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Strawberry History and Lore

Following are some of the key events that shaped the festival and have made it what it is today. If you have any additional items that you feel deserve to appear below, or have corrections or amplifications regarding those items listed, please send them along.

Summer 1982 The first festival, billed "The Strawberry Bluegrass Festival" took place at Leland Meadows in Strawberry, California.
Photo 1 | Photo 2 | Bluegrass Alternative Article from 1982 - 2MB File
Fall 1983 The festival was moved from Leland Meadows to its present location at Camp Mather.
Fall 1984 Under the leadership of Thom O'Hair, Hog Ranch Radio was established and began broadcasting the festival at FM 88.1.

"Also, the [Strawberry] stroll officially began in the fall of 1984, to manage the mad dash from the concessions to the stage area. This was before people could camp on music meadow. The "frontline grubstakers" just laid down along the main drag and slept on the side of the road leading to the concessions, (sometimes actually in the road) until the fire warden got wind of that practice and threatened to shut the festival down right then and there. Next festival, camping behind the soundstage was born, and the stroll began to shape into its present form." remembers George Hill

Also at this festival, the Strawberry Kids' Program was born. The program started when a team of willing volunteers set up arts and crafts tables at Birch Lake under the direction of storyteller B.Z. Smith. Originally planned to give families an extra activity to pursue during breaks from the Main Stage, the Birch Lake program quickly expanded to include a special program for Teens, called the "Dead Cows", and in no time at all a program for Double-Digit Kids, now called "The Mid Kids", and special programming for families with babies and toddlers. It wasn't long before the Birch Lake Program evolved into a Festival within the Festival. Soon Jill Vollmuth took the helm, and now Cathy Lord is our Birch Lake coordinator. Strawberry's outreach to families and teens is now regarded as the best in the country for its innovative programming and full spectrum of activities, workshops and entertainment, all taking place at Birch Lake throughout each Festival Weekend.

Spring 1986 The first Spring festival occurred.
Spring 1987 The first Strawberry Family Picture was taken of the audience from the stage. This first picture featured a giant cardboard cutout of Dolly Parton in the in the middle.
Fall 1987 This festival was postponed due to a fire in close proximity to Camp Mather. The rescheduled festival took place in October of 1987. "The camp was surrounded by the fire & no one was allowed to come up. I was running the kids crew then, & of course, we were "festival ready." When Labor Day festival got cancelled, my crew just set up our crafts at the Sonora Fairgrounds. We put on "The Strawberry Kids Festival" for the kids who had been evacuated. In October '87 a very small group of Strawberry Folks came to love & hug each other up at Camp Mather. It was one of those early awakenings that the Festival had become greater than its own vision. It truly had evolved into its own community. - B.Z."
Fall 1988 John Hartford convinced everyone on the Strawberry tarp to get up, throw their chairs out of the way and start square dancing. "What a blast... no one was too concerned about their chairs, we were all just having a great time... embodied the Strawberry spirit", related a witness to the event. Another person added that, "This is the ONLY time I have EVER seen a SOLO performer get THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE on it's feet. Ever. Much larger bands have convinced much smaller groups of people to get up. One man convinced the ENTIRE audience to get up. An amazing feat." John Hartford continued his dancing on through the evening. One of the pieces of the Strawberry Hog floor still bear the words "John Hartford Danced Here". Photo
Spring 1988 On Saturday night, because of heavy rains, the main stage acts were moved to the Dining Hall. Way Out West, Riders In The Sky, and then Guy Clark with Rodney Crowell all played their sets to a thankful and temporarily dry audience. Tony Bendetti remembers, "The year that they moved the Main stage music into the dining hall because of rain was one of my first strawberries when I was working the Teen program. Since I was already in the dining hall when they came over, I helped set up and got to stay for the whole evenings show... really great evening up close and personal... Riders were in rare form. In fact I was 19 at the time and I attribute this festival with instilling me with a love of this kind of music... it was the first time that I was able to really see and hear what it was about."

On Sunday morning the Stroll was cancelled because of snow, although a few brave souls did put out chairs. It was also during this same festival that members of the Banana Slug String Band "slimed" the Riders In The Sky during their main stage appearance on Sunday afternoon. Lastly, during that performance, Riders The Sky were remembered to have been playing "Cool Water" while sleet was blowing horizontally across front of the stage.

Spring 1989 The name of the Spring festival was changed from the "Strawberry Bluegrass Festival" to the "Strawberry Music Festival".
Fall 1990 The famous "Tear Stained Letter" incident began at this festival when Richard Thompson closed his Sunday evening set with one of his signature songs, "Tear Stained Letter". The crowd picked up the chorus with him toward the end of the song and then he left the stage, but the crowd continued, on and on, singing the chorus of the song over and over for what must have been 10 minutes or more. Then, immediately after Strengh In Numbers finished their festival closing set, the crowd immediately started up the Tear Stained Letter chorus. That chorus was then picked up again before the first act of the Spring 1991 festival. Most recently, the tradition was continued in the Spring of 2003 when Richard Thompson played again and the crowd began singing the Tear Stained Letter chorus before he even started his show. Richard Thompson responded by opening the show with the song.
Spring 1991 Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, dressed as an angel, joined Marley's Ghost and sang "Angel from Montgomery". According to Sarah's recollection, a huge Strawberry attached to a wire, "came zooming across the crowd to me". The following year, under cover of blue smoke and "crazy ass lights" (to quote Sarah), Danny Wheetman of Marley's Ghost and Dallas Dobro, wearing only their underwear and "elf" masks with big ears and long noses, came on stage during a set featuring Sarah and Nina Gerber and threw "fairy dust" (glitter) in the air while they played. Photo 1 | Photo 2
Fall 1991 The Fall 1991 festival took place two weeks later than usual due to a conflict with another music festival taking place at Camp Mather over the Labor Day weekend.
Fall 1992

On the evening of September 6, 1992, the band Hot Rize (and their alter-egos, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers) were playing when the power went out. As Luke Dobro recalls, "The power went out when it was Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers...who played for a good half hour in the dark, with everyone shining flashlights [at the band on the stage], and my dad up on the front of the stage with a massive flashlight as a spotlight [to illuminate the band members during their solos]. Darol Anger was playing with them as a guest when it all went down, and took it in stride. After a while, it was announced that Hot Rize would come back up on stage, and when they played, the audience was so silent, that you could have been standing in the back of the meadow, and heard a pin drop on the stage. Towards the end, the crew got a couple of motor homes to come back up behind the stage, and they then used the generators in them to power up the stage work lights, and parts of the monitor system. A few of the monitor speakers were turned towards the audience, and thats how Hot Rize ended the night. I also vividly remember that someone had hit one of the water spigots in camp on Hog Ranch Road when the lights went out, which caused a huge flood. We later discovered that the massive power outage had been due to someone hitting a power pole in Yosemite Valley with their car.." Ever since this festival, a backup generator sits back stage "just in case" Photo 1 | Photo 2 | Photo 3 | Photo 4

It was also at this festival when Tim O'Brien started his own Strawberry tradition when, immediately after completing his Revival set with the Hot Rize, he stripped down to his underwear, ran to the diving board and jumped into Birch Lake. After climbing out and wrapping a towel around his waist, he returned to the stage to play an encore. When Tim jumped in, he managed to lose his sunglasses in the process, which inspired the Hog Ranch Radio tee shirt for the next festival that had a frog wearing sunglasses on it. This event was followed up at the Fall 1993 Revival when Tim and some other "frogmen" carried Molly O'Brien in a canoe into Birch Lake after their set. This tradition continues whenever Tim plays the Revival, but now he is followed into the lake by numerous members of the audience. Photo 1 | Photo 2

Spring 1993 During a particularly rowdy Riders In The Sky show, Too Slim electrified and fried a pickle on stage. Kim Loeb remembers, "They stuck a fork in each end of a pickle, turned off the lights, and plugged it in. It sizzled blue with quite a hiss and made a terrible stench that hung over the audience for quite some time." Mary Scott recalls that after the incident, "Ranger Doug said something to the effect that he didn't think that Sarah Elizabeth could come close to doing anything with a pickle like they had just done. I think they were on the next day when Sarah came out during Riders set, very seductively and sensuously biting and chewing an enormous pickle. Ranger Doug almost couldn't finish the song, they all had to try to keep from laughing! I think Sarah beat them at their own game! Another hysterical moment.."

At the same festival, David Lindley "convinced a large portion of the audience to verbally illustrate the lyrics "all the guys from the office are throwing up in their cars" (from Tiki Torches at Twillight). The sound of thousands happily retching reverberated across the meadow!" remembers Arden Eaton.

Unknown Date Kim Loeb recalls that, "The first Strawberry after Amy Airhart retired from hosting Amy's Orchid Cafe when Joe Craven hosted in full drag as Amy's sister "Flamey" (he also hosted a couple more Cafe's as various other relatives of Amy's)".
Fall 1995 Mark O'Connor left the stage during his set and walked through the crowd playing a wirelessly miked violin with a trail of children growing larger and larger behind him as he progressed.
Fall 1996 The Fall 1996 festival was postponed at the last minute as a very large fire approached Camp Mather, narrowly missing it. As the fire got closer and decisions were being made about whether the festival would occur or not, Thom O'Hair provided regular News Dispatches and Fire Photos from the site. Camp Mather served as the "fire camp" to the fight the fire until even the firefighters were evacuated as the fire approached.
October 1996 The festival, dubbed "Octoberry", occurred five weeks late due to the fire postponement of the Fall festival.
Fall 1998 Sam Bush sets his third record in a row for the longest set played at Strawberry, playing 3 hours and 26 minutes and eclipsing his prior records of 3 hours in 1996 and 3 hours and 5 minutes in 1997. His guests on stage included Moondi Kline, Jimmy Gaudreux, Loren Rowan and Sarah Elizabeth.

Also at this festival, a warm afternoon thunderstorm provided alternative forms of recreation such as mud wrestling during La Bottine Souriante's Saturday afternoon set. Photo 1 | Photo 2 | Photo 3 | Photo 4. A participant remembers that there was "mud flying everywhere then I turned around and saw that the main meadow with all the tarps had turned into the worlds largest slip-n-slide".

January 2001 Thom O'Hair, radio legend and founder of Hog Ranch Radio, passes away.
Spring 2002 After snowing significantly in the days just preceding the festival, the weather made a dramatic shift for the better and the Spring 2002 festival came off without a hitch under warm sunny skies. Cold Photo | Warm Photo
Fall 2002 A festival unifying and affirming event occurred when a lost girl was reported during this festival. Although children are frequently lost and found at festivals, this child had been missing for a number of hours and it was getting late in the evening, so local authorities were notified and announcements were made over the Strawberry Hog and from the Main Stage. In short order, the entire festival (security, local authorities and audience) had mobilized together to search for the child. Wherever you were around the festival grounds, everyone had dropped what they where doing and were busy searching. In the end, to the tremendous relief of the Strawberry community as a whole, the girl was found sleeping in a friend's tent in another camp. When the announcement that she had been found was made from the main stage, the entire festival expressed a single, collective sigh of relief. This event is still remembered by many festival goers as a perfect example how we are all, together, part of the Strawberry "family" and willing do whatever it takes to help out other members of our "family".
Spring 2003 Joe Craven, sitting in with the Alison Brown Quartet, drummed proficiently on Alison's banjo while she was playing it and it actually sounded very good. Photo 1 | Photo 2 . Of course, this is in addition to prior festivals when Joe Craven has played an empty beer twelve pack and people's backsides (aka their "derrieres") quite proficiently on stage. Since this performance Joe has sat with Alison Brown each time that she has played.