Sunday, March 27, 2011

Early Festivals

Jamming with some of the featured bands was very prominent back in the early days of festivals. I can remember the first Jam sessions I was in back in 68 or 69. It was at the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers Convention. Joe Greene was there to enter the contest and Kenny Baker had just come down for the weekend to visit with Mr.Tommy Jarrell and just fiddle around.
This was a short time after Joe and Kenny did the twin fiddle recording for County Records. The little Firehouse at Union Grove was packed with Pickers...I can't remember who all of them were, I do remember Butch Robins and Roger Sprung were in the group and that I was definately the most novice banjo player there. What impressed me was Baker and Joe would fiddle a while and then nod to each picker to take a break, they didn't care how good you were, just give what you had. Then at Bean Blossom in 70 I would get with Eddie and Peanut Bush from Louisville and we would jam every night. "Peanut" I never knew her name, she was always called "Peanut" was a wonderful lady singer and Eddie was a great mandolin player with "The right timing" Bill would come by every night and take Eddie's mandolin and play and sing a few with us. Then he would then go on to the other camp sites and do the same thing until he had covered a good amount of the grounds. Those were wonderful days.
When I was working for Gibson from 86 to 93 I walked the grounds at alot of festivals and was very depressed at the amount of jamming that was there. At this point I was looking at things with diffent eyes. I was doing my own research as to potential future instrument sales and I didn't think that jamming scene looked that healthy. The only place I really saw major amounts of jamming was Grass Valley Calif. I was used to the Bean Blossom's and McClure's of the 70's where you would see the likes of Dale Whitcomb and Grant Boatwright come and play for 4 days almost non stop.
It was not uncommon to hear Bill mention on stage as he did in Cosby Tennessee in 71 "I think Joe (Stuart) and Kenny have played non stop since we landed in here on thursday, I don't think they have even been to sleep".
After a fair amount of studying I realized why I was not seeing as much jamming back east. First many of the big time jammers had made thier way to the stage and were in performing bands and there were more listeners than pickers at the time and secondly and most important: bands were not being booked in the same festival for 2 or 3 days. In the early days of festivals, late 60's and until 71 or 72, usually bands were hired for all 3 days and most of the times stayed on the grounds from the beginning until the end of the festival. The first major groups I remember that began working one day or two was at Myrtle Beach either 71 or 72 when the Osborne Brothers and Lester Flatt either left out and went somewhere else or came in after working another date. Prior to this time there were not nearly as many festivals scattered around the country so you really didn't have anywhere else to go unless you had an individual date at a fair or auditorium anyway.
Until that point it had been common to work two or three days for a better price (per day)than just one day. I guess we could go back and check out some ads in old BU's and other publications from the period to verify when this began on a larger scale. As promoters realized that they could put more names on the flyers to create bigger lineups for the weekend the entertainers began to travel from date to date and make more money, lets say working 3 different locations for $500.00 or $600.00 per day rather than one place for 2 or 3 days and get $1,200. At this point also, most bands did not have drivers that were not in the band. When Danny Jones and I joined the Blue Grass Boys, Joe and Kenny wasted no time in putting both of us to driving the coach. Danny had been in transportation in the service and I was off the farm used to driving farm equipment so it wasn't a big leap for either of us.

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