Author: Little, Cameron

Memories, Festivals, Zombies, and Drool

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Last night we received the following email from young Cameron…”Hey Editor, my head is too muddled from the pain meds to finish writing my column this month. I'd like to offer this up as a re-run if you think it's okay. Thanks...” No, the kid hasn’t fallen into a wanton, desolute life of prescription drug abuse. What he HAS done is got himself on the wrong side of a chain saw. But he’ll recuperate, and in the meantime we’ll treat ourselves to a little retro ditty from a year and a half ago. Enjoy and wish our young friend well. Oh, lest you think the kid is just making up an excuse you might want to click here. Do it with a full stomach, though.)

Bluegrass festivals and related activities cause memories, and the intensity varies depending on your blood-to-coffee ratio. Memories have such a way of being...let me search for the right word here. Memorable. Many are fond memories, like the first time we hitch up our britches to play and sing - gasp! - IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. Or the first time we stay up late to play "just one more song", like that would ever happen because it always turns into ten more songs, and ten more songs eventually lead to prying your face from the pillow in the morning in order to be on time for a volunteer shift.

You might awaken to the siren call of an early morning jam, don something to protect your modesty, grab the mando, and stumble towards the music, blinking like a mole surprised by daylight. However, if people start snickering, simply head back to the tent and get reacquainted with the proper order of clothing (underwear go first, not last, pal). I just have to mention here, for legal reasons, that NONE of these things has ever happened to me or to anyone in my proximity. These are purely hypothetical examples and anyway, I refuse to name names...

Let’s zero in on the legendary Grass Valley Father's Day Festival, shall we? A place where many such memories are born each year for yours truly. Like the day my mom showed a respected elder friend how easy it was to find festivals on the internet, and demonstrated this by searching “Parkfield Bluegrass Festival”, but instead got the “Parkside Pub Turkey Testicle Festival”. Our friend, a real gentleman said, “Well, I guess there are festivals for every taste.” And yes people, that is not a hypothetical festival. The Parkfield one. The other probably tastes like chicken.

Staying up all day and night jamming means coffee. And lots of it. Stat. Coffee helps you stave off any silly notions that might come up, like being "tired" or "exhausted", or heaven help us, “having to go to work”. So, a stop at the coffee booth is a good idea. While there you may want to stock up for the hours ahead since the booth WILL BE CLOSED - eventually. I know that’s hard to hear but this is how the real world works. Pretty much. Just make your purchase, stash the sacred sustenance at your campsite, and go forth to unleash yourself upon the night. Actually, it’s more like stumbling awkwardly upon the night, since it often involves tripping through the un-lit underbrush, while attempting to keep the stand-up bass from getting scratched. So, say we emerge from the Forbidden Forest, and if successful, we usually arrive at the Holy Grail of the late night festival, The Late Night Hotdog Stand.

The street lamp casts a misty glow (even if it’s not mist but dust motes) and magic is in the air (even though it’s the moths). And the damn fine smell of those sausages and dogs! Holy heck! I just finished a massive dinner but I want one - no, I NEED ONE - of those sausage onion sandwich thingys now, dagnabbit! We walk from group to group, sometimes listening, sometimes joining in, sometimes creating another circle, marveling at the variety, the musicianship, the, okay, I’ll say it: The LOVE, people! Wild and sometimes rowdy, this is hallowed ground where performers like The Andersons or Northern Departure or Rhonda Vincent might play a couple of numbers, and then join in the jamming like regular folk.

After the Hotdog Stand crowd fades into the night, we die-hard teens lurch and search for jams, like zombies being drawn to brains. I’m always grateful that my cohorts include me in their jamming since I’m a homespun musician of the back-porch variety and they are PROFESSIONALS of the Professional-Do-Not-Try-This-At-Home variety. And if they tire of my repertoire or singing, they never show it. And I thank them for that.

Jams, especially late, late night jams, have many faces: the jam that was split on both sides of the irrigation ditch. The munchkin-sized jam under a partially dismantled canopy where our heads touched the ceiling. The jam on the back of a golf cart. The jam on the back of two golf carts. The jam in the arena announcer booth. The packed-into-a-tear-drop-trailer jam. The jam in the horse stall (really warm, no horse).

En route to the comfort of our respective tents, we hear the telltale sounds of a hot banjoist having it out with a blazing flat-picker. We look at each other, shrug a helpless shrug, and make our way toward the sounds. Even though I said I would not name names, I will name Eric Antrim here, guitarist, famously of Snap Jackson and the Knock on Wood Players, ripping it up with several other pickers. Eric is usually the last guy standing at these late night jams, and there’s a rumor that he “sleeps” in a coffin somewhere. (Note to self: check Eric for fangs.) After playing “a couple more tunes”, we noticed the sky becoming oddly backlit. "Ha Ha! Those big street lamps make it look like the sun is coming up!" we chuckle. "Oh wait a sec, that IS the sun coming up..."

The sun signals the end of the jam, since we all know that teen stomachs are light sensitive: we’re hungry when it’s light and we’re hungry when it’s dark. Of course, it doesn't make much sense to go to bed at this point anyway, so with fingernails clawing the counter and barely managing caffeine withdrawal, we patiently claw/await the opening of the coffee booth. Caffeinated at long last, and with dull gleaming eyes, we crawl to the main festival stage, intoning “MUST. HAVE. BLUEGRASS!!” (again the zombie image). The rest is a blur but I’m told we were observed in the audience area with our heads lolling backwards, trying not pass out, but desperate to soak up those last tunes. If nudged, we would mumble, "I'm awake! I'm awake!" and delicately blot the drool from our mouths.

“Regret" and "Bluegrass Festival" are two words that will never be used in the same sentence. Except this sentence, but that’s it. That’s the only time. Ever. These festivals promote a treasured genre of music, they bring people together, and can be the vehicle for many of the more "interesting" memories in life.

(Cameron Little is a teen musician who always stays up late for bluegrass.)

Posted:  1/18/2014

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