Who’s up for an evening of old-time music performed in the living room of a 1908 farm house for a small and intimate group of friends, neighbors and music lovers alike? Everyone will have their own unique story of their introduction to David Bunn’s elusive Deep End Sessions, but I fancy my own, so here it is. My sister (in Kansas City of all places?!) came across an article describing this event and immediately forwarded it to me, knowing that I am a rabid fan of music and adventure. It took a little bit of timing and luck, but I finally nabbed an RSVP and was counting down the days until my turn on March 6, when I would get to attend the performance of Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones at the Deep End Ranch in Santa Paula. Once you are a confirmed guest, David will send an incredibly informative email with highly detailed directions to follow, as his 200-acre citrus ranch is actually OFF the GPS grid, if you can even believe such a place exists in the Google Maps and Waze revolution.
Picture this if you will…A leisurely Sunday afternoon drive on the 126 through the Santa Clara River Valley in Southern California. As you leave the insanity of LA freeway navigation behind you, the sun is shining through your windshield, with nary a car in sight. Orchards of orange trees and crop fields as far as the eye can see. Roadside fruit and vegetable stands dotted throughout as you pass by the itty-bitty towns of Piru and Fillmore. Now this is my kind of driving. From the hellacious 405, to the monstrous I-5, to the lovely 126, to a down-home county road, to the final stretch along a one-lane country road overlooking the valley, and voila! You have reached your destination. Absolutely stunning. Surrounded by citrus orchards, you find yourself enveloped in the sights, sounds and smells of the bucolic scenery around you. The heavenly scent of orange blossoms in the air, beautiful bountiful fruit trees in every direction. Horses in the stable nodding hello as you make your way down the dirt road leading up to the rambling farm house of David Bunn and his wife Ellen Birell. Over the last year and a half, they have ever so graciously further opened up their home in old-time traditional style and turned a small private affair into a slightly larger, yet still quite intimate, gathering to include like-minded individuals near and far for an evening of old-time music and fellowship at the homestead. I can see why they left LA 10 years ago to start their new lives on the ranch.
As I arrived, people were milling about mingling, sipping wine and nibbling on cheese. A truly picturesque setting. Even a small ce-ment pond in the patio area to boot. David welcomed me and tipped me off to head in towards the living room so I could pick out my seat before everyone else made their way.
I strategically chose a chair with photo and video background in mind. Truth be told, there’s not one bad seat in the house. Approximately 60 of us gathered around in the living room and adjoining sun porches, all in perfect view of the musicians. David started the evening off with a warm welcome and a mini background of the event itself and then introduced us to his musical guests: Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones.
Erynn Marshall, an old-time fiddler, is a Canadian-born transplant to the South by way of her graduate studies in ethnomusicology and the knowledge of old-time Appalachian music. Along her travels and field work, she met veteran banjo, mandolin and guitar playing singer songwriter Carl Jones and they have been making music together ever since. Carl was born in Macon, Georgia and is a finger-picking wizard as well as a part time comedian and story teller. They are so completely at ease as they share quips, tales and histories of the songs they play. So happy are they, you can watch them grin as they voraciously play their instruments. Such talented musicians. Fiddle/guitar combo, guitar/clawhammer banjo combo, guitar/mandolin combo, singing, crowd “bahhhhh” participation, foot stomping, hootin’, hollerin’ and some really heavy fiddle and finger-pickin’ action. Upbeat toe tappers as well as good ol’ melodic Kentucky ballads. Even a tune we all got to whistle to… And I love to whistle! I don’t know about other evenings, but this roomful was really into it. All acoustic. No amplifiers. No sound board, laptops, DJs or modern technology. Just the pure raw sounds made by two humans and their musical instruments. Oh so refreshing and delightful! The way music was meant to be enjoyed.
Tasty vittles cooking in the kitchen, the last rays of sunshine streaming into the house through the windows as the sun goes down on another day, and the frogs come out to play and begin making music of their own. Oh and don’t forget the two very sweet and well behaved spaniel dogs roaming the house looking for pats and pets. Am I really here in person? This is all just about too perfect.
After nearly two hours of music, with a short intermission inbetween, we break for dinner. David’s small but faithful tribe now includes two female resident chefs who can cook up some mean vegetarian chili. Accompanied by mouth watering cornbread and sinfully delicious honey butter. I was one happy camper. Breaking bread with others. A sense of community. Lively discussions of any and all music-related topics. I loved watching the energy transition from observational to interactive.
Chatted with a few new aquaintances and even got to spend some time chewing the fat with Carl Jones himself. You don’t get much more down to earth than this guy. Humble, engaging and so personable. Sharing tales of touring, ukuleles and cat sitters. I’m a fan of the man behind this music.
As people finished up eating, the jam session started as the guests brought out their own instruments and started picking and strumming right along with Erynn and Carl. The energy was so warm and so alive. Undoubtedly, this went on for hours, however, being the working girl that I am, I had to bid adieu to David and thank him sincerely for allowing me to experience this night of old-time music and fun.
It’s not often that you get to actually be a part of something like this. Not in this day and age anyway. Such a distinctive and memorable evening on the Deep End Ranch. How will I ever enjoy a ginormous venue again after this? I’m already wanting to go back for more Deep End Sessions! Thank you to David, Ellen and the tribe, Erynn and Carl, as well as the kind strangers who made sure I got to my car safely and made it out to the main road in the pitch dark. And this my friends, is what you can look forward to when you open your mind, expand your horizons and explore the road less taken.