Media Life: Auburn’s 49 Fire comeback sparks Party in the Park special edition

Mumbo Gumbo could be group du jour; Auburn’s colorful Gilbert Ortega on the mend; Gold Hill's Japanese tea colony has Sen. Barbara Boxer’s attention
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The forces of good are at work to give Auburn a break from the craziness of the 49 Fire and its aftermath. Plans are being made to put on a show similar to this past June’s Party in the Park at North Auburn’s Regional Park – but with more bands and on a Sunday afternoon. Party in the Park has traditionally been on a Friday evening. Scott Holbrook, a parks district board member, is spearheading a free event that he said will serve as a stress-release for the community, a thank-you to all emergency personnel and others who have volunteered time or funds, and a fund raiser to help fire victims. The district has reserved the Party in the Park amphitheater area adjacent to the Regional Park gym Sept. 20 for what Holbrook is envisioning to be a family-friendly day for the community to come together. As many as six bands could take the outdoor stage. One of the first acts to sign on was the Stardust Cowboys, who know the impact of fire firsthand. It wasn’t too long ago that leader Gary Campbell’s Foresthill-area abode burned. Campbell ended up with singed mitts after a failed attempt to rescue his favorite guitars. Holbrook said Auburn’s Halie O’Ryan Band has also committed to play a set. And Auburn favorite Mumbo Gumbo is trying to find room in its schedule to slot in an appearance, Holbrook said. The shortened set from the Davis-based band would serve as a warm-up for a full night of music they’re booked to bring to the Auburn Event Center on Oct. 24. CARDS BUOY GILBERT Good news for Gilbert Ortega’s many friends in Auburn. A colorful 80-year-old Auburn fixture famed for his creative clothing choices and bicycle accessories, Gilbert was reported last month to be homebound and fading fast. Recovering from cracked ribs suffered when he ran into a power pole while riding his bike, Gilbert was losing weight, refusing to eat and shutting himself away from the world. Alarmed by his decline, a friend of Gilbert’s – Anna Chiaratti of Downtown’s Norris Electric – put a call out through Media Life for cards and messages to lift his spirits. More than 60 cards later – as well as flowers and balloons – Chiaratti said Gilbert is getting that old spunkiness back, as well as his appetite. He’s regained some of the weight he lost and wants to venture outside his apartment. Chiaratti said she read every one of the messages to Gilbert – all of them saying how much they appreciate him and miss him. “He grinned from ear to ear,” Chiaratti said. PROTECTION EFFORT Few people know that a ranch a mile south of Coloma was the site of the first Japanese settlement in the United States. The Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony lasted only from 1869 to 1871 at what is now the Gold Hill Ranch. The ranch is also the grave site for Okei, a 19-year-old woman believed to be the first Japanese to be buried on American soil. She died in 1871. Now in private hands, the silk colony could soon be protected under a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer last month to buy the 272-acre ranch and permanently preserve it. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or (530) 852-0232.