Scene In Passing: Free Mexican Air Force will buzz Bowers

One of Jerry Garcia’s and Bill Monroe’s old runnin’ buddies is comin’ to a beauteous venue near you next month. Peter Rowan is set to perform at Bowers Mansion on Aug. 16.

If such cultural name dropping doesn’t get you stoked, forget that or the bluegrass festival that day and just consider the venue for a moment. Bowers Mansion, a sesquicentennial treasure built in 1864, adorns a park some 10 miles north of Carson City on old U.S. 395. Just a mile or so north of the mansion is Davis Creek Campground, another regional park, which is a companion gem set among a dense stand of Jeffery pines.

The night prior to Rowan’s appearance to headline at the 29th Bowers Mansion Bluegrass Festival, various performers will warm up at a small outdoor amphitheater stage at Davis Creek to get the weekend underway. It’s a tradition each year. More music can be heard there, too, on Sunday of the Aug. 15-17 festival as well.

But this year buzz is big for the main event the third Saturday in August on the mansion grounds, Why? Because Rowan is a world class performer, born almost a month after this scrivener back in 1942. A six-time Grammy nominee, he’s a musical legend who has played with legends. In his early 20s, Rowan became the guitar player and lead singer with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.

He’s much more, though, than a Monroe legacy. The singer-songwriter has performed not only bluegrass, but also its progressive spinoffs called psychograss and jamgrass, along with folk, country rock, folk rock, Tex-Mex and things that likely have no known musical genre name. His recording labels are the pillars of bluegrass and related music: Rounder, Flying Fish and Sugar Hill.

In the early 1970s, he was in Old and in the Way, a Bay Area band that featured Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead fame on banjo, David “Dawg” Grisman on mandolin, John Kahn on bass, either Richard Greene or Vasser Clemens on fiddle, and Rowan on guitar. Here’s a little known fact: Garcia in his pre-Dead Head days idolized Bill Monroe and became proficient on banjo, along with guitar.

Even if bluegrass isn’t your thing, this guy is worth the $20 festival ticket price alone, and he’s just one among a host of musicians lined up. A day on the Bowers Mansion grounds, our own backyard gem, is also worth the price. It’s where Northern Nevada bluegrass lovers show up each August. The Bowers Mansion Bluegrass Festival, this year an official Nevada 150 celebratory event, is likely to attract more than usual with Rowan among the performers

Unlike his former musical sidekicks, Bill and Jerry, Peter Rowan is very much alive, kickin’ and flyin’ high like the Free Mexican Air Force he sometimes sings about.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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