It's a tradition. If it's mid-July, it's time for us to go to the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival in Westcliffe, CO. Last year's report, for a walk down memory lane, is here.
This year was different. My sister, Verla, borrowed my banjo a few months ago with plans to learn how to play and then come to Westcliffe for the festival and campground jam sessions (she already plays guitar and fiddle; she hadn't done much banjo playing, so left it home; didn't want to pay a baggage fee for it or a guitar). We've had a busy spring and summer on the road, notably in Las Vegas for the arrival of Julian and Landon, then a trip to west Texas, so Susie opted to stay home and let Verla and me have a sibling weekend. She spent some quality time with son, Matt, and wife, Suzy, in Rio Rancho.
(Speaking of the twins, Landon and Julian, or vice versa, here's a July 4 picture.)
So I soloed in Tuzi for the first time on an extended trip, driving to Westcliffe (a six-hr. trip) on Monday, July 11. No problems. Bluegrass music played loud kept me alert and entertained. Tuesday I drove the PT Cruiser to the Colorado Springs airport to pick up Verla.
Wednesday we took a two-hour trail ride - Verla is a big horse fan. Some scenes.
Verla is on Blaze, I'm on Trevor - is that any name for a horse?.
Mostly we rode at a walking pace, occasionally a trot, just a few loping paces.
As we rode through one meadow, we flushed out first a doe, then her fawn. Just after that there was noise in the nearby woods. A coyote had jumped the deer. Some of our group saw the coyote. Doe and fawn fled in opposite directions. We don't know what happened after that, but hope our presence scared off the coyote.
Our guides: Wendy and Barb.
While waiting to start our ride, Verla visited with Wendy, told her we were here for the bluegrass. Wendy said you need to talk with Barb, she's active in local music activities. Just last night they had both been in a jam session in a local restaurant. After the ride, I asked Barb: Is there a jam session tonight? The answer was, Yes, 6:30 at the Methodist Church. So, we went.
There were about a dozen people there. Barb was the leader with vocals, fiddle, and guitar. She and Verla traded Barb's fiddle and guitar back and forth. One of the regulars was a fantastic harmonica-playing lady. There were a couple of other festival visitors and several regular pickers and singers. We went around the circle two or three times taking turns choosing songs. Verla's choice of John Denver's Follow Me was one of the hits of the evening. Click the link to hear this great love song. I picked Red River Valley, Faded Love, and Irene, Good Night (after they threatened to end with a rock song, California Dreamin', or some such).
Wendy, Barb, and Verla.
Thursday morning Verla and I hiked one of the many trails in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about a five-mile RT hike to Venable Falls. It was a good day for wild flowers and butterflies. Some pix.
Some spectacular columbines on the stream bank.
The festival started Thursday evening with four Colorado bands. The next day, things got serious. Here's the scene at 630am as fans line up to plant their lawn chairs in choice spots when the grounds open at 730; music starts at 10am. (In the tent there are wedge-shaped sessions: some with festival folding chairs; some without, so the rush is to plop your lawn chairs in a prime spot in the open area. There are rules, though. If a personal lawn chair is unoccupied when a band's set starts, anybody can sit in it and remain through the set at which time the owner can ask for his or her chair for the next set. The one day we didn't go in early, Verla and I took advantage of this policy to sit just a few rows from the stage.
Friday and Saturday the festival runs from 10 to 10. Nuthin' like 12 hrs. of bluegrass. One of the host bands, The Sons and Brothers, opened. This band originated as Dad and three sons, all from Westcliffe. Dad, Frank Wolking, tragically died of cancer four years ago. Since then the Sons have added Uncle Fred, who plays the guitar, usually electrified, and a drummer and a fiddle player. They do a mix of bluegrass and western music and have become what the emcee called the Sons and Brothers Big Band. Go here for a youtube video from 2009 as the band closes the festival doing the Soul of a Man as a tribute to their Dad.
The three sons also did a set as The Wolking Brothers. Here's a picture.
One of the most popular groups this year was the Tuttle Family, from Palo Alto, CA. Here's a picture of the family, plus a friend of the family, the young girl playing the mandolin.
The mandolin player is AJ Lee and I came across a website calling her "California's Hottest Singer." She's just 14, but I think this video, made a year or two ago demonstrates her potential. I should also mention that the other girl in the band, daughter Molly, is quite a talent, also, having won a major song-writing contest. The two boys are fine musicians, but a bit shy about it. Dad had a good time and a good sense of humor.
The other host band is the Dry Branch Fire Squad. This band was formed by Ron Thomason in 1976 - back east. I heard them when we lived in Washington D.C.1975-77 and I got interested in bluegrass. He moved to Colorado around ten years ago to raise and train horses in the Westcliffe area. Ron, on mandolin here, has been most responsible for inviting the bands and groups for the festival - this was its 10th year.
He said this year, an old-time music group had agreed to play, but he had not heard from them in some time. He made a call. Oh, we're not coming, they said. Well, weren't you going to tell me? We thought you'd hear, they said. So, to fill the hole in the program he recruited his 'significant other,' Heidi Clare, to come and play. More on her below.
Here's a sample of the Fire Squad's old time, Appalachian music. They always do a gospel set on Sunday morning.
Heidi (I'm not sure of her last name now; Clare is probably just a stage name play on words. Susie says it may be her middle name), who is a great old-time fiddler, used to be in one of my all-time favorite groups, the Reeltime Travelers, now unfortunately disbanded. But, she has moved on big time. She is spending a year, I believe, at U Cal San Francisco as Artist in Residence in the medical school, doing research on music and the brain. She gave a fascinating workshop on this topic. Part of it was about the subtle ways that band members communicate to the audience and to each other while they are performing. She and a banjo player demonstrated. She had given the same demonstration to a group of neurologists and brain specialists and said they were excited, they could see the neurons firing.
Heidi also told about being in a dementia facility, finding it impossible to talk to the patients and get any reaction. She started playing the fiddle. By the end of an hour everybody was singing and dancing. I know my Mom could still sing, Praise God from whom all blessings flow, ... when all other communication skills were gone. There's something about music and the brain.
Another example. In a facility Heidi visited there was an elderly man, George. Again, no response to conversation. George had been a dancer in his younger days. Heidi asked Ron, who was visiting, to play a waltz on his mandolin. Heidi and George started dancing. She said it was a miracle. George was in full control, she didn't have to lead, he made all the right moves and steps and swept her around the room. Amazing! I think we all had tears in our eyes.
Here's a link to Heidi's website. Heidi included a couple of Reeltime songs in her sets. Here's my favorite Reeltime Travelers song, Halelujah, and Heidi's mournful fiddle breaks are a major reason why.
Speaking of dancing, one evening there was dancing in the workshop room. Verla danced, I listened to the music (Sons and Brothers were playing) and took a couple of pictures.
Before the morning sessions started we took some drives around the area. Some pictures.
This is Lake Deweese.
We stopped for horses.
This cemetery and some mine tailings are about all that remain from what was the mining town of Rosita, back in the late 1800s.
This marker is for mother and daughter, both of whom died right after the daughter was born in 1888.
The inscription for the mother, Ettie, age 19, wife of Max Lessing, read,
She like the rose bloomed a few days,
But now lies silent in the grave.
She will not return to us,
But we may go to her.
Those pioneers had such a hard life.
I never get tired of taking shots from the RV park or from the festival grounds.
Afternoon showers entertained us two or three days.
Here are downtown hollyhocks.
We left Sunday morning after the Dry Branch Fire Squad's gospel set. Plan was to go to Denver to spend the afternoon with Jeff, Valerie, Malia, and Macy, then I would drive Verla back to the Colorado Springs airport, for an 800pm flight and I would return to Westcliffe.
At Jeff's I decided to check on Verla's flights and print her boarding passes. Ironically, the flights were from COS to DEN, with a change to a flight to OKC. The tickets were bought before I thought about going to Denver for a brief visit. I got online and found, apparently, that the flight from COS was delayed from 800pm to some time the next morning. Didn't make sense, so I called Expedia, with whom I'd booked the flights, and the airlines. Spent lots of time on hold. Expedia told me things were all right, but I wasn't convinced. Couldn't get any airline info directly. Part of the problem is that the flights were booked through US Air, but operated by United Express. We had a confirmation code for one, not the other.
After about an hour of frustration, I decided to take Verla to the Denver airport, about 45 minutes from Jeff's in the opposite direction from COS and Westcliffe. We left Jeff's early enough that I could get back to Westcliffe at a decent hour, so that cut short our visit. Here's my only picture of the M&M girls.
Somehow, they always end up jumping on me and each other when I'm there. We have a good time.
Anyhow, all went well. Verla got her flight to OKC (and didn't get penalized for not flying from COS to DEN as one helpful person told me would happen during my marathon phone-athon), I got back to Westcliffe about nine. Next morning I hitched up and was home in early afternoon.
Had a great week. Now, we're off to Las Vegas tomorrow for a weekend there.
Rob and Susie