Keeper of Threads – Mardeen Gordon


By Julie Horner

There is nothing as elementally atmospheric as hearing live music filtered through a redwood forest. The higher up you are on the mountainside, the more clearly sound drifts, and you feel at once gathered into community, part of the pulse, without ever leaving your yard. The trumpet player practicing in the next neighborhood over, the kid on his electric guitar in a garage somewhere lower down the hill, the tribal echo of someone’s twilight hand drum ritual from some wooded shrine just out of sight…Henflings on a good night in the summer.

I was making my own contribution to the forest vibe one evening playing music with friends on the porch when a voice called out from the street below. It was my neighbor at the time, Mardeen Gordon, a Celtic music enthusiast out for an evening stroll who had stopped to share her joy in discovering a kindred sound. With ties to Strawberry Music Festival and other musical outlets in common, a friendship was ignited and set to simmer on a back burner.

In September 2014 I found myself again providing a musical backdrop for Mardeen: Her fine art hand embroidery was being featured at the Om Gallery for the First Friday Santa Cruz art walk. Joni Mitchell was there, as was Harry Potter, captured in living color, lushly tactile. Squinting to define the impressionist brush stroke, the works of Vincent Van Gogh and Leonardo Da Vinci leapt from the wall in silky resplendence.

“My first embroidery project was a denim jacket that my mom, sister and I embroidered for my dad. Then I started doodling on a pair of cutoff Levi’s, from about age 12 to 25, eventually covering every inch of them except for the Levi’s tag on the back pocket.” She still has both of those early pieces.

Mardeen said, “I was inspired by my study of art history in college, especially the Impressionists, who used tiny bits of color side by side to create an image full of life and texture.” She thought, “I could do that with thread!” She used a postcard of Van Gogh’s Starry Night as her example, embroidering the image by hand stitch-by-stitch onto the back of her husband’s denim jacket. That was in 1988.

From there it didn’t take long to find more art to beguile her eye and inspire her needle. Most of the pieces she has embroidered were requested by family and friends, picture-perfect interpretations of their favorite painting or album cover. But she also creates original compositions based on favorite themes. “Whenever I get close to finishing one, I start thinking about the next one, and there are always people making suggestions, hoping to see their favorite image interpreted in thread.”

Mardeen’s art is a product of passion, both time-intensive and painstaking. To reproduce the smooth, subtle color changes in skin or hair, for instance, she splits the six-stranded floss into separate strands and in places stitches one color over another to simulate the blending of paint.

Whether the finished piece will be worn on a jacket or displayed on a wall, the initial image is transferred with the help of a computer. Nuances of color and detail require countless hours of careful study of the original image so that the finished piece is indeed a masterpiece. “Right now, I am completing my first commission, with two more lined up after it,” she says.

“One of the most difficult things about any artist’s work is finding ways to make contact with the public.” While Mardeen’s art can be viewed online, “no photograph can truly capture the texture of the thread, the layering of colors, and the realization of the amount of time and attention to detail that goes into each work.” You have to experience Mardeen’s embroidery up close and personal to truly appreciate the sensuous warmth of floss as flesh in myriad tiny “brush strokes.”

Prints of Mardeen Gordon’s embroidery masterpieces are on display at Burger 9, 15520 State Route 9, Boulder Creek, CA 95006. Original pieces are displayed through January 2015 at the Soquel Water District office at 5180 Soquel Dr Soquel, CA 95073.

You can see more of her work and read the story behind each piece by going to her website:

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(c) Julia Horner 2015

Julie Horner is an Irish-American folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email:

Dreams Elemental – JnJ Dynamite


By Julie Horner

It was early for a summer Saturday, walking the few short blocks to downtown in the promising warmth to check out the annual Boulder Creek Harvest Festival. Several local bands were scheduled to play throughout the day, and it was there in the cooler shadows of the morning where I first heard JnJ Dynamite quietly smoldering.

In that moment it all changed. It was as though I’d entered a dreamy, post narcotic state, like I’d stepped into the otherworld of a David Lynch movie. Her voice! And there was something mysterious about the music. It made me think about things. The layers of accompaniment nuanced and peeled back to reveal that stark, haunted vocal. Ripples of teenage nostalgia, joy riding and lazy summer days with nothing to do but hang out on the pier or ride the roller coaster over and over again. Classic cult of small town suburban America, settings both surreal and familiar; pieced together memories of youth and yearning and how to fill meandering time.

I bought the CD.

JnJ Dynamite is a semi-acoustic alt-folk trio based in the Santa Cruz Mountains. With a unique “lo-fi folk” sound, the band composes songs that are powerful and pure, that get down and thrill your soul. Lyricist Julie Di Mauro seems to write from a waking dream, lucid notes on psychological love stories both ethereal and down-to-earth. Her molten vocals drift and in and out of provocative piano arrangements that burn with a hint of discord and a twist of irony. Twin brothers, Dustin and Joel Di Mauro on electric and acoustic guitar provide a canvas of rhythm and sweet melody, while their backing vocals contribute to a sound that is complex yet strikingly spare.

The brothers have played music for a long time together, a hobby which began while playing in their parents’ bands. Joel married Julie and the three family members began making music together in 2008.

Joel says, “When all three of us are connecting and the music gets tight, it’s a certain feeling, and I’m hoping that Julie and Dustin can feel it too.” Julie agrees. “We have fun when we play out. And as Joel mentioned, when we play well, it feels really good. I like to think that our music makes people feel good. It’s been said that our sound seems healing and soothing.”

“We always get a positive response from the listeners,” adds Dustin. “And it’s great because 90% of our music is original. I know how difficult it is to get people to like your music and get it out there. It’s a slow grind and sometimes you feel like you’re going backwards.” Joel agrees and says, “But if people walk away from our show a bit more happy, relaxed and feeling good, then we have succeeded.”

Joel says simply that they’ve learned to enjoy what is around them, to appreciate the people and things that they have in their lives. The music becomes a frame. “Julie writes and sings about all kinds of different things, love, loss, being happy, enjoying your surroundings…maybe opening up to beauty that was never realized.”

The band is looking forward to getting back into the studio to record a second album. “We have a bunch of new songs we are working on. Sometimes the songs take a while to finish but it is always worth it.”

And of living the dream, Joel says the band wants to continue playing shows locally but also further away, “I think road tripping to shows is fun.” Julie has the same idea. “I’d like to get out and see more live music, to support the arts and our community,” and spend some time working on and sharing her jewelry. “And then I would like to plan a mini tour for JnJ, a few stops on the Northern California coast.” Destinations yet untold but well worth road-trippin’ to.

Experience JnJ Dynamite at lille aeske on Friday, March 25 2016. 13160 Central Ave (Hwy 9) Boulder Creek, CA. 95006. For more information, check out the Facebook Event.

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(c) Julie Horner 2015

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: /

lille aesk downtown Boulder Creek



Liquid Sunshine ~ Take 1

Take 1

Take 1

By Julie Horner

Running from the chilly shadow of Ben Lomond Mountain this early November, I set out to take in a little sun down through the neighborhood at Junction Park. All was predictably warm and bright and I breathed deeply the sweet freedom of living in the mountains.

Not long ago last summer I was heading to the Junction for a plunge and was drawn in by the sound of liquid sunshine – a saxophone being played conversationally by Brian Valdivia in his front yard. A founding member of Boulder Creek’s Take 1 ska metal band, without saying a word he initiated a musical dialog that was answered by the buzz of nature and families heading to the river that day. Heads turned and smiles bubbled to the surface; the energy at that little corner of the universe was popping, people were drawn in and all was well with the world.

Take 1 got its name just up the street at Barry Tanner’s PASS recording studio (in the former US Post Office building on Pine). Brian and band mates Yeshe Jackson (lead vocals, guitar), Jon Golling (bass) and Marcus Thayer (drums) have rehearsed weekly there for the better part of six years and while recording just for fun laid down tracks so good the first time around that they could call it a wrap at “take one!”

Take 1’s music is a blend of many styles. With a backbone of Rocksteady and ska, Brian said that metal “started creeping in” to form a confluence of sound and rhythm, energy and emotion that is compellingly unique and completely danceable. Smooth melodies are punctuated by strong steady grooves, driven by Marcus on drums. “He’s just an animal back there,” Brian said. Brian’s soulful saxophone weaves in and out sometimes taking the lead, other times staying back to hold down the groove with Jon on bass.

Yeshe is a major source of new songs, recording and sharing melodies and lyrics he’s dreamed up with the rest of the band, each member contributing his own nuance of color and texture to the mix. It is the original songs, laced with humor, introspection, world consciousness, and not-too-heavy social commentary that make Take 1 more than a dance band.

The talent in Take 1 reaches beyond writing and performing infectious music. Yeshe is a fine artist with his own painting studio who apprentices at The Gilded Lily tattoo in Felton, and his original watercolor rocks the cover of Take 1’s latest album, Rise of the Leviathan. According to Brian, Marcus is a “ripping” old school pool skater. Jon collects dance hall and reggae vinyl and is the “baddest DJ this side of the West Indies” with his Rugged Sounds International. And Brian is a nanobrewer who co-owns Toast and Prost, which pairs craft brews with artisanal bread for local tastings.

With several recording efforts under their belt, Take 1’s live music has evolved into a greater experience that involves spontaneous musical interplay and getting up close with the audience in a way that brings people into an open awareness of themselves and those around them. Brian’s favorite venue? “Playing music in a place you’re having fun,” like Joe’s Bar where the band is two feet from the audience for ultimate interaction and unity. Brian said it’s like helping people take the blinders off to create connection for an atmosphere of positivity and acceptance, where the good vibes are enjoyed freely. Experience Take 1 at Margaritaville in Capitola on December 13!

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Take 1

Take 1

Julie Horner is a Boulder Creek based Irish-American folk musician and writer /

A Measure of Sweet Mountain Music ~ Sugar by the Pound


By Julie Horner

A tidy vase of dried hydrangeas and autumn leaves on a rustic wooden table greeted me as I let myself in the gate. I sank into a chair on the wide porch, for all the world transported in the Indian summer heat of early October to some place in the nation’s South. The grateful shade under a sweeping California oak reminded me that I hadn’t strayed too far from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

This old home is where banjo player and vocalist for Sugar by the Pound, Alison Steele, has sunk her roots to raise her babies, grow her own food, and nurture the love of making music. The other members of this all-girl band, Erin Valdivia (vocals, guitar), Cristy Aloysi (vocals, mandolin), and Sarah Farrell Mackassey (vocals, stand-up bass) live within walking distance of this quiet street of rustic bungalows tucked off the mountain town bustle of State Routes 9 and 236. So close to each other, in fact, that locals have reported seeing the girls walking their instruments across the highway on their way to practice!

Sharing a passion for family, food, and sense of community, the four friends started making music together just for fun at home. Before too long they found themselves playing out locally as a new force, dialing in their sweet sound together while rediscovering at the same time a sense of their own place as individuals. Each is already an artist in her own right: Alison, a fashion designer; Erin, executive baker and co-owner of Toast and Prost, which pairs craft brews with artisanal bread for local tastings; Cristy, artist and owner of Viscosity Glass; and Sarah, Yoga instructor, artist and owner of lille æske art house collective.

Now the girls are performing full throttle, breaking the all-male bluegrass old time-y mold with beauty, talent, and style. Alison explained that their music is not strictly bluegrass but is a blend of their experiences and interpretations built upon the foundations of old time, country blues, and American roots music. Inspired by the music of Appalachia, Sugar by the Pound sings folk songs in perfectly blended four-part harmony and plays melodies with simple traditional chord progressions using only acoustic instruments. Originally from California, New York, Indiana, and Virginia, the girls compose their own material and cover some of the most richly nostalgic traditional music ever written, bringing East and West Coast together for a uniquely warm, clear sound. And their contagious energy has audiences dancing and singing along.

Alison told me, “I have to say Georgie Buck is one of my favorites. I learned it after listening to Elizabeth Cotten’s version (she wrote the classic Freight Train Blues). She played clawhammer banjo and guitar. I like the part that says, ‘Georgie Buck is dead, last words he said, never let a woman have her way, boys, never let a woman have her way!’ We get a lot of hootin’ and hollering on that one for obvious reasons. It’s a powerful song with all of us singing strong harmonies and it really gets us and the crowd going. It’s fast, too, so it gets me stompin’ on my flatfootin’ board and smilin’. It’s one of the first songs we ever performed together, so it feels like home.”

An unknown composer once wrote: “Whiskey by the gallon, sugar by the pound, a great big bowl to put it in, and a spoon to stir it round…I wish I had a needle and thread, as fine as I could sew, I would sew all the girls to my coat-tail, and down the mountain I’d go!”

One little taste of Sugar by the Pound and it’s easy to picture this extended family toe-tapping the planks of that wide welcoming porch on a late summer evening in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

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(c) Julie Horner 2014

Julie Horner is a Boulder Creek based Irish-American folk musician and writer.

The Rare Auld Mountain Dew ~ The Crooked Road Céilí Band


By Julie Horner

I watched Monday’s Harvest Moon rise above Joe’s Bar, casting the trees in velvety silhouette and found myself humming “The Rare Auld Mountain Dew,” an old Irish folk song: ”Let grasses grow and water flow in a free and easy way….hi dee diddley idle dum, hi dee doo dye diddly aye day!”

I was still high from another weekend of playing music with my best friends, Ken and David from The Crooked Road Céilí Band. Together this summer we’ve serenaded four couples down the aisle to holy matrimony, watched dozens of wee ones frolic at area farmers markets, worked Irish set dancers to a froth, and have shared our music with so many wonderful folks at wine tasting dinners, art walks, roadhouses, and local festivals throughout Santa Cruz County and beyond. It’s official: San Lorenzo Valley has its very own Irish band!

I met Boulder Creek multi-instrumentalist David Chadwick at a traditional Irish session at O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub in San Jose just as the bug to learn Celtic music had bitten. With a degree in music and background playing classical guitar, David was wailing on fiddle along with the rest, playing one lovely Irish melody after another. Resistance was futile; it was only a matter of time before I joined them in earnest. It became a happy obsession to learn as many Irish jigs and reels as we could, and before too long David and I started leading our own Tuesday night session at O’Flaherty’s.

We discovered Ken Bewick at the Celtic jam at the Poet & Patriot Irish Pub in Santa Cruz. An accomplished guitarist, professional recording artist, and singer-songwriter with the Santa Cruz-based band, Mudfrog and Boston-based Classical Tangent, Ken was looking to test his Celtic mettle and rekindle the love of playing out. Ken rocks our straight-ahead trad. With David leading on fiddle or 4-string tenor banjo, and me shredding on the hammer dulcimer, Ken puts the groove to our traditional tunes. Throw in Irish and American songs, and material that Ken has written, and you’ve got an honest acoustic vibe that so suits intimate gatherings.

The hammer dulcimer is a curiosity; we take bets on how many times I’ll be asked what I’m playing! The dulcimer is a large trapezoidal wooden box strung with up to 72 steel strings, two per note, and played with delicate wooden hammers. It’s basically a naked piano, and versions of the instrument are played around the world, including the cimbalom in Eastern Europe, and the santoor in India. The sound is somewhat harp-like and very different from the Appalachian, or mountain lap dulcimer.

We play traditional Irish reels, jigs, polkas, slides, hornpipes, barn dances, slip jigs, hop jigs, and waltzes. Our instrumentation and interpretation of classic and recently composed Irish folk music presents a unique groove and we specialize in weaving together indigenous Irish folk melodies and Irish, American, and original songs. Our spirit and our sound creates and contributes to the overall sense of community and cheer.

The Crooked Road Céilí Band plays for the sheer joy of making music and being able to share our enthusiasm with our community. The word “ceili” or “ceilidh” (pronounced “kay-lee”) is Gaelic for party, and the band aims to put a jig in your step and a song in your heart!

Experience The Crooked Road Céilí Band at the Felton Trout Farm Inn on Saturday, January 31 2015.

Contact information: (831) 325-1974


(c) Julie Horner 2014

Julie Horner is a Boulder Creek based Celtic folk musician and writer.