September 16, 2004: Itís bluegrass time again, this time the second annual
ďBluegrassiní in the FoothillsĒ at Plymouth
CA. For those without an intimate knowledge of California geography
(which includes myself), Plymouth is located on State Highway 49, a
few miles north of Jackson, in Amador County, between State Highway
88 and US 50.
went to load my bike in the trailer this morning, it was gone Ė
the cable had been cut. Heading up State 99, I stopped at Target in Modesto
and got a new one. Actually I think the thief did me a favor. The
gears were messed up on the old bike, and shifting resulted in the
chain getting tangled up in the gears. It would probably have cost
nearly as much to fix as I paid for the new bike.
directions provided by the promoter, I left highway 99 a few miles
north of Modesto
and took Jack Tone Road about 30 miles to Lockeford. This was
followed by a highway-hopping route that included State 12, 88, 124,
16 and 49, which is the most direct path to Plymouth. Jack Tone road went through
flat agricultural land, with lots of
almond orchards the first few miles, then some pumpkins, melons,
walnuts, and lots of tomatoes. One tomato field was getting its last
picking of the season, as a tractor followed the pickers, plowing
the vines under. Several trailers of green tomatoes sat in this
field, awaiting transportation to Ė where? The fried green tomato
miles past Lockeford, the change to SR 88 brought me into the
beginning of the foothills, first passing through the bluffs along
River. Although there was a fair amount of uphill, my guess is that
is not more than 1,500 feet in elevation. Itís the site of the
Amador County Fairgrounds, where the festival is being held, and I
am camped in a barn Ė fortunately with no cows. The advantage of
this location, besides having electric and water hook-ups, is having
shade on my trailer and truck 24/7. Disadvantages include the need
to use lights inside the trailer even in the daytime, and quite a
few flies left over from fair time.
quite warm here (probably about 90) but there is a good breeze from
the west, so I spend most of my time outside Ė in the shade with a
view of another barn and lots of nice big oak trees. The same
promoter put on the festival I attended at Parker AZ in 2003, and he
has a reputation for doing a good job.
"official" bluegrass festival plan calls for me to arrive on
Wednesday. You can come as early as Monday, but you can nearly
always get a good spot on Wednesday. Since the music on stage starts
on Friday, Thursday is a day to explore the area. First I explored Plymouth, about a ten-minute job. The population is either 500 (according to
the city limit sign) or 900 (according to a lady in city hall).
Regardless, it is an incorporated city, one of the smallest
in the state. But not the smallest, since nearby Amador
has about 210. In addition to city hall, I visited the local market
and the Shell gas station.
good bluegrass fan, I felt I would be remiss if I did not drive to
Fiddletown, six miles east of here, so I headed for that old mining
town, which dates from 1849. During the Gold Rush, it reportedly had
the largest Chinese population outside of San Francisco.
It's a very small town, and there did not seem to be anything worth stopping for, so I
continued through town on Fiddletown Road, gaining elevation and getting up into the
ponderosa pine belt. I
had picked up a visitorís guide at the Plymouth
city hall, so I had some guidance as I took Hale Road
to Shake Ridge Road, which led me back down to Highway 49 at Sutter Creek. Another two
miles up the road is Amador
City, where I stopped. I went to several antique stores, and found some
good Christmas gift ideas, so I put a good dent in my credit card.
skipped the antique stores in Drytown, about half way between Amador
and Plymouth, and got back to camp at , just in time for the afternoon reading/cocktail/report writing
hour (or two).
September 19, 2004: Now itís Sunday evening, and as usual I didnít have time to
write once the music started. The festival officially got under way
Friday, and ended today a little after 6. Friday was quite warm Ė
probably around 90 degrees. I was in the sun part of the time, but I
had placed my chair so that I got some thin shade from the branches
of a huge blue oak tree much of the day.
up Saturday morning to find it overcast and cool, but with no threat
of rain. It was very comfortable all day to wear long pants and a
long sleeve shirt.
was clear most of the night, but the morning was again cloudy, and
rain started about the same time as the music. At first it was a gentle mist, but soon got to a point where I went to my trailer to
dig out my umbrella and poncho. This did not really solve the
problem, since a hard driving rain started for a few minutes,
getting my chair (and eventually my back side) wet and cold. I again
returned to the trailer and listened to some people who were jamming
in the barn.
this time they moved the festival inside an exhibit building, and at
the music started again. Of course, by this time the rain had
stopped and it was looking fairly bright outside, but it soon
started raining again, with a fairly strong storm lasting an hour.
weather notwithstanding, the music was good to excellent. Even a
group that I did not care for before sounded pretty good, and there
were several groups that were great. The best of those I had never
heard (or even heard of) was Cedar Hill. It was also my first
exposure to a couple of nationally known groups, Honi Deaton and
Dream, and the Mark Newton Band. Both were excellent.
best of the best were Karl Shiflett and Big Country, and the US Navy
Band Country Current, both of which I had seen before. Another
pleasant surprise was Bluegrass Etc., a three piece group. The bass
player is Bill
Bryson, whom Iíve seen with Laurel Canyon Band and the Grateful
Dudes. He also played with the Desert Rose Band with Chris Hillman,
and as session player with many big stars. This group was simply
amazing for a three piece group.
update): I also enjoyed John
Murphy & CarolinaSpecial, Silverado, Rick Jamison and
Canyon, The Lampkins Family, and Tony Trischka, who is a banjo
legend. Silverado was joined for a couple of numbers by Scott
a very accomplished young mandolin player, about 13 years old.
(04/09 update): Scott has been performing in a real band with several
other young players, appearing at festivals in California. The band
he's in now includes Nathan McEuen, the son of John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt
I reviewed the photos from this festival for uploading, I was
surprised and amused to find the line-up included a band called
Jackstraw. At the September 2005 Kings River festival I won a CD in
a drawing. There were two to choose from, neither of which I had
ever heard of. The one I picked turned out to be very good. It also
turned that I HAD heard of the band - it was Jackstraw.
Plymouth festival, like the one at Paso Robles in March, featured Kids on
Stage. This is a project of a man named Frank Sollivan, who
encourages us to recognize the very young players who will be in the
stage bands of tomorrow. A sign of his success with this project is
that fact that his son is now a member of the Navy Band, which means
he is at the very top level of bluegrass talent.
staying here tonight, just hunkering down in my trailer with the
computer, books and the TV set, since itís mighty cold and getting
September 20, 2004
: After breakfast this morning I hitched up and traveled 23 miles to
State Park. This park is a few miles off CA 88, north of Pinegrove, which is
just a few miles from
Jackson, at the junction of 88 and 49. The campground is quite small, with
about 20 spaces, only three of which are occupied.
elevation is about 2,400 feet, but with the northern latitude, the
vegetation is more like 3,500 feet in our area in the central Sierra.
There are pine, cedar, oak and madrone trees here, and it has been
bright and sunny all day, but quite cool. In the park is a large
section of marbleized limestone with over 1,200 grinding holes made
by the Miwok Indians who are native to the area. There is also a
very nice Indian museum, and a reconstructed village with bark
houses, acorn storage structures, and a large round house.
visiting the village and museum, I continued on north for about two
miles to the tiny town of Volcano, population 80, just so I could say I had been there. Actually I was looking for
more Christmas shopping locations, but there were no suitable
stores, so I went to the much larger town of Pinegrove, population
I found a huge antique store with many things I wanted and one that
I bought as a gift.
got back, it was pretty dark in my campsite (surrounded by woods),
so I took my lawn chair a hundred yards down the hill to a big open
meadow just south of the museum complex. I saw two deer when I first
got down there. By
the advancing shadows and rising wind made even the meadow too cool
for comfort. I took another walk down to the grinding rock, where I
saw four deer, and now Iím pretty much in for the night.
head home tomorrow, and get to work deleting spam in my neglected
Email box (with no Email access for five full days, I expect to have
over 300 messages, at least 250 of which will be deleted unread).
Then I can start filling up your Email box with this latest report.
way, I plan to skip my usual October trip to the Logandale festival,
which in the past I have combined with a visit to nearby national parks (in Utah
or Arizona). I will probably attend two festivals in Arizona
in February and March.
Estel, September 2004
(Click photo for a larger view; photos open in a new window)