“I don’t think we are on the right road.”

“I don’t think we are on the right road.”  Cathy doesn’t do much back seat driving. She had good cause this time. I had no idea where we were. It was part of the plan. “Let’s just drive west and see where the sun takes us…..” But brother, I didn’t know the plan was going to take us this far!

We’d enjoyed the early morning winding through the famed Sonoma and Napa Valleys. We were on our way to Crater Lake via, of course, the obligatory visit to the Redwood Forest. The road narrowed and became a mite twisty as we climbed out of the valley. It about ran out all together by the time Cathy shrewdly observed we might be a wee bit “turned around”. 

I thought about climbing a hill and seeing if I could spot some tall redwoods…… We rounded a bend that was about halfway between no-where and you-can’t-get-there-from-here when I saw the detour sign. I was thinking “we are already on a detour” when I realized the orange cones were simply directing traffic off the ribbon thin road into this large field. That’s when we saw the campers; and RVs; and the line of port-a-potties; and the huge stage.

Folks, we are in the back woods somewhere between San Francisco and the Oregon state line and there is a whole raft of people congregating in an old cow pasture like this was the most happening place on earth! It was too much for me. I wheeled in between the cones, passed under the big “18th Annual Kate Wolf Music Festival” sign, handed the lady twenty dollars and parked between an SUV with Utah plates and a horse tied to a cottonwood tree.

“Howdy,” I tried to throw my best western talk on the first guy we met, “where can we find Kate Wolf”? I figured I’d go right to the source. The tall, slender fellow gave me a big grin through his overgrown mustache and correctly observed, “Ya’ll must not be from around here.”

“Here” was the Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, California. Kate Wolf was a local folk singer of some note who had died, according to Buck “back in the late ’80’s.” “Some of her friends got together years ago to sing a few of her songs and commemorate her passing and it has grown into this.” Buck took his hat off when speaking of the late singer, which immediately endeared him to me. And I’d never heard of Kate Wolf.  

But back in the day I was big on The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and Trini Lopez. I was glad we were lost. Buck insisted on us joining his cousin Art and their wives at a small table they’d set up under some shade trees. The Rebirth Brass Band was tearing it up on stage. It wasn’t exactly Peter, Paul and Mary, but it wasn’t bad.

“Would you like some chicken?” Glenda extended the whole tray toward us. Glenda and Tanya were sisters who “had the good fortune” to “catch” Buck and Art. We quickly learned of their early dating exploits and the late night rendezvous over on Ten Mile Creek. I wasn’t sure exactly who was married to whom. But they laughed a lot. And they seemed to enjoy our company as much as the music now coming from Alice Stuart and the Formerlys.

And they were proud to be from Laytonville and Mendocino County. They spoke repeatedly of “our home” and “our place”. I thought not unlike I had done all of my life.  They asked about my accent. I told them it was my West Tennessee upbringing mixed with a little Florida cracker. They were curious about the beaches with the white sand. I asked them about panning for gold and how did they pack grub and other necessities up those steep mountains in the winter. 

They wanted to know how we “found” the festival. I explained that we were just passing through on our way to Crater Lake. We had to sample Tonya’s goat cheese that had edged out all the other competitors’ at the recent Mendocino County Fair. And the tea, true to the folk music code, had a little too much green in it for me. But the chicken was great, as were the potatoes fries and the corn cakes.

I asked about the Black Oak Ranch that hosted this festival each year. Art worked for them at one time and he gave us the “low down”. He said that before the Kate Wolf thing took off, they used to have the annual “Hog Farm Pignic” here. I rolled that around a few times in my mind….. What a splendid concept! I told them they should have called me in 1992, I’d’a come a’running.

For a wrong turn, it turned out to be a great afternoon. I will remember the truly majestic Redwood trees. The drive up the northern coast (when Buck finally got us pointed in the right direction) was nothing short of stunning. And Crater Lake was so blue it would hurt your eyes to look at it. But, for me, the lasting memory will always be sitting around a wobbly table sharing food, music, conversation and life with some of the most regular folks I’ve ever met.

We have all been misinformed. California is not all Hollywood, glamour stars and wild liberals running loose. There are outstanding people in every corner of this great land of ours. The trick is to get off the beaten path of preconceived ideas and notions……..and sharing some goat cheese with them!