An illustrated Appreciation of, and Accolade for
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Well, that depends on which Warren Hellman you mean?
He came in three versions that I know of!
First There was Warren the investment
there was Warren the philanthropist
However Warren had another reason to run the
festivals; we wanted to learn to play the banjo frailing style. He first
approached his idol Pete Seager for lessons, but Pete declined. Eventually
he asked Jodi Stecher who agreed. Warren improved until he finally had a
band called "The Wronglers" which was eventually booked to play at the festival!
That might sound strange, but Warren left it to his festival organisers to
decide which acts were booked.
For several years Warren put on a special Friday morning event for the school children of San Francisco. This consisted of a concert of famous bands, groups and individuals selected specially to appeal to children. One such group was the Peasall sisters. But the concert wasn't all - he also paid for a fleet of coaches to bring in the children and their teachers. Warren also provided a stand with a large selection of the things children like to eat and drink; all free of charge. We attended these events because we were writing them up for our UK magazine North West Bluegrass News. One teacher asked me, "who is paying for all this?" When I told her and pointed him out she said, "I've got to thank him and say how grateful we are because our schools cannot afford anything and this will be our field trip for the whole year.
We already knew about the clinics for aids and other things and shelters in parts of San Francisco but later we were amazed to learn that it was Warren who paid for them and members of his family that administered some of them.
Warren really cared about people. At the 2001 festival the sun was high and the day had become very hot. Warren, who was sat on our tarp, said "look, people are wilting in the heat," then called an assistant over and said, "These people are going to fry this afternoon - I need 7000 bottles of water ASAP, will you see to it?" "No problem, I'm onto it!" she said then, minutes later she said "It's all fixed!" after half an hour the laden Black Mountain truck arrived and the bottles were distributed to the crowd free of charge, with Warren helping. What a man! I commrnted to Warren on his kindness and he said, "I was really worried that some might really suffer".
I could mention many examples of other ways in which Warren has subsidised and supported deserving events, functions and structures in the City.
Also there was Warren the 'Hellofa
To get that
photo I just pointed the camera and gave him a Thumbs up
One day at the second (2002) Strictly Bluegrass I was sat alone on our tarp at the Banjo stage when Warren arrived and joined me as was his want. He said "Your daughter's band Belle Monroe and her Brewglass Boys are playing on Stage Three at 1pm - are you going down to see them?" "You bet!" I replied. "Hey - I want to see them too," Warren exclaimed - "Do you mind if I walk down with you?" Heck no, it'll be my pleasure." I replied. Warren said, "Is 12-30 ok? I'll be back." And so he was!
photo below LEFT: Warren watches Belle Monroe and her Brewglass Boys and learns band dynamics.
I asked Warren please would he
pose for a photo with the band, which he did then sang along with
them for a short while! (Photo right)
We were sat on the grass in front of the audience
when Warren, looking over his shoulder exclaimed, "Derek, look at that!"
I looked but couldn't see anything untoward and asked' "look at what?" He
replied, "Look at the size of the crowd they have pulled; I'm really
I told Warren how fantastic it was for someone like him to fund such a mega event and how much it meant to us. He smiled and said, "It's my pleasure, It's my gift to me and to everybody else too!"
I explained that if all the bands were to appear
in England we could never afford to see them, what with the cost of tickets,
transport and accommodation etc., because they would be widely dispersed
and on different dates. I explained that we wished that in turn we could
do something for him. I said that it would have to be something from the
heart because we could never impress him with monetary value. Then I explained
my wife's culinary expertise (French, English and more) and invited
him to bring his wife Chris to dinner either at our house when they were
in the UK or to our daughter Pamela's house in San Francisco. Warren thanked
me profusely and explained that although he had a really busy schedule he
would try to fix it sometime. The offer was sincere but I wouldn't
have put money on him taking it up even though I hoped he would. Can
you imagine My wife Jean's response when I told her what I had done? "Oh
my gosh! You might have mentioned it to me first, but no problem; I can't
imagine they would ever come to dinner here when they can go wherever they
like." I responded, "well don't be too surprised if he accepts - I've concluded
that he's a very talented genuine honest to goodness guy who just happens
to be very very rich.
In my experience Warren was never too proud to ask for or to receive advice. First off; we were devastated to hear that, after a dispute with the City council over the construction of a garage underground in Golden Gate Park, Warren had decided to move his festival to Oakland. Plans were in progress so I decided to explain to Warren why he should cancel the idea and stay with the Park. I took me ages but I e-mailed him a detailed analysis of all the pros and cons of not moving. Quite soon came an announcement; "The festival is not moving!.Wow, what a relief!
I wondered if my advice had any part in that decision Just a few of days later our daughter Pam 'Belle' bumped into the person wholly responsible for the management and implementation of the festival and said, "Hi, (xxx) I hear that the festival is back in the park - that's great!" Xxx said oh yes; it was that pivotal letter your dad sent that pursuaded Warren change his mind!!" Pam asked me ,"why didn't I know about it?" I replied;
"I told no-one about my letter, including you!"
Another time I received an email asking my thoughts and opinions on the change of number of days to 3 with five stages. I wrote a detailed analysis of all the pros and cons of the proposed changes and, in a nutshell, said that both Jean and I would vote for less than 5 stages on 2 or 3 days and with a narrower musical coverage nearer to the original 'Strictly Bluegrass' concept. Warren replied saying Thanks very much for your analysis Derek, but after careful consideration of the points you raise we've decided on 3 days and five stages.
A WONDERFUL EVENING
When we few in from England on the Wednesday
evening before the 2004 festival for our annual visit and the HSB festival
Pam met us with "Hey you'll have to get your act together; Warren and Chris
are coming to dinner Friday night and I've invited Dawn (a festival colleague
of Warren's) as well, because she's been very helpful." She explained that
she'd bumped into Warren and said hey, my dad said he invited you all to
dinner at my house - when are you coming, to which Warren replied, "How about
Friday night?" Jean nearly fainted! Thursday was spent planning a meal and
shopping and tidying up the house and back yard. Friday was cook and panic
day. I had only my rough vacation clothes so I sent an email to Warren explaining
that because I had nothing to wear appropriate to such a special event the
ladies might wear their best finery but the gentlemen would wear their regular
clothes. Well, everything went together very well. Pam belonged to a wine
club so there was an excellent selection of drinks. For ambience Pamela decided
we would have bluegrass music but I had great doubts about that. The Hellmans
arrived bang on time at 6-30 pm., on foot! They'd had to park a block away!
In we all went and Warren quipped, "Ah - bluegrass - what a refreshing change
from all t usual chamber music"! Chris went straight out back to admire the
greenery. She said, "tonight will be very good for Warren, he will be able
to relax. His life is strenuous and hectic, like, last night we dined with
Caspar Wienberger and he has to watch his P's and Q's. Then it was time for
aperitif-drinks, which were my department. I suggested the dining room but
Warren headed for the kitchen and so it was.
Tom (bassist in Belle
Monroe&Her Brewglass boys) and his lady Gayle (now wife) came for
After the ladies had made their aperitif selections I asked Warren what wine would he like. I was very surprised when he replied "Have you any beer please?" I hadn't checked the beer situation and Pam's band "who are not called "The Brewglass Boys" for nothing had been around so I thought, "Lord, please let there be some beer!" I opened the refrigerator and there were two bottles of Anchor Steam Beer (the city's finest!). So I asked Warren;,"Is Steam OK? " "Oh sure" he replied. When I opened a bottle Warren reached for it and I said "I'll just get a glass." Warren quipped"There's no need for a glass, It comes in a glass"-and took the bottle from me (photo above). He stuck with beer all evening (both bottles! You could have knocked me over with a feather. What a great guy! But then, he was driving after all!
Warren chats up Jeanette, VP of the ACU
Dinner table... Pamela, Warren, Chris, Jean and Dawn. I took the photo with just "Hey" as a warning!
Part way through dinner Warren said, "This is great. I propose this becomes the annual official start to the festival! is that OK?" We agreed of course, but that's not how it worked out because Warren inaugurated the Friday night Slim's party in addition to the \saturday night one.
Below -The great card and photo of the lovely bunch of flowers that Warren and Chris sent.
The amusing thing is that it was my invitation, not
A humorous tale
Sadly Warren and Chris
had to leave early because he had to go long distance horse riding at 5 next
morning. Later at the festival Jean asked Warren how he was feeling. He said
he was very tired because he had made a mistake and re-racked after riding
but would feel better later.
Warren was very easy to pose for photos and always willing. One only had to make a sign and he would just do it. Here are some examples.
When I tried to take this photo of Warren and his grandchildren they were all looking at me, so I said to Warren, "Point to the stage and say hey, Look at that." It almost worked... There's always one! I emailed the original large version to Warren and he replied... "Derek, fantastic out of this world! Thank you/ Warren."
I caught him at the side of the Banjo stage and these two photos
show what I mean about the pose!
Onstage Warren was always happy to co-operate
with a band
In 2004, MC Paul Mann requested on the Banjo stage PA,
" Has anyone seen Jeanette the Chicken?"
Later good sport Warren presented an effigy of our ACU Vice President Jeanette, the psychologically depressed chicken, to the banjo stage audience (Photo left).
So Jeanette became famous and posed with several bands.
When, much to their surprise, Warren presented Jeanette to 'Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder' on the main 'Banjo' stage (photo right) she became frightened that she might end up as kentucky fried chicken.
It was only later that the band realised how it had been honoured!.
Jeanette said that Ralph Stanley (photo right) was good but she liked Warren better; and the lovely Peasall Sisters (photo below)best of all!
Jeanette was on a world tour (honest!) and said that the festival was the very best venue she had visited. She also commented on what a good sport Warren was, always joining in to have fun, and make everyone happier to increase their pleasure!
Respectfully he was only drinking water. In a loud stage whisper
I said to Jean, "There's someone in his 7th Heaven," whereupon Warren turned
to me and cried "Derek it doesn't get any better than this!" and it
Considering all Warren's positive facets it's difficult to imagine that any musicians could treat him badly, but that actually happened!. At dinner at (see above) Warren told me a story he enjoyed telling concerning well known Bay Area mandolin player (xxx he had booked for an event. when xxx's time was up and he would'nt stop playing even after bing signalled several times by the MC, who was a principal manager of HSB. So Warren himself went and told him personally. xxx then went to the MC and said, "why can't you do that yourself instead of sending your lackey? Needless to say, it was some years before xxx was booked at the festival.
I was very surprised he ever got booked! If it had been up
to me, it would have been never!
We get Friends and Family; F&F 'VIP' passes and we know why.
At HSB 2012 in the banjo stage F&F 'reservation' I was talking to a chap who asked me how-come you english guys get the passes? I told him what Warren told me-"it's because you are friends and family!" So in return I asked him the same question and he told me this story.
He said, "I work in a bar downtown and one day this stranger came in and asked for a beer, please. After I pulled the beer he said, "Oh I'm sorry - I just checked and I have no money on me. He was a very nice, polite guy so I just said to him, No problem, it's on me!" He said "Oh, I can't have that; give me your name and I'll mail it to you." I said come on, there's no need really, I'm happy to help out a nice polite guy"! He replied"Ok Well give it to me anyway, I'll get it back to you because it will make me happy too" Months later I received a large mail envelope at work containing a F&F pack. I thought What on earth is this?
"Well, I only found out when I recognised him at the festival and
asked him. He replied, "You showed kindness to stranger and all I did was
to repay it!
Well, I hope you've enjoyed my stories; I certainly enjoyed all the experiences!.
For your information, Even though Jean and I live in England, in Chester, which is near liverpool, we have attended every SB/HSB festival, and each is a 12,500 mile round trip.
Chester is a very beautiful Roman city near north Wales. It is almost 2,000 years old and the Roman/Mediaeval City Walls are complete! Please visit Chester and help keep down our city taxes. Also walk the city walls (it's free) to help us to get better value for our taxes! ;))
Best regards, Dr. Derek Brandon.
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