Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 5 Reviews
Friday, September 30
By Mark Hedin
The fifth annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival kicked off on
a gorgeous Friday morning at Speedway Meadows with a program for
San Francisco middle school students featuring the Peasall Sisters
and "PMW," an abbreviation made with impressionable youngsters in
mind for the Sonoma County band Poor Man's Whiskey.
The several hundred students bused into Golden Gate Park had been
prepped for the occasion with background information on the history
and culture of the music they were to witness, highlighting its
multicultural roots and the possibilities for expression it offers
for individuals of all descriptions.
"We learned that Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, was
born cross-eyed, the youngest of nine children, and was teased and
shunned by his peers," said Toni XX, herself an Irish immigrant,
who works at the nightclub Slim's, whose staff had booked the
festival as a whole.
Highlighting how Monroe had overcome his early challenges to become
an international success and an icon to succeeding generations, and
how he had paved the way in fusing disparate musical styles, the
students were also familiarized with the various instruments
characteristic of the music and the diverse cultures from which
As an example to the students of the very real opportunity that
musicianship offers even those of a very tender age, the Peasall
Sisters - Sarah, 18, on guitar, Hannah, 14, on mandolin and Leah,
12, on fiddle, took the stage, accompanied by their father, Michael
Peasall, on bass.
The Peasalls got their start in the First Baptist Church in White
House, Tennessee, where Michael Peasall was musical director. It
wasn't long, matriarch Sally Peasall said, before demand from
audiences around the country for the music Michael Peasall and his
daughters made led to them eventually having to quit the church.
The Peasalls have always home-schooled their children, she said -
although this family could fill a small classroom by itself - but
when it comes to music, they've recently begun taking private
instruction on their instruments. Besides the three sisters on
stage, there's another four more small fry yapping at their heels
- or, for today, playing in the grass while their older siblings
played and sang -- including JoJo, 8, the only boy, who's already
contributed one song to his older sisters' repertoire.
Following the Peasalls' set came PMW, an at times outrageous
collection of seven Sonoma County fellows, who kicked off their
lively set parading through the students, dancing and high-fiving
as they played "Orange Blossom Special."
Eli Jebediah, with his long scraggly brown hair and beard, gold
aviator glasses and blue coveralls looked especially hillbilly as
he played the washboard and, once on stage, summoned the band and
audience to attention with a whistle.
In the crowd, the students - the most diverse group to attend any
of the festival's many performances this weekend - quickly took to
their feet, swinging together in circles of a dozen or so, or in
pairs linked at the elbow.
"Every year, they get more into it," enthused Frank Fernandez, a
parent volunteer at Enola Maxwell Middle School.
As they then introduced themselves, each member of the band also
introduced his instrument with a trademark hot lick. Then it was
the kids' turn: "San Francisco middle schoolers, are you ready to
rock out? I can't hear you!" Jebediah shouted. We all heard soon
enough as he led the sixth- seventh- and eighth-graders in succeeding
After a banjo-heavy "Old Mule," the students' next lesson was in
volume - specifically, that of the fiddle and banjo that had jumped
out from the first two songs.
"Back before people had electricity, they played acoustic music,"
Jebediah explained. "the loudest instruments tended to be more
popular for the dance tunes. That's why the fiddle and banjo are
so important." Some more explanatory words on the African origin
of the banjo and the amalgamation of musical styles that developed
in the South followed, leading into Tony Robinson's mentioning that
"people would come from far away, to dance all night till the break
of day. When the caller hollered 'do si do' you knew Uncle Pen was
ready to go."
Guess what followed. Bill Monroe's kickoff, "Uncle Pen," of course.
There was a little more explaining, now of the Dobro, with a few
bars of "Blue Moon of Kentucky," when Tony interrupted, saying "I
can't take any more of this bluegrass stuff."
Ever accommodating, the band shifted into Elvis Presley mode and,
for good measure, after a brief absence, Josh Brough and Jebediah
returned to the stage, dressed now in full jailbird suits of black
and white stripes: "Jailhouse Rock."
Next up: Jebediah, wearing a long, blue "Sgt. Peppers'" style coat,
as conductor Klaus Von Dumplshmidt, introduced Otto Crabbapple,
famous Austrian tenor, to sing the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby."
"This is the music of Looney Toons, car commercials, annoying
elevator music, the stuff your parents play when they want to impress
guests they have over at their house for dinner," Dumplshmidt told
After "Calamity," a PMW original, Gary Neargarder introduced the
guitar and Jebediah's home-made horn, the kazumpet, which found its
way into the middle of Django Reinhardt's "Minor Swing," after a
brief acknowledgment of the roles guitars and horns play in jazzing
The next instrument featured the drum, introduced as the oldest of
them all, and was highlighted in some white boy rap backed by
bluegrass instrumentation Josh took to the mic to introduce the
"Music is the great melting pot of influences. The great thing about
it is that no matter where you are from or where you are, your
original music will always be relevant because it is drawing from
the well of everything you have been exposed to in your life. That's
what makes it unique. We all grew up here in California, and the
music we grew up with and the culture that surrounds us has shaped
our sound. Here is a song we wrote ("Mexico") that really sums all
that up for us."
Host Warren Hellman then took the stage to thank the children for
attending and hasten them on their way back to school for the rest
of the afternoon and San Francisco Schools Superintendent Arlene
Ackerman led the students in boisterous cheers of gratitude for the
lively respite before they made their way back to the waiting yellow
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