Author: Cornish, Rick

Parkfield….home of the BIG ONES
Parkfield is the most closely observed earthquake zone in the world. Scientists measure the strain in rocks, heat flow, and geomagnetism constantly around Parkfield. The Parkfield motto, which is plastered on signs, menus, flyers and newsletters, reads, "Eat here when it happens, sleep here when it happens." Well, fortunately I didn’t experience one of Parkfield’s ‘big ones’ last weekend, (the tiny town of 14 inhabitants traditionally has an earthquake of 6 or greater magnitude every 22 years) but I did have one of the best bluegrass experiences of my 30 years kicking around this musical genre. From the moment I pulled into town, which, by the way, is rented…yes, the entire town is rented….each year for the Parkfield Bluegrass Festival, I felt I’d arrived home. And this was my first time ever to the Central California event, which, I learned, was into its eleventh year. I recognized a fair number of folks, but there were way more people I didn’t know….nonetheless, I felt welcomed by everyone.

Of course my pal Ed Alston, head honcho of the new Bluegrass Music Society of Central California, was my real welcoming committee. He saw to it I was given a quick tour of the event grounds to get my bearings, that I found my room (yes, I had my own room at the Parkfield Inn), got a cold beer after a dusty drive, and checked in with the back stage folks to get briefed on my MC duties the following day. All this BEFORE I changed from my work clothes into shorts and a tank top.

The entertainment at the Parkfield Festival was an awfully nice mix—two bands shared the headliner honors: New Found Road, a band from back east that started out as a bluegrass gospel act six years ago but has transitioned into gospel and more (these guys played Grass Valley four years ago and brought the house down….more recently they’ve signed with Rounder); and High Country, the gold standard of traditional bluegrass music done the California way, (I’ve never heard Butch Waller and his gang sound better.) Other bands included Eric Uglum & Sons, who did a big bunch of tunes from their new CD and who made everybody in the audience wish they’d pushed their kids harder to take up an instrument, the Smiley Mountain band from up Yosemite way, The Blade Runners, just recently reorganized and sounding as good as ever, Boys in the Woods, a fine Fresno-based band and stalwarts in the Kings River Bluegrass Association, the Southside Band, which made this eleven appearances in eleven Parkfields, Whiskey Chimp, which defies a simple description but which needs to be heard by everyone reading this review at some point in the future, Highway One, our Santa Cruz-based quartet which featured guest fiddler Paul Lee, High Hills, an all-woman bluegrass quartet from south of the Grapevine that knocked off more than a few socks and which, we were told by a proud Joe Quealy, was the first ‘all-girl’ band to appear at Parkfield, Better Late Than Never, a San Luis sextet featuring the vocal leads of our good CBA friend and bluegrass DJ Glen Horn and Leroy Mack and The Bluegrass Gospel Band, who brought a lot of fine gospel and a little genuine inspiration to the congregation Sunday morning.

I didn’t know what to expect when I came down the Parkfield Grade into this little, temporary community of bluegrass pickers, fans, drag-along kids and dogs. What I found was pure bluegrass magic. Acres and acres of flat, oak-forested park with jams sprouting from most campsites, a lovely grass and shade tree stage area adjoining the famous Parkfield Restaurant (ohhhhh, those BBQ’d beef ribs on Friday night), plenty of room to spread out if that’s what you were into and some very fine vendors, not the least of which was the owner of the Parkfield Vineyards, his two daughters and their seven varietals, ranging from a very dry Chardonnay to a fruity Merlot. Joe and his wife Darlene are known for throwing loosely organized, casual, fun events, and this year’s Parkfield was clearly all three. While it’s fair to say that next year’s event will likely be a little less loosely organized, what with the Bluegrass Music Society of Central California taking over production of the festival, Joe’s hand will no doubt be helping to mix the brew and that can only mean another very, very good time. I’m headed back to Parkfield in ’08 and you can be sure I’ll be bringing some of my Northern California pals to this one.

Posted:  5/15/2007

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