A great number of us know Mitch Third as Strawberry’s beloved former Festival Manager of nearly thirty years. Many of us know Mitch as a traveler, a peacemaker and the best kind of friend a person can have. Only a few know the story of how Mitch came to his love of music and what brought him to this particular place on his road map. Fewer still know him as the guitar-toting, songwriter that he truly is, using his passion for pairing words with melody, to document his many and diverse adventures.
Shortly after finishing college at Sacramento State in 1970, a class friend started to teach Mitch how to play the guitar. He began writing songs while learning various chord progressions and quickly developed a passion to learn more about both. That same year, Woodstock and Easy Rider were released in the theaters. Between his new found passion and the exposure to the counter culture from those two movies, it was a natural decision for Mitch to forgo the expected post-graduate route to get a “real job” and to hit the road instead.
Mitch spent most of the next 10 years living in a 1962 Chevy panel truck, a 1959 Biscayne, or off the side of numerous roads, while hitch hiking. His time was spent traveling between Hollywood and Seattle, zig zagging through California, Oregon and Washington. Along the way, he learned more chords and wrote more songs, but never seriously entertained the idea of performing. His songs were a lyrical documentation of his travels, serving the same purpose as a diary or a journal.
Mitch located the Songwriters’ Resource Services in Hollywood, Ca by scanning the yellow pages for music related industries in an effort to learn more about the business. Known today as the National Academy of Songwriters, Mitch found the SRS to be an incredible resource. He took workshops, worked around the facility and soaked up as much as he could from the staff and volunteers. It was the philosophy of the SRS that anyone with an interest in music should welcome the opportunity to work in any facet of the business, even if it meant sweeping studio floors. As you can imagine, the notion stuck easily with someone so altruistic and enthusiastic as Mitch was, and continues to be. This idea not only shaped his own future path, but has also made an impression on countless others who he has come in contact with over the years.
In the early 80’s he got off the road and took a “real job” at the San Joaquin Juvenille Hall. Mitch immensely enjoyed the opportunity to work with troubled and disadvantaged youth and this is where he began to develop his inherent skills as a mentor. Meanwhile, Mitch was primed to participate in the everyday music experience, when he ran into his friend Jack Gilder, at the Blackwater Café in his hometown of Stockton, Ca. Jack hosted the show “Musical Chairs” for the local public station KUOP, located on the University of Pacific campus. KUOP needed a DJ on Saturdays and Jack thought Mitch was the perfect guy for the job. Mitch’s concerns about lack of experience were quickly dismissed, as it was explained that all he really needed was a willingness to show up. And show up he did, hosting the popular show “Prairie Fires & Paper Moons” from 1982 – 1994. Between the radio station library and listeners that called in each Saturday, Mitch was exposed to a vast variety of music, of which he knew very little about, but completely fell in love with. Mitch quickly took the initiative to help eliminate canned programming from Saturday’s format and expanded the program to cover twelve hours of airtime from 6am -6pm. Eventually, additional on-air personalities were recruited to take part, changing the shape of Saturday’s programming, which included several different configurations over the years. This step on a life path steeped in integrity and heart’s desire ended up leading Mitch Third to begin a thirty year tenure with the Strawberry Music Festival.
In the early days of the Strawberry Music Festival, DJ’s were frequently recruited to pitch in and pull shifts as MC of various stages and activities. Mitch was invited to Strawberry for this purpose and in 1983 and he reluctantly covered some shifts as a Main Stage MC. As you can imagine, when Mitch wasn’t on stage, he was running and gunning with any and all of the crews doing the nitty gritty work of set-up, tear-down and garbage/recycle. The next year, Strawberry owners asked Mitch to become more involved and become the onsite Festival Manager. That may have been the single smartest decision that Strawberry ever made! During that time, he continued to work as a counselor leading juvenile work crews with the detention facility. After a number of years, Mitch quit that “real job” and went to work for Strawberry Music as a full time employee. For three decades, Mitch dedicated himself totally to his position as Festival Manager from 1984- 2014 until he semi-retired in order to have more spare time and less responsibility. At each and every Strawberry, Mitch inspired a particular quality of people, from all walks of life, to work long and hard, with him (as opposed to working for him) to build, run and then pack and transport the infrastructure that supports life at the music festival. All the while, children have grown to bring their own and after three generations, Mitch’s work with and for people as well as his mentorship of kids and teens is at the very heart of what makes the Strawberry experience so special to so many.
About eight years ago, Mitch began the transition to the semi-retired Strawberry state that he enjoys today. Becoming widely known as someone who could easily appear and disappear, Mitch took to the road once again to learn more chords and write more songs. First for one month every year, then for three; until finally, he was working with Strawberry before, during and after each festival and simply passing through the rest of the year. Now, Mitch continues to work during the festival, always making better any aspect of it that he associates himself with, and he also leads a small crew, consisting of himself and one or two others, to clear weed, brush and berries from potential new campsites, as well as other project of beautification, at Westside, the new Fall Festival site adjacent in Tuolumne, CA. The rest of the year, he spends in his various hot spots, visiting friends and family, while being authentically human and fervently endeavoring to put it all to shareable song. While Mitch’s legacy is vast and growing, this deeply personal collection of words is the gift he most desires to share with the world.
We’re so happy to have Mitch Third taking his place on the Strawberry stage as supported by the incredible talent of Nina Gerber and Chris Webster. In addition, Mitch will be a featured part of the Singer Songwriter Showcase, at Amy’s Orchid Lounge, on Friday night. Please join us to kick off this year’s Fall Festival in the most poignant and powerful of ways, with the gallant pride of Stockton’s East Side.
Nina Gerber has performed and recorded with some of the best in the business and is well known in music circles for her intuitively divine skill as a lead guitarist. With a unique ability to completely free herself within an eclectic range of styles, Nina seeks to express herself through her hands, rather than for the gain of attention, and it is this intricate integrity which makes her expressions worth intent listening. Presented with folk, country, bluegrass, rock or blues she is able to fall into leads that have rare reverence for the truest feeling of a song, always emphasizing taste over technical display. Her first solo album as a leader, “Not Before Noon”, follows two decades which brought her prominence without ever placing her name on the front of an album cover. Nina Gerber has played Strawberry in countless configurations and as one of the most beloved instrumentalists around.
Chris Webster is a soul singer who is not easily confined by genre. In the course of recording over 20 albums on her own and with others, she has drawn equally from classic R&B thumpers and gospel-grass players, from rockabilly rave-ups and singer-songwriter confessions. Webster’s work is rooted in the classic American tension between a yearning for transcendence and a lusty connection to the here-and-now. She has traveled far and wide in her musical career, while building a body of work to be reckoned with and has earned the notice of numerous established artists. From her time with Mumbo Gumbo, to her duet appearances with Nina Gerber and all the many incarnations in between, Chris Webster continues to easily find her comfort place on the Strawberry Stage to sooth listeners with the balm of her sweet and sultry vocals and instrumentation.