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:
https://youtube.com/channel/UCqAIxWUYr7Bye-wPojuauHA
BanjerDan on Facebook: http://facebook.com/BanjerDan

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

Nose to Nose with BanjerDan

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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“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

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“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

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“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)

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“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

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“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: bcmusicworks@gmail.com

Online: www.facebook.com/damdave.gillett

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

Visit Santa Cruz Mountains Local: https://santacruzmountainslocal.com/2017/02/02/tending-toward-the-bluesy-damdave-and-the-left-hand-band/

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The Brookdale Lodge Gets its Dean

Iconic James Dean mural at the Brookdale Lodge nears completion this Valentine’s Day, 2018. San Lorenzo Valley eagerly anticipates the art installation and the imminent reopening of the historic Brookdale Lodge.
By Mari A. Porter
WOW! The new mural is in progress! According to Monterey County based artist, John Cerney, the 20-foot tall, hand painted James Dean mural cut-out will be completed in a couple of days!
John emailed to say that the final panel for James Dean is nearly finished! I can’t wait to see it all together on the wall! How exciting for those who live in the SLV area – not to mention the rest of the Lodge fans!
Lodge owner, Pravin Patel, had a very daunting task finding the right artist to create the new James Dean for the Brookdale Lodge. I mean honestly, we had many interested and very, very talented artists apply to take on this large task, which would evoke much scrutiny if not done well or if it was lacking in any way.
When I inquired how he was chosen John said, “I was right here all along! Pravin found me by driving by a couple of James Dean murals I had done on Highway 46, at Blackwell’s Corner…the last place Dean stopped before the car crash that killed him.”
John Cerney’s giant cut-out mural installations can be seen alongside the highways of California and the Midwest. John’s work has also been featured in numerous magazines, books, and newspapers over the years, including National Geographic, Sunset Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and the New York Times.
And what’s great about this cut-out is no worries about it being painted over because it is an attachment to the building as opposed to literally being painted on the building. He really put a lot of thought and care into this. We are all so thrilled!

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John Cerney’s James Dean by Maryanne Porter Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters / Haunted Tours

The Brookdale Lodge is slated to re-open in 2018, maybe as early as this spring – they’re definitely hustling to get it done.
Thank you, Mr. Patel for being so diligent in your choice of artist. What a beautiful rendition of James Dean soon to be added to the wall of the Brookdale Lodge – a start of a new history for all to enjoy for generations to come!
See John Cerney’s murals: http://www.johncerneymurals.com/
Maryanne Porter curates Brookdale Lodge Mysteries Explored and owns Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters/Haunted Tours:
www.facebook.com/groups/14003595335…
Photos by Maryanne Porter Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters / Haunted Tours

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John Cerney’s James Dean by Maryanne Porter Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters / Haunted Tours

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John Cerney’s James Dean by Maryanne Porter Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters / Haunted Tours

Copyright 2018 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

https://www.facebook.com/San-Lorenzo-Valley-Post-107557427361672/

See also:

The Brookdale Inn on the Road to Resurrection

The Brookdale Inn on the Road to Resurrection

The storied landmark is poised for history in the remaking

By Julie Horner

Peering through a jagged window, the bare bulbs of workmen’s shop lights illuminate what seem like bones and sinew – open studs and joists – which frame little now but bareness and dust. The fireplace where the lounge used to be stands alone without walls. While stairs and banisters remain as anchors, the remainder is mere hull with views into the next room or up to the rafters. Fresh lumber is stacked next to salvaged architectural elements. Outside, gable decorations sport gaps like broken teeth. Bottle shards, antique tools, and rusted children’s toys, once clever décor along the building’s foundation, are tortured remnants in crumbling concrete collage. The eye is drawn to a missing panel of stained glass; it was never replaced after the night one of the more colorful patrons started a fight over not having mustard for the bar pretzels. She was summarily escorted out but delivered a parting blow by throwing a rock through the fine old window.

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The ghosts of those who have breathed life into this place have fled to the Brook Room where filtered light still flirts among the faded underpinnings. The Brookdale remains breathtakingly beautiful behind her dirt-streaked glass and cobwebs. Like a dark bride in ripped lace she bides, her house empty, awaiting new love and purpose.

New owner, Pravin Patel, says, “It had been declining for a long time. There is about 60 years of deferred maintenance.” And everything is taking longer than anticipated. “Please don’t lose your patience. It’s not as easy as it seems.” The permitting and county processes, deciding what can be salvaged and what must be replaced. And everything must be rebuilt for safety. “We’ll get it open,” Patel promises.

He can hardly wait to open the first phase, which will include the renovated 46-room hotel separate from the Lodge, a full service local market “where families can come and do shopping,” and a coffee shop to rival the old Pancake House and Grill. “Pablo was leasing it years ago until it was shut down. The community tells me Pablo had the best pancakes.” Fresh paint and new windows are finishing touches and the building could be open as soon as the end of this summer.

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Next on the list is the hotel lobby and a new sports bar. After that, the Brook Room and Fireside Lounge. “Things are coming along…the good days outweigh the bad days.”

Also on the list, the return of the cherished mural. “The original James Dean was up there for years and years, but one of the messes Sanjiv Kakkar, the former owner, made was painting over James Dean…out of his wild imagination. It was low quality, a joke. The community was in an uproar over it.” Patel made it clear in a town hall meeting: “We are going to replace the mural in high quality.”

The canvas has been prepared. Patel joined forces with Maryanne Porter of Brookdale Lodge Mysteries Explored and owner of Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters/Haunted Tours to find the perfect muralist. An ad was placed on Craigslist. “The mural is a huge deal not only to the community but also to the history of the Brookdale Lodge,” Porter says. “I mean, this is not something that we are taking lightly – this will be a fixated iconic portrait which represents the Lodge and San Lorenzo Valley for generations to come. Mr. Patel is not only creating new history but he is also trying to preserve the old.”

The process to find a muralist has been a lengthy one for its applicants. The individuals sought for serious consideration were requested to submit a sketch of James Dean to determine their artistic ability and to see how the artist’s vision meshed with the community’s vision. “Each artist has a different style, so it was important to find someone who shared a similar vision.” The right artist should also have a relationship to the Lodge. “We wanted a muralist who had some memory or connection, not just someone who looked at it as a job.” And they wanted someone local. “It was important to Mr. Patel to find a local artist. Keeping our history in our community. I can’t wait for the project to be completed and the Lodge’s new history to begin!”

“I love the community input,” Patel says. “This mural thing is exactly what I mean. Let’s get a local artist in here. A homegrown Santa Cruz artist to put his name on it…it becomes a legacy.”

The top three finalists have been chosen. “The next step we will be meeting up with the county and then moving forward to determine who will be selected as the next muralist for the Brookdale Lodge,” Porter says.

“You’ve got to remember, this is history in the remaking. The Lodge has been robbed and raped over the years…vandals and the former owners took all this stuff. I want to be known 100 years from now as the gentleman who gave it CPR…I revitalized it! I’m trying to do something good here.”

Copyright 2017 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

https://www.facebook.com/SanLorenzoValleyPostNews/