Author: Daniel, Bert

?Tour de Festival

My favorite season of the year has always been the spring. I like the energy associated with rising sap and green shoots bustin' out all over the place. And I'm comforted by the fact that the daylight is getting longer and that all of those warm sunny glorious days are ahead of us, not behind us.

My least favorite time of year starts right about now. Don't get me wrong, I love the holiday season: needed winter rains, hillsides that turn from brown to green again and the occasional winter ski trip. It's just that I'm not a cold weather person. My criterion for a place that I might be willing to settle down is very simple. You have to be able to grow a palm tree there. My wife bought me a palm tree one year for my birthday and it's one of the best presents I've ever gotten. I look at that tree every day during the winter as I trudge through the morning air to fetch the newspaper. That beautiful Canary Island palm encourages me by reminding me that my cold fingers will warm up a lot faster now than when I lived in Connecticut.

For Bluegrass fans, this time of year means the end of our outdoor festival season. All those good times go into the scrapbook as the days get shorter. And it seems like an eternity until they'll start up again next year. Nowadays, I tend to measure the success of each passing year by how many Bluegrass festivals I attended. Most years I can manage to make it to most the local festivals and at least a couple of distant ones including Grass Valley. And I try to make at least one campout. If I can afford it, maybe a music camp.

Sometimes you go to a few of these festivals and you start to think of Claude Rains's line at the end of the movie Casablanca: "Round up the usual suspects." Who are these people with their big RVs that show up to literally every event you attend? They must make it to a whole lot more than you do because you always see them there.

Over the years I've met a few of these "full timer" retirees and they are definitely a fun bunch of folks to hang around with. Their live-for-the-moment, joy of life attitude rubs off on you. It's infectious. After a while you wish you could just chuck your day job and become a snowbird, a vagabond with the freedom to take off for whatever campsite you might have a ken for. You could spend the winter in southern California and Arizona and make it back north for the summer festival season. What a life!

Much as I am fascinated by this lifestyle, I don't see it happening any time soon for yours truly. Life is just too complicated still. But I am a vagabond in training, and this year I made it to more festivals than ever before. My first festival was the Cloverdale Fiddle Festival in late January. Then I camped out at the coast near Petaluma for my first winter music camp. March brought the Sebastopol Bluegrass Festival and I was up to three events in as many months.

Spring Campout at Turlock, then summer music camp followed by the Grass Valley Festival. I'm off to a good start now, even better than the year I made it to the Bakersfield 48 hour jam (which starts the year for the hard core Bluegrass CBAers).

After Grass Valley, my fifteen year old started talking about all these great festivals she wanted to go to. That was mostly because she had met a bunch of new friends at Grass Valley and she wanted to "hang out" with them. But also, after her second music camp, she had bonded more closely with Bluegrass music and she wanted to go farther with it. We started doing open mikes together. We even took our travel instruments to a nightspot in Bend, Oregon during a vacation trip to Canada and we played a Bluegrass set.

So I had to go to the Hollister festival, just because Juliet wanted to go. I had to work that week but I found a ride for her on Thursday so that she could experience a bit more of it. I set up camp on Saturday and, although it was brief, I had a great time at my first ever visit to Hollister. The smaller festivals are a lot of fun. Grass Valley is so intense that it can be a little overwhelming at times, but a small festival like Hollister is perfect for relaxing, listening, socializing and jamming. I camped on a hillside overlooking the stage area, so if I was too lazy to walk the fifty yards or so, I could hear the music almost as well right from my campsite. Another thing I liked about Hollister was the warm up stage they had for new acts to get a little taste of performing. While the sound crew turns over the main stage for the next scheduled act, concert goers simply turn a bit leftward and they can watch a small stage for a short set from a pickup band that gets to try out their stuff. Some of these folks were pretty good. Good enough that you can bet some of them will be on the main stage next year.

Speaking of fostering new talent, Hollister has a great Kids on Stage program, which is a low key version of the Kids on Bluegrass program familiar to Grass Valley patrons. The kids were great and my daughter had such a good time that she insisted we make it to the next KOS program at Plymouth. (I didn't put up much of an argument against that).

But first I had to keep my festival batting average high by attending the Golden Old Time campout at Lake Sonoma. I had been to this festival campout for several years when it was in nearby Booneville, but this year I was really in luck. Lake Sonoma is about a dozen miles from my house. The August weather was thankfully mild and there were plenty of good shady places to jam.

Next came Plymouth. I had been to this festival a few years back and had loved it, particularly Michael Cleveland, whose amazing improvisations were still vivid in my mind several years down the road, as we drove down the road, to Plymouth. For such a small festival they can book some pretty monster bands. Bands you enjoy all the more because of the intimate setting. I don't know how they do it. Although the hot weather had returned, there were plenty of shady areas at the periphery of the audience area and the music was great. We finished out the year with the Kings River festival in Sanger and the Fall Campout at the Lighthouse resort. The Hobbs Grove venue in Sanger is one of the most delightful places I can imagine for an outdoor music concert.

It was particularly sad saying goodbye at the Lighthouse, realizing that it was the last festival of the year. At least for me it was. I'm sure some of my campmates are still out there searching for yet another festival. I'm proud of my best ever Tour de Festival this year but I realize that I'm still just a "domestique". That's what they call all those hard working cyclists in the tour de France who labor in anonymity to make it possible for the star of the team to actually win.

I wonder who holds the record for most festivals attended in one year. It could very well be our own Dancin' John Lonczak. John was slowed a bit this year by a knee injury at Grass Valley, but in years past I've seen him pop up just about every event I go to. I once asked John how many events he had been to in a year and he told me what his highest number had been. I don't remember the precise figure but it was something like a hundred or so. (He admitted to driving around to multiple events in the same weekend sometimes in order to achieve this astonishing number).

I've got a bucket list of festivals to make it to some day: Parkfield, Lake Havasu, Susanville, Bowers Mansion, Strawberry,etc. I've heard people say great things about some of these festivals. They all deserve our support and I hope I can keep breaking my record, year after year. So many festivals. So little time. Maybe I'll see you at a few of these next year.

Happy Veterans Day everybody.
Posted:  11/11/2012

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