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Little fingers get a bluegrass primer

She was a long way from Tryon, N.C., on Wednesday, but Elena Corey felt right at home thanks to the sweet sounds coming from 6-year-old Annalee Hofer’s violin.

As she hunched over Annalee’s borrowed violin, the 60-something grandmother could hear the unmistakable sounds of her youth: mandolins wailing, the thump-thump of a stand-up bass and the syrupy chords of a wayward fiddle or two echoing through the Nevada County Fairgrounds as the annual Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival rolled into town for a four-day run beginning today.

Though her subjects were years away from emulating bluegrass legends Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley or Allison Krauss, Corey, who moved and dressed like a pie-baking grandmother cast from a Tom Wolfe novel, didn’t seem to mind.



“I’m a music junkie,” she said. “I’m a momma and a grandma that wants to keep this music alive.”

So Corey, dressed in a white dress and lace-rimmed hat, spent the afternoon tutoring Annalee and her sister, 5-year-old Liza, the finer points of finger positioning and plucking as the children’s’ father, Mike Hofer, lounged on the grass.




Hofer, who lives in the Central Coast town of Seaside, said he hoped this experience and his love of music would pique his daughters’ interest in live music.

“I want them to have the understanding that they can play, and if they try it, they might like it.”

Curious children learned from experienced veterans Wednesday, crouched in small circles of guitarists, fiddlers, banjo and mandolin players. By the weekend, many of these children will have the chance to perform before their peers, as well as hundreds of famous veterans bent on keeping the bluegrass beat alive.

One lucky young musician will win a banjo this weekend, a tribute to the student’s budding talent for the craft.

Napa resident Cooper Davisson, 12, picked up the mandolin a year ago after learning the violin.

“I love bluegrass, because the music makes you smile,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know anyone else who plays the mandolin.

Nearby, a knot of guitarists learned the finer points of playing a clean G chord, a neat trick for those who had only heard and never played the six-string instrument.

Sisters Brianna and Aislinn Moore of Penn Valley muddled through a few simple chords as their father, Keith, listened to the cacophony of sounds.

“This music isn’t that bad,” said Brianna, 14, who admits to more of a hankering for Tupac Shakur than anything from the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, the seminal album that introduced bluegrass to Brianna Moore’s generation.

“I didn’t think they’d like this music, but they don’t mind it,” Keith Moore said.

Keith Moore’s father, Ron, grew up in Ozark country near Beaver, Ark., close to the Missouri border, and was raised on a steady diet of Jimmy Martin, Stanley and Bill Monroe’s “Muleskinner Blues.”

“I’m not sure why I like this music,” Keith Moore said. “It just seems natural for me to like it. I used to play the music myself, right on the hi-fi.”

It’s a lifelong appreciation that Moore said he’ll continue to teach his daughters.

“The people that listen to this music play it, and the people who play it listen to it,” he said. “Salesmen (and the recording industry) haven’t gotten ahold of it yet.”


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