When we moved to Lake County from the San Francisco Bay Area, we became the butt of jokes that never seemed to end. As we planned to leave the imagined "real world", friends were convinced that we were heading toward the backwaters of California, where we would be lost and forgotten.
"What will you do there?" everyone would ask.
Well, see, that was the thing. We planned to spend 5 months in Italy, then come home and write about it. Lake County had few distractions we thought, and would thus not get in the way of our quest as travel writers. We would not be lured into cultural goings on that would deter us from plunging onward in our quest to define culture in far off lands. Lake county would be safe for work. We were sure of it.
Besides, who can find a San Francisco restaurant without loud and vacuous music putting a fence between diners who were old enough to remember when conversation was an art best honed while feasting?
Music without soul is a plague that won't go away. It's pumped out of speakers everywhere from restaurants to sweat farms.
Then we started going to the Ely Stage Stop for the fiddler's jam. It's held in a barn. Folding chairs spill out into the fields, even on a searing hot summer day. Folks who can't find chairs lean against sturdy beams. Fiddlers between the ages of 7 and 77 jam away. Your legs soon start to twitch, wanting to stomp out a tune in the dirt. Grown men dance in the aisles. Fiddlers laugh, sweat, and a woman in back sets a washboard a hummin'. "C'mon in, the backwaters are fine" is the message between the quarter-notes.
You see, everyone is engaged with the music. Where elevator music has devolved into "work" music its prime purpose is to wipe out background noise and any extraneous thought you might be having. Your boss doesn't want you to actually listen to the stuff; he doesn't want the office to break into dance or be otherwise engaged in the music. He doesn't want the music to crescendo to a heroic finish that would make you question your worthless toil in your tiny cubicle. Nope. That music is safe for work--you can be sure of it. They design it that way.
So here we are back at the fiddler's jam discovering the value of friends and the deliciousness of the home-made chocolate chip cookies you get at the back.
Then some dude in overalls with a red bandana tied around his neck shuffles toward the front of the room dragging a contraption that makes you scratch your noggin. He's dragged it from the museum. It's something the early immigrants we shamelessly call pioneers used in their daily life. The dude is John. He's a hoot.
"Who knows what this is?" John drawls while wrestling the contraption like a metal snake
There is discussion. There is hemming and hawing. Someone will have the answer. The rest will exclaim something like "my daddy had two of those!" There will be much chiming-in.
It's all part of the fun. You see, John is a bit of a celebrity, a noted archaeologist who's done some interesting work you might not think archaeologists do. Emmy award winning filmmaker Peter Brosnan contacted John and they ended up mapping the objects left from DeMille's 1923 movie The Ten Commandments for example.
Then the fiddlers, rested and provisioned with chocolate cookies, commence playing music that's not safe for work. It will stick in your head. It will make you want to get away from it all.
Like the family in the picture below, staring at the waters of Cache creek as a pool full of happy frolickers splash away behind them. There isn't a computer in sight.
Want to reserve a place to get away from it all? Click the button. It's safe for work.
Lake County Historical Society’s Ely Stage Stop & Country Museum is located at 9921 State Hwy 281 (Soda Bay Road) in Kelseyville, near Clearlake Riviera, just north of Hwy 29-Kit’s Corner. Fiddling generally happens the first Sunday of the month. Check the Facebook page for opening and event times.
Martha Bakerjian is a part-time employee at Clear Lake Campground and writes a web site about Italy: