Author: Varner, Mark

Monday mashup
Hey, folks. Happy Monday! I’m cramming like a college student this week, trying to fin enough hours in the day to release your Bluegrass Breakdown paper to the printer before I go to Plymouth. (Looks like we’re getting up there on Thursday, so “someone” please save the official Varner spot!) The good news is I have a couple cool pieces to run for ya here today. One from stalwart writer, Chuck Poling, and a couple of reviews by the very talented writer, banjo student, and all around great guy, Allan French.

Your pal,
Mark Varner

Why I Vote
By Chuck Poling

The last few weeks we’ve heard a lot from both major political parties as they held their respective conventions. I saw a lot of pageantry, heard a lot of speeches (and a bunch of promises that I honestly don’t expect either party to keep) and enjoyed a few laughs.

I’m a bit of a presidential history buff and have watched every nominating convention since 1968, so I’ve become more than a little jaded about our political process. But I vote. Always. In every election I’ve been eligible to vote since I turned 18. Including squirrelly little special elections that San Francisco is famous for - with names on the ballot like Jello Biafra, Sister Boom Boom and, recently, Chicken John (for mayor). Even when I went out of state to college, I had an absentee ballot sent all the way to Mississippi.

I like voting. I actually enjoy going to my local polling place – I’ve never had to walk more than three blocks to vote in SF. I guess I could get an absentee ballot mailed to me, but it makes me feel like a good citizen to walk over to the polling place, see my neighbors and say “Thanks” to the poll workers.

And I’ll also cast my vote for CBA Board of Directors. Now, some of you may ask, “Why bother, there are 11 candidates for 11 slots and I really don’t’ care who’s on the Board anyway.” So why vote? Because you can. Because the CBA, like any nonprofit has bylaws that must be followed to maintain that nonprofit status. Because your participation is what makes the CBA a thriving, growing community. And once again, because you can.

Maybe you think that some board members are more in tune with your ideas than others – OK, vote for them and abstain from those you disagree with. Maybe you feel like some board members have been on the job too long and it’s time for a change. Fine, vote for more recent members and not the old-timers. Maybe you think the board’s doing a bang-up job and you want them to know it. Send a message.

It’s never been my policy to tell people how to vote, but I can go on like a broken record (remember those) about encouraging folks to use their ballots. It’s easy and it’s how we get things done in the U.S.A. So take a few minutes to cast your ballot on the website. Think of it as a contribution to the CBA, an exercise in civic participation, or whatever gets you motivated. As for myself, I’m going to vote because I can.

The Brown Barn Festival … and more…
By Allan French

Brown Barn Festival:

The third annual Brown Barn Festival was great fun. There were 10 shows on Saturday and 7 on Sunday, with about 2/3 of Sunday being the same bands playing again. That enabled people to step away from the “barn auditorium” and yet still see every band, if they wished to.

I saw Rosebud Blue play at the Brown Barn last year. I believe they had only recently formed themselves into a band, though many of the members have known each other quite a while. (My first opportunity to stick out my neck and/or put my foot in my mouth, with a statement that's likely wrong.) I saw them perform at the FDF this year and then here at Brown Barn again. I enjoyed them a lot. They've got a lot of energy and really seem to enjoy each other's company. I don't recall Josh Tharp being their banjo player last year, but he's their “banjo boy” now; and he's good. (And he looks enough like me to make me imagine myself on that stage.) Ed Neff plays fiddle for Rosebud Blue. I think it's neat when musicians old and young can play together as equals.

Another example of that intergenerational friendship is Carl Pagter and Angelica Grim. Carl performed with Angelica, as did Angelica's sister, and AJ Lee, of course. Betsy Riger played with them too. There were one or two other folks; I'm sorry I can't remember who they were.

I am planning to buy myself some banjo-themed T shirts on Cafe Press soon. At some point during the festival, I gave Carl the printout of a T shirt saying that I ran across: “Frailer For Sale Or Rent.” He mentioned that he had seen (or owned) a shirt that says “Total Frailure.”

Wild Blue was fun. I wasn't acquainted with the band, though I knew about some of its members. Larry Carlin is of course a well-known CBA website columnist. “Doctor Elmo” Shropshire is the lead vocalist and does a great job in that role. The last song that the band performed was Elmo’s famous (infamous?) “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” I'm sure it is requested all the time and that has got to be annoying (like audiences asking for “Rocky Top”), but he obliged us. I like “twisted lyrics songs” (think Weird Al Yankovic), and I was thrilled to watch a live performance of this Christmas classic. The barn was appropriately decorated for it: strings of white lights and an antique sleigh hanging from the rafters.

After Wild Blue performed, I went backstage to thank Elmo. Angelica Grim came by and asked him about his banjo, so I lingered there while they talked. I wasn't worried about missing the first song performed by The Mighty Crows, as I would catch the rest of the show soon enough. But dammit, I missed seeing them play “Shady Grove.” That is one of those simple tunes any beginner can play (if it's slowed down and the embellishments are stripped out). Indeed, it's one of the songs in my tiny repertoire as a newbie banjoist, so I would have enjoyed seeing them perform it at full-tempo and with all the embellishments. Oh well.

There were many campsite jams on Saturday night, of course, and I wandered through several. At least a dozen people gathered just outside the barn for a large jam session. They played and played, illuminated solely by the fluorescent tubes of the “snack shack.” As we observed the jamming, Dave Gooding told stories of when he used to perform/rehearse with Pacific Ocean Bluegrass, then drive home (to Vacaville?) in the wee hours of the morning, so he could go to work early the next day; and other folks related their own crazy road-trip stories. I haven’t laughed like that in quite a while. Sometime after 1:00am, I wandered off to bed.

I have bought so many albums in the short time I've been “under the influence of grass” that I decided I'd only get one album during this event. I got “California Bluegrass Association: Celebrating The First Twenty Years.” While it was published by the CBA, I bought it from among the offerings of Pleasant Valley Music Co. (Matt Dudman and colleagues). I would love there to be a new retrospective album, one that covers years 21 to 30, or else, a double-album, encompassing the contents of the first album, plus music from years 21 to 33. Its acquisition was not a mistake, and I’d recommend it especially to those who attended FDF in the early 1990’s and earlier.

If you were outside the Bay Area on that weekend, and you wonder what the weather was like: The performers were “real hot,” with quotation marks. Everyone there was REAL HOT, in all caps.

Two other events that weekend:

On the same weekend as this festival was held, the Santa Clara Valley Fiddlers Association had its monthly jam session in San Jose. I would have skipped it this time, except for they had a guest fiddler performing, Noel Monteleone. So I left the festival early and drove fast back to San Jose. Noel did a great job of fiddling and told some humorous stories. Also on September 7 was the annual Jubil
Posted:  9/15/2008

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