Author: Sargent, Geoff

Tour de Jam Stage Two: The Grass Valley Jam Couloir

Today’s column from Geoff Sargent
Saturday, June 27, 2009

(Note: Well…I didn’t get a good wifi connection and was unable to post this last Sunday morning like I wanted but here it is anyway.)

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Cou·loir. Pronunciation: \kül-'wär\. Function: noun. Etymology: French, literally, passage, from couler; a steep mountainside gorge.

Summertime and the living is easy…….welcome to my first column for the summer of 2009…….during summers, some jams hang on by only a few hardy souls and others proliferate like mosquitoes to infest entire fairgrounds….what’s that annoying sound.…it’s just a banjo trying to draw blood.

This column is about the second stage of our Tour de Jam and takes us right into the heart of the mountains for the equivalent of a grade 1 or even a “hors catagorie” climb, a climb so steep it is not categorized,……..a long, steep, thirsty climb crowded with a large peloton of riders, some fast, some slow, some are climb specialists methodically grinding away, others ride recklessly at breakneck speeds down the hills, crashing and burning, littering the road with damaged bodies and broken gear.

If you haven’t figured it out yet I’m talking about the FDF, and the CBA camp, a double header jam slam…yeehaw.

As for any world-class event, this stage of the Tour attracts a sizable crowd of spectators that occasionally bump riders off their tracks, the sag wagons with their refreshments are running up and down the peloton supplying the riders with liquids and sustenance their bodies crave to keep riding, pushing the tempo ever higher, focused, sweating, the crowds cheering, exhorting the competitors and teams to play harder, faster. At the end……the finish line where exhausted riders fall into the arms of teammates and families…..tired, spent, and limp. They pack their gear into their cars, trucks, and buses and drive off to the next festival for another Tour.

Not a bad metaphor for the FDF jams…….not even too over the top. The FDF experience is like a long hard ride…and to completely immerse yourself into the culture of FDF requires stamina, perseverance, and a certain disregard for normal sleep patterns. One can train for an event like FDF…..oh there are other early season races…..errr….festivals to see how your stamina and speed are progressing….for example there was the recent spring Tour de Berry, a significant preliminary event that bookends the festival season, and some would have you believe is a rival to the FDF (this writer humbly believes otherwise.…but since I have not experienced a Tour de Berry, my credibility might be faulted). And, there are other training regimens one can follow….one popular regimen is designed to help prepare the liver….a vital jam organ....but since this is a family oriented column all I will say about that is kids.…we are the people our parents warned us about....don’t try it at home.…it’s only for experts….and….because I told you so.

I was fortunate enough to get a slot volunteering for the CBA camp due to a last minute cancellation and I’m looking forward to this Camp/FDF week more than the previous two I’ve attended....I know a whole lot more folks this time around, many I’ve already played with, and man-o-man I’m going to get to play with a whole lot more folks.

Unfortunately there is a price to pay. I had to give up a few things….my dog gets left for the week with our sitter, and my wife has to stay behind to work. To make things worse my wife pulled a leg muscle this week and is hobbling around the house muttering dark things about me going off in her time of need. There could indeed be a very high price to pay when I get home…..from both.

But I will have a full menu of things to keep me occupied and distracted from those issues….Ingrid is sure to keep us hopping for the camp. There’s the Saturday camp set-up, the Sunday sign-in….somewhere in there are rumored to be a couple of pickup bands to play in. Oh yes….there is rain in the forecast…..that could make things interesting. And then there is striking camp on Thursday and Sunday.

And at this FDF we are also going to convene the primordial coven of CBA columnists to commune and chant around a space-time disruption disguised as a Coleman lantern....we will be accompanied by instruments of sonic destruction, aided and abetted, not by soul-less martinis, but by a neat god-fearing liquor from the land that spawned bluegrass, fit for creating a transcendental jamphoria.

Ok, maybe that last paragraph was a little over the top.

Saturday afternoon, June 20, 2009…..I’m sitting at Vern’s, under the awning by the beer window, with my computer discretely plugged into an outlet behind the bar, drinking a Sierra Nevada Summerfest, enjoying the music, and trying to finish the column to post at 12:01 AM……if I can find a good wifi signal.

There is too little space and not enough time to describe the past 7 days….and you’re certainly not going to get the last night’s worth of jams from me….at least in this edition of the Tour de Jam because I’m going to be out there playing instead of writing.

I sometimes like getting up early to watch the dawn, especially if I’m out in the country-side where I can watch the view slowly revealed and see the day unfold. That’s what it was like arriving Saturday before the CBA camp to find an almost empty campground with only a few tents providing a bare visual framework for what would become tent city jam central. It was kind of eerie walking through the trees over ground that I knew would soon be filled with tents, canopies, vehicles, players, and jams. The better metaphor might be watching a good sized thunder storm roll in….in either case I could easily imagine the unfolding camp and hear the music already playing.

True to my prediction…Ingrid kept us moving…..maybe not nonstop but everyone, campers and volunteers alike, was clearly exhausted by Wednesday evening. Of course we celebrated the conclusion of another successful camp with a little champagne and at supper some of my volunteer comrades insisted that I get up to present a toast to Ingrid….which I did with a mixture of reluctance and pride….reluctance because by then I was reasonably well toasted myself which sometimes has unpredictable and embarrassing consequences when I have to speak in public. However…I wisely chose to make it short and simple. I am trying to convince the other volunteers that my toast will set the tradition and require rookie volunteers to perform the end-of-camp toast.

The Festival started in earnest Thursday morning with the chair scramble…..actually for some folks it started Wednesday evening when they pitched camp outside the gate to get first row real estate in front of the main stage. Last year I vowed not to get up early and just place my chair later in the morning.…my memory isn’t what it used to be so at 5:30 AM I’m in line snoozing in my chair….next year I vow to sleep in…..probably not.

But this column is supposed to be about jams. By Saturday evening before music camp, jams were already hatching and buzzing. The CBA music campers were in the first hatch but were quickly joined by jammers arriving from afar. There were day time jams but the most interesting ones for me occurred in the evening when jammers anonymously appear without warning from the dark, briefly play, often without any introduction or conversation, and move on….in the dim light and dark night this had a certain sensual dreamlike quality that reminded me of an Erica Jong novel.

There were just too many FDF jams going on to describe them all….most were small affairs between friends sharing a campsite or adjoining RVs, usually around a lantern or grill. A few jams happened in the early morning hours, typically under a dim streetlight illuminating a tight knit circle quietly playing. Walking past these shadowy jams I could hear snippets of conversation, music, and vocals fading in and out from t
Posted:  6/27/2009

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