Kate Wolf

by Bruce McEwen, July 2, 2013

The Kate Wolf Music Festival is put on annually by Bob and Sue Barsotti at their Black Oak Ranch five miles north of Laytonville. Bob Barsotti was partners with Bill Graham during the heyday of the Fillmore West and sold his share for millions to buy the Black Oak Ranch. The venue is also the site of The Hog Farm Commune, a highly secretive enterprise that includes The Clown Camp children’s school run by Kate Wolf Music Festival MC Wavy Gravy, where the kids — mostly troubled youth from the city — live in teepees. Wavy Gravy is really Hugh Romney, a professional clown known for his self-effacing humor and devotion to entertaining the patients at children’s hospitals across the country. He was an original member of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters. And he did the Free Food Kitchen at Woodstock.

The Barsottis are reputedly very generous in giving out scholarships to local kids and promising grads from the Clown Camp, but unfortunately I was denied entry into the show on the strength of my press credentials and invited to buy a $220 ticket, instead.

I truly wanted to see John Prine, Madeleine Peyroux, and Greg Brown. Greg Brown once walked into the Old Post Tavern in Missoula, Montana, and sat down right next to me. I was so thrilled I bought him a beer. He drinks Heiniken, by the way. I hoped to see him again, but alas the price was too high. The ticket price has gone down in recent years, from $350 and $400 to $220 and $205, but it was still out of my range, so I hitched back to Laytonville, walking all but the last of the five miles, when a couple from Boonville picked me up, Jason and Stephanie. Jason works at the Anderson Valley Brewery and Stephanie is a nurse looking for local employment. They both recently moved to the area from Oregon and were volunteering as EMTs at the Kate Wolf festival.

I was told that I could have gotten a press pass to the Kate Wolf fest if I had contacted them in advance, rather than just showing up. The CHP officers in Willits told me the same thing when I just showed up to talk to Will Parish at his lonely outpost locked down on the machine called a wick drain stitcher at the Caltrans Willits bypass worksite. I should have called Caltrans they said. I should have called ahead to the Kate Wolf festival. I know that. I went to J-School at the University of Montana. I’ve worked for many newspapers and magazines. I know how it is supposed to be done. But I have abandoned the prescribed way of the traditional journalist, because I can’t stand to read the kind of journalism that results from it. It’s like going to a dude ranch where they put you on a hard-mouthed old stable nag and take you on a trail ride past all the clearly marked and recently whitewashed monuments to the status quo, then send you on your way with a handful of press releases and a pat on the head. I can’t read that stuff and I refuse to write it.

I hitched a ride out of Laytonville with Shaun, a guy who’d been working on an off-shore oil rig near Newport, Oregon. He made good money watching pressure gauges 16 hours a day for two months straight through, then a month off. Hearing how much money Shaun made explained why gas prices are so high. He made more than a Superior Court judge, and had full medical and dental for himself and his family. He could make even more, he said, if he was willing to go to Iraq and work. It pays good, ensuring the lifeblood of the car culture, the impetus for the Willits bypass and everything my colleague Will Parish is protesting.

The many cars and campers and camp trailers at the Kate Wolf festival, with all the ecological sentiments on the bumper stickers, the similar and familiar counter-culture lyrics to the Greg Brown and John Prine songs — these are the people, these festival goers in their thousands, they’re the ones who pretend to be all for what Will Parish is actually doing, but where were they? They’d like to stop global warming, but they need cheap electricity to grow indoor medical marijuana.

I got to Willits after dark and spent the night wandering the streets. Finally, I took a nap on the porch of the Willits Environmental Center and wrote down the phone number of Earth First!er Freddie Long. Too early to call, so I got a cup of joe at McDonalds (the only place open that early) and hiked down the abandoned old railroad tracks to the Caltrans bypass right of way. It looked pretty lonely up there on that tall boom. Not a soul around, except the four CHP guys who had just come on duty, having tucked their morning ration of donuts and coffee under their Sam Browne utility belts.

I produced my press card signed by Sheriff Tom Allman, but it cut no ice with these guys. They answer to Caltrans and said I should wait until Monday during business hours and call Caltrans. They moved toward me, and one said, “You need to leave.” They looked eager to pounce, so I backed off.

“Can I take photo?”

“Go ahead. Then you need to leave. Call Caltrans, they’ll be more than happy to escort you out here.”

I’m sure. In fact, they probably have a stable hack with my name on the stall. No, thanks. I hiked out to Brown’s Corner and hitched a ride to Ukiah. I noticed my notebook had gone missing and hoped I’d left it on my desk, but no such luck, it wasn’t there.

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