Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

From the print edition – Ross Rowley’s varying degrees of good timeness

The days getting shorter. Autumn colors are on full display as the leaves begin to fall. Four-wheel drive pickups, loaded with firewood, roll down the highway. It can mean only one thing; the harvest dance must be near.

During the 1960s, I don’t recall a harvest dance being held in the Trinity Valley area around Willow Creek. The community dances, put on by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, were held during the summer months. The VFW owned the hall and served soda pop inside while all manner of alcohol was consumed out in the parking lot.

The biggest dances were thrown by the volunteer fire department. Each Labor Day weekend, during Bigfoot Days, they would rope off a section of downtown Willow Creek to hold a night time street dance. The Bigfoot Days street dance was a big social occurrence for young adults and alcohol was always served. Why not? If you’re going to dance in the street, you might as well dance blotto. Soon enough, fights would break out and the sheriff’s deputies would be called to pull apart the culprits. A real good time usually meant someone would be carted off to the sheriff’s sub-station.

During my teen years, there were only two and sometimes three bands that played in the little towns in Eastern Humboldt County and Western Trinity County. The Merv George Four, my brother’s band and another group that was barely held together with bailing wire and binder twine.

Merv George, a Native American musician of Hupa descent played all of the big dances. He was not only popular in the Hoopa and Trinity valleys, but also all over the entire North Coast. Merv’s popularity is such that if there ever was a formation of a Humboldt County musicians hall of fame, Merv George would be the first inductee. Ask any local musician over 50 years of age about the legend of Merv George and most will agree, he was the king of local bands for his time period. Close to pushing 50 years as a band leader, Merv still runs a band, today.

Aside from Merv George’s presense in the Klamath-Trinity region, there was my brother’s bands made up of he and his school friends. They were the hits-of-the-day band covering tunes by everyone of that era from Loggins & Messina to Bad Company.  Then, there was a band of local brothers, my sister-in-law’s cousins to be exact, who by 1973 had taken on the look of the arriving hippies.  I don’t remember the actual name of the band, but my father called them “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” after the Gilbert Shelton characters he had seen in one of the underground comic books being passed around at the Salyer Forest Service barracks.  The group was kind of like the band Black Oak Arkansas; part hillbilly and part hippie.

In the early 1970s, the members of The Good Dog Band from Salyer were the best musicians in the hills for playing to the new arrivals of like-minded people. It wasn’t just the band itself, it was the communal happening around them. Taking their cue from events in San Francisco and Marin County just a few years earlier, the back-to-landers would put on community dances.  Oh, they were wonderfully strange affairs. The dance hall was filled with every hippie and his old lady, their kids and dogs, for twenty miles around. Except for a few bottles of Annie Green Springs being passed around, they weren’t really drinkers per se, not like you would see at the other local dances. They had their own new found methods of feeling good. I’m guessing it must have been the alfalfa sprouts and the Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap. What else could it be?

Each October would be time for the grand Harvest Ball. The organizers would decorate the dance hall in Salyer by adorn the place with corn stalks, pumpkins, winter squash and apples. It was also time for the annual building of the first woodstove fire of the season. That was an autumnal ritual in itself. A time for the old timers in the community to pass along fire building skills to the newcomers.  What will it be this year? The tried and true Douglas fir starter wood followed by seasoned oak from the woodpile or will someone throw fresh-cut madrone on the kindling and spend the next hour cussing it.

The annual Harvest Ball attracted more people to the dance than just the area hippies. The curious town folks, who could never pass up a good time with their neighbors, would also come.  Some would dress in Halloween costumes even though it was weeks too early. Many would just sit on the front bench, shoot the breeze, and catch up on agricultural news. Sort of like an impromptu grange meeting on the tailgates of pickups. Now, I know what you are thinking concerning the agricultural chit-chat. No, really… some of these folks were legitimate farmers. In fact, they were the earliest of the new-era truck farmers in the Klamath-Trinity locale. Oh sure, some were farmers with a hidden dell up in a drainage somewhere. So, the “harvest” ball held many meanings.

Overall, the Harvest Ball was an event that celebrated the end of the light months and the coming of the dark months. Soon, everyone would nestle into their homes to await the approach of winter. For now though, the golden colors of fall were a time for togetherness. Hippie families, young forest service employees at fire season’s end, millworkers and town teenagers all boogeying to the Good Dog Band playing “Rollin’ into Salyer” on an October Saturday night. There was no fighting, no deputies being called. The worse that would happen would be somebody needing to borrow a set of jumper cables at 2:30 a.m.

Ross Rowley, folks. Give him a big hand via fun@arcataeye.com.

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1 Comment»

  merv jr. wrote @

Ross,

These are really nice words describing dad. I am sure if he ever surfed the net he would be pleased to be recognized for his achievements. Since he probably wont ever use the computer….I will tell him for you. Thanks……….


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