Bluegrass festival is ‘just sweet’ for musicians, fans

Jerry Logan (left) and Alex Mayers (right) play improvised music together in the campgrounds at Bolado Park.

Romona Howe moved a bow across the strings, leaned into the fiddle and beamed as the wooden instrument erupted with sound.
Howe and four fiddlers, a guitarist and a banjo player were playing the song “Shenandoah Falls” – with a heavy dose of improvisation and no sheet music – in the campgrounds at the 21st annual Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival on Friday at Bolado Park.
The four-day festival, which ran Aug. 7 through Aug. 10, typically draws about 1,000 visitors who watch bands perform on the festival stages and then spend hours jamming out their own tunes under the stars into the early morning hours, according to Michael Hall, the festival publicist.
Hall said about 60 percent of the festival attendees, such as Howe, play instruments and spend time pickin’ or “jamming” out their own music during the event.
“This particular one – it’s just sweet,” Howe said of the festival. “It’s small and it’s cozy and there’s people I know.”
In the shade of Howe’s recreational vehicle, a table held margarita mix, a six-pack of Corona beer and a yellow rose with dried flowers that had seen better days.
For Howe, the decision to start playing music instead of just listening was easy.
“Twenty years ago when I started going to these festivals I realized the musicians were having way more fun than I was – and I was having a blast,” she said.
The Northern California Bluegrass Society organized The Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival and ran three performance areas: a “first stage” and a “main stage” Friday and an alternating “main stage” and “tweener stage” Saturday and Sunday.
Attendees came from across California to check out the music, and the crowd included several international visitors. Perhaps the farthest-traveling music appreciators were Ann and Olivier de la Grandville from Switzerland, who have attended at least five bluegrass festivals at Bolado Park. Olivier teaches summer school at Stanford University and the two visit the festival during their summers in California.
“It’s authentic and beautiful,” Ann said as she reflected on the music.
“Authentic, profound – and very romantic,” Olivier said with a smile, prompting her to laugh and pat his shoulder.
On the main stage, the Santa Cruz-based Abbott Brothers got the audience clapping along to some humorous lyrics about a failed romance:
“She told me on Sunday she was checking me out. Along came Monday and she was nowhere about.”
Back among tents and under trees near the park entrance, musicians picked out the notes to their own songs in improvised, off-stage groups.
“We’re just having a good time, and it’s friends and family making music for friends and family,” Hall said. “Everything’s going great.”

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