Frank Solivan, one of the pillars of the California bluegrass scene, and the founder of the Kids on Bluegrass program for the California Bluegrass Association, died on August 24 at 78 years of age. He had been caught in serious flooding earlier this year, and had recently suffered from pneumonia.
His son, prominent bluegrass performer and bandleader, Frank Solivan II, shared his deep pride in his father’s accomplishments.
“My dad’s Kids on Bluegrass program is THE original bluegrass music encouragement program where young, aspiring musicians have found community with their peers for well over 30 years. They get to feel what it’s like to be part of something bigger than themselves, to be part of a band. Some are beginners and some are advanced, but they all get a taste of the stage.
My dad provided a place that gave kids a sense of accomplishment, pride, and ultimately raises their self esteem through the roof. It is a beautiful thing to see the hundreds of kids that have been part of Kids On Bluegrass, many of which have moved into the professional realm. There was no bigger supporter and fan of kids playing music. It gave my dad an endless cache of joy and pride in his life.”
Frank Sr’s inspiration for Kids on Bluegrass came through his support for young Frank’s musical aspirations, who recalls a time at Grass Valley when he was in his young teens. Frank II and a group of his young picking buddies were jamming near the stage, hoping to be noticed. Legendary bluegrass pioneer Vern Williams heard them, and arranged to have the boys play a few songs just before the dinner break ended.
That started the wheels turning in his dad’s mind, and he began working with festival staff to make something like this a regular feature of CBA events. Soon Kids on Bluegrass involved professional instruction offered at festivals in the state, and a decision to dedicate time, energy, and resources toward actively developing young musicians.
These days, a program like this is offered at dozens of festivals around the country, where young pickers spend several hours each day in both small, instrument-based classes, and full ensemble sessions, with an eye towards an on stage performance on the last day of the festival.
The CBA program has born some notable results, with several currently touring artists who came up in this system. Molly Tuttle, AJ Lee, Brittany Haas, Miles and Teo Quale, and Scott Gates are a few who matured as teen musicians in Kids on Bluegrass. All are quite vocal about how much it meant to them when they were younger and first learning the ways of performing.
Now the organization has several programs specifically for young musicians, and offers many ways to both both identify them and foster their development.
Frank Solivan Sr was a native Californian, born in Fresno, but lived all over the state during his life. He picked up banjo as his instrument of choice, and his love for bluegrass surely was an inspiration for Frank II in his decision to pursue it professionally. Late into his life you would see Frank with his banjo jamming at CBA events, easily recognizable with his carefully detailed handlebar mustache.
He was also an avid fisherman, and spent a great deal of time in Alaska pursuing that passion, another trait passed along to his son.
Few of us will be able to leave behind such a legacy in this music, and we congratulation Frank Solivan for his wisdom, as we wish him farewell.
R.I.P. Frank Solivan Sr.