Author: Martin, George

Sleepless in San Benito

Author?s note: I have been struggling not to bore everybody by writing too much about my grandson, Cassens Jameson Martin, as I attempt to gently point the lad into a love for music. You can check out his progress by dialing up YouTube and searching for CJ unplugged, a two-minute video his aunt put up. ? GM

I have two criteria for rating bluegrass festivals. Numero uno is the quality of the stage show, but following close behind is what sort of jams I can find. By this second criterion, I think the Good Old Fashioned festival in Hollister is top of the heap.

The GOOFY, which was held this past weekend, is all about local and regional bands. Maybe a few stayed in motels in Hollister but most camped on the grounds and their members went out at night looking to pick. And most of the bands have friends who are also musical, and then there are pickers like me who are into both the show and the jamming, so at the end of the day (literally) there are a BUNCH of people out making music at Bolado Park.

Barbara and I had hoped to get on the road Thursday afternoon so as to be in Hollister early, but complications occurred and we didn?t get going until Friday. Then I sort of forgot exactly how to get to Hollister and made a bad turn onto Highway 156 just a bit north of town. That got us to San Juan Bautista and by the time we found our way back to the righteous path we missed the opening of the festival and most of the second band.

We did get to see and enjoy the Dalton Mountain Gang, and then Faux Renwah (that would be Cactus Bob and Prairie Flower and their son, Michael). I really enjoy that little band; they put out a lot of sound with just a trio, and their shows are always so witty and wry. And they are my yearly chance to hear ?Dead Horse Trampoline,? which is one of the funniest songs I have ever heard. I?ve always wanted to learn it myself but the Renwahs always are on fairly early in the festival and by Sunday I can no longer remember the melody, even though I did find the lyrics on the Web.

Friday evening?s lineup was a strong one, with 49 Special, fresh from winning the band contest at Rockygrass in Colorado (they won a festival booking for next year), followed by a strong set by Bean Creek and then a ripping show by the Alhambra Valley Band.

After the show I went wandering with my banjo and found a couple of short-lived jams in the tree-shaded tent area. They both broke up and by then most of the music around that part of camp was made by large groups, which don?t work well for me. So I went wandering out in the sparsely populated parts of the campground and stumbled upon a mini-Camp Spam, just Bruno Brandli and his VW camper.

But with Bruno were Bruce Campbell and Dan Large of the Alhambra Valley Band, and a Dobro player who said he was passing through on the way to Yellowstone. And that was the evening?s Jam of Gold: just the way I like it. Not too many people, good vocal harmony (everyone except the Dobro player sang parts very well) and the songs called were not the Bluegrass Top 20 that get beat to death in a lot of festival jams.

Campbell had dropped his bass in favor of a guitar, and although I?ve played with Bruce a few times I had no idea he was an excellent guitar player. Dan Large of course is a great mandolin player as any AHB fan knows, but having his baritone harmony right up close and personal was a real treat.

Various people kept noting how late it was getting but nobody could get up the courage to end the great music until we finally all pooped out about 3:15 a.m. . By the time I got back to my camp, put my banjo away, got my teeth brushed, visited the portapotty and slid into my sleeping bag it was nearly 4. One nice thing about going to bed at that time is it solves the having to get up and pee in the middle of the night problem.

The waking up at 7:45 when the sun turns the tent into an oven problem remains, but I had a bag of Peet?s Italian Roast coffee in our kitchen box, so I took the chemical path to awareness.

I was considerably energized by Saturday morning?s opening band OMGG (Obviously Minor Guys and a Girl). This is the young band made up of the two Schwartz boys, Nathan and Max, Marty Varner and A.J. Lee. They are all getting to be very good pickers, they do nice harmony, and A..J. at the age of 11 has the poise and vocal chops of a mini Rhonda Vincent. When she sang Kim Fox?s ?Red Rose Bouquet,? I had tears running down my cheeks. That set was right up top as one of the most enjoyable moments of the festival.

By mid-afternoon I was nodding off in my folding chair in front of the stage.
?You weren?t a pretty sight,? said Barbara later, miming my eyes rolling back and my head drooping and bouncing back upright.

Saturday night we enjoyed the Barefoot Nellies, Dark Hollow, Circle R Boys and Belle Monroe and Her Brewglass Boys. It was a high energy show and I was feeling awake again as I went out searching for music.

I ran into a small jam of young people, which was gratifying. I always worry about our music dying out but this little group had some good pickers, two of them young women, which was cool. In introductions, one said, ?My name is Haley, like the comet,? and the other said, ?My name is Rachel, like Jesus? grandmother.?

I mentioned how I used to produce the Beatles but gave it up for bluegrass.

Somebody called ?New Camptown Races,? and we played it at a pretty good clip. There was a young fellow next to me (I think his name was Scott) who ripped out a great break and after the tune was done asked, ?What was that song?? I thought, well the music is in good hands if the young folks can play a tune like that the first time out of the box.

After that jam died I found myself out in the ?rural? part of the camp where I ran into a really good banjo player named Jeff Gurule from up near Yosemite. It was close to my camp so I went and swapped my five-string for a guitar, came back and sang a bunch of songs with the group that by then had two very good fiddlers, a couple of mandolinists (one of whom was Jerry Barrish, who is a good harmony singer) and the Dobro player from the previous night. That jam turned into a really good time, too, and we held out until 3 a.m.

Sunday afternoon featured an electric set from Houston Jones -- not bluegrass but a hell of a band. Nell Robinson & Red Level were a lot of fun. Bluegrass factoid: One would assume that the good looking blonde vocalist in this band is Nell Robinson, but actually the group is named for her grandmother and ?Red Level? is a town in Alabama from whence she hails. I never did get the lady?s actual name.

The festival wound up at 5 p.m. We were staying over but hadn?t had a shower on Saturday, so we went off to get cleaned up, made some supper and then looked around for some music. There was a nice little jam with Pete Hicks, of Bean Creek, and some others. There was a second really good fiddler in the group and he and Pete played some great harmony fiddle.

It was a lot of fun but everybody was a little worn out by then and I was ready for bed when the party broke up at 11.

A great time, and a great festival, only marred by hearing the news that both Wayne Nolan and Mike Seeger had passed away. We are going to miss them both.

Posted:  8/13/2009

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