“You can play like me – now go get your own style.”
Bill Monroe – as recalled by David Grissman on the Vern Stage at Mando Madness – Saturday, June 20, 2015
I have been to the California Bluegrass Association. Father’s Day Bluegrass festival about four times. My entire family, including cousins, aunts and uncles once removed attend and the festival is a combination of three stages but mostly jammin’ all night long until the sun comes up – literally 5:30 am. Often some really fine players do this all-night jamming, playing mostly classic bluegrass and old time songs in the classic way. People stroll from campsite to campsite in middle of the night and sit in with complete strangers – the music being the currency of friendship.
If you attempt to take a nap in the tent in the middle of the day, you will be listening to the fiddles and guitars and banjos and dobros. They crank out three chord songs one after another and often a completely different group one campsite down will start another tune a whole step away. Often the two bands will play in the same tempo, starting songs at slightly different times so you get an interesting polyphony going. A major over G major. The one chord of the first key bouncing off the four chord of the other. Chords changing in odd places. The tunes stopping and starting at unusual spots. It all sort of echos through the trees and if you are like me, forget about sleeping for more than about ten minutes at a time. You feel like you are on a carnival ride and even the bluejays head out of the neighborhood for more tranquil climes. Ear plugs are no match for a 5 string banjo.
When I arrived on Saturday at about 10 am with my niece Laura, the sun was shining, it was nice and warm and people were stirring. Some had jammed until 5 am the night before. Others looked like they had not slept a wink. My strategy this year was to set up the tents as far away from the “jam zone” as possible. This worked great as my one night stay was very restful in a secret, undisclosed location up a hill, under some pine trees by some sleepy RVs. Just far enough away from any of the pestering banjos.
I only saw a few shows this year. David Grisman Bluegrass Experience with his son Sam Grisman on stellar bass was great but my affinity with David Grisman comes from a discovery of his Dawg music – a jazzy, sort of gypsy form of music he pioneered in the late 70s. I remember having Hot Dawg on vinyl and cassette and listened to it for about two months straight. Tony Rice and Darol Anger complete an interesting group. However, The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience plays a more traditional style and material – Scruggs and Doc Watson tunes.
I heard The Kentucky Colonels Reunion who played pretty well for some really old guys. They seemed like a pick up band of good ‘ole buddies. From some reason those were the two main acts I heard as I realized that the banjo player one camp over could have played the main stage. In fact the entire group one camp over could have formed a band and played the main stage in about five minutes flat. So a lot of the music I heard and played was in the camp.
Sunday was spent with more jamming, Father’s Day breakfast, a Lucia Birthday cake and then a few hours on the Yuba River where the water level was about normal. We baked ourselves on the granite boulders and the Sierra water washed away the worries of the city. The California Bluegrass Association Father’s Day Bluegrass festival. The tradition lives on.