Author: Judd, Brooks

How Great Thou Art (Part One of a Fathers Day Story)

Editor's note: It's been our practice over the years that, in early spring, as we move toward the CBAs largest, oldest, and best-known event – – the Father's Day Festival at grass Valley – – we bring back welcome columns that give a flavor of that now legendary gathering. This first "rebroadcast" of 2014 is my favorite of the bunch, mainly because it was written by my oldest and dearest friend. Yesterday in my own welcome I shared that a few days ago I seriously injured myself, separated shoulder, and it's times like these that all of us I think find ourselves focusing on the importance of close friends. So then, this is the story of how I was able to snare my childhood friend into a wanton love of the music that Bill gave us. RC)

1986: Our twentieth year class reunion was coming up and after a long absence of seven years my oldest and dearest friend, Rick Cornish, calls me on the phone. It seems Rick has been keeping himself busy since the last time we talked in 1979. He is in a bluegrass band, whatever that is, and his band, the Grass Menagerie, is hired to play at a place called Grass Valley for The Fathers Day Bluegrass Festival in 1987. Grass Valley? God, I hope this isn't that hillbilly music you hear on Hee Haw. Rick invites our family to attend the 1987 Fathers Day Festival. I gladly accept, and then begin to wonder if I will need to purchase a pair of overalls and a big straw hat.

Rick sends me a tape of his band. I play it once, twice, then again and again. I was amazed. "Hey Rick, I said, "Do you have any more of this type of music?" Rick said he has a "few" tapes somewhere and he would send them to me. I explain to Rick that I played his tape so many times, it wore my tape player out. Rick tells me not to worry about it.

A couple of weeks later Rick presents me with his tape player and about twenty bluegrass tapes. I tell Rick I feel funny accepting his tape player. "No problem, he says, I was planning to buy a new one anyway."

Then the bluegrass tapes start coming in. I receive at least two boxes filled to the brim with bluegrass tapes. I can't keep up with all the different bands. A few weeks later Rick calls and asks me if I have a favorite bluegrass group yet. I tell him I really like two bands, Old and In the Way and The Nashville Bluegrass Band.

1987: My wife, Sheila, and my two daughters, Jessica and Rhiannon head out to Grass Valley. Rick greets us at Camp Cornish. Rick's sons, Peter and Philip have set up a huge tent for our family. It's just like the Hilton. I thank Rick and his sons. We unpack our supplies and begin to look around. I see a lot of people and hear a lot of outstanding music.

Rick and I take a walk and I can see he is nervous. I have never seen Rick nervous before. I ask him if he is doing O.K. Rick shares with me that playing on stage at Grass Valley is a dream come true for him and he wants his set to go perfect. I smile and tell Rick that he and his band will knock 'em dead.

It's 7:00 P.M. and the Grass Menagerie takes the stage. They tear the place apart. I am sitting in the very front row and am extremely proud of my old friend Rick. After each song I yell out loud to anyone who will listen, "That's Rick. He's my oldest friend. That's his group. Aren't they great?"

The rest of the weekend is a blur of wonderful exciting music. I get to watch the Osborne Brothers, Del McCoury, and The Piney Creek Weasels to name a few of the outstanding groups that performed that year. I sit in the front row from 10:00A.M when the opening act plays until 11 p.m. when the last act has finished their encore. In two short days it has happened. I am hooked on bluegrass music. But one thing bothers me. Why do all these people stay up all night and play music? Our huge tent provides no shelter from all the jamming that's going on. If the music wasn't so fantastic a person could get cross by not being allowed to fall asleep.

Strange people these Bluegrass folk. It was a great festival. Rick invites us to attend The Father's Day Festival 1988. We accept.

1988: Our family heads for Grass Valley again. This time we stay at the Northern Queen Hotel in Nevada City (to assure at least an hours sleep). Even though the temperatures run into the 140's, our family survives. The festival was fantastic and I begin to realize that I am on my way to Bluegrass Junkiedom!

My wife and daughters decide to take a break from Grass Valley. My wife tells me I should talk to my dad and see if he wants to go. I do and he does. My father and I share a mutual respect for the music of Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. This mutual respect has created a bond between us that is special. Going to Grass Valley and sharing the musical experience should be fun for both of us.

1989-1993: My father and I attend the Father's Day Festivals. My father loves the music and loves chatting with all the folks in Camp Cornish. If there was ever a bonding experience Grass Valley was certainly the glue. We both look forward to the music and with excited anticipation relish the fact that we will be able to spend time with Rick and his family and our new found bluegrass friends.

1993: My father and I are driving home after attending another wonderful Father's Day Festival. But there is a problem. Something is gnawing away at me. I can't put my finger on it. When I finally make it home to Turlock I realize what the problem is. I was tired of watching the great bands, tired of watching everyone jam, tired of being a spectator. I wanted to participate. I wanted to play. I wanted to play the bass. But I have no bass.

I immediately phone Rick and share my thoughts with him. Before I finish my story Rick says he will bring his bass up to Turlock the next day. I can't believe that Rick would do this. Rick is adamant about one thing. He tells me if I borrow his bass it cannot collect dust in my closet. I have to practice. (Rick knows me to well). I agree.

ick lives 100 miles away and the next day is Monday. Rick doesn't care. The music is what matters. We discuss it and settle on a later date in Hayward at my father's house. The date we settle on is the same day my niece Megan Lynch is competing in the fiddle competition at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton. She is competing against my youngest daughter's boyfriend, Sean.

After the fiddle contest, Maria, Megan, Sean, my daughter, all meet at my father's house. Soon Rick arrives with his bass. I ask the usual questions, "Where are the frets?"

"What size pick do I use?" Rick demonstrates how to hold the bass and says with a very straight face, "Brooks, within six months you will be in a group AND performing on stage in front of people." Rick also tries to sell me some aluminum siding but I don't buy that either.

I don't want to let Rick or myself down. I practice every chance I can. I put tape after tape on and play along to the music. If I skip even one day I just know Rick will find out and he'll call me and ask me why I am not practicing. That's all right. If I hadn't had made that promise to Rick chances are the bass would have found its way into my closet.

So, I keep practicing.

1994: Rick is right. Within 6 months I am in a band (with Sean and his father) and performing onstage in front of people. I love it. In June of 1994 at Grass Valley in front of my father and friends Rick presents his bass to me as a gift. I don't think I will ever possess a gift that means as much to me as that bass.

1995: My father and I look forward to being part of the 20th anniversary of the CBA at Grass Valley. Sadly, the weather is suited for mid-December not June. The friendly volunteers, clothed in rain gear, waders, over-coats and wielding multi colored umbrellas greet us at the gate with wide grins. The ground has been strewn with hay to help sop up the water and mud. Seeing all this reminds me of the scene in Paint Your Wagon where the miners are dancing in the mud to the song, "Hand Me Down That Can of Beans."

It seems that everyone does his or her best to adapt to the chilly weather. Those of us at Camp Cornish gather around a large portable Coleman campfire/stove that Rick has set up and we begin to swap bluegrass stories. It seems that everywhere you look people are not going to let the rain and cold ruin this special 20th anniversary.

Saturday night Chubby Wise performs. It is cold, damp, and drizzly as my father and I huddle down in our chairs in front of the stage trying to stay warm. Chubby walks onto the stage and plays a great set. After his set he is called back for his encore. Then it happens. Chubby begins to play "How Great Thou Art." About one minute into the song…

Posted:  3/29/2014

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