Remote, rural Parkfield will get a big population boost this Mother’s Day weekend.
About 1,000 music lovers will flock to the tiny hamlet 25 miles northeast of Paso Robles for the 17th annual Parkfield Bluegrass Festival. Amid the rolling hills of the 20,000-acre V6 Ranch, they’ll spend four warm days and three cool nights listening to the likes of Bluegrass Etc. and Joe Craven and The Sometimers, camping under the oak trees and jamming under the stars.
“It’s a beautiful setting,” said Dave Swartz, festival director and president of the Bluegrass Music Society of the Central Coast. “If someone likes acoustic music and they like to get away and relax … it’s a great place to be.”
Parkfield, population 18, lies along the San Andreas Fault on the southernmost edge of Monterey County. The community includes the Parkfield Lodge and the Parkfield Café, both built by the Varian family, as well as a community hall and a one-room schoolhouse.
Cattle drives, dude ranches and an annual rodeo constitute much of the entertainment here.
But one of the area’s biggest attractions is the Parkfield Bluegrass Festival, which routinely draws fans from Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, as well as the Central Valley. Among certain circles it enjoys a following as loyal as Live Oak Music Festival, held Father’s Day weekend in northern Santa Barbara County.
Arroyo Grande resident Connie Moxness and her husband, Doug, stumbled upon the Parkfield Bluegrass Festival 10 years ago while on a Mother’s Day motorcycle ride.
“We bought tickets and sat down and listened to the music,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘This is really cool. I had no idea this was going on this close to home.’ ”
The pair has participated in the festival since then — first as attendees, then as volunteers. “We’ve made a whole new set of friends,” said Connie Moxness, who serves as BMSCC board member, secretary, acting treasurer and volunteer coordinator.
“It’s always been a good festival and over time it’s progressively grown,” Moxness said, buoyed by better promotion and an ever-broadening musical lineup. “That has really paid off.”
According to Swartz, the festival saw a 60 percent increase in attendance in 2014, and set a record for advance ticket sales.
Asked how organizers select the acts that perform at Parkfield, Swartz laid out the criteria. “First and foremost, we’re looking for a quality of musicianship that’s very solid … instrumentally or vocally, or both,” he said.
Performers must play acoustic music, Swartz added, and use “the standard toolbox of bluegrass instrumentation” including guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and standup bass.
The Parkfield lineup spans the gamut from traditional bluegrass bands playing time-honored standards to more experimental acts that specialize in original material or cover popular songs in a bluegrass style.
One perennially popular act at Parkfield, progressive bluegrass band Snap Jackson & The Knock on Wood Players, made its festival debut in 2010. The Stockton-based acoustic quartet has been invited back every year since then, prompting one festivalgoer to playfully dub Jackson the “mayor of Parkfield.”
Jackson said he was immediately won over by the festival’s picturesque setting and intimate feel.
“My initial reaction was, ‘I could get used to this,’” Jackson wrote in an email. “Beautiful landscape, kindhearted people, great bands, awesome audience, tasty food … I was hooked.”
“From the first person you see there, both the performers and the attendees, you’re made to feel welcome and glad you came,” Los Osos resident Wally Barnick said. “Everyone’s out to have fun and have a good time.”
Barnick first performed at the Parkfield Bluegrass Festival in 2000 with longstanding local bluegrass band Cache Valley Drifters. At the time, “It was just a big, giant casual campout,” he said.
Barnick returned to the festival last year with the Cache Valley Drifters and said it seems much more organized now.
Next weekend, he’ll perform in Parkfield with The Hay Dudes, featuring Kenny Blackwell and Mike Mullins on guitar and mandolin and Barnick on bass. Fiddler Paul Lee will join the acoustic trio, putting a unique spin on Americana, bluegrass, country and rockabilly favorites.
This year’s festival lineup includes Next Generation, The Sonoran Dogs and Steep Ravine. Also performing are Bean Creek Bluegrass, The Brothers Barton, The Honeysuckle Possums, Sidesaddle & Co. and Wild Sage, as well as local acts Amber Cross and Amaya Rose & The Gold Rush.
A number of the performers will lead music workshops and participate in activities for children and teens.
“Our musicians are very accessible,” Moxness said. “(When) you come to Parkfield … everybody’s on an equal footing.”
According to Swartz, the fun continues even after the concerts end. That’s when festivalgoers break out their own instruments and socialize.
“After the music stops on stage, you walk around at night until you’re too cold and too tired to continue … and just listen to music,” said Swartz, who’s been attending the festival since 2007. “There’s a whole group that pay the admission fee, come camp for a few days and almost never enter the audience area. They play music all day, all night, and they take time to sleep once in a while.”
That’s the attraction of Parkfield, Moxness said.
“It’s just an utterly, utterly charming place to be,” she said.
Parkfield Bluegrass Festival
Various times, May 7 to 10
V6 Ranch, First and Oak streets, Parkfield
$25 to $35 per day, $85 to $105 multi-day passes; ages 18 and under free
994-0929 or www.parkfieldbluegrass.org