June 12, 2012 — As a child I’d been exposed to folk and roots music through my parents who ran the first “folk music nightly” coffee house, The Renaissance, in Fresno in 1960, but my first true musical mistress came through the Beatles and the British Invasion.
My love of folk music came several years later after I graduated from high school.
In the summer of 1968, my friend, Byron Bommerito, and I packed into his old Volkswagen bug with a couple of guitars and several ice chests filled with cheap beer and headed up into the mountains outside of Fresno to the Sweet’s Mill folk music camp.
Of course, we got lost and then got lost again trying to traverse miles of unmarked dirt roads, but finally as the sun was going down a couple of cute, young teasers in a red Ford Ranchero pulled up alongside us.
We flirted for a couple of minutes, and then they agreed to show us the way — if we could keep up — and the race was on.
After a mile or so we lost sight of their taillights. A couple of miles later we lost sight of their dust cloud. In his fuming frustration, Bommer finally screeched to a halt in the middle of the road and jumped out, cursing uncontrollably like the drunken sailor he recently had been in real life in Vietnam.
I fell out of the passenger door laughing as loud as I could. I told him we’d just have to keep looking until we found the camp. What else could we do?
Suddenly a strange noise I’d never heard before wafted in on the breeze and rustled through the pines and incense cedars, a sound I never could have imagined, one that took me a few seconds to completely recognize. I sat there dumbstruck.
It was this absolutely bizarre cacophony made by dozens and dozens of impromptu bands scattered across a hillside and around a small lake playing dozens and dozens of different tunes at the same time — hundreds of guitars, banjos, fiddles, autoharps, Jew’s harps, harmonicas, dulcimers, hammer dulcimers, ukuleles, bouzoukis, washboards, mandolins, octave mandolins, concertinas, Dobros, kazoos, spoons, penny whistles, bodhrans and other instruments I couldn’t readily decipher all wailing away at once mingled with the joyous sound of hundreds of voices singing and people clapping, laughing and yelling uproariously.
“Hey, Bommer, I think we found it,” I yelled out.
Sure enough, the entrance was only a few hundred yards down the road. Had we continued at our breakneck pace, we probably would have plowed through several campsites, run over a few unsuspecting pickers and splashed headlong into the lake!
Well, that high lonesome sound I heard that fine summer evening also rises up from the Lassen County Fairgrounds June 22-24 (camping begins June 18) with the third annual Susanville Bluegrass Festival.
This local festival features some of the biggest names in bluegrass music, and it’s getting really popular. Ticket sales reportedly are brisk, and some local motels are already booked solid. If you love bluegrass music, you don’t want to miss this one.
For tickets and more information, visit susanvillebluegrass.com or call the Lassen County Fair office at 251-8900.
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