It was three years ago that the bluegrass bug bit me. The critter was lurking in the grass parking lot at the Hobbs Grove Bluegrass Festival in Sanger. I had just begun trying to play bluegrass guitar that year and this was the second festival that I had ever attended. The thing about the Hobbs Grove variety of bluegrass bug is that it can bite you multiple times and you never know you’re a goner until it’s too late. It got me the first time earlier that day when I first drove up. Attending the gate were a bunch of folks I’d met recently at the Fresno/Clovis jams. They were hollering out a greeting before my Expedition ever rolled to a stop. They eagerly pointed me to an area where some friends were camping. I felt like the prodigal son; I even smelled a fatted calf on the spit, though it turned out to be some ribs barbequing a couple rigs over from my mine. The bug bit me a second time as I wandered into the performance area. It was a cozy area ringed by rustic buildings and lots of tress. For a while, I sat so close to the stage, I could hear the guitar player’s hands squeak across the strings of his D-28. However, it really didn’t matter where I sat, the view was perfect and the sound crisp. The third and fatal bite came that night as the jams warmed-the chilly early autumn night air. I was a bit awed at first when realizing only too late (naturally as I was given the nod for a break) that I was sitting in with some professionals. One would have never known, for every jam was inviting. That next morning, as I sipped a hot latte from one of the concessionaires, I knew that I had found my new vocation—i.e., bluegrass fan. One side effect of the Hobbs Grove bluegrass bug is that one is compelled to return every year thereafter to get another fix, for the bite is addictive.
This year, the bite of the Hobbs Grove Bluegrass Festival bug on September 24, 25, and 26 is sure to be virulent. The trees have grown bigger, the greeters are already in training so their hand shakes will be firm and warm. The music will be infective. The line-up will include northern California favorites: the raucous Belle Monroe and the Brewgrass Boys. and the high energy 49 Special. Two other bands guaranteed to get folks out of their seats, putting their hands together and begging for encores are the Dalton Mountain Gang and Snap Jackson and the Knock on Wood Players. The heart and soul of the Hobbs Grove Festival is its commitment to promoting local bands. Beside the Dalton crew, the Smiley Mountain Band and Bluegrass Conspiracy will be tearing it up. If old time is your thing, then Red Rag Andy and Uncle Ephus will bring you to your clogging feet. Rumbling up the highway from Bakersfield is festival newcomer, Highway 65. Of course, what Sunday would be complete without some sweet gospel: The Kings River Gospelairs will create some precious memories. With all the great bands, late night jamming, expanded concessions and food vendors this year, the time is right to get the bug. So mark your calendars and spend three days quarantined at the Hobbs Grove Bluegrass Festival. Keep an eye out for more information on the CBA website.
I can’t end this column without mentioning the indefatigable Kelly Broyles, Area VP, and all the volunteers in the Fresno area. They have, over the course of the last three years, provided their area with a Winter Bluegrass Festival in Clovis, Bluegrass in the Park every Friday night during the summer months, regular Saturday night jams, and of course the Hobbs Grove Bluegrass Festival. The hard working HGBF Board includes Linda Guerrero, Ann Munson, Bob Ratliff, Earl and Laura Taylor, and Candy Sponhaltz (who produces one heck of a local newsletter!). They’re an example of just what can be done with a few visionary, hard working volunteers…and that, my friends, is the CBA.