Author: Kuster, Ted

Greetings from the Boondocks

One thing about living in a big town like San Francisco is that you get used to feeling like youíre in the middle of things. People are lined up across the country. the story goes, waiting for their turn to get into San Francisco and help jack up the rents a little more. Oakland, Marin and San Mateo are just where people go to catch their breath after riding the mad merry-go-round for as long as they can stand it. There is some truth to this, Iíll admit.

But in bluegrass, itís all the other way around. In bluegrass, the real action is far far away. You canít get much farther away from Nashville than San Francisco, without getting wet. If you somehow used up the bluegrass in your cabin in the hills of Caroline, and you drove west looking to replenish your supply, you might never get to San Francisco at all, because youíd have to go through the heartland of California bluegrass first, in the Central Valley and the foothills of the Sierras, and once there, why would you bother going any further?

This takes a little getting used to. I speak as one who came back to bluegrass long after settling into San Francisco and learning to view it as the capital of civilization. It took me a while to notice that our quiet little scene doesnít hold a candle to the nonstop action in Stockton, Visalia or Turlock.

But itís OK. There are some nice things about living in the bluegrass hinterlands. For one thing, nobody here takes themselves very seriously. People try to play like Earl the best they can, but if a little bit of Jerry creeps into the jam, we just call it ironic, and roll on. If the guy onstage displays a deeper understanding of Jimmie Rodgers than you thought possible, nobody cares if heís singing it with a Japanese accent.

Every year I take my daughters to the square dance that caps off the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old Time Festival. I used to think of square dancing as the squarest of heartland activities. Not any more. If you appreciate the visual arts, and you like your visual art displayed right on somebodyís skin, then you ought to join us at the San Francisco square dances. If youíre a fancier of fine jewelry, and you like having it where you can easily inspect it -- say, stuck right through the nose or eyebrow of the person youíre do-si-doing with -- then San Francisco is the place you ought to be doing your square dancing.

These are the kinds of things that could only have developed way out here in the bluegrass boondocks, away from the the stern tutelage of our elders and forebears.

Which brings me to something that might constitute taking it a little too far. On Thursday, May 23, a bar and grill called the Connecticut Yankee, in San Franciscoís Potrero Hill district, is hosting a Battle of the Britgrass Bands, in which half a dozen of the scruffier San Francisco bluegrass ensembles will compete to see who can do the most damage to a Rolling Stones cover.

The British have invaded us a few times, after all. There was 1812, when they burned down the White House; 1963, when they burned up Shea Stadium, and probably some other occasions we canít even remember. Why not invade them back?

The Connecticut Yankee is at 100 Connecticut Street (type or paste this into your browser for a map: and the questionable activities kick off at 9:00 pm. Victory is by audience ballot, and the grand prize, last I heard, is a pitcher of the winning bandís favorite beer. Thereís even a Facebook page:

If youíre in one of the hotbeds of our fine music and you need a break from the relentlessly high-quality bluegrass youíve been getting, youíre welcome to join us out here in the sticks of San Francisco as we test how much we can get away with. Just donít tell anybody in Nashville, please.
Posted:  4/23/2013

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