California is blessed with great weather and fine bluegrass. This past weekend the annual Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival (GOF) was held in the brown rolling hills of nearby Tres Pinos, CA by the folks at the Northern California Bluegrass Society (NCBS). Known as a pickers festival, the GOF has multiple stages, and makes great use of the facilities such as the dance hall and saloon at San Benito County Historical Park. Long time favorites A.J. Lee & Blue Summit, Dark Hollow, Rita Hosking, Bean Creek, and many others play the main stage, while locals and newer bands can play opening day at the First Stage. There is a band scramble plus an official “tweener” side stage where pickup bands perform short sets between main stage acts. Paul Knight Sound, as usual, does an excellent job making everyone sound their best.
NCBS president, board member and festival Grand Poobah Michael Hall took time from his ridiculously busy schedule to answer a few questions about the festival. Also, you can check out this very interesting history of how NCBS had the first bluegrass website on the internet.
Hello Michael and congrats on another great Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival. Tell us about how the festival got started, and your involvement.
This festival was started in 1994 to provide a forum for California bluegrass bands and musicians during a period when these bands had no festival support. Part of the goal was to encourage other organizations to support California bands, not just bands from back east. Since then, other festivals have followed our lead, and they now book these excellent bands alongside the eastern bands. So, the “cause” that led to the creation of the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival has now been “cured.” But it turned out that no other festival is nearly as much fun as our event, so Good Old Fashioned has continued as a fun, relaxed gathering of musicians and their fans, and is now 26 years old. Hardworking Northern California Bluegrass Society volunteers step up to make this event happen — and I am one of those volunteers.
Tell us about NCBS and other events it puts on?
The NCBS focuses on small, affordable, one-tank-of-gas, friendly, community-building events that fill in between the huge festivals in our area. Our other two main events are Bluegrass On Broadway, founded in 2008, a free indoor festival in the heart of the urban Bay Area that includes the Northern California Bluegrass Awards and the world’s only bluegrass documentary film festival; and the Santa Cruz Bluegrass Fair, founded in 1986, a free outreach concert in a park in Santa Cruz that kicks off the outdoor festival season. We are also involved in other bluegrass festivals, jams, and other performances throughout the year.
I heard you say you were on the weather committee. You all did an outstanding job!
As the NCBS president, I can appoint myself to head that committee in good weather years, and let some other person be the chair in other years. So far, my record is perfect, although with climate change, I find the weather increasingly difficult to control.
How does NCBS differ from and co-exist alongside the California Bluegrass Association (CBA)?
The statewide CBA is the largest bluegrass organization in the world, and the senior organization in our area. Since CBA and other festival promoters do such a great job on the bigger projects, the NCBS can focus on the smaller events that we love doing. So, together the CBA and the NCBS make Northern California one of the best-organized bluegrass communities in the country. The NCBS focuses primarily on the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay Area, which is where about 80% of the Northern California population resides.
The Good Old Fashioned Festival is largely known as a pickers festival where jammers don’t trek down to the main stage, but it was packed this year. Any ideas why?
This year, we may have had our strongest line-up ever. However, there was the traditional camp-wide jamming scene. People can certainly enjoy the four stages of performers, as well as the evening jams. Bluegrass fun is good fun for everyone.
The historical park location is quite unique. I hope the festival can continue there.
Yes, next year will be our fifth year at the San Benito County Historical Park — and we love our new home! Everyone is welcome to check our gathering each year on the second weekend of August!
Thanks, Michael, for all you do for bluegrass.
Thanks Dave, for covering our little gathering — much appreciated!
Thanks to copy editor Debbie Benrubi. Photos by Donna Pacini-Christensen from A Starry Night Productions and Dave Berry.
My Way or the Highway by Mood Swing on the First Stage. Video by First Stage MC Amy Warren.