On This Day #61 – the first CBA festival

On this day …. 

On June 18, 1976 the first California Bluegrass Association Festival began. 

The three-day event (June 18th – 20th) was staged at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, Grass Valley, north-east of Sacramento, California, and the performers were Josh Graves, Good Ol’ Persons, Vern Williams Band, Ray Park & Herb Pedersen, High Country, The Caffrey Family, Bear Creek Boys from the greater Bay Area, Long Valley Boys, New Depression String Band, harmonica player Bill White, the quartet A Touch Of Grass, Country Butter, and South Loomis Quickstep. 

Kathy Kallick remembers …

The Good Ol’ Persons had been involved with fundraising for the California Bluegrass Association from its first event, and that coincided nearly perfectly with the launch of the band in early 1975. So, it was natural that we would be performing at their first festival the following year.

I had never been to a bluegrass festival, at least not a proper one, so didn’t really know what to expect. I remember arriving, finding the campsite where friends had already moved in, and parking my car next to a big tree. I didn’t have camping gear; my station wagon seemed good enough. But somebody pointed out to me that it would get hot in the car very early, so I laid my sleeping bag out between two trees on a pile of pine needles, in the shade, and that was delightful.

The stage was makeshift — it had actually been made that day by a bunch of volunteers — and the seating was “bring your own,” which in my case was on the ground. There was a gentle, friendly vibe. I was excited to play music, and equally excited to see the other bands. Even though the Good Ol’ Persons were a newish band, there was a buzz on about us, what with the novelty aspect, and somehow we were one of the headliner bands. We performed in jeans and tee shirts; it was casual and homey, incredibly cute.

It’s funny to look back and then think about the huge deal that festival has become. It has grown to be an internationally renowned, major event with top-tier bands from everywhere. People come from all over the world to attend this festival, and, while it’s not as grand in scale as say, MerleFest, it is a big festival with a certain undeniable prestige. Even at that first one, when Ray Park and Herb Pederson took the stage, it was a big deal! Everybody at the campgrounds came to the audience area; nobody wanted to miss the local heroes gone big time. I remember Ray singing On My Mind, and it being the best thing I’d ever heard. And then they got Vern Williams up for a Vern & Ray reunion, and it was electric. 

I also remember sitting on some bleachers eating a cantaloupe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it that was fantastically delicious and refreshing. I went home dirty, dusty, sunburned, and happy.

The California Bluegrass Association (CBA) is a California Non-Profit Corporation that was founded in 1975 in the San Francisco Bay Area by Carl Pagter, Jake Quesenberry, and Jack Sadler.

The CBA is dedicated to the furtherance of bluegrass, old-time, and Gospel music in California. The Articles of Incorporation further state that the organization is formed to promote, encourage, foster, and cultivate the preservation, appreciation, understanding, enjoyment, support, and performance of traditional instrumental and vocal music of the United States. 

The CBA has sponsored dozens of bluegrass festivals since its inception. Its main festival, held every Father’s Day Weekend in June (COVID-19 restrictions excepted), is a four-day event at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, California. This festival features a line-up of national and regional acts in the bluegrass and old-time country music field. It is preceded by a four-day music camp. The organization also sponsors events in Bakersfield and Sebastopol. 

Footnote from Darby Brandli, CBA President Emeritus and Youth Programme Coordinator …. 

“We have our virtual Father’s Day Festival this Saturday [June 20th] beginning at 4:00 (PST).”

According to Peter Thompson this is the final of four webcasts with musicians who would have been part of this year’s Father’s Day Festival, as well as others affiliated with the CBA. 

The first annual Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival flyer … courtesy of Ray Edlund. 

We thank Bluegrass Signal presenter (KALW) Peter Thompson, band-leader Kathy Kallick, CBA Manager of Operations Rick Cornish and Darby Brandli for their assistance. 

Share this:

About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.