Welcome Fairies and Earthlings

With the intensity of Scorpio, the craftsmanship of Virgo rising, and the joy of personal contact from a Libra moon, Ben Lomond craftsman, Robie Hiroz, makes magic and music in the mountains.

By Julie Horner

With steady hands rough and stained with varnish, Robie slowly takes the top of the fiddle off with a butter knife. The top releases. “The seal breaks – makes that sound – POP! Scares you at first,” he says. A four-inch crack running parallel to the neck where it meets the upper bout has necessitated a visit to Robie’s Fiddle and Banjo Shop in Ben Lomond. In business for 17 years refurbishing violins and banjos from an outbuilding behind his home that he built and named “The Saloon,” this is a visit home to where this fiddle, salvaged and refurbished from a prior lifetime, was purchased nearly a decade ago.

Once the top is removed, Robie repairs the crack with wood glue and clamps, easy enough. While he’s got the fiddle open, he is compelled to practice a new technique that he has recently discovered that coaxes a warmer tone from the old wood. “First, using little thumb planes, I shape the inside of the fiddle’s top to get more sound. Then I shorten the base-bar (a wooden ridge running nearly the full length of the top’s underside), which allows the bass tones to take over. You get richer tone even in the high strings, and the low strings have that growling sound.”

Wiry and unstoppable at 78, Robie retired in 2010 after 33 years as the graphic arts teacher at Santa Cruz’ Harbor High School. His specialty? Having fun with the kids. “Especially break dancing!” His philosophy in teaching is this: “If you make a mistake, it’s good, because it will take you someplace else where you’ve never been.”

Robie’s been playing banjo since he was 27 and fiddle for about 19 years, he says. He used to bring his banjo and fiddle to his classroom to practice. “I like the banjo, it’s exciting, but my heart is with the fiddle. I love those Irish melodies…and not fast…I like to get the beauty of it. The classic Irish melody.”

His craft is evident in projects large and small on his sunny quarter acre, including the old-time saloon (which doubles as his workshop, complete with a miniature bot-bellied stove) and a wee elf house handcrafted to exquisite detail inside and out. His latest idea shrinks the elf house to doggie size, and he has begun selling these custom canine dwellings at Mountain Feed & Supply in Ben Lomond. The hand-made sign on latest doghouse reads: Welcome fairies and earthlings! “Each one is different, and I get faster as I go.” Each doghouse takes about two weeks of solid work to make.

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Robie Hiroz – Robie’s Violin and Banjo Shop, Ben Lomond, CA

Clara, Robie’s wife of 56 years, inspired him to take up the fiddle. She plays with the Cabrillo orchestra and with quartets at Ben Lomond Library, he says. They’ve known each other since they were kids. “I think I was seven. I first saw her in church playing violin as a youngster, her brother playing piano. She fixed someone’s fiddle for them and I thought, maybe that’s something I can do! He’s discovered after nearly 20 years of working on them how to make them sound good.

Robie repairs and refurbishes banjos and fiddles. He also makes his own banjos. Known by word of mouth and open by appointment, “I usually have about 30 full size fiddles on hand, and many smaller sized ones for youngsters. Come to the shop to try all the fiddles!”

You can also find Robie playing banjo or fiddle once or twice a week at Mountain Feed, usually noon to 2:00. “…playing out there in the sun…been doing that for about six or seven years. People especially seem to enjoy the Irish music. I enjoy talking to the people. Astrology is a big deal for me, too, and I sometimes get a chance to discuss that with folks.”

Robie’s Violin and Banjo Shop | 831-336-4625 | cahootshome@cruzio.com

Copyright 2018 – Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin. Originally published in the May, 2018 print edition.

 

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, Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin. Originally published in print in the February 2018 issue. https://www.facebook.com/SantaCruzMountainBulletin/

See also:

The Brookdale Inn on the Road to Resurrection

Tending Toward the Bluesy – Damdave and the Left-Hand Band

By Julie Horner

Looking out from the “fishbowl” at the Boulder Creek Brewery Outpost, 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 is front-man singer-songwriter and guitar player for the Boulder Creek-based Americana group, Damdave and the Left-Hand Band.

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Asked how he got the name “Damdave,” he explained how he had arrived in Brookdale – some 20 or more years ago – and started a folk jam at the Brookdale Lodge. He was just up from Santa Monica. “I was working for a health club in LA – had short hair and looked straight – one of my supervisors said, ‘You know, Dave, you seem like someone who might enjoy the Santa Cruz area.’” So he moved up and found a 1906 cabin in the mountains within walking distance of the Lodge.

One night he put his kids in bed and went over to check it out. “I didn’t drink at the time,” but he wound up earning his PhD hanging out in the bar. He remembers one of the bartenders, “Jenny Gilbert – Penthouse pretty – the owner’s daughter.” At one point someone asked his name. When he said, “David,” someone else at 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 Tuesday night jam was the forerunner of the Brookdale Bluegrass Festival. Eric Burman came to Dave’s jams and they decided after a time, “’Hey this would be a great place for a festival’…and it took off.” March 2000 was first year of the festival, he recalls, and featured a precursor to a band called the Waybacks, Faux Renwah, and the late yodeling lady, Lolita. “She was a great yodeler – played at the Lodge in its heyday – give her a couple of drinks and “Oh, goddam!”

Now Dave’s 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 will entertain you with “a mix of dysfunctional bluegrass, country, blues, soul, and a healthy dose of Damdave originals.”

“I’m not bluegrass, I don’t want a bluegrass band,” he says. His sound is 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.”

Damdave and the Left-Hand Band play every Tuesday at the Boulder Creek Brewery Outpost and every few weeks at Casa Nostra in Ben Lomond. Watch for a GoFundMe campaign for Dave’s upcoming CD. Online: damdave.brookdalebluegrass.com | www.facebook.com/damdave.gillett

Copyright 2017 Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin. Originally published in the January/February issue of the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin: www.santacruzmountainbulletin.net/

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