Abbott Family (from left to right): Kyle, Luke, Leslie and Carl
ou look, you listen, and you know that this ain’t no ordinary family,” said the
onlooker next to me this afternoon, trying to constrain his puppy on a makeshift
leash. I couldn’t help agreeing with him. But at the same time I knew that
what we were witnessing was what before the takeover of the electronic media
used to regularly happen in many American homes, certainly in Appalachia.
On each of my frequent visits to Santa Cruz (just south of San José and
the San Francisco Bay Area) I try to get in at least one afternoon on and around
Pacific Avenue in the heart of the city’s small downtown area. Coming from
Seattle, I enjoy the relatively laid-back atmosphere.
There’s not an afternoon’s
visit that I don’t wait at least long enough for the Abbott Family to show
up and perform, even if I can listen for no longer than ten minutes. I have
a feeling I am not the only one that gets joy and a moral boost out of it.
The family’s audiences certainly are socio-economically and ethnically quite
There’s something about family members performing traditional music together.
It’s heartwarming, plain and simple. With their mere presence the Abbotts
seem to preempt remarks from those that are still at the rebellious and cynical
stage of life and feel compelled to poopoo anything seemingly wholesome. As
far as I am concerned, there doesn’t seem to be anything “conformist” about the Abbots. They go out and about doing their thing and making a difference.
They are an institution around here. Mama Leslie and Papa Carl
sport happy smiles, and sons Kyle and Luke tend to look like they mean it.
I love their music. I love
And I love their attitude. Yes, there’s a basket for donations, but a sign
assures you that all donations go to charity.
The Abbots bring you lovely “mountain music,” bluegrass music … most
of it both vocal and instrumental, most of it from before the 20th century,
this in California, far away from the original home of this kind of music and
the Appalachian language varieties. Yes, they sing in Appalachian. And a few
years ago they didn’t even know what “bluegrass music” was! They had an awakening
to it at a bluegrass festival in 1997, and they’ve been hooked on it ever since.
I don’t know this for a fact, but I would bet my bottom dollar that playing
this music, performing it in public and doing so for worthy causes has brought
the family members together more closely than they would have been otherwise.
(“Families that play together stay together.” Does this proverb exist officially?
If not, it ought to.) And one of their missions is to inspire other families
to discover the joy of music.
other resources, they’ve created a songbook with over 230 traditional songs
(with a play-along CD), using a playing-by-ear learning method. (Check it out
If you ever visit Santa Cruz, please do hang around on and
around Pacific Avenue long enough to watch and listen to the Abbotts! If you
can’t, well, have
a virtual visit with them by checking out the web pages listed below.