I’m jumping into the bluegrass time machine and turning this column over to Steve Pottier in 1983. This article appeared in the September/October edition of the Bluegrass Breakdown of that year. Steve kept a “Diary” of his experiences as a member of High Country in their trip to play at Beanblossom, Indiana, home of the Bill Monroe Brown County Jamboree. It’s a great piece of California bluegrass history, and deserves more air time. Take it away, Steve.
Monday, May 23
We were supposed to leave my house in Vallejo around 10:30 a.m., but Jack Leiderman, High Country’s fiddler, called me at 10 a.m. to say they’d be late. All the High Country boys there about noon and we packed my stuff and left about 1 p.m. Turns out that someone (I won’t mention any names because I don’t want to embarrass Larry Cohea, our resident Scruggist) had backed out rented RV into a telephone pole. Luckily, however, it only scraped the porch light off. This was my first look at the Jamboree – sleeps 5, refrigerator, stove, bathroom with shower, air conditioning, cassette player. Cassette player works after a fashion – as long as you don’t need to distinguish what music or words are playing.
Tuesday, May 24
Left the KOA in Elko, Nevada, and finally made it out of the state. Every truck stop and restaurant had slot machines, and we didn’t make the state line any too soon.
As we drive past the Bonneville Salt Flats, I sure could use sunglasses – the white salt/sand is blinding.
The road has no curves or scenery – it’s a beeline to Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City – what strikes me is there are no billboards advertising cigarettes or alcohol. Turning north towards Ogden, the scenery begins to improve.
Ogden – lots of brick buildings here, and one huge pile of railroad tracks. We have time to eat before we play, so the band vote is for Chinese food. I’m the sole voice of reason – voting no. At Uncle Leo’s Noodle House (written in the fake slanty Chinese style) they pushed noodles, chow mein & chop suey in various forms. The chow mein came with potato chips piled on the side of the dish – need I say more?
Our first gig is at an elementary school as a front band for the Pee Wee Pickers, a bluegrass band with the pickers 10 to 12 years old. Only 40 people show up, so we only make $10 each and head for the KOA at Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Wednesday, May 25
Larry “Bad News” Hughes and I feel pretty good, so we decide to drive on with the other guys sleeping in the back. We drive until daybreak on a bright moonlit night and finally stop at a rest stop 25 miles west of Rawlings.
Got up to discover we have really found the mythical location “Nowhere” and it’s as scenic as its name implies. We get breakfast in Rawlings and it’s on to Denver for our next hot gig. We turn right at Laramie, and the scenery took a dramatic turn for the better. Thank heavens for Colorado…
Denver – Butch and Larry Scruggs go for a run while I read the Denver Post, where there’s a notice of our gig on the front page of the entertainment section. This looks better! I’m hoping for a good turnout of my hometown folks – local boy makes good!? Finished reading The Sinister First Baseman – one of the worst books I’ve ever finished.
Thursday, May 26
Everyone showers at the KOA, and fills out postcards. Butch is playing fiddle tunes on the mandolin, and I’m trying to adjust to the extreme brightness of this higher altitude. The gig last night was in a fancy church, and went OK, except the hometown boy didn’t play as good as the rest of High Country. I’ll chalk it up to road shock. On the road again, we stop at Ole’s Big Game Bar in Paxton, Nebraska, on the advice of my good friend Rick Mann. This place has hundreds & hundreds of stuffed big game trophies – elephant, giraffe, lions, tigers, bears (Oh, no!). Ole even had a picture of himself with axe in hand, standing next to a giant redwood tree (felled). I think he is maybe a fanatic.
A huge electrical storm has followed us from North Platte to Henderson, Nebraska. I used two rolls of film trying to get a picture of a lightning bolt. Butch uses a whole disc of film getting a picture of me trying to get a picture of lightning. The storm is very windy, and blowing at right angles to I-80, so we had a pretty good lean at times. Fortunately, no rain.
Friday, May 27
Henderson KOA – dump the holding tank. Now that is important!!
We head for Butch’s sister Jane’s house in Omaha, while will be our base for the next few days as we play a SPGMA festival in Council Bluffs and then have a couple of days off. Jane has a great family of seven kids, and her husband Bob’s parents happened to be there also. Council Bluffs is our first festival this trip, and everyone is up for it. We’ll be wearing our suits tonight.
Saturday, May 28
The festival was real satisfying last night. It was like playing to an entire audience of Hazel and Clark DeLozier (bluegrass fans without compare!). Everyone was polite, attentive, and enthusiastic. They would clap at the end of a song. They would clap at the end of a break. They would applaud at the start of a break. I think they like the music so much they break into spontaneous applause whenever it moves them, which is fairly often. We’ll play again twice today before we leave.
One thing I missed was the parking lot picking – didn’t seem to be much of that happening. Maybe at the end of the next festival.
Sunday, May 29
Laura, Jane’s second oldest daughter fixed lasagna last night, and it was truly great. Easily the best meal we’ve had this trip, and certainly one of my top lasagna dinners. I’ll hate to leave here!
Monday, May 30
It’s an off day, and the High Country boys go to see a movie Blue Thunder. “Bad News” Hughes says his back went out, so Jane suggests a chiropractor to see in the morning.
Tuesday, May 31
Butch and Jane take Larry to the back man. Larry comes back feeling better, but has to lay on his stomach with an ice pack on his back until we get to Lincoln.
Lincoln – We’ll play The Zoo here tonight. The Zoo is normally a blues bar, so it’s all painted black, and has pictures of bluesmen all over the walls. I have a few picker friends here in Lincoln, so I’m expecting a good turnout of bluegrassers tonight. We arrive early, so we all head for antique shops looking for Lloyd Loar mandolins and used book shops looking for old magic books. We found five Loars but no magic books.
Wednesday, June 1
We got a great reception last night at The Zoo. Seems like everyone in the bar was a bluegrass picker, and we played accordingly. Fiddler Dave Fowler lives in an apartment above The Zoo, and he invited us up for food and picking after we finished. I met a fine female flatpicker, Dawn Watson (can you believe that name?!), who had surprising volume and attack in her playing.
We shower at the KOA and look for a breakfast place. The “Happy Chef” attracts our attention with a 30-foot tall talking statue of a chef. Push a button and he gives a short blurb like “Fasten your seat belts when you leave,” and sometimes an elaborate pun. The food wasn’t as good as the statue.
Thursday, June 2
We played at The Zoo again last night, but not much of a crowd. We should remember to play clubs only one night in a row on the road.
Columbia, Missouri – College Town. We play The Blue Note, another blues bar, tonight and it could be good. Huge stage, about 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide.
Larry Cohea is really funny. He knows more miscellaneous facts, figures and what not than anyone I know. He seems to have a great memory for that stuff, and it’s a constant source of pleasure and information for the rest of us.
Finished reading The Zen Environment today. Pretty good book, probably worth reading again sometime.
Friday, June 3
Not many people showed up last night and our playing energy was correspondingly low. Even Jack, who’s usually the most energetic in the group, seemed a little low. Butch has been looking for a copy of Runner’s World since Omaha. We play a SPGMA festival in Glasgow, Missouri tonight.
Saturday, June 4
Real cheap breakfasts here in the Midwest. I just had eggs, pancakes, toast and coffee for $1.35! Missouri is really lush and green all over and the folks remind me of Jon’s farmer parents in the “Garfield” comic strip. It’s rained at least once a day for the past week, but it’s kept the temperature tolerable Onward to Tipton, Iowa.
Sunday, June 5
The Tipton festival has a great crowd – just like Council bluffs. The Good Ol’ Persons are here, and they are the hit of the festival. There’s a really great female mandolin picker and singer who’s been doing some jamming in the parking lot. Seems like there’s a lot of good pickers here in the Midwest, and I especially notice lots of female musicians and family bands. We leave for Nashville this afternoon.
Monday, June 6
Last night we drove to a KOA 20 miles past Paducah, KY. There was quite a storm, with lightning every 2-3 seconds and heavy downpour. Finally got out of the storm. Further south in Illinois we started seeing lightning bugs, and at one point they were really thick, making the earth seem like a Christmas tree with flashing lights.
Goodetsville, Tennessee. We arrive here about 2 p.m. and go to Mason’s Motel & Restaurant where we will be staying. Wouldn’t you know, Bill Monroe is sitting in the restaurant having some pie and coffee! He welcomes us and we make arrangements to follow him into Nashville for the Fan Fare Show tonight. The Good Ol’ Persons will stay there, too, but they’re late getting to town.
Tuesday, June 7
Found out why the Good Ol’ Persons were late – they had two blowouts! Luckily they survived a spin-out on the last one with no serious after effects.
The Fan Fare show was real exciting – ginormous stage, good sound, T.V. cameras, 4-5,000 people cheering every bluegrass band – quite a treat! Each band played three songs, and there were some good bands – Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, Jim & Jesse, Bluegrass Cardinals, Wilma Lee Cooper, The Lost Kentuckians, The Sally Mountain Show, and of course, the Good Ol’ Persons and High Country. After the show Bill Monroe treated us and the G.O.P. to dinner.
We have today and tomorrow off and there’s a lot of bluegrass in town due to Fan Fare, so we expect to do some major league slumming tonight and tomorrow.
Wednesday, June 8
Last night we went to see the Sally Mountain Show at the Station Inn in Nashville. NOW I know who the female singer is I saw in the parking lot in Tipton, Iowa – She’s Rhonda Vincent, and she plays mandolin and fiddle in her family band – Dad plays banjo, Mom plays bass, 13-year-old Brian plays rhythm and lead guitar and his 6-year-old younger brother plays rhythm mandolin. Pretty amazing family. After that we went to the Pee Wee Club to catch a set of Bill Monroe. There were only about 15 people there, and that included us. I get a little better perspective on the crowds (?) we play for at times.
Afterwards, we went to John Hedgecoth’s house for a picking party. I left about 2:30 and it was still going strong.
Today, we’ll go in to see the Country Music Hall of Fame, check out Gruhn’s music shop and see the sights.
Thursday, June 9
Now I remember why I don’t like Nashville. It’s so depressing, like a city where so many folks’ broken dreams have come to stay. The streets are dirty, lots of vacant broken buildings, cheap schlocky, souvenirs…
Last night we went to the Station Inn again – The Bluegrass Cardinals were playing, with an all-star audience. Steve Thomas, Jim & Jesse’s fiddler, sat in, then Bobby Hicks got up to fiddle, Bobby Osborne got up and sang, Bill Grant and Delia Bell got up for a few numbers, and even the Good Ol’ Persons got up and played. Roland White was taking tickets at the door, and there were a lot more local pickers in the audience.
Today’ it’s off to Beanblossom, Indiana for Bill Monroe’s Brown County Jamboree – Our destination is upon us!
Friday, June 10
We play two shows a day for the next three days here. Beanblossom is not quite what I expected. The sound isn’t here yet, and the Wildwood Pickers are supposed to start in an hour. There’s a big circus-style tent here put up by the R.J. Reynold’s tobacco company, and I don’t know what it has to do with bluegrass. Also a lot of questionable concessions, even a trailer full of video games. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a firm schedule of when we play.
Saturday, June 11
The Wildwood Pickers ended up staring the show with no P.A., then they got a temporary PA with three mikes, and didn’t get the real PA going until the evening show. Bill Monroe ended the show, and played great – he was feeling good, dancing and joking on stage. I’ve never seen him so relaxed.
Jo Val just played today, and he’s wonderful in person. He can sing tenor to a dog whistle.
The weather has been no less than perfect here – sunny, clear and warm.
Sunday, June 12
We played well last night. Our sets are starting to run like a machine, and we can all relax and play better. Bill played great again last night, and was really funny as he made fun of Wayne Lewis and talked about his new album with the Oak Ridge Boys, Gatlin Brothers and other country and western stars. “But don’t worry – The Bluegrass Boys is backin’ them up and it’s under tight Bluegrass control.”
Monday, June 13
Well, after all my expectations, I think Grass Valley is hands down a better festival than Beanblossom – better organized, better run, more attention to detail and quality. All the concern and effort that everyone has put into it over the years has paid off. Now I’m really looking forward to playing there this weekend. I think I’ll curl up in my bunk and sleep for the next four days while Larry and “Bad News” do the driving.
Saturday, June 18
Grass Valley – Home again, and it’s good to be back. The festival is great, the crowd is great, the sound is great, the weather is great. I guess sometimes it’s good to leave just to see how good it is at home. It was a good trip, though, and I hope we do it again.