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Harmonic Convergence

The Pilgrims Who Come for Home-Grown Music

November 19, 2000|BILL MANSON

A pretty eclectic mob turns up at Doug and Sue Welburn's 75-acre farm in De Luz Canyon, between Temecula and Fallbrook. The Welburns' sole crop for the past two decades?

Gourds.

Every year before Thanksgiving, they harvest 150,000 to 200,000 of them from snaking vines as long as 50 feet. The Welburns sell to four burgeoning markets: Native American tribes, Hawaiians (European settlers' bugs killed off their native gourd vines), musicians from Latino and African bands and arts and crafters who want to turn gourds into ornaments and utensils.

Fresh gourds are like melons--95% water. But the summer sun bakes out the liquid until they're hollow and hard like wood.

Paul Cuero, an annual pilgrim to the Welburn farm, travels from his Kumeyaay Indian reservation near the Mexican border, shopping for musical instruments. Gourds are thought to be one of the oldest instruments on the planet, dating back at least 8,000 years. Cuero, a leading light in the renaissance of Kumeyaay narrative music, says each gourd rattle has a distinct personality.

"We poke holes in them for resonance," he says. "The longer you use one, the better it sounds. Our elders have gourds they've owned since the 1930s. Some [want to be] buried with them when they die."

Gourds also predate pottery and baskets, and once were used to store food, carry beer, ladle water and hold holy relics. Shamans filled them with seeds and used them as rattles for dancing. Others stretched skins over them and made drums.

The Welburns are busiest in March, when the previous year's harvest has finished curing. Customers scrabble through piles of gourds looking for shapes and sizes that'll make drums, rattles, xylophones, nose flutes, sound boxes for spike fiddles, birdhouses, Christmas ornaments, purses, necklaces and, of course, Thanksgiving centerpieces.

*

Welburn Gourd Farm, 40787 De Luz Murrieta Road, Fallbrook; (760) 728-4271. Monday through Thursday, by appointment. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Prices range from 75 cents for 2-inch-diameter gourds to $10 for 13-inchers. Prices for larger gourds are negotiable.

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