Author: Karsemeyer, John

Sunscreen, Sweat, Non-Believers, and Converts

Day one, Thursday, June 17, 2010, CBA Father’s Day Festival, 35th Anniversary, and the day was warm. Warm enough for the skin to need protection from harm’s rays.

Rays being projected from the mammoth fireball in the sky. Rays that are inconsequential to those with youth on their side, but not so with more mature folks who have suffered the diabolical effect on skin from mother nature’s microwave oven.

So today sunscreen in various strengths (#15, #30, #50) was being liberally applied to sun worshippers who barely noticed it was pouncing on them as they were 99% focused on the sounds and sights taking place on the main stage. You could smell it in the air.

It’s a good smell that neutralizes the natural scent resulting from the output of water from the skin on a hot day. Especially so in folks that inhabit the woods for days on end without the comfort of an easily accessible shower. It could be the big reason, some say, why many city folks find themselves in the woods so long absorbing bluegrass music. Primal stuff, back to nature. Some may say, “It’s our heritage and our right!” Right? Whatever the reason, it is reason enough.

At 8:40 p.m. the all male sextet took the main stage with the familiar acoustic instruments: guitar; 5-string banjo; fiddle; mandolin; bass; and dobro. The “twenty-something” appearing young men were dressed casually in jeans with shirts not tucked in; as some other bands’ members before them that day had also dressed. Nothing unusual about that, even though some other earlier bands sported apparel that seemed a bit more professional. So far, these six guys were the usual suspects.

When a bluegrass group at Grass Valley takes the stage, your ears often expect to hear certain sounds. You know, offerings of songs from the likes of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, the Stanley Brothers, Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, High Country, and others. However, the aforementioned six guys, who appeared to have not yet crossed the thirty-year old thresh hold were in another musical dimension.

A dimension that their minds quickly translated to hands and fingers on instruments, creating the musical sound being transmitted through microphones, wires, and speakers into the ears of an unsuspecting audience. Double barreled, aimed at an audience in their lawn chairs, surrounded by a Ponderosa Pine Forest that reached out its full length to greet the clear blue sky that was obscured by the dark of the night. An audience caught off guard.

“Sounds like rock n’ roll,” the guy sitting next to me roared, after the first few songs reached their conclusion. Just after that a half-dozen folks vacated their chairs. Lawn chairs that now fully displayed their colors of red, green, yellow, blue and lonesome. “Ain’t no part of nothing,” drifted in on the wings of the cool evening breeze into my ears. Some left not believing, not accepting, not willing to receive. But that’s okay. Celebrate diversity.

The audience that remained steadfast kept their ears and eyes focused on these six alien-like musicians in wonder, excitement, tolerance, disbelief, amazement, and combinations thereof. These chair-born attendees analyzed this experience consciously and unconsciously under the glow of a crystal half moon directly overhead. At the end of the set some hungered for more. Two hours later some had dreams, some could not sleep. All had experienced new intrusions into their auditory cortex.

It is difficult, probably impossible, to label, categorize, pigeon-hole, or simply give a name to the type of music that catapulted from the main stage through the audience, forest, Nevada County Fairgrounds , across the Highway 49, and permeated the inhabitants of Grass Valley. Was it “New Acoustic Music,” “Progressive Bluegrass,” “Newgrass,” “Jazz-Grass,” or “Dawg” like music?
Well, not exactly, not quite, not really. Maybe components of all that, maybe not.

The next evening, Friday, at 11 p.m., this band had completed the last of their three sets. The jam-packed audience, standing and wanting still more, even after the obligatory encore, would have to settle for what they felt was an encounter of too brief a time. You can’t say that everyone who partook of this musical “sermon” was converted. But if appearance is worth anything, it’s likely that many were. It’s like in church, where only each person, individually, really knows what’s going on inside of them.

At the end of the day (Friday night to be precise), one thing is for sure. Right or wrong, good or bad, like it or not, something musically different had happened. The lights on the main stage were out, the audience was gone, thirty-three strings had definitely been “dusted,” and the Infamous String Dusters had left the “building.”

Posted:  6/26/2010

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