Author: Varner, Mark

Dear friends,

Even the weather was getting into the act. It was a spring-like day on the San Francisco peninsula. It made one think about the coming festival season: outdoors, good friends, and fine music. But of course those daydreams are getting a bit ahead of reality, being here in the middle of February While not the cruelest month, February is no picnic, if you get my drift.

Winter or no, it was time, according to the geniuses over at our sister-org, the Northern California Bluegrass Association, to get together for a festival. Indoors, but a festival nonetheless. It was Bluegrass On Braodway. The event spread over four days, including some outreach to some shut-in elders, a film festival, a lecture on bluegrass for the newbies and a film festival. Saturday was the main concert and the Northern California Bluegrass Awards. I was to play with the Jayme Kelly Curtis and Friends Band and we were going to open the show off.

So it was that I threw Beastly my bass into the back of my truck, the Bronze Stallion (No I haven’t named all my possessions; only the large ones. I’m not a complete crackpot, after all…) and headed down outta the Sandy Cruz Mountains. Redwood City or bust.

I found the Peninsula Christian Center by shear force of will. There was no sign on the building. There was no address on the building. There were also virtually no cars, vans or other modern conveyances parking in the lot. Of course it was still early. I went inside to find Patrick Weldon, Mike Hall and Benny the sound guy getting things ready. It was just us until about 10 AM when a half dozen folks showed up for Mike Hall’s lecture on getting into bluegrass. Hey! That’s six more folks than the rest of us enlisted into the bluegrass army on Saturday morning. As Mike said, “I wasn’t expecting fifty people, after all!”

The space was not bad at all and the sound was pretty reasonable. Sounded OK from stage during our pretty-darned-not-bluegrass set. (Jayme is a folk singer-songwriter who likes to surround herself with bluegrass musicians. It’s really fun playing with her because it also means I’m playing with Phil Campbell or Topher Gayle or my old friend and bandmate, Patrick “Doc Sibling” Weldon.) I guess they needed to get these bluegrass newbies into the music a toe at a time. By the end of the day they’d be getting some real-deal stuff from Bean Creek, Inc.

We went through a few performances before things got good a grassy with Sidesaddle and Company and their own killer take on the bluegrass idiom. Alhambra Valley Band kept it going in fine form until it was time for the Awards Show. By then the hall was pretty full with that crucial element for the success of any performance: the audience. Good turn out, NCBS!

I wasn’t really sure what to think of the Awards Show idea. However, once it started it was totally fun and everyone really got into it. Most of the audience knew most of the nominees personally, so that made for a fun dynamic.

Two by two the presenters went to the microphone to announce the choices for the best of the best that the Bay Area and Nor Cal have to offer. It was pretty humorous that almost none of the recipients were there to collect their awards. It was a Saturday afternoon and everyone has gigs, so no real surprise that some could not attend.

Winners were:
Male Vocalist – Billy Pitrone
Female Vocalist – Diana Donnelly
Guitar Player – Jerry Ashford
Mandolin Player – Butch Waller
Banjo Player – Bill Evans
Fiddle Player – Annie Staninec
Dobro Player – Jim Mintun
Bass Player – Lisa Burns

CBA treasurer, Ed Alston and I had the honor to present the award for best female vocalist (an award given to singers who have slightly more Y chromosomes that others). Yeah, Diana!

After these awards were presented they moved onto the Lifetime Achievement Awards, and darned it the three honored were non other than the founders of the California Bluegrass Association. Matt Dudman presented the award posthumously to our beloved friend, Jake Quesenberry. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wiped away a tear, inspired by his eloquent and moving tribute to his mentor. Jack Sadler received the next honor and gave a wonderful speech on the history of the CBA. Many in attendance had, I’m sure, not heard this information before and I was proud to hear it again.

Jack Sadler presented the Lifetime Achievement to Carl Pagter who also gave a tremendous speech.

The final award presented was for Best Band. It went to Sidesaddle and Company. Each of them made a short acceptance speech, the Kim declaring “sapgrass forever!” (That’s a little “in” joke.)

Performances by Sidesaddle and Bean Creek filled the rest of the afternoon. I send my congratulations to the NCBS for a fun time. This is being supported by the local business community and Rosanne Foust, Mayor of Redwood City was even on the award presenters. Doubtless this event will go forward and grow. Bluegrass on the Peninsula? It’s a good thing!

Your pal,
Mark Varner
Posted:  2/18/2008

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