“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou –
My friend Dave who’s attended quiet a few Bluegrass and other Festivals, invited me to join him on a trip over the last few days. We went to a Bluegrass Festival in central California, out in the middle of nowhere, in the community (population 18) of Parkfield.
Parkfield’s claim to fame is that it’s the “Earthquake Capital of the World.” The San Andreas, a major California earthquake fault runs right through the center of the community. There’s a marker that says that the way the earth is continually shifting in the area, in a couple of million years, Parkfield will become an ocean side community. Their motto is, “Be here when it happens.”
Well, I was there, for the annual Parkfield Bluegrass Festival. My music taste leans more toward classic rock and some pop, but I’ve always tried to expand my knowledge and interests in music. I spent a couple of days at the festival enjoying and learning about bluegrass music before coming home Saturday evening so I could spend Mother’s Day with my family.
At the festival I experienced a lot of excellent music, attended a few workshops, and watched ‘Dancing John,’ a regular at these festivals. As the bands played, off to the side of the stage would be ‘Dancing John,’ doing his little shuffle dance. I was told he’s been doing his shuffle at many of the Bluegrass festivals for who knows how many years.
Despite lyrics that are often similar to Country music’s sad stories, bluegrass music is really a celebratory experience. The usual and often obligatory instruments include the banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and upright base. Much of bluegrass is just amazing instrumental music. There was Old-Time, Gypsy Jazz, Gospel and Celtic crossover, just to name a few blends of Bluegrass at the festival.
One of my favorite bands was Little Black Train. You can check them out here at this link. Their music, a mixture of old-timey bluegrass, blues, and Celtic Americana, was just wonderful.
Besides a whole lot of simply great tunes, what also helped me to emotionally bond to the music was the connection to my Irish heritage. Much of Bluegrass has roots in Celtic melodies that go back 100’s of years – nobody really knows how far back; maybe 500-1000 years.
Another favorite was a band of four young guys (ages 21-25) from the San Francisco Bay Area, Steep Ravine. These guys are so talented; it’s scary to think where they could be 10 years from now. Check them out at this link. If you ever get a chance to see them live, do not pass up the opportunity.
This week’s group of Bluegrass devotees was a really friendly, welcoming community. We went to workshops and late night ‘circle jams’ that had the novice and professional side by side enjoying the pleasures of making music – the maxim, “All are welcome.” My friend Dave says bluegrass for him is ‘centering’ music, there’s a balance and joy in the music.
Well, I sure experienced that joy this week. I learned a bit about my heritage, music, and about myself as I sought to enlarge my interests. As Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”