Guests at the Bakersfield Marriott downtown who might not have noticed the signs announcing the presence of "The Great 48 Jam" were in for a surprise Friday morning.
Feet tapped to mandolins, banjos and guitars as groups of musicians sent the sounds of bluegrass all around the lobby. This was one of the few days of the year when Marriott guests could enjoy their bacon and eggs serenaded by a free, impromptu show.
And the party runs through Sunday. Two "slow jams" are scheduled Friday and Saturday afternoons, and bands from all over the state will perform in the evenings.
On Friday evening, the Roustabouts Bluegrass Band, of Bakersfield, will perform, followed by Kentucky's David Parmley & Cardinal Tradition — after all, if there's bluegrass, Kentucky has to be represented.
Jack Pierce, the organizing chair of the event, hosted by the California Bluegrass Association, said people were jamming until 4 a.m. Friday, and he expects the same Saturday and Sunday.
Pierce called bluegrass "the root of America" in describing its continuing appeal, ever since musicians such as Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs popularized it in the 1930s and '40s. He noted quite a few of those attending the jams this weekend will be in their 20s.
Andrew Park, who at 24 is one of the younger musicians in attendance, said he was led to bluegrass by an early interest in the Grateful Dead. One of the Dead's founding members, Jerry Garcia, also played in a bluegrass group, Old and in the Way, and once Park heard the mandolin of the band's Richard Grisman, he became determined to play the instrument himself.
The Orange County resident said he was up until about 3 a.m. playing with a group of other attendees, and Friday morning he was giving his fingers a rest. He said he enjoys playing bluegrass with people he's just met because, even though they know many of the same songs, everyone has their own take.
"We start off with a song everyone knows, then improvise," he said.
Stewart "Slim" Sims, 74, said he first got into bluegrass about 20 years ago, when country music became "not so country."
"It's the people's music," Sims said. "It's something where just about anyone can get involved."
Wearing a white cowboy hat, black leather vest and sporting a handlebar mustache, Sims, who's on the jam's planning committee, said he drives the 90 miles from Boron each year to attend. Some come from much farther.
Among those represented at the jam this year are bluegrass organizations from Southern California, Utah, Southern Nevada and even a handful of people from the East Coast.
Part of the music's appeal likely lies in its accessibility for beginners. The festival's "slow jams" teach the ropes to those new to bluegrass — including some classic bluegrass songs and jam etiquette.
If there's one message for those newbies, it's don't be afraid to make mistakes.
"You don't have to be a crackerjack player," Sims said.