This has been my kick-off to summer for 36 years. Back in the day, it was a hot jazz festival known as the Jubilee. The crowds were huge, requiring mounted police to manage them. All the hotels were brimming, hoppin' and poppin' with party rooms. The music venues extended for miles in Sacramento. Bands from around the world came, musicians dedicated to uniquely American music from Brazil, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, Australia, Hungary - you name it. Jam sets went deep into the dark of night, lasting until 4:00 AM. New Orleans, the home of hot jazz, was paid full homage at Sunday morning's gospel sets where you had your beer-and-hot-dog breakfast, with a side of Excedrin.
Most of my tribe still calls it the Jubilee, since we all know, from that one word, where and when.
But the hot jazz part is now rarified. Which made this year's Jubilee bittersweet.
We learned how to have the party band room from the best - Jean and George Knoblauch. When Bill was appointed the straw-boss for the musicians at the hotel, we immediately laid in supplies. What you don't see is salami and cheese, sundry other snacks, Bloody Mary makings for the morning, lots of water, or the huge bottle of Advil. What you don't hear are the wake-up and checking-in calls, the instrument tuning, or the laughter. It was a humble hospitality room, but in the tradition and legacy of true jubilee form.
I'd know that hand anywhere, and he's not missing a finger, but neatly tucks it away when not in use. Stuart Zank is a lyrical, melodic, tasteful master of the banjo - a rarified thing of beauty. (There's that word again, sort of my theme for the weekend.) As Clint honestly said, he's the best banjo player in the country, and probably the world. And Stuart is humble. Pure. No diva-ego bullshit. Which is part of why we love him.
There were moments of special joy for me this year because of Clint's graciousness.
We all knew it was summer's kick-off when the temperatures soared to 90, the lines for beer grew long, and folks wiped their brows and looked for shade.
It wasn't the raucous, joyous fun of years past where there'd be dozens of people and familiar faces on every street. There were no drink tickets, almonds by the barrel-full, or KGB escorts for the Russian band - or even heaping helpings of jambalaya and gumbo offered by food vendors.
Still, the jubilee this year with my own tribe, for me, can be summed up with the words Ray Gilbert wrote for Lew Pollack's tune: That's A Plenty.
And now, summer's been officially kicked-off.