to run it myself.

It was a pretty primitive setting. Out in a cow pasture, with a few portable toilets, some tents here and there, and maybe a few hundred bluegrassers, mostly young, true believers, followers of the Great Bill Monroe. My guess is that the Oregon bluegrass scene was much like the California scene at the time. A lot of energy.

I would like to say that was a seminal moment in my conversion to bluegrass, but I gotta tell you….it wasn’t. I found it mildly interesting, and I liked that there banjer, but I was mostly less then happy that all these people wanted to dance and listen to the music instead of buying pretzels. But that lack of business gave me a chance to listen to a couple of groups, including the headliner.

There name was Dr. Corn and the bluegrass remedy, and they were a large bluegrass ensemble. I learned later that the leader had a large house where everybody went to jam, and after a time he ended up with a large band.

I don’t remember much of what they did, except for a rousing rendition of Orange blossom special which somehow broke through my jaded rock and roll sensibilities and got my feet to moving, but what really remember was Dr. Corns bluegrass joke.

There was a right-leaning political organization call the John Birch Society that was popular during the early 70’s. and that’s all I need to tell you about them to tell you this….

Dr. Corn stepped up to the microphone after a rousing banjo something or other, wiped his forehead, and said: “I’d like to tell you all that I’ve joined a new political organization with the sole purpose of preserving wooden toilet seats. (drum roll…I mean banjo roll…) We call it the Birch John society!


Well, that seed appears to have germinated. I understand it is growing this week in Turlock, where as you read this, I’m probably picking with my friends at a campout where Dr. Corn would feel right at home. Even if the toilet seats are plastic.

Posted:  4/16/2012

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email