Author: Martin, George

Forget the Vincent Black Lightning, 1952 --
The older I get, the harder it seems to be to get the van packed up to go to a festival. For one thing, I almost never get the job done without somehow making my back sore. Before Grass Valley I got one of my sons to come over and help me get the heavy, awkward third seat out, and I decided to just put the thing in the basement and leave it there at least until winter, to save the trouble of moving it in and out and in for Hollister and Plymouth.

So as the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival loomed last week, I already had a head start. I needed to check the fuel and oil the pump in my faithful old Coleman stove, which I gather is becoming a collectorís item now that Coleman has switched to propane. Mine has a bunch of burn marks and the burners and grill are pretty rusty, but it always fires up on the first match.

I needed to grub around in the basement for a ground cloth to fit the big tent, and the tent itself, and the E-Z Up, and the table and the various folding chairs and the coolers and pack a suitcase and find my tuner (I actually forgot that one and had to use a tuning fork ---- remember those?), and buy some breakfast supplies and lunch makings, and ice.

Well, what with various responsibilities and some ennui, those chores didnít get completed on Wednesday, so our Thursday departure was postponed until about noon on Friday. We did miss the worst traffic but didnít get to Bolado Park until about 3 p.m.

We pulled in behind a real nice-looking old VW Microbus, which I didnít recognize as CBA regional VP Mark Hoganís ratty old VW, due to its new paint job, custom rear bumper, new pop-up canvas, rechromed hubcaps, and, Mark says, more restoration to come.

We camped right next to each other, which made our ancient Dodge look even more wretched than it usually does. I confess I had little to say when Bruno Brandli strongly suggested it was time for a new vehicle. I admitted to Bruno that because of a couple of fist-size rust holes in the roof, last fall I had duct-taped Saran-Wrap in a one-foot strip from front to back to keep the rain out.

It worked like a charm: there wasnít a trace of moldy smell in the vehicle all winter. Alas when we took off for Grass Valley (first trip of the summer) the Saran-Wrap started peeling off and as we drove up the freeway we trailed a 10-foot bridal train of clear plastic and black duct tape. It was mostly gone when we got to the festival; I didnít notice exactly when it finally came loose.

In a way, Bruno is perfectly correct, the old Dodge is really ready for the recycle bin. But itís paid for, and it gets 17 mpg on the highway, not bad for a full-size van I suppose. Itís pretty fast downhill, but going up hills requires a shift down into third gear a lot of the time. I never worry about the brakes or the radiator; both were built with heavier engines in mind. I just let her skip, hop and wobble, rattle, ramble and roll, as Jimmy Martin once sang.

My wife and I never argue about what radio station to listen to or which CD to play because the stereo got stolen years ago and never was replaced. So we usually arrive still liking each other as much as we did when we left home.

And of course there is the sentimental value: each member of my family is responsible for at least one of the many dents and scratches on it: the rear-view mirror I whacked on the side of a hotel in Mexico, the bashed-in door when my wife sideswiped a utility pole, the crunched left front from when my son skidded in the rain on Highway 17 going back to UC Santa Cruz, and the dented roof where my other son hit a carport.

So I guess they can recycle it when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

My most favoritest band of the festival was Bean Creek. I havenít heard them play on stage in a few years, and it seems they have coalesced into a wonderful band. The vocal trio of Billy Petrone, Sarah Eblen and Pete Hicks is superb, and it works both with Billy singing lead and Pete doing baritone and the other way around. I donít think they let Sarah sing baritone. Rob Horganís banjo playing is frosting on the cake and Peteís fiddle playing is soulful and delicious.

I also love their philosophy of seeking out material to perform. Sarah described their searches through old vinyl albums by Larry Sparks and others looking for great but rarely heard songs from the past. There are so many great songs out there, but if you donít have a basement full of old vinyl albums one hint I can offer is to go buy a couple of Longview CDs. That supergroup has the same philosophy as Bean Creek and theyíve done a bunch of the work for you.

Another particularly enjoyable band for me was the Faux Renwahs, Cactus Bob Cole, Prairie Flower (Chris Stevenson) and Stevensonís son, Michael P. Kennedy. The band has a new member, Kennedyís new bride, but I didnít get her name. The young lady mostly plays an Irish bodhran drum which I thought sounded really cool with the fiddle, bass and old-time banjo of the rest of the band.

This band is especially entertaining, from their period costumes (well, some period) to the infectious beat of the shuffling fiddle and Prairie Flowerís excellent drop-thumb frailing. If you ever see them live, request a tune called ďDead Horse Trampoline.Ē It is a classic.

Last month I wrote about the possible effects of good karma on helping one find an enjoyable jam. My karma was great at Grass Valley, fresh from volunteering at the music camp. But I guess my account went back to zero after that ďpeak experienceĒ jam with many of the members of Sidesaddle & Co.

Friday at Hollister was so cold (and I had expected heat, so didnít bring warm clothes) that after the show I didnít even try to find a jam. I just climbed into the tent and snuggled up against my blessedly always warm wife. One night down, one to go.

Saturdayís jam was going fairly well until two of my least-favorite songs were called: ďWill the Circle....Ē and ďIíll Fly Away.Ē These are big faves and great songs but I am so ... very ... tired ... of playing them at every jam. There needs to be a way to introduce some of those lesser-known gems that Bean Creek does to the jamming world.

Maybe if each music-playing member of the CBA could learn just one old Stanley Brothers or Mac Martin or Jim and Jesse song... That would be hundreds of new/old tunes.


PS --- And before I go, a shout-out to Alan Bond, a great mandolin player from the East Bay. Alan has been playing fiddle for a while now and was sounding good Saturday night when he was in our jam for a while. I have a vague idea how hard that is to do and tremendous respect for anyone who can pull it off. Way, to go, Alan
Posted:  8/14/2008

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