By Mark Kemp
Sometimes poking around on Youtube really pays off. I was searching for clips of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recently when I stumbled on a video featuring a black-and-white photo of the Dirt Band’s John McEuen jamming with Jerry Garcia and comedian Steve Martin. But the video itself included so much more: Nearly four hours of amazing music from some of the early 1970s’ greatest bluegrass legends and younger musicians, including Mac Wiseman, Doc and Merle Watson, Norman Blake, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and others.
The event was the Golden State Country Bluegrass Festival of 1974, held just north of San Francisco in Marin County, California. It was those magical years of multi-generational folk music just after the Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken album of 1972 and a year before the release of Garcia’s Old and in the Way project with Peter Rowan, David Grisman, Vassar Clements, John Kahn, and John Hartford.
Apparently, there were scrapped plans for both a documentary film and album of this festival, and after doing some more digging, I found links to bootleg copies. But I thought the best way to wet your whistle (if you’ve never heard these recordings) is right here.
So enjoy these three-plus hours of musical Zen, with highlights including a kick-ass version of Chuck Berry’s “Mabellene” by Jim & Jesse at 10:23; Doc and Merle’s magic fingers on “Salt Creek” at 25:13; Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s casual and freewheeling “Just stopped by to grab of cup of coffee” at 02:40:45, and so much more.