A Sea of Shoulder-High Grasses ~ The Music and Imagining of Laurel Thomsen & Dan Frechette

By Julie Horner

Bending and swaying in unison like tawny tassels of tall grass rippling in a late summer breeze, singer/song writer, Dan Frechette and violinist, Laurel Thomsen, boots and bare feet on the simple Corralitos Open Farm Tour stage, sang to an intimate throng of young families and barnyard critters in early October. A chorus of baby goats and a Biblical sized sheep provided unexpectedly hilarious accompaniment while a gaggle of youngsters commandeering four-legged accomplices ran in capricious circles. Right on schedule, a tractor pulling families beaming and bumping along on hay bales spent the day making the rounds.

The Crooked Road had just wrapped up the morning’s music and we had time to grab lunch from one of the local vendors at this annual farm tour held at the Agriculture Museum at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds and enjoy Dan and Laurel’s fresh roots-folk. It was our first time. We sat on the edge of the stage enthralled by perfect harmonies and enchanting lyrics, watching children and baby animals frolic, swept into an easy, rhythmic day dream.

I’d actually just spent an afternoon the week prior chatting with Dan and Laurel over coffee at White Raven. Strangers at the time, serendipity put us together on that farm tour stage a few days later and presented the opportunity to appreciate the music first hand, the words of the artist interview manifested in live performance. And a new friendship was kindled.

During our interview Dan had said, “On stage, you can feel the audience like a collective wave.” He loves intimate venues where he can see individual faces. “You need them to help you make the show…it’s not just about us.” Music is the real connector. “People come up after your show to say that they had a really personal experience from the song you wrote. And you share the moment when you’re teary eyed, your hearts connect. You can’t just get there any day, it’s a very special experience.”

A prolific and passionate song writer influenced by many diverse genres, Dan points out that “you want it to make sense, you want to make people excited to hear you…there has to be an occasion for people to come see you. We get really happy when people ask us to play. Better to play when it makes sense to play.”

When writing songs, Dan says, you have to “turn off the more critical side and be in the more flowy side. Step outside of the song and see it for what it is…it’s good to have written the song for the outlet…for validating your life force…at the end of the day it’s gotta be fun.”

Classically trained and sharing a unique chemistry together, Laurel’s violin and voice swirl in tandem with Dan’s vocals and guitar, and as one reviewer put it, “Their energy, winsome personalities, and toe tapping rhythms, keep audiences engaged with every song.” Laurel says, “The music I’m excited about sharing is that which I’m most passionate about. And you can really be carried along by the people, the music lovers’ reaction.”

Dan is a force. With his engaging energy and gift for bringing people together, he told me, “I asked to play at lille aeske…that’s how it starts with me for a lot of things.” On the night before Halloween, the duo will play as part of the downtown Boulder Creek art house collective’s Performance Series. Laurel says, “It’s really cool to be able to play an intimate concert close to home.” The show is sold out.

Dan and Laurel have done two CDs together. “She tailors these great violin parts that are intertwined with the song,” Dan says. She loves how he has so many different styles of original songs. They’ve honed together the harmonies, interweaving the fiddle and guitar into what she now calls the “Dan and Laurel sound.” They both love surfing along on the wave of the music and what the audience gives back in return.

Dan, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, and Laurel, a Monterey, CA native, are a real-life couple now living in Bonny Doon “for community,” Dan says. They just recorded their recent CD, New Disguise, at Justin Meyer’s Bear Creek Studios. “Justin’s wonderful, the facilitates, the music, being there. There’s no negative vibes left behind from the previous recording artists. There’s a connection. There’s fancy studios all over the place but they don’t have the same vibe.”

As for small town mountain living, Dan said, “I heard about Sugar by the Pound…I’m just thrilled that there’s old time music right up the street from me. We’re both so excited to watch the little sparks fly with new community and just having fun with new people.”

The couple agrees: “The music is an adventure. It’s best having no expectations…only trying to be prepared for magic. The focus is more on the really awesome times…this is our journey. You have to have a genuine path…the people who are there really want to be there…it’s not a popularity contest.

“Looking forward to sharing music and smiles all over the place in the coming months. We’re sending daily applause and appreciation to the exquisite hosts, venues, and festivals we’ve visited or will visit very soon. Thank you for having us!!”

On the Web: www.danandlaurel.ca/Home.html

On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/danandlaurel

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California.
Email: leap2three@gmail.com
Santa Cruz Mountains Local on the Web: http://santacruzmountainslocal.com/
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/santacruzmountainslocal

Live at lille aeske Boulder Creek

Live at lille aeske Boulder Creek

A Toast to the Craft – Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing at The Cremer House

By Julie Horner

For two luxurious sun-drenched days, the Santa Cruz Mountains Art, Wine, and Music Festival invited revelers to stay local, kick off their shoes, dance on the green to live music, and enjoy a final taste of summer among the redwoods. On hand to pour hand-crafted suds: Boulder Creek Brewing on Saturday and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing on Sunday.

Local brewer and owner of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, Emily Thomas, remembers when the Art and Wine Festival was on the street and how, like the Redwood Mountain Fair, these home grown festivals bring everyone out. “The mountains needed another incarnation of being outside as a community.” Now that the Art and Wine Festival is at Garrahan Park, she says, “It’s successful and will continue to keep growing.”

“So many places are void of life and creativity. A mountain town so close to the beach captures the best of both types of people, mountain people and beach communities and brings them together. You want people to come here and experience it…if you’re raised in Fresno and that’s all you know, that’s kind of a shame. Living in the mountains – the nature of it – can change your whole perspective on life.”

Fresh from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery to the redwoods, Emily welcomes visitors to her new tap room and restaurant, a clean, simple space without pretention at the historical Cremer House in downtown Felton where locals and travelers enjoy tasty plates and award winning, certified organic craft brew.

The Cremer House will celebrate its one-year anniversary in December and from all accounts the endeavor has been a raving success with a consistent customer base of mountain dwellers and weekend warriors from over the hill and Santa Cruz. Emily says Saturdays and Sundays are busiest. “We get a lot of foodies, and the beer selection is pretty unique” from flagship ales to “wildly inventive seasonals that will bend your taste buds and challenge your senses.”

Emily has always loved food. Her mom was the cook at the Quaker Center in Ben Lomond when Emily was growing up in SLV. But it’s the brewing that ultimately sparked the idea of getting into the restaurant business.

While at college in Portland in the early 90s, two uncles who “didn’t believe in books” taught her how to “brew beer, work on cars, and clear brush.” She did earn her software engineering degree and moved to San Diego to live the corporate life. Eventually eschewing cubical confines and back in the Santa Cruz area to raise her family, the urge to brew bloomed and she opened Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing on the Westside in 2005.

“Our original model was a tasting room to take your beer home with you. But the first week we opened there were hundreds of people drinking the beer in the sun along the railroad tracks.” That got her thinking, “What are the spaces where people hang out?” So she created the tap room and beer garden.

That’s where the beer is brewed for the Cremer House because Felton’s infrastructure at the site won’t support the necessary ebb and flow of craft brewing in volumes enough to serve throngs of the curious thirsty.

Emily made the proposal to SCM Brewing co-owner, Bob Locatelli, to do a joint restaurant as well. She said that neither of them was initially of a mindset to take on a project that big but in the end decided to go for it. It took four years to get all the permitting in place, and the old Cremer building needed to be retrofitted to support modern requirements while still maintaining the historical elements. Emily designed the interior space, local contractor, Chuck Reason, updated the structure.

“That’s how we differentiate ourselves – craft brewers are only 10% of the market, big corporations are still dominant – so small brewers work together, looking for things that make us look unique in our own business.”

The Cremer House serves lunch and dinner and showcases a variety of 25 craft beers on tap including Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and select offerings from other local brewers, ciders, wines, and homemade sodas.

The Santa Cruz Mountain Art, Wine, and Music Festival thanks Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for sharing their hand crafted brew at the festival and for keeping gracious community spirit alive in the mountains.

Cremer House
6256 Highway 9
Felton CA. 95018
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
402 Ingalls St #27
Santa Cruz CA. 95060

(c) Julie Horner, September 2015 for the San Lorenzo Valley Post.

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: leap2three@gmail.com

On the Web: santacruzmountainslocal.com

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Bringing on the Night – Wred Horse & The NightDrivers

By Julie Horner

I remember my first night in the new house. A posse of friends had formed a convoy of pickups, vans, and passenger cars packed to the headliners with worldly possessions, and we hogged Highway 9 from Ben Lomond to Boulder Creek at half speed for the better part of that Saturday in June several years ago.

At the end of the day, we cracked some cold Sierras and collapsed into the patio furniture, askew as we had unloaded it and pointing roughly eastward among drifts of stuff, enjoying with exhausted sighs alpenglow in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The evening stars were just coming on.

The night suddenly came alive with the seemingly far-off wail of an electric guitar, the sound charging the then unfamiliar neighborhood with a current of electricity. Only a few blocks from downtown, the forest suddenly had an unmistakable pulse, throbbing and very welcome. I thought we were hearing the band at the local bar. It took a couple of evenings spent outside enjoying the awakening summer in the new environs to realize it was our neighbor practicing in his studio a couple of doors down.

Steve “Mac” McCampbell owns the guitar. I told him I love how his practicing electrifies my evenings. He said, “I don’t consider that I practice, I just play. Musicians get better when they play…it’s some kind of discipline…”

“I have guitars that I play at gigs that get me a certain tone I like. Fender and Gibson have the tones, the essence of it.” For a change, he takes the Gretsch out once in a while. “You hear that sound and you know it’s going to be a good night!”

Steve and his band, Wred Horse, are local fixtures, playing familiar venues throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. “Joe’s seems like our stable,” he said. Steve and Woody Bell (rhythm guitar, vocals) formed the band in 2007 and they got the name from Woody’s Harley with its red gas tank. “A wise old Indian gave Woody that handle, so there’s pedigree.”

Together with Marvin Labri on bass and Sam Sotelo on drums, “We keep together because we can and it’s fun.” Steve gets to play tunes he really likes, covers that people are familiar with. “If the delivery is good it will pull people in” Rockabilly is very popular, he says, “It’s hard to stay still when you hear it.”

The NightDrivers are a brand new blues rock effort that started last spring and features top notch musicians who have all played in many Bay Area bands. Steve said he gets to play more improvisational instrumentals, “which are really fun to do.” Picture Robin Ford (“he’s my hero”) and Paul Butterfield’s “Screamin.” The NightDrivers are Steve Mac (guitar, vocals), Boulder Creek’s Mike Pupo (vocals, drums), Mark Howe (rhythm and lead guitar), and Tom Fidele (bass).

Steve spent his childhood in Palo Alto but has been in Boulder Creek since about 1987. “It’s like another country over there…great place to grow up, it’s different, you can’t recreate it…it was a time and a place and things change.”

He remembers the last phone booth on Bear Creek Road. “You get that far out there and you have to become self-sufficient,” he said.

With two indoor cats and a mini apple orchard in the front yard and an off-road bicycle that he rides all over the valley to burn off the occasional pilsner indulgence, he says, “I like BC as much now as ever, it hasn’t changed all that much. I think most people live here by choice. It’s a place where the adults stay and the kids leave.”

Steve has no plans to leave. “It’s open ended but Boulder Creek…it’s a good place to be. It’s kind of easy to get lost in the calamity of a small town.”

Catch The NightDrivers at Joe’s on Saturday, September 26 and at Henfling’s on November 28 and December 19.

On the Web: http://www.reverbnation.com/thenightdrivers

On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheNightDriversBand

(c) Julie Horner September 2015

Originally written for and published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin.

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: leap2three@gmail.com