Author: Little, Cameron

Bittersweet Farewell

The good news is I’m turning eighteen in September. The bad news is that it’s time to return my beloved loaner mandolin to the CBA Darrell Johnston Kids Lending Library.

There was a day, some years ago that truly feels like a only a short time ago, yet there’s been a lifetime of growth since that day! Back then I had much longer hair and braces and was a few inches shorter than now. I didn’t drive or own a car or have an adorable girlfriend. But I HAD been playing in Old Time and Bluegrass jams with a friend’s borrowed mandolin. From the first strum, the mandolin got under my skin, and I still have that feeling today. Each bluegrass instrument has gotten into me in its own way with its own unique voice.

So this day I’m talking about, it was a day when CBA Lending Library coordinator Bruce Long called to arrange a meet up. We had completed the application to borrow a mandolin and in a quick turnaround my mom and I were set to meet Bruce in a parking lot in Roseville, CA. A generous benefactor had donated a mandolin and asked if Bruce would make sure it went to me.

Now, just this information alone was heady stuff for a newbie musician. Wow! There were people out there, an organization called the California Bluegrass Association, who would entrust me with a fine instrument, AND there was at least one other someone who had observed me enough to think I’d be worthy of this particular mandolin!

This mandolin had a life before me. It was owned by someone who really, really cared about it, who passed it along nicely tuned up with tricked out details. When Bruce cracked open the case in that parking lot, both my mom and I gasped a bit at the quality and condition of the piece. I posed with Bruce for a photo, both of us joking and grinning. I remember feeling so humbled having that instrument with me on our drive home in the car - I swear it was like having a new baby.

While in my possession, this mandolin has been played by Roland White, John Reischman, and a host of other legends, great musicians who are in and out of the spotlight. Guys like Chris Thile, Randy McKnight, Don Timmer, and Joe Craven, who each cared enough to show me some licks or teach a class or who took time out to show a kid something wonderful. Wonderful somethings that became unforgettable somethings for that young player.

This mandolin has been gently guided into the hands of struggling fiddlers of all ages where each and every time it was my delight to show them how they could instantly play the mandolin with with “chords” they already knew from their fiddle instruction. Each person left that experience with renewed confidence and a greater understanding of their abilities, and yes, perhaps a bit more appreciation for their struggles on the fiddle.

This mandolin has been to countless jams, it’s been to festivals and music camps. It has been played by oceans, lakes, and rivers, in the hills and atop mountains. In travel trailers and cabins. I’ve played it on horseback, by campfires, on picnic blankets and park benches. It has been played in garages and attics and tree forts and pastures. Civic centers, Elks Lodges, Veteran’s Halls, and concert venues. It has graced gigs ranging from weddings to Victorian Christmas (“Christmas in the Holler” was an often requested tune) to Mountain Man Rendezvous. It has been in a couple of bands and has spent some time in the spotlight. It even was backed by John Reischman and the Jaybirds for some tunes on stage - where I even got to share leads with John! This mandolin has “Clinch Mountain Backstep”, “Salt Creek”, and “Sugar Foot Rag” forever etched into it’s wood now.

This mandolin has given me solace through troubled times and has helped me express my hurts and triumphs through music.

When I return the mandolin, I’m hoping that Bruce will pose again for a contrasting “After” photograph. A photo of a grinning and grateful young bluegrass musician, a young guy who is amazed by the village of caring people who brought the instrument into his hands in the first place, and next to him a grinning and joking Bruce Long, who will pass it along to the next aspiring young bluegrass musician.

I can’t wait to jam with the lucky kid who gets this mando next!

(Cameron Little is a bluegrass musician living in a new place a stone’s throw from the Yuba River in the Low Sierra. He is currently saving up to buy a new mandolin.)

Posted:  8/17/2013

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