Author: Zuniga, Henry

Giving Thanks for Bluegrass
Hi, and a belated happy Thanksgiving Day to all! Now that the party has ended, I feel compelled to try my hand at being an editorialist. As you are all well aware, it's Nancy who is the journalist in our house and I dare say that she makes me very proud to be married to such an eloquent and prolific writer. My abilities aren't nearly as good as hers but I feel that if you have a good story it can only get better if it is shared. With this in mind…….

Thanksgiving Day at our house was wonderful! As was the case for Nancy, I too found myself in a reflective mood. I'm used to huge family gatherings, and the thought of not being with loved ones all around made for low expectations. What I got instead was a wonderful day filled with little surprises and many happy memories. It felt good to be at home. Nancy and I worked together and everything went smoothly. Our gathering was small but it was more than enough to fill the house with warmth and good will. Family, old friends, and new friends made for the perfect remedy to my feelings of gloom. The sun shone, the food was great, and the small group added an element that I hadn't really associated with this holiday: intimacy. I had time to talk to everyone there and special bonds were forged and cemented into my memory for all time. I hope that some of you were able to do the same.

As is the case with most people, we also gave thanks for our many blessings: family, friends, country, etc., but, hindsight being 20/20, I now see that I forgot to give thanks for one of the most important things that I have in my life, namely, bluegrass music. I'd like to tell you why it means so much to me.

From the very moment that I met Nancy so much has changed for me, and one of the biggest and best things has been this magical thing we all know as bluegrass. Before meeting Nancy and subsequently being introduced to the bluegrass life, I found myself faced with personal problems and tragedies. I was falling into a state of very deep depression and my life felt meaningless and misdirected. I desperately needed something to lift me from this well of hopelessness and that something came from the last place that I ever would have imagined. Music has always been a huge factor in my life. My Mother recounts that I was able to sing before I could speak! I can't know for sure that this it true, but hey, if you can't believe your own Mother..

I had just about given up all hope for being happy again. I didn't see or know how it was possible. And then, along came Nancy. As some of you might already know, our initial meeting came about because of music. On that occasion it wasn't bluegrass that we played, but our musical connection was instant and magically undeniable. I think that the story of our meeting is really beautiful, and, for me it has been nothing short of miraculous, but it is long and best saved for another day. After our initial introduction, things proceeded at a breakneck pace and we were caught up in our love for music and our growing love for one another. I had been on a musical quest to learn some of the old songs that I'd grown up hearing from childhood, and, though these were mostly Spanish, they were beautiful stories very similar in composition to bluegrass music.

Within a few weeks of meeting Nancy, the opportunity arose to attend the spring campout of 2002 that was being held in Plymouth, CA. Nancy tried to explain what it was and, though I wanted to attend, I really didn't expect very much. I recall almost everything and I doubt that I'll ever forget all of the wonderful things that I experienced on that first campout. I had some concerns, after all, it was only March and the nights were cold. I didn't really care for camping, or so I thought, and I didn't know anyone except Nancy.

My sad, but ignorant mind-set also had me worried about my ethnicity and whether or not I might find myself surrounded by "rednecks" with no one to "get my back." I was so, so wrong! We hadn't even parked the truck before people started coming up to us, due to the fact that Nancy was already so well known and liked, and to my shock they greeted and welcomed me like an old friend returning home. I began to think that maybe this might be a bearable weekend so I helped set up our meager camp just as the sun began to set. During this time more people came over and I found myself becoming confused by all of the names and faces but they were good faces and the smiles were real and reassuring.

So many of these new friends were inviting us to come to their campsites and it was easy to see that Nancy was loved and respected among these people. Not having a clue about the way things were done, I opted to tag along and see what this was all about. From the beginning, I had seen people sitting around, casually playing their instruments, some individually, others in groups. Most of what I heard was very traditional and kind of slow and I wondered if I could survive 3 days of "Geritol Jams." Please try to understand that I mean no disrespect when I use this phrase. Most of the first people I met were of a different generation than mine and I assumed that they just liked to strum easy songs. I even had the audacity to think that a guy like me might be able to put a little life into a situation like this. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening!

I can compare the musical intensity to the oceans tides. Though I didn't know it , Nancy and I had arrived at low musical tide and like the ocean, the musical tide began to rise until I found myself up to my ears in bluegrass waters. Just as the high tide is strong and inescapable, so too was the music that began to come from all around. My previous exposure to bluegrass was limited so I had no way of knowing how alive and energetic it could be. In campsite after campsite, folks gathered and began to play as if they'd been doing so forever. I was dumbstruck by the talented yet unpretentious musicians that I was seeing. I quickly noticed that there were no leaders and everyone was contributing to the "jam." Until that day I had never really seen a "jam." Oh sure, I'd been to some parties where there were multiple players but this was a whole different animal. Most "other" jams usually become "hey look at what I can play" sessions that seem to be nothing more than one guy trying to showboat with little or no regard to either the group or worse than that, the music. There was none of that to be seen among these people. The funny thing was that almost everyone that I saw and heard that first night could easily outplay most of the people that I knew. Nancy told me that almost all of the musicians that we were watching were amateurs with the occasional semi-pro thrown in.

That introduction to bluegrass was amazing. Real people, playing real music, for nothing more than the chance to have a good time. For me it seemed unreal, yet there it was and 3 days went by more quickly than any others I could remember. My mind was so blown and my heart soared. I began to feel alive again! Just when I thought that it couldn't get any better, Nancy, in her sweet understated way said, " you haven't seen anything yet!" Did I dare believe her?

Over the next couple of months, we attended a couple of the monthly jams and again there were many surprises. I heard more good music, got a chance to meet more fine people and began to feel like I truly was accepted. This is no small thing. In an age of fear and distrust, the soul is fortified and replenished by acceptance and true friends that care. I was happier than I ever dreamed! New friends, new music, and a new love. Who could dare ask for more?

As the summer approached, Nancy began to tell me about Grass Valley and, though it sounded great, it was hard to imagine. Four to five thousand people at one place all for the same reason: bluegrass. Bluegrass!! The word began to take on a life of its own. I didn't know it yet, but something was happening to me. I w
Posted:  11/29/2007

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