The 6th Annual California Banjo Extravaganza is here!

The 6th Annual California Banjo Extravaganza

Featuring Charlie Cushman, Bob Carlin & Bill Evans

With Tim Stafford, John Reischman, Chad Manning & Sharon Gilchrist.

An All-Star Banjo & Bluegrass Event!

Sponsored by Elderly Instruments, Deering Banjos, Peghead Nation, Homespun Tapes, Mandolin Café, EMG Pickups & D’Addario

Each November, San Francisco Bay Area banjo player Bill Evans brings together some of the best banjo players in the world and combines them with an ace backup band featuring several West Coast favorites for a series of incredible concerts across northern California and an afternoon of workshops in Berkeley. This year’s annual northern California five-string banjo celebration features 2015 IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Charlie Cushman, North Carolina old-time banjo master Bob Carlin and, of course, California favorite Bill Evans. Joining this trio of banjo greats is their All-Star band, this year featuring 2017 IBMA Songwriter of the  Year Tim Stafford (guitar) from the award-winning bluegrass band Blue Highway, John Reischman (mandolin), Chad Manning (fiddle), & Sharon Gilchrist (bass & mandolin) for an evening of bluegrass, old-time, and beyond, focusing on the many different ways music can be made on the five-string banjo.

Wednesday, November 8: Los Gatos, The Great Room, 24500 Miller Hill Road. Banjo experience at 4 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m., concert at 7:30 p.m. Hosts Robert Cornelius & Suzanne Suwanda open their home to the kick off concert! Dinner seating limited to 40 (there’s room for plenty more for the concert). Phone or text 408-655-3333 or email for reservations. $30 concert, $20 dinner.

Thursday, November 9: Chico, Trinity United Methodist Church, 285 E 5th Street, 7 p.m. show, 6:30 p.m. doors. Tickets $20 advance / $22 at the door, on sale October 9 at Music Connection. Contact Lucy Smith at 530-894-1449 or for tickets.

Friday, November 10: Winters (Sacramento area), Palms Playhouse, 13 Main Street, 8 p.m. show, doors at 7 p.m. Info and tickets at 530-795-1825,

Saturday, November 11: Berkeley, CA, Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, Banjo, Guitar & Mandolin Mini-Camp with Charlie Cushman, Bob Carlin, Bill Evans, John Reischman & Tim Stafford. 2020 Addison Street, 1 to 4:30 p.m. $70.

Saturday, November 11: Berkeley, CA, in concert at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, 8 p.m. show, doors at 7 p.m. 2020 Addison Street. Tickets $36 in advance / $32 at the door. Info at

Sunday, November 12 (evening): Sebastopol, CA, Sebastopol Community Cultural Center Annex, 425 Morris Street, 8 p.m. concert, doors at 7:30 p.m. Contact Kevin Russell at 707-824-1858 or email for info and tickets. Admission $22 advance, $25 at the door. Info at

About the musicians:

Charlie Cushman is best known these days as the banjo player in Jerry Douglas’ Flatt and Scruggs tribute band, called The Earls of Leicester. Most banjo players agree that Charlie is not only the most skilled Earl Scruggs stylist but also probably knows more about Don Reno’s banjo playing than anyone else today. That’s a powerful combination! These qualifications, along with many years of recorded appearances with artists as diverse as Joe Diffie, Sam Bush, Michael Cleveland & Tim O’Brien, earned Charlie the coveted International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year award in 2015.

North Carolina old-time banjo player Bob Carlin is probably the best-known clawhammer player performing today and has spread the art of Southern old-time banjo to more people than perhaps any other player in the world. A mainstay of the John Hartford String Band with several Rounder Records solo albums also to his credit, Bob is also known as a producer, teacher and researcher of Southern music and banjo styles.  His books include The Birth of the Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney and Early Minstrelsy and Strings Bands in the North Carolina Piedmont. He is a three-time Frets magazine poll winner.

San Francisco Bay Area musician Bill Evans curates the California Banjo Extravaganza each year. Bill has spent a lifetime bringing together folks who love and play the five-string banjo. His books Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies and Banjo For Dummies are among the most popular instructional books in the world. His most recent recorded project is Songs That Are Mostly Older Than Us with Fletcher Bright and Norman and Nancy Blake. These days, you’ll find Bill performing with his solo show The Banjo in America and with flatpicking legend Dan Crary and bass player Wally Barnick. Over the last fifteen years, he has performed with David Bromberg, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, the Steep Canyon Rangers, J. D. Crowe, Kathy Kallick, Claire Lynch and Jody Stecher, among many others. His Freight Bluegrass Jam Classes are the most popular ensemble classes in California and his monthly free shows in Kensington with Bangers & Grass, now spanning seven years, attract audiences from all over the world.

Joining the All-Star Band this year is the 2017 IBMA Songwriter of the Year and Blue Highway band member Tim Stafford. A native of Kingsport, TN, Tim is also known for his playing and singing as a member of Alison Krauss & Union Station and countless studio sessions with artists such as Jorma Kaukonen, Willie Nelson, Tony Trischka and Kenny Chesney. He’s one of the world’s most skilled bluegrass guitarists and has over 225 original recorded songs to his credit. His brand new CD is Acoustic Guitar, featuring 13 original instrumentals and the song “I Am America,” and he is the author of Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story, the critically-acclaimed authorized biography of this important guitarist.

John Reischman is one of the premier mandolinists of his generation: an understated visionary whose music is virtuosic without ever being flashy and who is renowned for his impeccable taste and tone. A Juno-nominated and Grammy award-winning artist, John is a founding member of California’s Good Old Persons who is also celebrated for his work with the Tony Rice Unit as well as leading his own band John Reischman & The Jaybirds.

Chad Manning is flat out one of the best fiddlers in the world, plain and simple. These days, Chad along with his wife Catherine, teaches hundreds of folks out of the Manning Music studio in Berkeley. In addition, Chad performs with the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, the David Grisman Sextet and Bangers & Grass, featuring Bill Evans and Jim Nunally. Along with John, Bill and Sharon, Chad also teaches online via Peghead Nation (

Sharon Gilchrist (bass and mandolin) performs regularly with John Reischman and guitarist Scott Nygaard, in addition playing with Scott Law and the Bay Area-based band The Flatliners, which includes Keith Little and Avram Siegel. She is also known for her work with Peter Rowan & Tony Rice and the old-time band Uncle Earl.

What folks are saying about these musicians:

Charlie Cushman: “It’s as if the revered band was brought back and placed in a modern studio with all of the technology available to really make them shine once again. Charlie Cushman can play Earl as all of the others can play their respective parts. If you love Earl and Lester and the Foggy Mountain Boys, they live on here. The tension, the release, the drive, that soul, all live here in tribute.” Bluegrass Unlimited review of “The Earls of Leicester” (Rounder Records).

Bob Carlin: “Bob Carlin has done much to advance traditional banjo. Perhaps more importantly, he has also done much to keep it the same. Within the narrow ranges of sonority and texture in the banjo, Carlin is ingenious and sensitive enough to find an expressive medium without overstepping the limitations of the style.” Frets magazine

Bill Evans: “Bill Evans does for the five-string banjo what Van Gogh did for color…treats it in a different way and then shares it with you. And his recent release “In Good Company” is a virtuoso master class in exploring bluegrass from the tradition to the far edges of alternative.” Tom Franks, FolkWords

John Reischman: “One of the true tone poets of American acoustic music…always placing the right note in the right place with the right tone and touch…throughout, Reischman’s full-throated mandolin never overplays or forces a point on the listener. The music is open, inviting, and engaging on multiple levels at once, telling musical stories without words like the birds in the tall pine trees or the waves upon the dark and rolling sea.” Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Video links:

For Bill Evans (with Noam Pikelny and Joe Newberry on “A Prairie Home Companion”), “Arkansas Traveler”:

For Charlie Cushman (with the Earls of Leicster) “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down”:

For Bob Carlin “Old Corn Liquor” Live at Fur Peace Ranch:

For Tim Stafford “I Am America”

For John Reischman, “Walk Along John to Kansas,” with Bruce Molsky & Allison de Groot:

For Chad Manning, “Sally Goodin’” with the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience:

For Sharon Gilchrist, “Squirrel Hunters”

Homepage links:

Charlie Cushman

Bob Carlin:

Tim Stafford:

Bill Evans

John Reischman

Chad Manning

Sharon Gilchrist


Media contact: Bill Evans, 510-520-7005,

Bluegrass Pride!

Good news, everyone! The California Bluegrass Association will have its first ever float in the SF Pride Parade this year. The SF Pride Parade is the biggest public event of the year in northern California, with over a million people in attendance and a worldwide appeal. A vast range of businesses, community nonprofits and arts organizations have found it to be an extremely efficient outreach event, offering the opportunity to engage with masses of potential supporters, regardless of age, gender or orientation, at a fraction of the cost of other, more traditional channels.

This year’s parade is Sunday, June 25. The San Francisco district of the CBA will be there on a flatbed truck decorated with attractive banners promoting bluegrass and old-time music and the CBA, and carrying a live band playing traditional music, plus a contingent walking alongside handing out CBA promo materials to the crowd.

Our presence in the Pride parade is part of a program of increasing the public visibility of bluegrass and old-time music through participation in mass public events, including the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the Sunday Streets program, and the Chinese New Year parade and the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Bluegrass and old-time music need all the exposure they can get, and this is a great opportunity to show people what we’re about!

Here’s the event page on Facebook!

So much pickin’ in the New Year!

Well, here we are in 2017, and not a moment too soon. But don’t get too comfortable: there’s a lot of picking to be done! First of all, the first-Sunday jam at Cleophus Quealy Beer Co. has been pushed back to the second Sunday (the 8th) just this once. So you can still get in on that if you were too, um, foggy on New Year’s day. I mostly use this jam as an excuse to get my growler refilled with some of Quealy’s delicious hoppy ale.

We do have stuff  happening New Year’s day, though. The weekly Lucky Horseshoe jam is going on as I write this (I’d be there but I’m staying home with my cold this afternoon), and then later in the evening the invitational Shoe Jam takes the stage at that same Lucky Horseshoe, 8 to 10 pm.
It’s old-time jam time at Amnesia this Monday, 6:30 to 8:30-ish. This is a special one for me because I get to bring along my daughter Laura, an excellent old-time banjo player, who just last week became old enough to be around adult beverages! And because of the Bearcat Duo, which goes on stage at about 9. (Amnesia also hosts the regular bluegrass jam on the second and fourth Monday, of course, plus the Handsome Ladies‘ women-only jam on the third Monday.)
Then on Tuesday the 3d we troop on down to Pacifica for the Winters Tavern jam, which runs the first and third Tuesday every month, 8 to 10 pm. This is a fun little jam with a very friendly audience and a great beer selection. On Wednesday the 4th we’re back at the Plough & Stars on Clement for Jeanie & Chuck’s bluegrass jam. You could call this the Guinness jam — it’s one of those bars where they know the time-honored technique for slow-pouring the black stuff.
The Street Beats and Eats jam kicked off with a bang last month and it continues this Thursday, the 5th. This is at the SOMA Streat Food park, which is in that triangle where Division St. and 11th St. meet, under the Central Freeway. There’s a nice heated indoor space, plus lots of overflow space amid the food trucks in case you feel like wandering into a spinoff jam.
There won’t be a Street Beats & Eats jam on Thursday the 12th, though. That’s because a lot of pickers will be heading down to the Bakersfield Marriott that day for the Great 48 Jam. If you haven’t signed up for this already, it’s not too late! I’m told you can still get a room at a hotel nearby. It’s also not too late to book an Amtrak ticket and avoid the hassles of driving.
Speaking of Jeanie and Chuck: their Free Range Fridays variety show is back at La Promenade on the 20th, 7 to 9:30 pm. This time they’ve got trad-grass with the Dim Lights, the singer-songwriter Zoe Yungmi-Blank, and a bunch of other great stuff.
Of course, all of this and more can be seen at Hipster Hoedown, your calendar site for San Francisco bluegrass. Let me know if you want something you’re doing to be featured there!
Bluegrass blessings,
Ted Kuster
Local CBA Guy

Sunday Streets back where it all began

We’re back with our moveable bluegrass festival! This Sunday we’ll be picking on Valencia St. outside the legendary bluegrass mecca Amnesia Music Hall from about noon until about 3:30. You can RSVP or just show up! It’s the standard bluegrass jam model: take your turn to lead a song if you feel like it, and play along with others when it’s their turn. You mostly try to pick a song from the good old bluegrass repertoire, so you can be sure at least some people will know it. It’s all about the bluegrass, but if we’re lucky, an occasional friend will sit in on cajon or blues harp or something.
Sunday Streets is that thing where the city blocks off a stretch of a big street so people can hang out all over the pavement without having to dodge cars. All kinds of activities and entertainments come out of the woodwork and everybody has a great time. The California Bluegrass Association has been participating for a few years now. We’ve met all sorts of new friends, fans and pickers out there on the street. Kids, in particular, will sit and stare for a long time. We think some of them may go home afterwards and ask their parents for a banjo.

Mayday Bluegrass Jam Update

Hey! May Day in San Francisco! You can play all day, and then there’s more! This coming Sunday, May 1st, 2016, the monthly Sunday Streets bluegrass jam starts at noon (this month it’s in in the Bayview),  followed by the weekly bluegrass jam from 4:00pm to 7:00pm at the Lucky Horseshoe Bar in Bernal Heights. 2016.05.01HH300Then, the Lucky Horseshoe Bar hosts the monthly Shoe Jam, from 8:00am to 10:00pm. It’s a party all day long!

LOCALS ONLY ~ LADIES NIGHT! Featuring The P’s & Q’s, Shiloh & The Sun, Old Belle, The Bluegrass Revolution, Hay Babes

Please join us for a very special and rare evening of music at one of San Francisco’s premier music venue, Slim’s…a locals only Americana music showcase featuring all women…and not just all women, but some of the hottest pickers and freshest voices in Americana music today. You won’t want to miss the event of Spring!
April 28
Shelby Ash Presents
*An All-Female Americana Music Showcase*
Featuring: The P’s & Q’s, Shiloh and the Sun, Old Belle, The Bluegrass Revolution, Hay Babes
@Slim’s, 333 11th Street in San Francisco.
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Bluegrass Community Paying It Forward

Uncle Jim Letchworth with banjo

Uncle Jim Letchworth

Where do you spend Friday morning? If you’re like most of the people I know, you’re at your desk, thinking about what you need to get done before the beginning of the weekend.  I got lucky last Friday morning; I took off from work, and joined seven other like-minded bluegrass pickers in the southwestern corner of San Francisco for the second Pomeroy Recreation and Rehabilitation Center bluegrass jam.

Deirdre Donovan on guitar

Deirdre Donovan

We spent ninety minutes of unadulterated pleasure, playing and singing for the folks at the center, students and staff alike.

The program was first organized by Ted Kuster, our San Francisco CBA representative, in collaboration with Julie Gallaudet, a Pomeroy Center staff member.


Pomeroy Center audience enjoying the bluegrass

Julie discovered Ted with a group of bluegrass musicians jamming at the final 2015 Sunday Streets jam (also organized by Ted Kuster). She knew immediately that bluegrass music would make a major difference for the Pomeroy Center people, so she persuaded Ted to put it all together…and that made for the most fun I’ve had all week!

Patti Garber on bass & Ron Esparza on mando

Patti Garber & Ron Esparza

Jammers were Uncle Jim Letchworth on banjo and mandolin, Ted Kuster on banjo, Patti Garber on bass, Ron Esparza on fiddle and mandolin,

Karen Gemmill on guitar

Karen Gemmill

Virgil Stanford on dobro, Deirdre Donovan, Karen Gemmill, and Matt Lauer on guitar,

Virgil Stanford on dobro

Virgil Stanford

Matt Lauer on guitar

Matt Lauer

and Ellie DiBerardino on mandolin.

Ellie DiBerardino

Ellie DiBerardino

We’ll be doing it again soon…and you can play, too, if you want!  Contact Ted Kuster to get on the list for one of the next Pomeroy jams.

Ted Kuster on banjo

Ted Kuster

Free Range Fridays Are Back!!!

Last Friday, a cool, foggy evening in the outer Richmond, a marvelous, local San Francisco talent showcase opened on Balboa Street, near 38th Avenue, in the back room of the La Promenade Café.  

Chuck Poling, mandolin player and good time MC regular at California Bluegrass Association shows, and, not incidentally the promoter of the event, said: “We’re very grateful to have our Free Range Friday favorites for this premiere. They are awesome songwriters, instrumentalists, and singers, and most wonderfully, they are all are good friends. Each brings something unique and special to the table, and if you leave feeling like you haven’t been thoroughly entertained, well, you just weren’t paying attention.”  Well, Chuck was right.  

Chuck & Jeannie

Chuck & Jeannie

Chuck on mandolin and wife and lead singer Jeannie Poling, with bass player extraordinaire Pat Campbell, opened the show.


Chuck and Jeannie were followed by Doug Blumer and Nancy Irish of Bohemian Highway, kickin’ it with gorgeous,raunchy, sensitive tunes, written by this talented husband and wife team, and harmonized to great effect by their tight, clear harmonies.

Doug and Nancy

Doug and Nancy





Misisipi Mike

Misisipi Mike

Misisipi Mike Wolf played next, making it beautiful at Free Range Friday, with one of his original tunes, ‘Couples,’ soulful and sweet song telling love like it is in honor of folks that go the distance, including his parents. The reviews say that Misisipi Mike’s been compared to Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings…and I know why. 

Pam Brandon and Maurice Tani, with Mike Anderson on bass, singing Dirty Duets, kept the crowd spellbound through their first three tunes.  

Pam & Maurice

Pam & Maurice

Then, Pam sang my absolute favorite Steve Earle song, ‘I’m Still In Love With You,’ and truly rocked the house. 



And, what would a Friday night in San Francisco be without The Shut-Ins…and special guest, Diana Greenberg?  It wouldn’t be uniquely hilarious!!

The Shutins

The Shutins


Finally, Jeannie and Chuck closed the show. Before they sang, Chuck told a story about his teenage infatuation with Linda Ronstadt.  Jeannie had the most interesting expression on her face during the story, but Chuck made a really good save when he turned and told the incredulous Jeannie that she had a decided advantage over Linda – Jeannie’s right here (not in some teenage boy’s fantasy)  Then they launched into a tune that shows off Jeannie’s rich vocal chops (watch out, Linda!) to fabulous advantage. What soul! What a great evening!  Man, Free Range Friday’s are back with a roar!

Watch this space for an announcement when the next Free Range Friday is scheduled…