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The Santa Cruz Mountains Welcome Peter Rowan

Bluegrass Music Hall of Famer Plays the Brookdale Lodge

By Julie Horner

Bill Monroe once observed that bluegrass music has its roots in Celtic music; that lilt is in the heart of the songs and in the sounds of the fiddle, the mandolin, and the guitar. He called the commonality between the two genres “the ancient tones.” Over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, March 15-17, 2024, the Brookdale Lodge hosts a spirited mashup of bluegrass and the “Celtically inclined” with the 24th Annual Brookdale Bluegrass Festival featuring Grammy award winner and Bluegrass Hall of Famer Peter Rowan. Peter performs on Saturday night, March 16 and will host a workshop on Sunday morning, St. Paddy’s Day, at 11:00 am. Peter said, “I’ll be looking for the doorway to the ancient tones. We’ll make it happen!”

The legendary Bay Area singer-songwriter and guitarist/mandolaist is best known for his connection to Monroe and folk music heavy hitters David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, and Vassar Clements, among many others.

Originally from Wayland, Massachusetts, Peter said, “I had a little band when I was just a teenager; The Cupids we were called. We played dances all over New England.” His parents had to drive them to their shows at first, and they’d listen to country music from the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. At the time, he said, “banjo sounded like chopsticks on a kettle.” When he was about 10, his parents enrolled him in a square dance class. “It was part of the arts and crafts movement, back to the roots,” he said. This was during the McCarthy era, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities was still being enforced. Teachers of the arts were fired from their classrooms for alleged subversive behavior and suspected ties to communism. “This left a vacuum,” Peter said, “and square dancing to fiddles and banjos was the thing.” As they got older, he and his friends hung out at coffee houses and Harvard Square in Boston where they could hear bluegrass and blues. Peter really got into bluegrass music after scoring an underaged gig at Hillbilly Ranch, “a big deal in Boston,” he said.

The folk revival was still enjoying a good following in early 60s, and Peter heard that Bill Monroe needed a guitar player. So along with banjo player Bill Keith, they went to Nashville and became part of Monroe’s ‘Bluegrass Boys’. Peter said, “It was a different generation, we were in our mid-20s, and Bill Monroe’s generation was in their mid-50s.” By the late 60s, Peter had branched out in “a bit of a revolution,” as he put it, and hooked up with mandolinist David Grisman, bassist John Nagy, drummer Paul Dillon, and keyboardist Bill Stevenson to form the psychedelic group Earth Opera, which often opened for The Doors. Soon David and Peter ran into Jerry Garcia, whose first love was the banjo, and together with fiddle player Vassar Clements and bassist John Kahn in 1973 formed the bluegrass band Old & In The Way, a short-lived effort that produced some of the genre’s most definitive bluegrass recordings.

Peter has performed as a solo artist since the late 70s and has put together different groups with players like guitarist Tony Rice, fiddler Mark O’Conner, dobro player Jerry Douglass, and banjoist Bela Fleck. Performing solo at the Brookdale Lodge on March 16, he plans to invite other festival players to join him on stage. Peter promises he’ll be performing some of his iconic compositions like “Panama Red,” “Midnight Moonlight,” and “Land of the Navajo.”

24th Annual Brookdale Bluegrass Festival at the Brookdale Lodge, 11570 Highway 9, Brookdale. Friday, March 15 at 5:00 pm through Sunday, March 17 at 10:00 pm. Featuring local bluegrass bands all weekend and Celtic music on Sunday. Festival lineup and tickets:

As Luck Would Have It

As luck would have it, Peter is going to Ireland in April with his son Michael. They’re doing some gigs in Dublin. Peter said he toured Ireland when he was in his 30s. He remembers one Sunday there was a session with 15 or 16 fiddlers sitting around the table and each had five pints of Guinness stacked in front of them. When the last pint was drunk, the musicians rose and left the pub saying ‘I’ll not be late for Sunday dinner.’ Peter said, “You can always find the craic in Ireland. You owe it to yourself to drift around, go to more than Dingle. Everyone is so kind, and the music is done with great love and appreciation.”

Brookdale Bluegrass Festival 2024 Schedule

Brookdale Bluegrass Festival Lineup:

Friday, March 15

6:00 — Brent Pierce & Acid Grass Boys
7:00 — Lucas Lawson and The Unturned Stone
8:00 — The Courthouse Ramblers
9:00 — Red Dog Ash
10:00 — BanjerDan’s Danger Jam Band

Saturday, March 16

12:00 — Briana Colliard
1:00 — Marin County Breakdown
2:00 — Eric Burman and the Brookdale Bluegrass Band
3:00 — Wildcat Mountain Ramblers

4:00 – 6:00 Dinner Break

6:00 — Stoney Mountain Ramblers
7:00 — The Storytellers
8:00 — Peter Rowan
10:00 — BanjerDan’s Danger Jam Band

Sunday, March 17

11:00 — Workshop w/ Peter Rowan
12:00 — Triad and True
1:00 — Coyote Moon ft/ Alison Steele, Patti Maxine, and Lizzy Smith

St. Patrick’s Day Celebration

2:00 — John Michael’s Paddy’s Murphy
5:30 — Ginny Mitchell & Jim Lewin
7:00 — The Crooked Road Ceili Band and Friends Irish Jam and Dance

Shows occur outdoors in the beer garden, on the main stage in the upstairs courtyard area, and indoors in the Brookdale Lounge.

Julie Horner writes about art, music, and the local business scene in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email:

Featured photo by Robin Frenette


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