Larry Carlin
Larry Carlin


Bluegrass Daddy

Musician/promoter inspires others to step up and sing

By Matt Kramer
Pacific Sun
November 25, 2005

Happy holidays, music lovers! I'll be grooving to The Meters in Manhattan, but you should consider ending your post-Thanksgiving weekend at a harmonious gathering known as the Hillbilly Hootenanny. Its seventh incarnation kicks off Sunday afternoon at Rancho Nicasio. The casually orchestrated event is, as always, free of charge, and is hosted by its founder, Marin-based musician and music promoter Larry Carlin.

For the annual Hootenanny, Carlin organizes a core of six or seven acts to perform short sets, and invites other musicians to drop by and join in the jamming. The 2005 roster includes Carlin's duo Keystone Crossing, The Cash Magnets, and Joe New, whose "She Can't Burn Me Now" is a standout track on Del McCoury's latest recording. As for the joiner-inners, past Hootenannies have drawn Maria Muldaur and Peter Rowan into the circle. Who will sit in with the well-connected Carlin this year?

Since 1999, Carlin has hosted a similar event during the Strawberry Music Festival. That musical gathering is broadcast live from his Camp Carltone over the festival's Hog Ranch Radio. Also during these festivals, the indefatigable Carlin rises with the sun and heads to the dining hall to set up and host "The Breakfast Club," a kind of caffeine-fueled talent show. Clad in bathrobe, pajamas, and slippers, Carlin's dependably there, encouraging stage-shy performers and helping another live broadcast run smoothly.

Closer to home, Carlin founded the Marin Bluegrass Jam, which began in Larkspur more than six years ago. It's currently housed every other Thursday in Corte Madera's Marin Lutheran Church. At this gathering, as at Strawberry's breakfast show, Carlin has seen debut public performances from participants who have progressed into professional musicians. "My babies!" he proudly says of them. These days the busy Carlin is not always at the jam, but still organizes things, lining up moderators to run the show when he cannot attend.

Helping keep Carlin busy is the aforementioned Keystone Crossing. He formed the duo with Claudia Hampe in 1997 after Carlin was asked to open up two shows for Ralph Stanley at the Sweetwater. "It's been all downhill since then," he jokes. Since that stellar inception, Keystone Crossing (which you'll hear at the Hootenanny) has added an expanded form to its existence, a quintet called Keystone Station. As if that's not enough, Hampe and Carlin also perform (though rarely nowadays) with Yvonne Walbroehl as The Warblers. And, Carlin is a member of Dr. Elmo's band, Wild Blue.

Carlin also writes regularly for the Northern California Bluegrass Society and the California Bluegrass Association. And twice each month, he produces his "self-imposed" newsletter: the well-established, music-related Carltone's Corner, which now runs in abbreviated form in the News Marin. The longer form boasts 900 subscribers, with other readers checking it online of their own accord. Over the years Carltone's Corner has evolved into an extensive listing of shows, events, and news, complete with current events and Carlin's homespun humor. The newsletter first saw light five years back, serving mainly to promote bluegrass shows Carlin produces at the Sweetwater. That series of shows, Bluegrass Gold, will host its 112th show on December 7. As at the initial offering, the upcoming line-up features Keystone Crossing and Kathy Kallick. Sixty-five people attended the first installment; next month the series will welcome audience member # 10,000. Find out more about Bluegrass Gold and Carltone's Corner at



Larry's CD Reviews Bluegrass Gold
Favorite Links
CA Bluegrass Association
Three decades of bluegrass in CA
Int'l. Bluegrass Music Assn.
Northern CA
Bluegrass Society

Formerly the Santa Cruz
Bluegrass Society
Murphy's Irish Pub
One of our favorite venues
Premier folk & acoustic venue
Hicks With Sticks
Bay Area Twang
North Bay Bluegrass Festival
Annual Fest
The Waybacks
Acoustic mayhem
Dark Hollow
List of local bluegrass bands

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