Thinking back on Grass Valley

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Today’s column from Gene Bach
Sunday, June 7, 2009

I have not been to Grass Valley in three years. Every summer has been extremely busy and something has always come up that has prevented me from attending the festival. I almost got aced out of attending this year as well, but things have worked out so that the wife and I will be able to come down for Fri-Sun. It’s not as long as we would have liked, but it’s better than nothing.

The first time I went to the Father’s Day event was on the advise of a friend from Southern California. He and his wife had attended for several years and told me it was a great event. At the time I was just getting started in the world of bluegrass, and hadn’t attended many festivals. What I had been around had been fairly small and I was amazed at how large an event Grass Valley was. What really struck me was that even though there were about a zillion people there, it seemed as though they were all part of the same family. I had never been exposed to such a thing before and I have to say it was quite refreshing.

The one thing that I can vividly remember from that festival was the Piney Creek Weasels. At that point in time Rick Abrhams was the driving force of the band. At one point of their set the Navy Band came out on stage with the Weasels and Rick would run from mic to mic in order to pick with the different players. It was the first time I had seen him, and I had no idea I’d never again see him play again, but I surely did enjoy that special moment.

The next year my wife and daughters accompanied us to the festival and I volunteered to work on the stage crew. I had a great time putting up and taking down the stage and was involved with that endeavor for the next several years. My wife became involved with the children’s program and helped with that for quite some time as well. We both met many wonderful people while doing these jobs, and I would highly recommend volunteering to help at the event for those who are interested.

One of the people I met while working on the stage crew was a crusty old guy named JD Rhynes. He and I got along from the first time we met and I still consider JD to be one of my best friends. In those days we would have the fairground people set the stage in place and then we would erect the cover over that. Doing it that way required a lot of contortions and crawling across bars and wires. We didn’t question things much. That was just the way it was done.

One year it was hot while we were getting things into place. Real hot. Over 100 degrees hot. After the crew had completed the task, JD and I were walking away: he stopped, turned, and looked at me and said, “What kind of idiots are we?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Do you see how much work this is?” he began, “Why don’t we put up the cover first, jack it up into the air, and then have the stage placed underneath that?” We discussed that with the fair people and they said they were willing to give it a try, so the next year that’s what we did…and cut a full day out of the construction time. Funny how things work out when you actually think about them.

During the time I was on the stage crew I got to work around Tim Edes a bit. He and I would take turns gigging each other and teasing about who worked harder: the stage crew or the electricians. We never did get that settled, although deep in his heart I’m sure Tim realizes it was the stage crew.

I have met, and spent time with, an awful lot of great people at Grass Valley. Some I have not seen in a long time, some I still see, and others who have passed from this world into other adventures. I can honestly say that I have never had a bad time at there: every trip there has been a good one, and I’m really looking forward to getting back down that way. If you’ve never been there, you owe it to yourself to make the trip. I hope to see you this year. <

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