An Encounter with Michael Rugg and CapriTaurus Dulcimers

By Peter Tommerup with Julie Horner

It began with a bike ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains on the summer day in 1974 that fundamentally changed my life. I was about to become a senior in college, was studying traditional Appalachian culture and folklore, and was learning to play the Appalachian mountain dulcimer—a 3-string hourglass shaped folk instrument you play on your lap. My friend Chris Finelli and I planned a fun bike ride coasting downhill along Highway 9 from Saratoga Gap to Santa Cruz. When we reached the southern end of Felton, something transfixed my eye and forced me to stop. That something was the “CapriTaurus Dulcimers” sign on a cute little clapboard store. Inside was proprietor, dulcimer maker, and dulcimer playing prodigy, Michael Rugg. He was soft-spoken, welcoming, and knocked my socks off with his amazing creativity, artistry, and musicianship. Unlike every other dulcimer player I had ever seen, Michael played the instrument more like a mandolin or flat-picked guitar, totally transforming the traditional sound. When he demonstrated his beautiful dulcimers to me that day, he played spritely Irish and American fiddle tunes, especially favorite musical genres. I was hooked!

Michael Rugg and Peter Tommerup Play Mountain Dulcimers in Felton

Peter Tommerup Plays the Mountain Dulcimer

Over the next couple of years, I took lessons at CapriTaurus to learn their approach to dulcimer playing, and started performing and teaching dulcimer myself in the Los Gatos area. I also thoroughly enjoyed catching Michael Rugg and his friends performing, which they did a fair amount and in several guises. In Capitola, they performed at a popular deli called The Annex as “Hubert’s Hotshots,” a cutting-edge string band featuring Michael Rugg on dulcimer; Michael Hubbert on fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and hurdy gurdy; and Dan Warrick on banjo. So captivating you could hear a pin drop when they played. Michael and friends also performed seasonally at the Northern and Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faires, and the Dickens Fair in San Francisco, where they also had a booth stocked with their beautiful handcrafted dulcimers, scheitholts, bowed psalteries, kalimbas, and a few hammered dulcimers. As you might imagine, they had a lot of interesting experiences “doing” these fairs, including meeting famous musicians like Ravi Shankar, the celebrated Indian sitar player, along with a few well known rock musicians.Watch Michael Rugg and Peter Tommerup playing a tune together at the CapriTaurus Bigfoot Discovery Museum:

The Dulcimer Connection

In addition to Michael Rugg, there were another dozen or so other very creative and innovative dulcimer players who were experimenting with new ways to play the instrument scattered along the West Coast, as well as a few inland to about Colorado. One animating characteristic of these creative folks was that, unlike dulcimer players in the Appalachian Mountains where the dulcimer was played traditionally, these aspiring players did not have a tradition to guide or channel their efforts. In a way, they were exploring new musical territory and starting from scratch in exploring their chosen musical genre and playing style. They periodically gathered, played together, and ultimately recorded a groundbreaking LP album, “The Pacific Rim Dulcimer Project.” And you could tell from this LP, they were having a lot of fun playing and exploring the dulcimer together! In fact, they were having so much fun exploring the dulcimer, that these creative souls started their own very non-traditional festival to support their musical forays into the avant garde. It started in 1975, and became known as the “Kindred Gathering for Friends of Modes and Dulcimerie” (KG). You can read more about the festival here:

Unlike most music festivals, this one differs in a number of ways. First, it was really more of a retreat for kindred spirits (who wanted to spend time discovering what was possible on their dulcimers) than a public festival. It was also largely created by the folks who showed up to participate, and marked by a lot of playful spontaneity: the “Unnatural Acts” segment, for example, has become a much enjoyed KG annual tradition. As with much of the KG, it’s an open-ended event, and also open to interpretation. In 1975, it included participants doing a limbo dance while playing their dulcimers. Ironically, this frame breaking dulcimer gathering is now also the oldest continuing dulcimer festival in the US.

Another example of how much this largely underground progressive dulcimer movement tied in with the Santa Cruz Mountains is that Kindred Gathering # 3 was sponsored this time by CapriTaurus Dulcimers. It was held a bit south of Los Gatos on Bear Creek Road, just off Highway 17. Originally, this was the site of a Catholic college. In the 1970s, the school buildings & the beautiful campus had become Daybreak Free School. Today it’s the site of Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. In that summer 1977 weekend, however, it was the temporary home of the largest, most populated Kindred Gathering that had yet occurred. It was unusually churning with activity that year because there was a lot of interest in the dulcimer in this area. The event was attended by all kinds of folks, many of whom had an abiding passion for this unassuming little instrument. Several out of town dulcimer aficionados who attended this festival actually moved here after the event. These included Neal Hellman, Robert Force, and Albert d’Ossche, who then further stirred the bubbling pot in the Santa Cruz Mountains by adding their passion, discoveries & approaches to the progressive dulcimer stew.

CapriTaurus Dulcimers

Michael Rugg and his business partner and brother, Howard Rugg, stayed in the folk music business until the late 80s. From 1969 to 1989 the brothers and another crafter, Stephen Jackel, produced approximately 20,000 dulcimers from their workshop in Felton under the CapriTaurus and Folk Roots labels. In 2003 Michael and partner Paula Yarr launched the Bigfoot Discovery Project, and Michael opened the Bigfoot Discovery Museum at the family compound where the Roaring Camp train whistle (and other mournful howls) raise goosebumps. In 2011, Howard Rugg started making mountain dulcimers again, and you can order them online:

Redwood Dulcimer Day

The playful dulcimer counterculture lives on in another Santa Cruz Mountains tradition: Redwood Dulcimer Day. Starting in the early 1970’s, Santa Cruz and the surrounding Santa Cruz Mountains were a hotbed of creative activity and exploration which culminated in a variety of progressive playing styles within the local mountain and hammered dulcimer communities. Redwood Dulcimer Day is a place for contemporary players of both dulcimers to gather, learn, enjoy playing together, and further explore new possibilities in playing styles and repertoire. 

Redwood Dulcimer Day at Boomeria

Local dulcimer player, Janet Herman, organized the first Redwood Dulcimer Day at the Boomeria ( in July 2000 under the auspices of the Community Music School of Santa Cruz. The Boomeria, a colorful Renaissance estate created by San Lorenzo Valley High School science professor Preston Q. Boomer and his SLVHS students over the last 60 years or so on private land in Bonny Doon, was the perfect place to rekindle dulcimer magic! The estate features (among other interesting aspects) a miniature wooden chapel dominated by a 40 rank pipe organ which has been played by many world class concert organists. You can read more about that here:

The estate also contains a series of catacombs, a science lab, a miniature castle, a working guillotine, and a swimming pool. And it plays host to weird, wondrous, and very playful events cooked up by PQ and his science students, like water cannon fights and more! But one day a year for 10 years, this playful miniature fantasy world hosted dulcimer workshops and a much enjoyed playing circle which culminated the day’s dulcimer activities. 

Redwood Dulcimer Day Goes Virtual

Beginning in 2010, Redwood Dulcimer Day moved to more easily accessible locations in Boulder Creek, Scotts Valley, and Santa Cruz. Interestingly, Redwood Dulcimer Day is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year. That’s 20 years of helping folks feel more connected to their dulcimers, to one another, as well as to the creative process and life enhancing experience of making music.

In August of 2020, Redwood Dulcimer Day went virtual. If you’re wishing you had a new hobby to sink your teeth into while riding out the pandemic, consider learning to play the Appalachian or the hammered dulcimer by beaming in to the virtual event:

Enter the Hammered Duclimer

Saturday, August 15 offerings will also bring something comparatively new to Redwood Dulcimer Day: workshops in a second kind of magical dulcimer, the hammered dulcimer. In some respects, this is a very different musical instrument. Unlike the typical 4-string mountain dulcimer with an hourglass-shaped body, the hammered dulcimer has a trapezoidal shaped soundbox across which are strung anywhere between about 46 to 98 strings. Another difference is that while the mountain dulcimer is usually placed on one’s lap while being plucked or strummed, the hammered dulcimer is placed on a stand and its strings are activated by a pair of small hand-held hammers. The mountain dulcimer is considered to be an American folk instrument, while the hammered dulcimer has roots in the Middle East.

Hammered Dulcimer Belonging to Julie Horner

What the two dulcimers share is a distinctive yet comforting sound that many folks find appealing. Also, and perhaps most importantly, they are unusually accessible to beginning aspiring musicians. For one thing, both kinds of dulcimers are easily viewed while being played, which makes a big difference. In addition, aspiring dulcimists don’t have to contort themselves in unusual ways to play either of these instruments. In that sense, they are a bit like a piano: capable of sounding good the very first time a neophyte tries to sound a note!

Save the Bigfoot Discovery Museum

For wildlife aficionados, the legend of Bigfoot makes a last stand at the museum during difficult times. You can support Michael Rugg and his Bigfoot Discovery Museum:

Bigfoot Discovery Project and Museum 5497 Highway 9, Felton, CA.
(831) 335-4478

Copyright August 2020, Peter Tommerup with Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post:
This article appeared in shorter form in print in the San Lorenzo Valley Post August issue.


Fire Remediation and Recovery

Grassroots Advocacy Groups Organize to Stem Toxic Runoff

Julie Horner joins a community workday to assist the local effort to stem toxic runoff from burned properties after the CZU Complex Fires.

On a bright Saturday morning in mid-November, about 30 volunteers gathered in the meadow just inside the gate to the community of Last Chance, coffee cups, water bottles, and sunscreen in hand. We had signed up in advance to join Fire Remediation and Recovery Action Days coordinated by a coalition of individuals and the grassroots groups Wildfire Protectors Corps, Santa Cruz Relief, Grow the Change, and CoRenewal to help prevent soil erosion and contain ash and toxins from structure burns by installing material to filter and break down toxic runoff before it enters the watershed. We’d be working side-by-side with environmental leaders, fire remediation experts, volunteers from all over Santa Cruz County, and neighbors from Last Chance who lost everything to the CZU Complex Fire. Over the course of a 3-day effort, as many as 80 volunteers were on hand in Last Chance to work through affected properties one by one. The coalition has visited sites where homes and structures burned in Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek, and Last Chance.

Last Chance is a rugged, back-to-the-earth alternative community in the hills above Davenport and the name of the approximately eight miles of dirt road that winds from Swanton Road at Highway 1 between Waddell and Scott Creeks into the western boundary of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Along its spurs and private drives, few structures were spared by the CZU Complex Fire. With over 100 homesites affected, remediation and recovery has been something property owners have had to do on their own without support from the county or private insurers. 

Fire Remediation and Recovery Action Days organizers coordinated with property owners to determine where to assign erosion control teams. Priority was determined by the ability of the property owner to mitigate their own toxins and by areas considered to be the most impacted.

Volunteers place straw wattles around a toxic property. Photo contributed by Tiffany Worthington.

Boulder Creek resident and community leader with Grow the Change, Rebekah Uccellini, and Tiffany Worthington of Wildfire Protectors Corps based in Santa Cruz delivered the welcome and overview before volunteers loaded into 4-wheel drive vehicles, most driven by Last Chance locals. Once at our assigned property many miles into the heart of the community, Oroville based permaculture educator, consultant, and designer, Matt Trumm, who lost his own home in the Paradise Fire and whose work in Paradise has set the standard for community fire remediation, and Mau Rivera of Sherwood Design Engineers talked volunteers through the basics. 

Our job was to swale and contour areas around burned structures; lay and stake lengths of straw wattle into the contours to direct runoff; pair the wattles with 20-foot compost socks to absorb toxins; inoculate the wattles with native fungi; and then pack low points on slope with straw to act as catch basins to contain toxins. Mycelium-inoculated wattles, called “myco-wattles,” are part of a pioneering area of study to put living organisms back into the soil to help regenerate the scarred earth while also acting to remediate heavy metals, plastics, and other chemicals from toxic ash. In our case, native oyster mushroom mycelium was provided.

Compost socks laid on swale with extra wooden stakes ready for the next section on property in Last Chance.
Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.

While compost socks and wattles look similar, they each perform a separate role in controlling toxic runoff. Straw wattles are used for erosion control and to direct water runoff away from sensitive areas and toward the compost sock, which is filled with wood chips and other organic materials that are good at containing toxins. Compost socks are most effective when placed about five feet from the burn site, while straw wattles can be used anywhere in the site to control water flow. 

Placing straw wattles with compost socks to create an effective toxic runoff barrier. Photo contributed by Tiffany Worthington.

Initially, areas are assessed to estimate how rainwater will run off, and colored flags are placed to indicate to handcrews where to apply the wattles and compost socks. Teams then use pick-axes and shovels to create a swale, or shallow channel, in line with the markers where the wattles and compost socks will be laid on contour. Next, crews drive wooden stakes into the wattles and compost socks at specific intervals to hold them in place, about every four feet. Crews then optionally stuff a handful of mycelium-inoculated straw into the wattles at two-foot intervals. Absorbent material can be removed as hazmat after the rainy season.

Work with organizers to help build policy and develop community coalition: |

If you need runoff control materials, complete the request form from the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County:

Join the Boulder Creek Wattle Project on Facebook:

SLV Post-Fire Environmental Resources

Read more about environmental action in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the San Lorenzo Valley Post.

Installing compost socks in swale on a property in Last Chance. Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.
Installing compost socks in swale on a property in Last Chance. Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.
Volunteers in Last Chance spread loose straw to reduce runoff. Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.
Inoculating straw wattle with mycelium in Last Chance. Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.

© November 2020 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

Read more in the San Lorenzo Valley Post online:

Never Lose Sight of Those Little Red Lights: A Banjoman’s Journey

By Dan Mazer

The 27th Annual Brookdale Bluegrass Festival was scheduled for this weekend (April 17th – 19th, 2020), but it was one of the first events this year to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As one of the scheduled performers, it hurts my heart to miss one of my favorite events, but being stuck at home gives me the chance to reminisce about my first booking at that event, and my first visit to Santa Cruz County.

I’m a professional Bluegrass/Folk musician. In the late 1990s, I lived in San Diego and was the banjo player in a group called “The Jackstraws.” We were a costumed, themed entertainment act, combining folk music and comedy, performing at venues ranging from SeaWorld to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, to private parties, corporate events, and festivals all around California. After a painful divorce, I moved back to my old hometown of Washington, DC in the year 2000, to recover near family and friends.

In early 2001, The Jackstraws’ band leader convinced me to return to San Diego for one more summer with the band, so I began making plans for a cross-country tour to bring me back to California. One of the venues I contacted was the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival. Eric Burman, the festival director, told me that although he didn’t usually book solo acts, he’d take a chance on me, and that was how I got my first-ever gig in Santa Cruz County.

“BanjerDan” Mazer

My tour began in mid-February, and started with a trip North on I-95 to see family. The first stop on the tour was The Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, MA. From there it was a quite an adventure, driving across the country in late winter. I had shows in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin; Pierre, South Dakota; Gillette, Wyoming; Bozeman, Montana; and Sandpoint, Idaho, on my way to “The Big Gig” of the tour, which was the Wintergrass Festival in Tacoma, WA. I have a vivid memory of driving into a fog bank on the way to Bozeman. The fog was so thick that I had to follow dangerously close to a truck, just so I could see its rear lights. I was afraid that if I lost sight of those little red lights, I’d drive right off the road!

After the weekend at Wintergrass, the tour continued with gigs in Portland and Eugene, Oregon; a recording session in Ashland; and in California I had shows in Arcata and Eureka on the way to Brookdale. The festival was held inside the Brookdale Lodge, and when I arrived I was immediately impressed with the beautiful old hotel, especially the natural stream running right through the middle of the dining room. Eric Burman greeted me when I arrived, and made me feel right at home.

Brook Room at the Brookdale Lodge

The 2001 Brookdale Bluegrass Festival featured Frank Solivan Sr. and Jr., Sidesaddle, Harmony Grits, Regina Bartlett, and Eric’s band, The Birchlake Ramblers. There was also an “underwater banjo contest,” which I missed, unfortunately. I remember in particular enjoying the Solivans’ show, but I have no clear memory of my own performance. That’s OK,
because Eric assured me that the audience enjoyed it a lot.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Bluegrass Music is the jamming. Bluegrass relies on the interplay between guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and bass, with every instrument playing a support role in between solos. Just as in a jazz “cutting session,” each instrumentalist is given a turn to play lead on a given tune. So, when all the performances were over for the evening, Eric led me to “the green room” where the jam session was taking place. The air was filled with the sound of hot pickin’, and redolent with the sweet smell of high quality cannabis. I was home!

At the jam session I met Frank Solivan II, who’s a truly amazing mandolin player and singer, and Santa Cruz’s own Pete Hicks, who’s a also a very talented singer and multi-instrumentalist. It was an insanely fun jam, made even more fun by Frank and Pete’s enthusiasm and broad knowledge of Bluegrass. Pete told me that he happened to have a
recording session scheduled the next day, and asked if I’d like to be on it. Since I had a couple of days off the before the next gig, I eagerly accepted.

The next morning I accompanied Pete to Jim Lewin’s place. I didn’t know Jim, but he’s another Santa Cruz County fixture. He’s a great guitarist and singer, and is a member of at least two fine bands, “Edge of the West” and “Great American Taxi.” Jim was the engineer on the session, and he blew me away with his guitar playing!

We spent most of the day recording live with no individual overdubbing, and toward the end of the evening, all the travel and partying and lack of sleep caught up with me. I had a bad headache, and someone gave me an industrial-strength Tylenol. A bit later, as we were recording a tune called “Minor Swing,” I hit a creative wall. That tune hadn’t been scheduled for the recording, but we were jamming away. The tune went around the circle several times, and Pete, Frank, and Jim were playing hotter and hotter solos, but after my second round, I was sleepy and out of new ideas. The other guys were playing so well, and when the third
solo came my way, I played it almost exactly the same as the second. I was afraid that I was going to completely mess up and ruin the entire take, so when the bridge of the tune came around, without any warning, I changed the rhythm to half-time, and fortunately the guys followed the time change, and took over the melody for me. Then, when it came back to the “A part,” I just put my hands over the strings and let the rest of the band finish the tune. After that, I retired to sleep on the couch.

That session was eventually released as Pete Hicks’ “Upstairs Jam” CD, and despite the banjo suddenly disappearing from “Minor Swing,” it remains one of my favorite projects that I’ve ever recorded.

BanjerDan Dresses the Part

After a couple of days visiting Santa Cruz and Monterey, I continued my tour with stops in San Luis Obispo and Palm Springs, before rejoining The Jackstraws in San Diego. During that summer season, I booked another tour to take me back to Washington, and as it happened, the departure date for that tour was September 11, 2001. So, I had the experience of driving across the United States during the weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but that’s a tale for another time.

Frank Solivan II joined the U.S. Navy’s country/bluegrass band, called “Country Current,” and moved to Washington, DC. He and I reconnected there, and played a few gigs together. He’s now the leader of “Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen,” which is one of the most prominent Bluegrass bands on the national circuit, and which features Mike Munford on banjo, one of my very favorite pickers. Pete Hicks is a member of “The Central Valley Boys” and “Bean Creek,” and Jim Lewin is busy with his two bands and many other projects.

I spent the first decade of the 21st Century living in the DC area, playing and teaching the banjo, and performing everywhere from busking at Metro stations to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I also did several tours as a solo act, and went on the road with an “outlaw honky-tonk” band called J.B. Beverley & The Wayward Drifters. At the end of 2010 I was thoroughly fed up with the cold winters and crowded noisy city life and decided to return to California. I ended up in northern San Luis Obispo County, near the town of Atascadero.

BanjerDan in San Luis Obispo

One of the first things I did upon returning to California was to start booking festivals, and so I reconnected with Eric Burman. It turned out that he’s the director of two festivals, as well as being a band leader. He booked me for the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival in 2012, and we got to know each other better. He eventually made me an ad hoc member of his own “Brookdale Bluegrass Band,” and I’ve been delighted to join him at the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival, the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival (both held at the San Benito County Historical Park), and the Pick & Gather Festival in Livingston. The connection to Eric has given me the opportunity to visit Santa Cruz County many times now, and I’m grateful to him for his kindness and generosity. I look forward to many more visits!

Dan Mazer Banjo Player

Since all my Spring bookings have been cancelled, and likely the cancellations will continue into the Summer, like most musicians and other workers in the “gig economy,” my income stream has dried up almost entirely. However, like many of my fellow musicians, I’ve turned to live-streaming performances from my home. If you’d like to hear my music and maybe contribute to my “virtual tip jar,” please subscribe to my Youtube and Facebook pages. To paraphrase an old wine cooler commercial: “I thank you for your support!”

BanjerDan on Youtube:
BanjerDan on Facebook:

(c) April 2020, Dan Mazer for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

Nose to Nose with BanjerDan

Wellness Check and a Pot of Soup

Chef Eric of Operation Feed the People cooks up community supper every Wednesday evening at Boulder Creek Community Church.

By Julie Horner

A hard year can change your life. “Last summer my dog was diagnosed with cancer. My dad was sick, too, but he beat it.” Accustomed to traveling all over the state providing catering to the festival circuit, Chef Eric had been looking forward to going to Burning Man. The Universe had other plans. “Boy, I really want to do something but I don’t really have a lot of money. I needed something to feel like I wanted to get out of bed each day. And I really wanted to spend time with my dog.”

A professional caterer for over 30 years and owner of Plus 1 Catering, specializing in healthy, locally sourced food for all budgets, the answer quickly became clear. “What can I do? I can feed people. I’m not going to solve world hunger, but no one in my town, my community, will go through that.” So he switched gears and spent the summer set up under a canopy at Junction Park in Boulder Creek doling out hot food to anyone who was hungry.

Chef Eric at Junction Park

“Turning on the news and seeing all the division in this country was really discouraging. When someone tells you that your neighbor is your enemy, I don’t believe in that, and I don’t believe in divisiveness. And nobody in my community should go hungry.”

A community’s success is measured by how the worst off are living. “That’s what we should do. We can all look at the TV and get mad. So and so should be doing this or that. But that’s a copout. What are YOU doing to solve the problem?” Chef Eric intended to rediscover the power of authentic everyday relationships. “The presence of light, good energy, positivity – some folks who are perceived as maybe having not so great energy – they begin to change. I felt like I could have a good influence.”

Chef Eric at Junction Park

Then the Boulder Creek Odd Fellows approached him and explained what they do; it’s all about helping people. He began the process of becoming a member. “As a member, I can use the facility and have access to their commercial kitchen.”

Operation Feed the People was launched in December 2019 to help make sure that no one in the Boulder Creek community goes hungry. For some time the I.O.O.F hosted a weekly “Boulder Creek Community Dinner” offering handcrafted meals and a safe place to gather from 5:00 until 7:00 pm at the Odd Fellows building in downtown Boulder Creek. The dinner has long since moved to Boulder Creek Community Church, still on Wednesdays, but from 5:00 until 6:00 pm for the winter season, 2020. Boulder Creek Community Church is located at 12465 Highway 9, Boulder Creek.

Regardless of your race, religion, political views, criminal history, or substance abuse problems, if you are hungry, you deserve access to food.” – Chef Eric

“The crux of it is, it has morphed into more than just feeding people. The main goal is to go beyond providing basic sustenance; the meal incorporates good, nutritious food choices. But it’s the community aspect of it: People are not alone in their struggles. Everyone realizes everyone needs help at some point.” The Boulder Creek Community Dinner allows people to meet and put their heads together to construct creative solutions.

Donation Can for Operation Feed the People

“Every week new people show up and add ideas. I’ve put cans out at businesses around town so people can donate. I’ve planted a seed. I want people to come and have a good time, enrich their experience. What started out one week as basically a pot of soup, has expanded to become an evening of real conversations with real people. No one is on their phone. They are playing board games, interacting with one another. This is how community comes together.”

We encourage everyone to share their own ideas…use the community to bounce ideas off of. Bring your craft, your idea, promote your solutions.” – Chef Eric

Along with accepting donations of clothing, Chef Eric and his crew cook up extra food into containers, which they freeze immediately and then deliver in relief boxes to anyone in need. For people who can’t get out. “Neighbors stop by to get boxes of food to help the homebound. This gets people to think about their neighbors and friends and family who need help. It has become a network. You sort of feel weird going over there, but if you bring a box of food you feel more comfortable. It’s basically a wellness check.”

Operation Feed the People Wellness Check

Chef Eric believes Boulder Creek has the resources. “We are a small town capable of big things. If I was going to dream big, I hope that we get enough attention, that every town in the nation follows our lead and it gets to Washington: You guys go back to arguing but we’ve got it. We know how to feed ourselves, thanks. Until we can feed everyone in this country, we can’t say to anyone that we’re the best.”

Operation Feed the People “Boulder Creek Community Dinner” at Boulder Creek Community Church.
Every Wednesday evening 5:00 to 6:00 PM
12465 CA-9, Boulder Creek, Boulder Creek, CA. Facebook page:
To donate:

Feed me and I will come. Tonight I went to Operation Feed the People for the first time. First of all, the food was excellent. But the real treat was to break bread with my community. There were even a dozen teenagers! I believe this is what makes Boulder Creek such a magical place to live. Please contribute to this amazing local cause by just attending! You don’t have to bring anything or give anything. Let’s just come together & be one.” – Chelsea Osenga

Good Food at Boulder Creek Community Dinner
Good Food at Boulder Creek Community Dinner

(c) February 2020 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post.

It’s a Long, Long Road, Son

Remembering Damdave Gillett

By Julie Horner with Tiffany Gillett, Jessica Gullo, Jennifer Thompson, Elicia Burton, and Eric Burman

The phone rang the morning of November 27, the day before Thanksgiving. The voice on the other end of the line was gravelly, fondly familiar, but the words were uncharacteristically hesitant and choked with emotion. It was Damdave. Children’s laughter could be heard in the background; family and friends from near and far were gathering in Hilo for the holiday. In a watery voice, Damdave said that he wasn’t going to make it. They couldn’t kill the tumor on his lung after all. Months of treatment and pain, hope, humor, and boundless heart, but nothing more could be done. He said, “They say it could be a day, or it could be a year.” His voice trailed off. The musical timbre of grandkids running amok filled the silence. I told him, “I love you so much.”

There had been quite a bit of optimism in August. Dave had been living in Hilo, Hawaii with his daughter Tiphany while undergoing treatment. Dave worked diligently over the summer to regain his health, enough so that doctors would allow him to fly home to Boulder Creek to visit his friends and to attend the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival, of which he had been a part for many years. It was a rich time spent playing music and sharing memories and laughter. The memories linger still, warm and sweet like the summer sun.

David Gillett, Boulder Creek singer-songwriter, local legend, dad, grandpa, and dearest friend, passed away surrounded by his loved ones on Wednesday, December 4th, 2019.

Daughters Tiphany Gillett, Jessica Gullo, and Jennifer Thompson and their families were by his side to read aloud well wishes sent from beloved friends. Bandmate “Mando” Mike Reynolds joined the family to bid his compadre farewell.


Just a couple of years ago, heads close together in comfortable familiarity in the late afternoon light, Dave Gillett and I sipped our “usual” and went to town reminiscing about spirited times in old haunts around the San Lorenzo Valley. Known affectionately as “Damdave,” he was the front-man singer-songwriter and guitar player for the Boulder Creek-based Americana group, Damdave and the Left-Hand Band.


I asked how he got the name “Damdave.” He explained how he had moved to Brookdale and started a folk jam at the Brookdale Lodge. “I didn’t drink at the time,” he said, but he wound up “earning his PhD” hanging out in the bar. At one point someone asked his name. When he said, “David,” someone at the far end of the bar shouted, “Not another damn Dave!”

Tuesday nights at the Brookdale Lodge were the slowest. “You had a couple of guys from the bar and we formed Damdave’s Odd-Ass Instrument Jam on Tuesday nights from ‘98-ish to 2008 or so,” Dave said. The popular Tuesday night jam became the forerunner of the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival. Eric Burman remembers coming to Dave’s jams and they decided after a time, “’Hey this would be a great place for a festival’…and it took off.” Burman recalled, “We’d all get together and come up with crazy things…like the underwater banjo contest. One of the girls asked if it was important to have a costume…when we said no, she jumped in the pool, and the only thing she had on was a tattoo. People forgot that she actually had a banjo. Damdave was definitely one of the judges that day.”


Burman also remembers one of the most fun things that the two of them would do together was take common songs and rewrite all of the words. “They were all awful,” he joked. He notes that “the biggest thing that Dave did was have that jam at the Brookdale Lodge on Tuesday nights. That’s where we formed our bands, that’s where we wrote our songs, that’s where we jammed with all the musicians from all over. Because we were working so closely with the Brookdale, that was because of Dave. He was instrumental in forming the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival and ran the ‘tweener stage at the Good Old Fashioned.”


Dave later became a Boulder Creek townie. “It’s a nice little town. I’ve written five songs about this town, I Love These Mountains, Bear Creek Road…there are more.” He’s also written three Brookdale songs, among them, Brookdale’s Burning and Highway 9, a takeoff on the old song Highway 55 co-written with Eric Burman. “She always walks alone, neither flesh and neither bone, ooooo!! There’s some really good lyrics. Eric always made it a 20-minute long instrumental thing with audience participation.”


For a while he was Damdave and the Hot Damn Band. The name change reflects the distinction that Dave plays left-handed. Along with Graham MacFarlane (standup bass), “Mando” Mike Reynolds (vocals, mandolin), and occasionally “Joebro” Adams (any of whom may or may not also play left-handed), the guys could entertain you with “a mix of dysfunctional bluegrass, country, blues, soul, and a healthy dose of Damdave originals.”


He’d said at the time, “I’m not bluegrass, I don’t want a bluegrass band.” His sound was Americana tending toward the bluesy. “I’ve always been a blues kind of guy.” He was raised in Ann Arbor, between Detroit and Chicago. “My voice is kind of gravelly, I grew up with Bob Seger. I like Gregg Allman…I like all kinds of music. I was thinking about this not too long ago. When I listen to people singing, when I listen to blues or Motown, the way they sing a song, the emphasis is on the words and music together. I want to develop my voice and my songs to be able to express the parts of the music I want to express…with an honesty in my voice.”


“Dave was the kind of guy who could ramble, talk, talk talk, and talk, without any particular point or reason, no punchlines, just thinking out loud,” said fellow musician, Elicia Burton. “I remember playing with Damdave at Don Quixote’s where we featured him and his music. I loved playing the tune Tennessee Whiskey on my fiddle, backing him up. He was always a standard and was great help at the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival signing folks up for the ‘tweener stage. I also loved his song “Blue Day,” his gruff vocals on that, his backward guitar playing – as you know he was a lefty. And the song about growing up in Kalamazoo was a really great, real American song. I am missing him now.”

“He had a huge sweet side to him, he totally loved his family, his girls were always the apple of his eye.” – Elicia Burton


“Daddy, Dampa, DamDave. The community lost a one-of-a-kind man. Your silly light-hearted disposition will be missed. I thank you for your artistic, musical nature that you shared with your children, grandchildren, and friends. While I myself have no musical talent inherited, I will forever sing your original song you wrote about our special town, “I Love These Mountains. Jam on Dam dad” – Jenny


“Dear Naddy (Daddy). I’m so relieved you are no longer in pain and are free to jam, jam, jam until the end of time. You fought hard, stayed positive, continued to play music, and kept a sense of humor to the very end, even when you were in unimaginable pain – qualities that will never fail to amaze me. I am honored to have gone through this journey with you and grateful we were all together during your final days. I envision you surrounded by love, light, music, and hopefully the finest of tequilas! Somehow, It feels appropriate to complete the circle and send you off onto your new journey with the words you wrote on my birth announcement, ‘peaceloveandkeeponkeepin’free.’ I love you forever.” – Ninny (Tiphany)


“Rest in peace damn dad. I know you’re up there jamming, free of pain. You are loved and  missed more than I have words for. I am so grateful you were surrounded by family and your BFF. I am so grateful for our time together. I’m so grateful I was able to fly out to spend these last few days with you. I will cherish the memories. Thank you for teaching me to not take life so seriously. Your humor through your suffering was admirable. Aloha, Daddy” – Jessica Gullo


“Love and hugs to our man, Damdave, The Tom Waits of Boulder Creek Bluegrass. Your wonderful family and great songs will carry your name into the future…I’m teaching them to everybody. Enjoy the ride Brother, wink and smile with that twinkle in your eyes as you make that left hand turn.”
– Joe Adams

A memorial for island locals was held on Sunday, November 8 at his favorite spot, the Makuu Cliffs. A memorial for mainlanders will be held after the holidays. With the help of Barry Tanner and Bruce Bellochio, a commemorative collection of Damdave’s music will be made available soon. For more information, send email to Barry:


(c) December 2019 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post.

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