48—Where to begin? And the Bakersfield Bluegrass Bus

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Where to begin? I guess the best place is always the music. Five to eight jams going none stop….never less than three, from one end of the Double Tree to the other. From mega circles to two or three picking quietly. Traditional bluegrass….. contemporary…. newgrasss….old time…..old country…..swing….gospel. And it just all sounded so good. This year there were some truly incredible pickers who made the trip. And it just seemed everyone’s playing was inspired, everyone was lifted up by playing with the musicians one notch up from them. And of course there’s always someone one notch up.

We’ve prided ourselves on holding an event that’s unstructured and loosely organized, but the truth is getting that many people together in one place for three days has got to have some organization, whether you can see it or not. Five people…..Craig Wilson, Kelvin Gregory, Slim Stuart, Deb Livermore and Duane Campbell…..started planning 48 III at Fathers Day last June, and it showed from the moment you walked into the lobby and saw the sign up table, CBA banner and smiling volunteers. These five deserve an enormous amount of credit, both for planning and implementation. And huge thanks to our jam suite hosts. This year we had five separate jam suites and all were conscientiously staffed and managed.

If you’d attended the Great 48 Hour Jam you’d know why it’s impossible to gauge the turn out with any precision. The place is spread out over what seems acres of hotel and folks found every nook and cranny to jam. Slim guesses 150 to 200 showed up….I’m going with 175 to 250. We had our usual contingent of northerners coming from as far away as Chico and beyond, but this year we were so pleased to see a big group up from southern California. Lots of folks from L.A., Orange County and Riverside. But probably the most exciting turnout was the central Cal folks. Bluegrassers nobody in the CBA knew existed from right there in Bakersfield just sort of came out of the wood work. And a nice showing from SLO, Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. And kids…..you wouldn’t believe the youngsters on fiddle, bass, banjo, mandolin. A sight to behold.

And of course there was the food. Chicken fried steak at the Palace, sushi across the street from the hotel, platters and platters and platters of incredible Basque food, spring rolls and lemon grass chicken from the Saigon Vietnamese Café just 1.6 miles from the Double Tree. I could go on, but I won’t.

There’ll be lots more said and written about the third 48 Hour Jam in Bakersfield, but here’s my two cents worth—we’ve got a new CBA tradition and it’s a good one.

And before I even finished the last paragraph, this, from Hailey Pexton, increasingly impressive teenaged vocalist/mandolinist, came in.

The Bakersfield Bluegrass Bus

This year’s trip to the 48 Hour jam was like none other. The nine of us pickers experienced what all Bluegrass pickers could only dream of- until now- riding on a Bluegrass Bus. It’s exactly how it sounds. Four hours of good old jamming in a spacious RV with good friends, good food, and good fun. Ralph Hendricks, one of the most energetic dobro-players I know, generously offered his abode of the road. Without hesitation, my Dad and I retired the old truck and were on the next train to Pleasanton to meet him… not really. We arrived ten minutes late due to pressing complications (I was synching my ipod), but we made it nonetheless, my friend Katie accompanying us.

Upon arrival, my jaw dropped at the sight of the Deluxe 3000 Bluegrassin’ Bus Royale that awaited us. The rest of the crew consisted of Jennifer Kitchen, Roxanna Dunn, Cory Welch, and Jimmy Bowman. Initially, we all slumped into our claimed seats: some in chairs, some on the couch, my friend and I in our designated VIP quarters- the bench and eventually passed out on the bed, which we shared with Jennifer’s seemingly colossal Kay bass. After extensive and thorough procrastination on my homework, the time came to- you guessed it- pick. It was priceless, Roxanna plucking away on her banjo, Jimmy strumming his guitar, Cory shredding the dobro, Dad chopping the fiddle, and (most memorably) Jennifer on the bass-while maintaining balance. Though it was much of a circus act, we sounded pretty good. I picked my mando and squeezed into the remaining available crevice of seat, occasionally colliding with the table that I had managed to wedge myself beside. Don’t get me wrong, this Bus of Bluegrass Bonanza was commodious- I just like the challenge, you know?

It was hard for Ralph to juggle the dobro AND drive, but he managed the two just fine- no, I’m joking. He still sang his heart out and it was the best kind of entertainment. For three hours, we serenaded the road with our bumpy, Bluegrass jam. No ride to any festival has ever been so rewarding; not even a speed bump or pothole could stop us. Ralph Hendricks and his Bus will go down in festival history.


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