Author: Cornish, Rick

Strumming are the Sages
The story of the Sages and how they came to be strumming starts, at least for me, in November of 2000. That was the year my band, the Grass Menagerie, first played the Woodland Veterans Day Festival. And it would also be the last time my son Phillip, who’d been playing mandolin and singing in the band for about a year, and I would appear on stage together, at least as fellow band members. Not long after, Lynn and I would move to Sonora and the wonderful, unforgettable experience of performing regularly with my own child would end. But I wasn’t thinking about that as we climbed back up on stage for our encore. Phil and I sang a duet, Down Where the River Bends, in honor of all the veterans, and the audience loved it. A great set, great audience response…..everything perfect.

Five minutes after we walked off stage I was in the lobby area, where the vendors set up, just soaking up the “way-to-go”’s and “nice-job” ‘s and beaming as only a proud band leader AND proud father could. Someone at the membership booth waved me over—it was Suzanne Dension.

“Rick,” she said, “I’ve got some people here who’d like to meet you.” Standing there at the table was a young East Indian couple and their two children. The man and the little boy and little girl wore Western clothes, but the woman was dressed in an Indian sarong and pantaloons.

“Hello, hello Mr. Cornish. I am Tushar Parte and this is my wife, Suchita. And these are our two children. We wanted to meet you and say how very, very much we enjoyed the performance of you and your son. It was very, very wonderful to see and hear you and your son sing and play together.” As he spoke, the Indian grasped my right hand with both of his and shook and shook. And he smiled a broad smile. They all did. And sort of half bowed.

“Well, thank you,” I said stammering and a little embarrassed, “I’m glad you enjoyed the set.”

“Oh yes,” said the woman, “oh yes, we did very, very much. And in particular the music that you and your son made. Phillip, isn’t that right?” Both spoke perfect English, but with deep Indian accents.

“Yes,” I said, “his name is Phil. And I guess you could tell I’m very proud of him.”

“And well you should be,” said the man, “and he, you. And he, you, Mr. Cornish. The music you and your son made together was very moving. Very moving.” And with that he shook my hand again.

And that was that. End of story. A little odd running into an East Indian family in Woodland…..and at a bluegrass festival. Stranger still that they would seek me out to tell me how much they enjoyed our set. But in ten minutes the brief encounter had drifted quickly out of short term memory and I didn’t see the young family for the remainder of the festival.

A year and a half later, to my absolute astonishment, I received an e-mail from my son Phillip that read simply:

“Hi Dad--You’re not going to believe this. Remember the nice Indian people you met at Woodland last year? Well, guess what…..they’re coming to your picking party next week. Tushar and Suchita…….all the way from Bombay. Isn’t that great!

I called Phillip right away and asked for an explanation.

“How do you even know these people,” I asked.

“Simple, after they met you at the Veterans Day Festival, they came and found me. We talked for a while, exchanged cards and we’ve been e-mailing back and forth ever since. Very cool people, Dad. He’s a musician and she’s a singer. They do movies in India, or something like that. And they love bluegrass.”

“And so they’re coming from Bombay, India to Jamestown, U.S.A. to do a little jamming at a picking party? Ooooookay. Son, you’re leaving something out of the story.” And of course there was a lot more to the story, pieces that took some time and patience to pull together and sort out.

In India, as in many countries, fathers pass along to sons their business or profession or line of work from one generation to another. And so it was with the Partes. Tushar’s father was a nationally known and respected musician, composer and music director in the huge Indian motion picture industry centered in Bombay, and so was his grandfather. Naturally, even as a young child, Tushar was expected to follow the family tradition. But his father wanted the boy to have some say in his own destiny, so when Tushar was eleven years old the senior Parte asked him what musical instrument he would like to learn to play. The boy didn’t hesitate. Guitar, he said, six string western guitar… those played in America.

Although this was probably not what the father had hoped to hear, within a few weeks Tushar was the proud owner of a brand new Martin guitar and was taking guitar lessons from a young American working in the diplomatic corps there in Bombay. It was love at first pluck! With musician’s genes passed down through a dozen generations, the boy was a natural and soon he was playing western music and classical Indian music alike on the Martin.

Of course Tushar learned many other Indian instruments and studied many genres of Indian music in secondary school and then college, but guitar was always his favorite. Even before college graduation, he was fast-tracking a career in music composition and direction; by twenty-five he’d written and directed scores for half a dozen films. And he’d married Suchita. It was around this time that his former guitar teacher, who’d by now moved up the ranks at the American Consulate in Bombay, called Tushar and invited him to a ‘folk’ concert being hosted by the Embassy. Seemed an American folk group was touring Asia and would stop in Bombay to do a show. The ‘folk group’ turned out to be the Bluegrass Alliance, and Tushar’s attendance at their show, and subsequent week of jamming and hanging out with Sam Bush and the boys, ignited his passionate love affair with bluegrass music, a love affair that several years later led the film score writer and producer to bring his young family to the United States to attend a real bluegrass festival. And how was it that, of all the bluegrass festivals in the country, Tushar and Suchita Parte would select the tiny President’s Day Festival in Woodland to fly half way around the globe to visit? Simple, they did an Internet search and the CBA’s was the first to pop up. Ain’t life grand?

So that explains how it was that Suzanne Denison called me over to meet the young Indian family in the lobby of the Ag Exhibit Hall at the Yuba County Fairgrounds in November of 2000. And, indirectly, it also explained why, of all the bands that played the festival, Tushar was so taken with, and interested in, the Grass Menagerie…..and why he began a long-distance friendship with my son Phil. It was the father-son dynamic of our band. One of Tushar’s children was a nine-year-old son and, as tradition dictated, the time was quickly coming when the father would be gently steering the son on a musical path. Seeing my adult son Phillip and I on stage picking and singing together was, he told later, very ‘affirming’. But flying in from Bombay to a picking party in Jamestown? There had to be more to that story….and soon enough I learned that there was.

‘Picking party’ doesn’t quite do justice to the event Lynn and I had planned for that spring. It was to be a four-day, bring-your-tents-and-campers affair, and by Wednesday people started drifting in. I honestly didn’t believe that Phillip was serious about the Indian couple, that is, until the phone rang Thursday night about 10:00 p.m.

“Hello Rick? Rick, this is Suchita. How are you? We are fine. We are in San Francisco, America. Very close to your home, yes?” (Very close compared to Bombay, I thought, but didn’t say.) Turns our Suchita and Tushar were calling for directions to Jamestown. Their plan was to take a bus the next day from the City up to the Mother Lode. I asked what bus? They didn’t know but figured there must<
Posted:  4/26/2007

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