Fiddles and banjos to serenade Virginia City festival-goers

Comstock hills will be alive with the sounds of fiddles, mandolins, guitars and banjos this weekend during Bluegrass on the Comstock, a festival of old-time music set for Virginia City's Miners Park on E and Carson streets from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to noon Sunday.

The event will feature a main stage and a side stage and plenty of room for jamming for those who bring their own instruments. Festival-goers are also advised to bring low-backed lawn chairs and coolers.

"We seem to be getting quite a response from everywhere," said Vicki Hass, an organizer and fiddler with Carson City's The Back Forty band. "Even a couple of people from Tennessee have called."

Wherever the bluegrass fans come from they'll get an earful from eight bands, including The Back Forty; Carolina Special of Vallejo, Calif.; Stone Creek of Sacramento and four more from the Reno-Sparks-Carson City area - Cool River Trio, Old Melodeon Minstrels, Homemade Jam and Tim & Linda Gorelangton.

Hass, who has a background in classical music, found her niche in bluegrass.

"Bluegrass is really homespun. It's music from the heart," she said. "All ages play it, all ages join in. It's just happy foot-tapping music, and it makes you feel good."

That music-of-the-masses quality is what drew her to the genre. "People always have a good time and you can play it anywhere," she said.

Bluegrass was conceived on the front porches of Appalachia, but has found its way West. Hass said there are plenty of bluegrass festivals in the region.

"There's beaucoups festivals; Grass Valley had one over Father's Day weekend," Hass said. "There are many festivals around."

This festival is Virginia City's first, and in addition to the eight bands, the event Saturday features a songwriters' contest and something called a "band scramble."

"A band scramble is when instrumentalists put their name in a hat, and we draw out names for each instrument category, and they have an hour to put together two songs," Hass said.

On Sunday, a gospel show at 10 a.m. and a performance by Carolina Special at 11 a.m. will close out the festival.

Tickets for Bluegrass on the Comstock are available at the park for $20 for Saturday, $5 for Sunday's abbreviated show and $25 for the entire weekend. Camping is available at the nearby Virginia City RV Park.

Hass has been playing since 1980 and has been with The Back Forty since 1993. She and most of the other musicians at the festival are members of the Northern Nevada Bluegrass Association.

Cindy Gray, founder of the Nevada Bluegrass Project, believes bluegrass is growing in popularity.

"Our festivals are growing. The Bowers Mansion festival is up to 1,000 people from about 500 to 600 who attended in years past," she said. "My e-mail and mailing list is growing. I don't know, though, if we are growing or just finding each other."

Gray said the Nevada Bluegrass Project is designed to bring pickers together.

"I'm trying to be the hub, to coordinate musicians," she said. "There are probably 200 bluegrass musicians in Reno, and what I do is organize jams and things where people can get together and meet each other. And out of that, people form bands."

The project also arranges music for charity events, Gray said.

The Virginia City event is the first of several bluegrass festivals in Northern Nevada. Coming up are the 20th annual Bowers Mansion Bluegrass Festival will be held on Aug. 13 and an Aug. 27 show at Out of Town Park in Fernley.

n Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 882-2111 ext. 351.

If you Go

What: Bluegrass on the Comstock

When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to noon Sunday

Where: Miners Park, E and Carson streets, Virginia City

Cost: $25 for the full weekend; $20 for Saturday only; $5 for Sunday only.

Call: (775) 882-6013 for information

Camping reservations:

Call (800) 889-1240 or go to

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