Huck Finn Jubilee 2005


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June 17, 2005: Yesterday I hitched up the trailer and headed south for Victorville and the 29th Annual Huck Finn Jubilee. This is one of the two biggest bluegrass festivals in California, one that Iíve wanted to attend for years. I finally made it in 2003, but last year I was traveling out of state. Because of the timing, I probably wonít make it in 2006 or 2007, so I determined to go this year.

Since the location is in the high desert, you expect hot weather, but this year, it is almost a little too cool. Actually it is mostly sunny, but with a strong breeze. When I arrived yesterday, any physical effort resulted in sweat, despite the breeze, so you canít call it cold. But the last forecast I read was for a cooling trend, and I hear it is rainy in Fresno today. Since I have had rain at the last four bluegrass festivals Iíve attended, if there is rain in June, I expect it to come this weekend.

But enough of that. I had a good trip down here, going over Highway 58 through Tehachapi and Mojave for the 8th time since I retired. At Kramer Junction I turned south on US 395, then cut across below Adelanto to Interstate 15. Itís just a few exits south of there to the roads that lead to Mojave Narrows Regional Park, a large grassy plain along side the Mojave River channel. Victorville and adjacent Hesperia are big towns now (Victorville has 80,000), and traffic was bumper to bumper through town, but in this spot you would never know you are surrounded by thousands of houses.

The main stage events kick off at 11, about 50 minutes from now, but the Cherryholmes family played an informal ďwelcome homeĒ set last night, which I saw part of. Their success has deprived smaller festivals of their presence, and I think this is their first performance in their native California for over a year. The biggest draw for me is the Dry Branch Fire Squad. I saw them on The Nashville Network back in the 80s (when that network had country music programs), and have several of their CDs, and it was their presence that was the deciding factor when I was debating whether or not to attend.

My friend Janell Sidney will be coming down tomorrow, having become hooked on Bluegrass after one try at the Parkfield festival.


June 18: Yesterdayís show was mostly very good. Cherryholmes and IIIrd Tyme Out were the best, but I have seen them both recently. New to me was the Nashville Bluegrass Band, which was also outstanding. This group includes several players who have gained fame and acclaim on their own or in other groups over the years. Oddly, I have never even heard them on record, at least knowingly (actually it turned out I had stuff by them on videotape from years ago).

One of the features of the Huck Finn festival is one round of the National Bluegrass Playoffs. Four bands, who have already been through various levels of competition, compete for an all-expense paid trip to the International Bluegrass Music of America convention in Nashville, and the opportunity to present a showcase in front of record company representatives and other music industry people. The winners two years ago were the Lampkins Family, one of my favorites, whom Iíve seen a half dozen times. As usual, the groups this year range from OK to quite good. Thereís one group out of the four that I did not see yesterday, although Iíve seen them elsewhere. The final winner will be announced today at 3. (It turned out that the last group, The Brothers Barton & Overdrive, includes the two young ladies from the Lampkins Family, and a 13-year old fiddle player, Chris Ward, whose stepfather is a member of Lost Highway, an outstanding group Iíve seen a number of times. And this group was the winner.)

The weather was warm but very windy yesterday. Actually the wind was good in that it kept us cooled off, but bad in that it blows across microphones, creating a roar in the speakers. In the evening it was quite cool, and I failed to change to long pants. However, the show was over by 8. Tonight it will go till around 11. Itís quite a bit less windy today, although there is a breeze that comes and goes. So far it has not been bad sitting in the sun, and later in the afternoon, itís behind the audience, so it should not be too bad. I will be dressed properly for cold weather tonight.

Janell was unable to come; one of her twins has an ear infection. Sheís been to the doctor three times this week already and itís not clearing up, so she had to take care of that. After attending the Parkfield festival sheís hooked on bluegrass, so she was quite disappointed. However, one of the performers, the outstanding female artist in bluegrass, Rhonda Vincent, is coming to the Fox Theater in Hanford in September, so weíll try to make it to that. Itís only about 40 miles from Fresno.


June 19: The festival is over, and Iím settled in for the night. Iíll hitch up and take off whenever I get up in the morning. It took about six hours coming down. The first few miles out of here after I leave the park will be through southern California traffic, but I wonít get on the road until after the worst is over.

The weather was a bit warmer today, but there was still enough breeze to keep it from being miserable. It has not cooled down so far (8 p.m.) anything like it did last night.

The closing act tonight was Merle Haggard. Since heís getting on in years, my expectations were low, but it was a great show. He did a lot of his hits, and despite the electrification that bluegrass does not have, it was not too loud at my 10th row center seat. This festival always has an act like that to close the show. I suspect they do it to bring in a bunch of non-bluegrass fans and get their $20 to help support the real reason for the festival.

The group that was my main interest, Dry Branch Fire Squad, did not disappoint. They did four sets, and were everything I expected from the CDs I have. The singer has a very different vocal sound (although itís still a southern sound) that makes me think of music from ancient times. He is also an accomplished story-teller, and intersperses his wry, dry anecdotes throughout the show.

My next trip will probably be a week with my little grandson, and probably to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Stay tuned.

--Dick Estel, June 2005


(Pictures open in a new window)

Dry Branch Fire Squad Ron Thomason Nashville Bluegrass Band
Barton Brothers with Jamie Lampkins,
Chris Ward, Heather Grady
Jeanette Williams Band Rhonda Vincent & the Rage
The festival grounds are surrounded
by pastures, one of which
contained a small herd of camels
The festival includes a car show on Saturday Lincoln Continental convertible
Band & Festival Web Sites
Recommended CDs, DVDs, Books
Rhonda Vincent Cherryholmes Nashville Bluegrass Band
Brothers Barton Eric Uglam CBA
Dry Branch Fire Squad Jeanette Williams Band Huck Finn Jubilee
Dick's Bluegrass Links Dick's Bluegrass T-Shirt Photos SWBA

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