A High Premium on Friendship

Written by:

It seems like every year at Grass Valley some theme or concept develops for me throughout the week and then serves to encapsulate that particular Fathers Day Festival. The concept reverberating in my weary, half-awake brain as I pulled out of Gate Four last morning was friendship. Another dopey, feel-good Welcome message you ask? Yes, I’m afraid so.

This year our campsite was filled with friends from throughout my life. From early childhood, high school, my earliest days at the Nevada County Fairground stretching back some 33 years, former band mates with whom I played gigs throughout the eighties and nineties, including the Fathers Day stage, right up to my newest friends and fellow Grass Menagerites. The jamming was endless, the carousing raucous if somewhat scaled back, the reminiscing bitter sweet. The week was a delicious mix of past, present and a promise of future. Thanks to Bill and Brooks and Bruce and John and Sean and Ron and Phil for one of the best weeks of my life.

But beyond my own camp experience, the notion of friends and friendship seemed, for me at least, to pop up everywhere. I was particularly aware, for example, that many mutual friends of mine, people who’d been strangers just two or three or four years ago and who met through me, were now sharing meals together and in some cases even camping together. This kind of integration—I call it the bluegrass melting pot, has, of course, been going on for years, decades, but I was especially aware of it this time around. Whether gathering for midnight grilled cheese sandwiches or toasting a fiftieth wedding anniversary or just picking till dawn, new tribes sprang up like wild mushrooms.

And there was the first, but I’m pretty sure not the last, get together of past and present CBA web site Welcome columnists. We gathered after the last main stage act on Friday night to jam and commiserate and drink cold beer iced in a wash tub. For many it was a chance to meet for the first time, to put names to faces and, yes, to establish what will likely be lasting friendships. And, truth be known, the music wasn’t half bad. (I suspect you’ll be hearing more about the first annual Grass Valley Literary Reception in the columns that follow.)

You would expect that, given my role as a member of the CBA leadership team and my involvement with our web site, I would come into contact with many, many people during the Fathers Day festival and the weeks leading up to it, and you’d be right. It seemed this year, for whatever reason, the majority of the folks who took the time to stop me and say hello wanted to let me know how friendly they found our festival. Typical of the comments I heard was this note, received from Junior Sisk last evening—“Hey Rick, what a wonderful time me and the boy’s had this past weekend! Tell everyone we very much enjoyed the trip. All the folks at CBA treated us like we were part of the family. I only hope we can pass on the love if anyone from the family comes our way. I promise you got a friend in VA always.” For me it was like that all week. Scores and scores of people letting me know how welcome they felt. Not necessarily complimenting the Association and its volunteers; rather just describing the feeling of the place and its people….the vibe. Maybe it’s the recession. Maybe it’s the crazy, spooky world we Americans don’t seem to control any longer. Whatever it is, the people I spoke with over my nine days at Grass Valley seemed to place a particularly high premium on friends and friendship.

Most touching to me was a scene while breaking down my camp Monday morning. Early in the week a group moved into our little neighborhood down the hill from the Gazebo who were from Colorado; another from L.A.; and a third from right there in the Auburn area. Three groups who’d never seen, let alone gotten to know one another, before Fathers Day ’09 but who gradually, over the course of several days, melted into yet another family. As I folded tarps and coiled extension cords I watched as they hugged good by. It was a moment in time I won’t soon forget.

Yes, it’s the music. Bluegrass and old time and gospel. It’s a music festival to be sure, but it’s so much more. <

Read about: