May 30, 2006: Iím all hopped up on bluegrass, because Iíve been working on
getting my previous travel reports on line, re-reading about some of
the festivals I've attended the last few years. This has got me
anticipating the Huck Finn Jubilee June 16-18 in Victorville, and
caused me to start this report earlier than ever. Of course, I
wonít have much to add until the event starts.
always want to go the Huck Finn festival, because itís one of the
two biggest in California, and offers the biggest collection of big names of any festival.
Thereís usually one group Iíve never seen or really want to see
again that convinces me to go, and this year is no exception.
Sparks is one of those bluegrass legends Ė he recently celebrated
his 40th year of performing, having started with the
Stanley Brothers in 1965. One of his big songs is ďTennessee
1949,Ē which is a favorite of mine (actually my favorite version
is by the Fox Family, but they have never recorded it). It was
written by Pete Goble and Leroy Drumm, who it seems wrote just about
half the great bluegrass songs in existence.
I saw the Lonesome River Band at the
festival, and Iíve been wanting to see them again ever since. The
leader is banjo star Sammy Shelor. A few years ago by mutual
consent, everyone except Sammy left the band, and he put together a
new lineup. I have CDs by both configurations, and I like the
current group best.
that were not enough, there are three more groups that Iíve seen
and especially liked Ė Laurie Lewis & Her Bluegrass Pals (a
Bay Area band), Pine Mountain Railroad, and the U.S. Navy Band,
Country Current. The Sunday night non-bluegrass closing act will be
Mel and Pam Tillis. (Update: Laurie's group is
now called The Right Hands.)
11: Five days till departure time. I donít have my trailer here at
the house yet. I was going to keep it here from the Parkfield
festival in May till this one, but I got a notice regarding the 72
hours parking limit, so I had to put it in storage.
with my daughters tomorrow for my Fatherís Day celebration, and will
get the trailer Tuesday morning. This will give me about two days to
get everything ready. Of course, I have a few things in boxes ready
to carry out, but canít fill the water tank, check the tires,
connect the batteries, or load any refrigerator items till the
trailer is here.
13: I had a slight delay in getting ready, but everything is on
track now. When I got the trailer home, I noticed that tread was
peeling off of one tire. This is the third tire this has happened to
since I bought this set in 2003. RV tires tend to go bad even with
relatively low mileage due to long exposure to weather, even if
theyíre not used. Supposedly the replacement tires are better and
will last longer.
send this to my mailing list tonight, but there wonít be a second installment
till I return, since my camping at Huck Finn is dry Ė no phone,
and no electricity except what I generate with $3.25 per gallon gas.
Actually the gas in the generator is a few months old, so it
probably cost under $3 per gallon Ė small comfort.
a good time in Yosemite
yesterday. With the heavy rain and snow this winter and spring, and
the runoff just past its peak, the falls are spectacular. My older
daughter and her husband were there two weeks ago, and she said the
mist from the falls is noticeably decreased. Even so we got pretty
Bridalveil Falls, which is famous for intense amounts of mist.
visited the museum, visitor center and gift shop, and then hiked to
the bottom of
Falls. A new trail was built a couple of years ago. Some people complain
about it, but I think it is a nice walk, and the old trail, which is
a bit shorter, is still there. Of course, parking close is
impossible, even on a weekday.
15: I got a good start this morning, leaving at , which got me here at the festival site around . Since then I have set up my camp, had supper, taken my chairs to
the stage area, and explored the area on my bike.
festival is ďin Victorville,Ē but actually you would not know
that you are adjacent to a city of thousands. Victorville is where
the waves of population from
splash up into the high desert, and the road to the park goes
through miles of tract housing, with new construction going on.
the festival location is
Park, a large county park in the Mojave
Valley. From my camp area near the park entrance (a
half mile from the stage) you can see a row of houses on the edge of the bluff in the
distance, but essentially the setting is decidedly rural. There is
pasture land with horses, cows and a few camels, as well as several
small lakes and a stretch of the river, which runs underground
during most of its journey through the desert. At the lakes people
can go boating and fishing. There is also horseback riding, and
probably more stuff. There is a nice breeze, although the
temperature is close to 90, so itís pretty hot in the trailer.
is an informal musical performance tonight in about a half hour,
which I will probably skip. The festival gets underway in earnest
tomorrow morning at 11 or so.
no electricity, and I havenít started my generator, so I am going
to shut down my laptop before it shuts itself down.
16: I spent a pleasant evening watching an episode of the old 1960s
show Combat, which I acquired on DVD in a trade with a
collector. An interesting discovery was that this episode (and
probably others) was produced by A-list movie director Robert
brought along season two of Arrested Development, one of the
most original shows to appear in recent years (needless to say,
itís been cancelled). I watched three of these and went to bed
morning is warm with very little breeze, so itís going to be a hot
festival in more ways than one. It kicks off at 11 with the Navy
Band, one of the best bluegrass groups around. To appreciate their
ability, consider first the fact that the group was founded by a
professional bluegrass artist who joined the Navy a number of years
ago specifically to launch this group. Then consider the number of
people in the Navy, and the number who might play and sing, and you
realize that there is a huge talent pool to choose from.
words about festival hours that I donít think Iíve covered
before: Most festivals start on Friday around 10 a.m.
The ending time is part of the unique ďpersonalityĒ of each
festival. This one will go to nearly 11 p.m.
There is a ďdinner breakĒ around
each day. Some festivals wind up the on-stage music around , which allows more time for socializing and jamming. Those
festivals often have no lunch break. On Sunday the show usually ends by
six, in recognition that some unlucky people still have to go to
work Monday morning. The Huck Finn event always features a
ďnameĒ country star on Sunday, so it will go till about 8, with
Mel and Pam Tillis.
every festival has other things going on besides the main stage
performances. These usually consist of workshops presented by
members of the performing groups Ė a guitar workshop, a
songwriting workshop, etc. I almost never attend any of these
because it is too late and hopeless considering my talent level. I
did attend a guitar workshop once and picked up a couple of
pointers, one of which would be useful if I knew how to pick
melodies, and the other I am too lazy to use.
festival also has many more activities Ė in keeping with the Huck
Finn theme, there is a fishing contest, fence painting contest; as
well as nickels in the haystack search, and a Huck Finn look-alike
contest (these are all for kids). There are performances on
secondary stages by amateur artists, and a music workshop for kids.
Add to this balloon rides, horseshoes, log cabin building, quilting
demonstrations, arm wrestling, cow chip toss, a car
show, and a circus, and
thereís no need to spend even a minute actually listing to
bluegrass. Of course, thatís just about all I do, except for
visiting the food and craft booths.
show concludes with a Mark Twain impersonator (not Hal Holbrook, but
he has been sued by Holbrook). I saw him the first time I was here,
and was not greatly impressed, so Iíll pass on that.
; Iíve got the generator running and will watch some TV when I
finish this. As I expected, my favorite band was the Lonesome River
Band (please donít confuse them with the 70s pop group the Little
River Band). The personnel of this group has changed quite a bit
since I saw them at the Superstition Mountain Festival in 2004. However, banjo wizard Sammy Shelor is
the leader and guiding light and molds the band to his
specifications regardless of who is in it. One of the better-known
alumnus is Dan Tyminski, who has played with Allison Kraus, and did
the singing for George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou.
Navy Band was also outstanding as always, and another group I saw at
Superstition Mountain, Pine Mountain Railroad, proved again that I
was right in listing them among my favorites. They have been around
for about seven years, but only recently became an ďovernight
other bands were all contestants in the National Bluegrass Playoff.
Each year four bands from the west compete at this festival, and the
winner gets an all-expense paid trip to the International Bluegrass
Music Association (IBMA) convention in
in October, and the opportunity to be heard by producers and record
label executives. This yearís bands are from
Stateís entry is the Donner Mountain Band from the Bay Area. Iíve
heard them a couple of times, but I did not think they nor any of
the other three really stood out above the rest. The judges are
members of bands performing at the festival and other music experts.
weather was TOO HOT, but not unbearable for a
boy. To sit close enough to the stage you must sit in the sun, so I
poured on the sun screen, wore my big hat, and even put on a long
sleeve shirt for part of the day. By the time the evening show
started at , the sun was at a low angle, and shade was moving quickly in my
direction, so it was very pleasant for the second performances by
the Navy Band, Pine Mountain Railroad, and Lonesome River Band.
18: Yesterday was a long day of music, starting at
and ending around
The show ran a bit long in the morning, and the only break,
scheduled for 40 minutes, was more like 15. I didnít see every bit
of the show, but I missed very little. I guess my favorite was
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands. I had not seen her since
the Mariposa festival in 1999. Sheís been performing for
several decades, and is a great singer and fiddler.
meeting expectations was the legendary Larry Sparks. He got his start with the Stanley
Brothers in 1965, and has performed with his own group, the Lonesome
since 1969. Last year he released a 40th anniversary
album, with many big name guests. As might be expected from a
long-time performer, his approach is quite traditional.
was blown away by Bluegrass Etc., whom I saw in
a couple of years ago. They are a three-man group, but produce as
much music as a band twice the size. They do a lot of swingy
material, drawing largely from the Bob Wills songbook.
group that was new to me, although I have read about them, was the Grascals. This is sort of a super-group, in that several of the
members, in addition to their bluegrass experience, have toured with
one or more of the Osborn Brothers, Larry Cordle, Dolly Parton,
Garth Brooks, and Brooks and Dunn. They were a big audience
favorite, and Iím looking forward to their final appearance today.
todayís bill is Larry Stephenson, whom Iíve seen on TV but not
live. Heís been performing quite a while, and his group includes a
singer who was with the Lonesome River Band when I saw them in
bands in the Bluegrass Playoffs performed another brief set followed
by the announcement of the winner. I thought the Donner Mountain
Band picked up their performance a bit from the previous day, and
they were the winners.
weather has been HOT and HOTTER. I try to stay in my chosen seat in
the sun, since itís close enough to the stage for a good view, and
the heat keeps most people in the back, so there is not much
annoying chatter around me. However, I had to move back to the shade
for a while a couple of times yesterday.
are cool Ė before the show ended last night I put on a long sleeve
shirt, and had another one draped over my bare legs.
was no time last night for TV, and so no time to run the generator.
The battery was getting very low during the night, so I dragged out
of bed at 7 and started it up; will run it till about 9.
a tangent: A year or two ago I got involved with a video trading
group on the Internet. People trade tape or DVD copies of shows
that are hard to find, mostly to complete their collections. I acquired
several episodes of two shows I enjoyed a few decades ago, Combat
and The Invaders. The guy threw in a couple of random DVDs,
so Friday night I watched Tales of Wells Fargo, a show Iíd
never seen when it was on the air. The young actor playing the bad
guy looked familiar, but it was a poor video tape copy, and I was
not sure of his identity. The closing credits cleared things up when
I read ďstarring Dale Robertson; introducing Steve McQueen.Ē
tangent: Between acts Saturday night, we were informed that the
International Space Station would be passing overhead at . Everyone looked up (probably making Larry Sparks wonder what in
the world was going on), and we got a good view. It was quite
bright, about as bright as Sirius when directly overhead, and moved
across the sky in about 20 seconds.
Sunday evening, and the show is over. The Larry Stephenson band was
good, nothing outstanding, but the Grascals put on another great
performance and Bluegrass Etc. appeared twice more.
year the closing act is well-known country performer. I believe
Iíve mentioned that this draws a lot of people who would not come
for the bluegrass, so helps to pay for the bluegrass acts. I can
take it or leave it, but every Sunday night performer has been
Pam Tillis starting things off, singing a bunch of her hits, mostly
from the 1990s, and mostly familiar to me. Then her dad, Mel Tillis
took over, and did a bunch of his hits and a couple of newer songs.
Since these go back to the 1950s, they are also familiar.
Pam joined him for several duets. As he mentioned, the last two
songs they sang, ďDetroit
CityĒ and ďRuby, Donít Take Your Love to Town,Ē helped pay the
bills for Pam and her four sisters and one brother. If youíre not
familiar with Melís work, he also wrote ďSaginaw
Michigan,Ē ďIím Tired,Ē ďI Ainít Never,Ē "Diggin'
Up Bones," and many other hits. Many of his songs were hits for
other performers rather than Mel.
interesting side note is that Iíve recently seen Mel on a couple
of shows on the RFD Network. One of them was probably taped ten
years ago, and was mainly an interview, discussing many of his songs
and performing a few. The other was the old Porter Wagoner Show
from the late 1960s and 70s, when Mel looked younger than Pam is
now. In fact, he let us know that he is 73, and he shares my
birthday. Well, he didnít mention the latter fact by name, but he
did give the date.
now get this ready to send, watch a little Arrested Development,
and get to bed so I can get a reasonably early start in the morning.