Parade float in San Francisco roils CBA membership

It appears from a Friday article in the San Francisco Chronicle, that the decision of the California Bluegrass Association to enter a float in the 2017 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade has caused a rift in the membership.

The Board of the larger CBA voted 10-1 to give their approval for the San Francisco chapter to submit the float, and use crowdfunding to raise the necessary cash at a meeting in January. At the end of March, the effort was announced publicly, and funding through GoFundMe announced to seek donations for the roughly $10,000 required. In just over 3 weeks, the campaign has successfully raised almost that entire amount.

But there are members within the San Francisco chapter who are not happy about the organization choosing sides on an issue that they feel divides the membership. While the parade is meant as emblematic of the theme of gay pride, it has often been the scene of highly sexualized displays, and nudity is not uncommon.

CBA Board chair Tim Edes, who voted against the motion to allow the float, is quoted by The Chronicle as saying that he feels that voicing support for volatile issues is beyond their mission.

It “was an unwritten rule that we left all those things at home, that our festivals, concerts and jams was about the music,” said banjo player and board Chairman Tim Edes, 65, the lone dissenting vote in January.

“I have always felt that this organization made a very concerted effort to stay away from social, political or any potentially divisive issue,” he said. “By entering a float in the Pride Parade, we are endorsing a nonmusical enterprise. We are establishing an opinion, an opinion that may not be shared by all of our members.”

The article makes the point that while gay rights are assumed as a given by many people in this country, it is something not shared equally by those living away from coastal areas. And as we saw during the recent presidential election, there are strong cultural divides that remain among the citizens of the US, often inexplicably so to some voters.

That rift is clearly seen in a response from the regional CBA vice president.

“There has been a certain amount of resistance” to the float, said San Francisco region vice president Ted Kuster, 53, a technical writer at Salesforce who plays banjo in four bluegrass bands, including the Beauty Operators and Nobody From Nashville.

“Some people have grown up thinking of gay rights as a political movement,” he said. “Most of us have stopped thinking that a long time ago. But this is still a real thing for a lot of people. We are just trying to subvert the normal, standard reaction when you hear ‘bluegrass,’ which is hillbillies, backwoods and bootleggers — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

For the organization, the dispute seems to be having an overall positive effect. The Chronicle reports that while a number of people have dropped their memberships in protest, many more new members have come aboard in support.

You can read more about this matter on The Chronicle’s web site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

  • Jose Mature

    Might I suggest the theme from Deliverance (Dueling Banjos) for the attendant band to play on the float. Someone “squealing like a pig” in the background, for the added ambient touch.

  • Ol’ Blue

    For anyone to state that a “gay pride” parade isn’t political is simply ignorant of the facts. To enter a float in a gay pride parade and then state it is not a political statement is simply a lie or horribly ignorant. I had a family member who was a wonderful self-taught musician and I loved him dearly (guitar player, fiddle player, piano, auto-harp, all self taught). We had many, many discussions, prior to his death, regarding gay issues. Based on what I gathered from him, he would have not have approved of this from the standpoint of how divisive the issue would be (and is). I find it sad that a music organization (CBA) would choose to use a gay pride venue to make a statement. For God’s sake, just pick the damned music and leave the gay issue out of it. Is there nothing out there that the LGBT community doesn’t feel like it has to force it’s presence on? Fire away.

    • Ol’ Blue

      That family member was gay by the way.

  • CBA Member

    Thanks Bluegrass Today for the CBA coverage. A couple of corrections (also incorrect in the SF Chronicle article): the Board vote was 9-1 (one member was absent), the organization is not made up of 3000 banjo players and the parade is no longer “emblematic of gay pride” but instead describes itself as a “Celebration of Diversity.” We join other floats from all the international airlines, banks, tech companies and all the State Medical Groups, among others. The group of SF CBA members’ intention is to put bluegrass and old time music in front of over a million parade attendees and has raised over $10,000 to finance the float. The CBA has always welcomed everyone through the gates (well maybe not 3000 banjo players) so this “stance” is not a new one. The fact that our presence in this event has become so “political” is, quite frankly, astounding to many. Board approval was needed because the member group wanted the CBA to be a “fiscal sponsor” for fundraising. No one is commenting on our participation in other events. The next event is a float in the July 4th parade in Alameda, CA and the Board will also vote on that.
    The CBA is a volunteer member Association and the Board supports our members’ ideas to promote the music. The energy and enthusiasm of the Bluegrass Pride group is something to be commended, not criticized. I think the San Francisco Chronical was having a slow news day but the appearance of the story increased both our membership and donations.
    Darby Brandli, President
    California Bluegrass Association

  • Norman

    It’s extremely divisive and to those it offends the most they usually don’t speak up because the people who advocate for it can be extremely vicious to differing viewpoints. I’m thankful for anyone who has the courage to stand up to these bullies.