Author: Varner, Mark

Worldwide Ted goes flyover-state
Dear friends,

I guess we all survived the stormy weekend, eh? Sure will be nice to check into Hotel Springtime, but I guess we can always use more rain to fill up our aquifers and build up that snow pack. Come summertime the carwash-and-lawn-watering-police wonít be coming down on us for using too much water.

In case you didnít catch it, the Bluegrass Breakdown is online and ready to download for you 21st century types. Lots of info on CBA Music Camp and plenty of SFBOT pix from our newest photographer, Mike Melnyk. Thanks, Mike! Iíve never had so many pretty pictures of pretty women in bluegrass paper. I especially loved the shot he got of our pal and future supermodel Annie Staninec. Anyhoo, enjoy!

I got an email from my pal Ted Silverman in response to one of Rickís Welcome Messages last week.

Your pal,
Mark Varner

From Ted:
Regarding Rick Cornishís article concerned with getting more young people interested in bluegrass:

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ohio for a family wedding. Being an inquisitive net-geek I checked out the Central Ohio Bluegrass association home page: My trip to Ohio was to be a very quick weekend visit but it turned out there was a weekly Saturday morning bluegrass jam at a place called the Bluegrass Music Store on High Street. With time to kill on a chilly early February Saturday, I hopped on a city bus to catch a glimpse and earful of the Central Ohio bluegrass community.

The store was a very modest, cluttered little affair selling mostly imported stuff, but the staff was a friendly bunch. I could hear guitars being strummed down a narrow hallway. I did a little shake an howdy with the proprietor, suggesting Iíd come from San Francisco for a family event and being musically obsessed, with time to kill, Iíd thought Iíd check out what Ohio had to offer in the way of bluegrass music.

So I ventured down this tiny hall only to find a set of stairs lined with people, leading downstairs to a cellar room lined with benches. There were probably 8 guitars, a banjo and fiddler, a mandolin picker and a guy in the corner playing a gut bucket. Folks were cautious, but generally friendly to this stranger from out of the blue.

The quality of the pickers, the musicianship, singing, dynamics and interplay of the assembled jammers was very average and there wasnít a soul playing or watching under the age of 50. The gut bucket guy couldnít really get a groove going, the fiddler played out of tune, the banjo player was new to the instrument, the mandolin picker insisted on playing melody over everyone elseís breaks and there wasnít a great deal of listening going on.

From my jaded opinion as an active Californian bluegrass music practitioner my gut level thinking was, if this is what Ohio has to offer, I am pretty grateful at how cool, hip, young and accomplished the musical community of California is.

Granted, this was a jam at 11 AM on a winter Saturday, and the likelihood that any really hot pickers would be present was relatively low, but more than making me think badly of the local Ohio scene it really impressed upon me how great it is to play bluegrass in San Francisco, the Bay Area and California in general, where most folks interested in our idiom have invested themselves in learning some of the repertoire and using their ears in an effort to make a jam work. This one in a basement in Columbus was not.

The general lack of youth and hipness of these people also made me aware that we have a very special thing in the Golden State when it comes to Bluegrass. If anything, this local Ohio context was probably more the national norm than what we have on the left coast.

Eventually I introduced myself, borrowed a guitar, and later on a mandolin and did my best to lead a few tunes, but without the dependable thunk of an upright bass and the locked in chop of a steady mandolin player it was a challenge to lead this ragtag assemblage toward any really satisfying musical place. I stayed about an hour, then gracefully said my thanks and headed back down town, literally on the same bus that had taken me uptown. I was glad Iíd satisfied my curiosity, but fairly underwhelmed by the experience.

John Updike wrote: ď Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went.Ē This was my general impression of the bluegrass music scene of Middle America, and I am grateful that, at least in California those who indulge in bluegrass music seem a bit worldlier, a tad more skillful, a wee bit more youthful, (even those over 50) and that they add something cool to our shared community.

I donít want this little treatise to come off as an indictment of those who play bluegrass in Ohio or Middle America. I am positive that there are killer players in all 50 states and scattered throughout the world, but my recent experience made me very happy to actively be playing, performing and pursuing the spirit of bluegrass music in California.

Ted Silverman
Posted:  2/25/2008

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