Saturday, June 14, 2008
On Friday the 13th I played hookey (well, actually I took leave, but it doesn't sound as fun that way) and went to my first bluegrass festival. The California Bluegrass Association is putitng on this 4 day festival in Grass Valley in the Sierra Nevadas. It sure is pleasant to lie on the grass listening to fine music in the shade of the pines at temps 15 degrees cooler than down on the valley floor.
I arrived about a half hour before any of the scheduled events. As I made my way through the camping area to the parking area people were already up and jamming. There were campsites of all sizes from 40 foot RV's to a Honda Pacific Coast 800 motorcycle pulling a little trailer. While the camping area looked about as full as it could get I couldn't help think that there would have been more folks if the fairgrounds permitted pets.
While walking to the main stage, I was baffled at some of the merchants. Quilts? Tractor seats on milk cans? Signs engraved on sandstone? O.K. you paid for space so it is your right to be there, but how is this related to bluegrass?
There were also plenty of bluegrass related vendors. Old Time Music of San Diego brought a good selection of banjos and encouraged folks to try them. A Stelling Crusader, Several Omes, an older Deering Tenbrooks, and a whole array of Nechvilles.
Greg Deering was there with several banjos also. I talked with Greg for quite a while. It is easy to see that he is thankful for all the blessings the Lord has provided in his life. I think I found my next banjo. I played a Deering Sierra. I found the action to be a little higher than many instruments I had tried, but it still played very nicely and the tone was exactly what I look for. My one concern was what a heavy banjo it is! Do they cast the tone ring from depleted uranium? Oh, and the nut was ebony. It looked nice, and surely the banjo sounded nice but I had only seen bone or high density plastic used as a nut before.
The schedule of the day went like this:
The Doerfels, they played an energetic and fun set and got the day started off right
Belle Monroe and her Brewglass Boys
Then the main stage had a break while the first set of workshops were held. I went to a banjo workshop given by Montie Hendricks of Hendricks banjos. This was presented in the Luthiers pavilion which has concrete floors, and my legs were feeling sore. This probably made more sensitive than usual to Montie's delivery style. He would hint at where he was going, depart on a little tangent and then work back around to the point he was trying to make. By the end of the hour this was making me a little crazy.
Then Blue Highway was on the main stage. iTunes has been recommending their Through the Window of a Train to me based on what else I have bought, but the 30 second sound clips just haven't caught my attention. But they played a lot of material from their album Wondrous Love. I liked that well enough to buy the album.
The Wilders were next followed by the real stars of the day:
Kids on Bluegrass. These kids ranged from 8 to 16 years old with the average being 10. They didn't always get every note just right, but if you have ever had kids this won't bother you a bit. The massed group did Cluck Old Hen. An 8 year old boy sang Salty Dog and everyone in the audience loved this number. Now everyone get pen and paper and write this name down and put it in your instrument case because you will be seeing it again. A. J. Lee. This little girl must be about 10 or 12 years old, I didn't get the exact age, but what a voice! If she doesn't get pushed too hard too early and ruin her voice, we will all be buying her albums in a few years.
Then came the evening workshops. I attended Greg Deering's banjo workshop. He took a Sierra and demonstrated a range of setup possibilities and demonstrated how they affect the sound. Head loose to head tight. Tailpiece low to virtually no pressure on the strings at all. Then he tightened the head till it broke, took the entire banjo apart, put on new head, new strings, and set the intonation. The workshops were only scheduled to run for an hour, but he gave us an extra hour of his time and then apologized for taking our time.
I had a wonderful day and met some really nice folks. When is the next Festival?