I am relatively new to the world of bluegrass music. I didn’t grow up listening to the likes of Bill Monroe or Jimmy Martin, although I did know who Lester and Earl were. Instead I whiled away the hours with Johnny Cash, Willie and Waylon, and Jerry Reed. It wasn’t until I took a job in Southern California and moved to Hesperia that I became familiar with what I now consider the greatest music on the face of the earth.
When we landed in Hesperia in 1994, I was introduced to bluegrass and decided I wanted to learn how to play the banjo. Now granted, it wasn’t like learning a real instrument, but that’s what I had, and that’s the direction I went. I found that there was an instructor in Victorville named Julie Wingfield, contacted her, and soon I was in her studio plunking away at Old Joe Clark, Cripple Creek, and Blackberry Blossom. Julie was an absolutely wonderful person as well as one of the best all around musicians I have ever been associated with. She said the best way to learn to play well was to practice and then play with other people. She told me about an organization called the Southwest Bluegrass Association, gave me a contact number for them, and encouraged me to get involved. I took her advice and it wasn’t long before we had purchased a trailer and were attending the monthly campouts that SWABA put on throughout the southern counties. It wasn’t long before someone introduced my lovely wife to the bass and she too was hooked.
We met. And played with, many, many people during the two and a half years we spent down there and had some wonderful experiences being around the SWABA people. In 1997 I transferred to Santa Rosa. I was there while my family stayed in Hesperia trying to sell our house. While trying to locate some bluegrass music there, a friend of mine told me about a little get-together in Grass Valley and indicated that I might want to check it out. It wasn’t long before I found myself in Grass Valley camping amongst an army of bluegrassers, listening to awesome bands, picking until the wee hours of the morning, and having the time of my life.
What I remember the most about my first Grass Valley Festival was watching Rick Abrhams playing with the Piney Creek Weasels, and watching Country Current come onstage to play with them. Rick literally ran from mic to mic picking tunes…it was the most incredible thing I had ever seen. I had no idea it would be the last time I would ever have the pleasure of watching him on any stage here on earth. At that festival I met folks with names like Lillis, Young, and McCoy and knew I had found the family I had long sought after. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life; one that only grew with each CBA event I attended.
When I first found out about the California Bluegrass Association I was basically alone, a little down, and looking for a friend. What I found was an organization that cared about its members as individuals as well as a group, and went out of its way to make everyone feel welcome. The CBA (and by that I mean the members, who truly are the CBA) provided a place of refuge in a loving atmosphere. When I was down, they took care of me. When I was up, they still took care of me.
These days it’s the CBA who is hurting a little. No, they are not bleeding out and dying on the street, but there have definitely had a few setbacks. I’m willing to bet that we’ve all been in that situation. When I needed a little help they were there. Now that they need a little help, I think it’s time that we are there. How sad would it be for us to turn our backs on this awesome organization? I would urge you to consider doing whatever you can to help out the CBA now, so they can help out others later. While you’re considering that, think back on all the good times you’ve had while attending an event that was hosted by the CBA and ask yourself, “Do I really want it to go on?” I know I do.