Author: Karsemeyer, John

Goin’ For It

It has been reported by some people who have had near death experiences that their whole life flashes before them in a few seconds. If that is true then one who experiences that should be jolted with an instant feeling of either elation or depression; depending on where life’s journey has taken them.

George came down to the Sonoma Valley from Lake Tahoe in the mid 1970’s. He was accompanied by his wife Gail and their twelve year old daughter Karen. All were musicians.

Karen played the mandolin, Gail played the bass, and George played the fiddle. Although I never knew exactly, I figure George and Gail were in their mid thirties on the age continuum. They were all good musicians except for George. That’s because George transcended the good and held the uncertified title of being one of the best fiddler players around. Of course when I first met him and heard him play the fiddle I had no perspective regarding that; I just knew I was experiencing the out of the ordinary regarding being in the presence of this fiddler.

George Kindler was in a bluegrass band in the Lake Tahoe area (his wife and daughter not included), and for whatever reason, or reasons, the band broke up. I don’t know what brought him to the Sonoma Valley after the band’s musical divorce, but something did.

Bluegrass music, being the life long positive addiction that it is for some folks, was in George’s blood, or brain, or DNA, or whatever. And that being the case, he started another bluegrass band in the Sonoma Valley. This band consisted of his wife and daughter (playing the aforementioned instruments), but he was looking for a banjo player. Through local networking (no internet at the time) he found out that I played the banjo, and things being what they are in the world of random events, coincidence, and plain dumb luck, I ended up in his new band, “Meadow Muffin.”

Now I must relate to you that George lived, breathed, ate, and slept bluegrass music. It was his life. No eight to five regular jobs. For him it was life’s main course; for me it was just dessert. If he didn’t have to stop to eat and sleep he would be involved in bluegrass music twenty four-seven. It would be wrong to say that bluegrass music influenced him. That would be wrong because he devoured it; not the other way around.

Of course performing bluegrass music back then was much like it is now regarding decent full-time gainful employment; it usually doesn’t work out that way. You go from place to place making enough for the next meal, rent, gas in the car, and the bare necessities. To be blunt, George and his family were poor; dirt poor (think “Grapes of Wrath” families coming to California from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl). It was a like a Woody Guthrie starting out, impecunious lifestyle.

For some reason George didn’t care and his family went along for the shaky ride. He was classically trained, and he could sit down and write out a fiddle tune, note for note, not hesitating, while you watched and your jaw dropped. Maybe he could have been in a city symphony somewhere, but his choice was otherwise.

Seems like our band, Meadow Muffin, played for about a year in the Sonoma area. Places like pizza parlors, parties, wedding receptions (Ozark transplants), fertility rites, tribal dances, foot races, and every place in between. You know, places in which many of you readers have dwelled for short periods of time where live bluegrass music is happening. Once we got a gig at Paul’s Saloon in San Francisco (remember that place?), the highlight of the band’s existence.

Anyway, the band was moving along slowly in first gear when the word got out and made its way to George’s ears. “The David Bromberg band is in San Francisco, and he is looking for a fiddle player,” George related to us. “Think I’ll go there and give it a try.”

Now I don’t know how many fiddle players were auditioning for that fiddle spot in Bromberg’s band (a large band at the time with a horn section and banjo, mandolin, and two fiddle players) but the competition must have been rough. In any case the Meadow Muffin band members didn’t give it a great deal of thought, and if we did it was along the lines of, “Well at least Bromberg will have heard a pretty good fiddler.” Of course George bagged the fiddle job with Bromberg.

You see, George was not only a great fiddler, he could also read, write, composed, and arrange music; the whole package (he also was easy to work with and regularly changed his socks).

Needless to say, after that, George’s fiscal life changed for the better. He toured with Bromberg and his “Big Band,” got his former Meadow Muffin band members free passes to Bromberg concerts, and came back to visit us from time to time, telling musical stories from the road. George went from poverty to doing just fine. And one thing is for sure; he was the same ol’ down home guy. Semi-fame had not enlarged his hat size as he was on his way to what the average fiddle player only obtains in his or her dreams. After that I’d get Bromberg albums, and there was George, all over the liner notes.

On an early Saturday morning in 1980, when his band was not on tour, George was riding his motorcycle from Sonoma to Santa Rosa on the only highway that links those two cities. A pickup truck pulled out in front of George’s fast moving motorcycle, and the rest is history; history that I don’t like to keep remembering.

If, in fact, we do get a chance to see our lives flash before us at the moment of death, I like to think that George Kindler saw his, and he was joyful. The life he loved, as a musician, had been fulfilled to that point in time and space. And that is only because he went for it, held on to it, and didn’t let go during the “ride.”

And as for the rest of us who are left behind - “And the hounds from heaven rise, from their place by the fire. And they’re chasing me down, but it’s not my time. They’re chasing me down, but it’s not my time.” (Heard from the band “Della Mae” at the 2013 FDF at Grass Valley, California).

Posted:  7/13/2013

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