The CBA from Seedling to Giant Redwood

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THE DAILY GRIST…“We grew from a small seed.”–Carl Pagter
(Today’s column is a reprint of an article I wrote back in 2006 for Bluegrass Now magazine.  With the start of this fresh new year, we also look back at our past so I thought it would be meaningful to post this on the Daily Grist column. This was such a fun and  yet important  interview with Carl Pagter regarding CBA’s history to see where we started as an organization.  Our roots…-Yvonne)
Much like the giant redwoods that dot the Pacific coast, the California Bluegrass Association was once a small seedling that has flourished to become the strong bluegrass association it is today.  We’re taking a look at the story of its growth and how it has played a key role in bluegrass growing in the west.  I spoke with Carl Pagter, CBA forefather, who was part of the planting of that CBA seed to the present.
Upon finishing law school in 1970, Carl relocated from the Bay Area to Washington, D.C. and found that, “There were festivals every weekend, like landing in the middle of the Promise Land.  I started going to festivals every weekend.  Top bands like Seldom Scene, the Country Gentlemen, Reno & Smiley and a
huge community of pickers were there.” When he returned to the Bay Area, he recalls that, “It was like going from a plush jungle rich with bluegrass to a desert.  There were things going on [in California] like isolated cactus in a desert, but there was no communication, no links that I was aware of.”
Carl learned that a local radio show was featuring live bluegrass bands passing through the area along with local musicians. “I grabbed my banjo and went on over.”  It was there that Carl met Jake Quesenberry, who became his lifelong friend.  Jake was a great songwriter and musician but he couldn’t seem to find a way to connect with other bluegrass musicians. Carl thought they needed a bluegrass association with a newsletter to make those connections.
“Being a lawyer and musician, I thought the best way to go was to become a non-profit where people contributed to it, got a tax deduction, and all money taken in would be rolled back in the promotion of the music.” So Carl went through the formalities to form the association choosing California Bluegrass Association as its name.  “Jake and I were in this together right from the start.” In late 1974, the CBA became a formally organized 501(c3) non-profit organization.
The first Grass Valley festival was held in 1976 and it involved dedication and big risks, “Those CBA board members that chose to have our first festival and to do it at Grass Valley virtually had to pledge their homes to mortgage in case we lost money. But we didn’t – we made money.  Every dollar was carefully earned and we worried about every penny we spent. We grew from a small seed.”
In 1991, the CBA began hosting suites at the annual IBMA conventions to showcase talent and offer hospitality to fans.  “Larry Kuhn has gone a great job with this.  And Rick Cornish became CEO a few years ago and it was a good time for me to step aside and do less.” Reflecting back, Carl comments that, “It’s like seeing your child grow up.  Jake and I are both immensely proud of the CBA. The 3500 members have made it what it is.”
“I can’t overstate how important the volunteers have been that have shouldered the burden of responsibilities of running the CBA.  They are selfless, hard workers.  Folks like Montie Elston, Bill Downs, Don Denison, and so many, many others.  And Frank Solivan is so committed to Kids on Bluegrass.  Frank Solivan II, Mike Tatar Jr., Joe Ash, Loren and Paul Barton and others – they were raised on the music through CBA.  Today, they are all accomplished musicians in their own right.  When you see the product of Kids on Bluegrass, I can’t tell you how satisfying that is.”
Grass Valley 1995, affectionately called the MudFest, brings back strong memories. “I was proudest of our volunteers and attendees there.  It rained throughout the whole festival. The audience didn’t run home. They bought every piece of raingear, stayed the course, and bought lots of CDs from the bands.  The volunteers did their jobs wonderfully under such adverse conditions. And we did not lose money.”
Lifetime members were also important. “Folks like Hugh and Sadie Portwood, Frank Wheeler, Tom Caffrey, Bill White and ‘Pepper,’ just to name a few. How do you reward all these great volunteers? I guess with psychic income. The experience is like a mirror that comes back as a beautiful reflection.”
Carl summarizes the CBA philosophy as “taking pride in trying to represent California bluegrass as being welcoming, open and friendly, honest, and having integrity in our dealings with people.  You stand behind the deal you make.  Your word is your life.  We have a great organization I am very proud of.”
The CBA – working hard to support bluegrass.  A great bluegrass association standing tall and growing stronger each year just like those giant Pacific redwoods standing out west.

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