Bluegrass for World Peace

A million or so music fans and sun seekers found themselves in Golden Gate Park this weekend listening to the likes of Emmylou Harris, Steve Martin, Hazel Dickens, Earl Scruggs, Boz Skaggs & the Blue Velvet Band, and a long list of other music makers you will recognize if your bluegrass credentials are up to date. There were about 75 bands in all, on six stages scattered around several meadows. I missed The Brothers Comatose, and Booker T & the Drive-by Truckers, and I worried a little about The Flatlanders tooling around these San Francisco hills, but for sheer exuberant free entertainment, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 9 could hardly have been beat.

The free part is thanks to local billionaire Warren Hellman, a banjo-picker, bluegrass enthusiast extraordinaire and one-man stimulus package — he does a little investment banking on the side — who has thrown this party for the past nine years and has now endowed it so it will be around in perpetuity. The fact that much of the music sung by these musicians is pure anti-billionaire dampens no spirits, Hellman’s least of all.

(The top ticket, of course, was our weekend houseguest Don Betts, faithfully YouTube’d by his wife Annie as he performed that great American classic “I just don’t look good naked any more.” Betts was introduced by Hellman, whose  group The Wronglers kicked off Saturday on Porch Stage. In addition to making money and playing banjo, Hellman is an an avid champion of the sport of Ride & Tie, and Betts is current R&T Association president… but that’s probably another blog. )

A little bluegrass celebration has never been needed more. What with the world having pretty much gone to hell, there is something immensely comforting in hanging out with a few thousand fellow sufferers grooving to songs about bad whiskey and love gone wrong — problems you can identify with and get your mind around. Not to mention damning corporate greed and evil rich guys, pausing every now and then for a standing ovation for one of Them who just dropped a few million in household change on your glorious weekend out. It all somehow fits right in with a tanked job market and universal political comedy.

A few decades back this music — or what sounded exactly like this music — was called Country. It was rousing and redneck and not cool. Bluegrass is cool. Hellman’s buddies came in every race, creed, color and national origin, ranged from in utero to way-80s, recycled everything and smiled whiled jostling for dancing space. I submit bluegrass as palliative care for the world.

Beavers in Manhattan, Mink in California

Mink
Image via Wikipedia

Maybe beavers have little in common with Boomers, or Beyonders, but after reading T/S Contributor Caitlin Kelley’s Canada/NY beaver piece just now I felt compelled to respond with today’s news of California urban mink. Their newly discovered presence was documented by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Jones:

First, there were beavers. Then otters and muskrats.

And now – as if the Martinez Public Works Department needed more cute, furry mammals paddling around Alhambra Creek – there are mink.

Ten months after the city spent $500,000 to shore up the eroding creek bank, a condition many blamed on the beavers and their obsessive handiwork, a mother mink and four babies were spotted this week cavorting near the beaver’s primary dam, just north of the Escobar Street bridge in downtown Martinez.

The silky, razor-toothed critters have apparently taken up residence in the pond created by the beavers’ dam, along with a variety of other aquatic wildlife.

But then again, maybe there IS some relevance. Recent posts re health and housing, which seem to be atop the news for over-50 generations if not everyone else too these days, have had friends asking if there isn’t something ELSE to write about? Well, yes. Exercise and fitness. The absolute best of which is snagging a half hour or two and heading out to circle the Central Park reservoir or roam around Golden Gate Park, or wherever your city walking place of choice happens to be. Mine is 16th Street, San Francisco, start at the Bay, end at Market (or continue whatever direction from there) and you’ll encounter every ethnic/social/business/industry/arts category you could want and the views aren’t bad at the tops of the hills. But back to the mink:

Mink are native to the area but are highly unusual. They’re more often spotted in the delta or the Sierra Nevada, but their population could be rising because of the decreasing popularity of mink coats, Bell said.

Maureen Flannery, collections manager for the ornithology and mammalogy department at the California Academy of Sciences, also confirmed that the animals in question are Neovison vison, a.k.a. American mink.

The babies probably were born in April or May and will stay with their mother until fall, when they will head out to claim their own territories, she said.

I’ve also had questions about food-and-nutrition writing, this being another biggie for over-50s (under-50s are either already sold on healthy lifestyles or eating pizza and sushi and fries and just not giving a damn about calories and cholesterol.) And fine dining also enters this late-breaking news:

Dan Murphy, owner of Bertola’s restaurant adjacent to the beavers’ dam, was also taking a wait-and-see attitude. Liability concerns over the restaurant’s weakening foundation were one reason the city decided to shore up the creek bank last fall.

“I don’t really care,” Murphy said. “Although I guess the creek’s becoming more and more of a habitat, which is pretty cool.”

Martinez vice mayor Mike Menesini, proclaiming his “a very welcoming city” is waiting to see how this newly-mixed community gets along.

So far, the mink, beavers, muskrats, otters and turtles have adopted an attitude of mutual indifference. The crayfish aren’t so lucky – they’re often dinner for their carnivorous creek-mates.

The Beaver Fest in downtown Martinez today features bagpipes, bluegrass and jazz bands. Dancing in the streets is good exercise too.