A Tale of Two Cities

Written by:

Among my favorite experiences at the Fathers Day Festival each year is watching the near empty Nevada County Fairgrounds gradually swell into a fair sized little town over the course of eight or nine days. (By Saturday, it’s actually twice the size of the little town where Lynn and I live, Jamestown.) RV’s pull in, tents go up, little neighborhoods return after a cold winter.

But what I’ve found is that, in a sense, our FDF campground isn’t one city, but two. No, I’m not talking about the RV’ers vs. the tent campers. And no, not the bluegrass folks vs. the old-time folks or the field by the pond vs. the area above the big parking lot. The distinction I’m thinking of is the almost mutually exclusive ‘pickers and grinners’. When the difference between these two groups becomes most apparent, and even a little challenging, is when the Association reaches out to its members for input on how to improve our festivals and other activities. Here are two actual and well-meaning notes I’ve gotten in the past few years….

“You guys just don’t get it. Why are you spending tens of thousands of dollars on bluegrass bands each year. Nobody cares who’s playing on stage because we’re all jamming non-stop back at our camps. Sure, I’ll come up to the stage for a couple of my favorite bands….always catch Del and love Rhonda….but other than a few like that, who’d rather listen when you can jam with friends? Save your money CBA. Nobody cares about the expensive, big-name bands. Hire a few regional bands, maybe one headliner and the people will come.”

And then a resident from the other city….

“My wife and I love your festival, CBA, but we’d like to see a greater emphasis on better-known performers. I don’t recall you ever booking Ricky Skaggs or Sam Bush or Alison Kraus. Maybe the musicians who come to Fathers Day, and I know there are a number of them, are put off by the polish and popular appeal of these sorts of acts, but my assumption is that you would reach out to the majority, in the case of Grass Valley the vast majority, of attendees who come to the event to sit in the audience and listen.”

Like I said, well-meaning but, well, both a little myopic. The truth is people do have different reasons for driving up to Nevada County every year and they’re not especially cognizant of the reasons others attend. After all, they’re spending their hard earned, discretionary entertainment dollars, pure and simple. So then, the success or failure of each year’s festival lies in how well we’re able to satisfy the wants and expectations of a very heterogeneous customer base. And each year, I’d like to think, at least, we’re getting a little better at it. So let me say an official thanks to our TAG (Talent Advisory Group), Mark Varner, Angelica Grim Doerfel and Carl Pagter, who brought the 2011 Fathers Day Festival line-up to the board of directors. We made only a few minor changes to the groups recommended line-up of acts and I, for one, think we’ve got a good one. Each year we have a member term off the TAG and a new member added.

Oh, which city do I live in? Well, for the first twenty-five years I averaged about two sets at the stage per festival. A chronic jammer. Then I got elected to the CBA board and began spending more and more time at the stage. So now you could say I’ve got one foot in each.


Read about: