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.
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 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2018 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post
Local Artist, Nicky Gaston, Reimages the Aesthetic at Steel Bonnet Brewing Company
By Julie Horner
The community packed the Boulder Creek Brewery Outpost on its final Friday to wish the business bon voyage as it prepares to move operations north of town. Local brewers, Donald and Susan Cramb, owners of Scotts Valley’s Steel Bonnet Brewing Company, were in attendance along with local artist, Nicky Gaston, their new beer label designer. Long a tasting room loyal, Nicky recently began work designing hand-illustrated labels for each of Steel Bonnet’s handcrafted brews. With a major artistic appetite, the labels are part of his freelancing efforts late into the night after his 9-to-5 in Santa Cruz.
A full-time graphic designer currently working for NHS distribution, the parent company of Santa Cruz Skateboards – and a voracious skateboarder himself – he’ll stop by Steel Bonnet on his way back to Boulder Creek and “get a beer…maybe two!” With an impressive graphic art portfolio in hand, Nicky remembers his initial meeting with Don: “After about five minutes, Don said, ‘when can you start?’”
He began work about six months ago producing the labels in batches of four. “Don trusted my creative judgement.” It was Nicky’s design for Hop the Heck IPA – his favorite of the brews at Steel Bonnet – that inspired the aesthetic for the other labels in the series. “There are roughly five colors per graphic,” he says, and each graphic is reflective of the theme of the beer itself, rich in finite detail and saturated hues that you would find in nature. Hop blossoms are naturally green and yellow, for instance, and he’s matched the color of the real thing as closely as possible on the label. Likewise, the color of a Hawaiian sunset for the Pau Hana brew, or the tones of the forest for Bear Creek Brown, the nano brewery’s tribute to Bear Creek Road in Boulder Creek; stomping grounds for the Crambs.
Already known for his graphic artwork for Alice’s Restaurant and for the Parks Project, among others, and enthusiastic about continuing to build his freelance opportunities, the labels he’s created for Steel Bonnet will also translate to tap handles, T-shirts, and other merchandise. For Nicky it’s all about mutual respect and keeping it local. “Their beer is good, I support what they’re doing and how they make their beer. Not only do I want to work with them, I love what they do.”
Nicky just finished the last of the 14 labels, which was in honor of Donald and Susan’s new grandbaby, Connor. “The beer is entitled ‘Conski Cream Ale’ and the graphic consists of an illustrated image of Connor after a full messy meal.” Ironically, the graphic was completed on the day of Steel Bonnet’s recent 2nd year anniversary, “which was a wonderful way to finish up all 14 images,” Nicky says. “Steel Bonnet does an excellent job at both perfecting their crafted beers and staying innovative with new limited releases of seasonal offerings.”
“Stop by Steel Bonnet’s wonderful Scotts Valley location and grab a pint of some of the best beer around!” And while you’re there, check out the new beer labels created by San Lorenzo Valley’s Nicky Gaston.
Steel Bonnet: www.facebook.com/SteelBonnetBrewing
20 Victor Square B, Scotts Valley
Copyright 2017 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post
By Julie Horner
Westering sunlight filters through diaphanous drapery, warming the newly re-finished floorboards to a honeyed hue. The expanse is immediately welcoming and calm, the subtle, provocative scents of a well-loved old building mingling with hints of lavender and spice. Meditative ethnic devotional music instantly melts the day’s cares.
Positive energy seems to have settled upon the south end of downtown Boulder Creek, now with the grand opening, September 10, of Flow Boulder Creek Yoga and Wellness Collective in the sunny yellow building between the former Boulder Creek Brewery building and Ace Hardware.
April Winona Levine and Adam Tracy Mendoza opened the space as a wellness collaborative offering yoga, meditation, and massage. Adam says. “We provide a place for artists, teachers, and practitioners to gather.”
Yoga is the first component. They’ve started by offering 3 to 4 classes a day, Monday through Sunday, with local teachers and new teachers from Santa Cruz teaching all levels. Adam says the backstory is really kind of remarkable. “April finished her yoga training – an amazing journey – now what do you do?”
You open your own yoga studio.
“Our grand opening day was nothing short of magical,” April says. She calls yoga a labor of love, and her journey through yoga inspires Adam. “We have a lot of great plans. We want to bring in other components, a juice bar, a vegan snack shop and other ideas to support wellbeing.” Cacao, superfoods, easy recipes you can make from home. “I would love to have some community synergy with New Leaf. We’d like to have a café here.”
The main area is a yoga floor that accommodates up to 20 people for classes. They are interviewing massage therapists now.
Adam says, “Practitioners can come and have the space. Our success will depend on our partners. Without getting too globally out there, we need to start healing, start small. It starts at the community level and branches out. We’re charged by that. Whether it’s one person or a group of people, singers, musicians, having a sense of space is so important…that’s the tool we’re offering.”
“We want to grow to be a viable resource for wellness in SLV.” They see youth mentoring, peer counseling, healing and learning going hand in hand. They plan to have after school activities for the little kids and welcome SLVHS and UCSC students. “Growing spiritually, it’s a learned activity, it’s not a get well quick thing, it’s tools to help people on the path.”
They also offer an open mic series on Fridays in addition to Saturday night acoustic music in the garden. Saturday nights are already booked through early October with local acoustic artists.
Flow Boulder Creek is open every day of the week for a variety of classes including many styles of yoga and meditation. Reiki sessions are available Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
Adam says, “We offer a variety of classes to suit all your wellness interests. It’s an open door and an open invitation. We offer rejuvenation, healing, and most yoga offerings will be for all levels, focusing on centering and grounding.”
“And it’s a cool hang, too. Being amongst people who are just alive. This is a great place for Flow. This is our tribe. We’re going to have an amazing time.”
Flow Boulder Creek
13026 Highway 9
On the Web: flowbouldercreek.com
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/flowbouldercreek/
Copyright 2016 Julie Horner
By Julie Horner
The sound of two voices bound together in spare, earthy harmony touches a vaulted ceiling – natural elements provide an enveloping warmth, rusted steel, handmade paper and melted beeswax. Walls hum and the space between fills with the subtle yearning of souls leaning unconsciously forward. Spellbound by shared imagining and hands clasped virtually walking as one the well-worn paths of human experience through simple storytelling.
“We’re all part of it – acoustic music,” says guitarist and vocalist for Wax Moon, John Blatchford. “Paul and I have been experimenting with space – space being occupied – giving it room. It’s tricky: Two guitarists, two voices, creating as much room to breathe as possible.”
Singer/songwriter and guitarist, Paul Kimball, adds that the sound of their duo, Wax Moon, is “personal, intimate…we put the lyrics up front. The music is deceptively simple…we try to create as much complexity while still keeping it simple.”
Sensational in the Bay Area house concert scene, Wax Moon is making a habit of playing unusual, “completely awesome” performance spaces, debuting locally on June 11 at lille aeske in downtown Boulder Creek. With two acoustic guitars “played only with their fingers,” in this venue they can sing at a volume that’s appropriate to their songs and “isn’t behind a coffee maker.”
John is a recording engineer, sax player and veteran of hard working bands living, for the moment, in San Francisco. Paul, who writes all the lyrics for Wax Moon, lives in San Jose. He says, “I picked up a disdain for country music while living in Texas and found a love for punk rock.” At some point he was reintroduced to folk music, “a strange meandering path that took them back to country down to Americana.” A mutual friend got them together a couple of years ago. They felt a natural musical connection and started working on their own music not long after that. “It helps that it’s just two of us, all matters are easy to resolve. We take it pretty seriously but there isn’t as much stress as bands with lots of members. We’re not about making a brand but more about creating the moment.”
Their debut EP, Ready or Not, was released in November 2015. “We’ve done a lot of work in the past with rich overdubs. Now we’re focusing on the songs themselves, being as in-the-moment as possible, accepting the vagaries of whatever happens.” Ready or Not is a compilation of live takes, basically capturing the essence of what they do.
“We’ve chosen to record the way that we play. When you’re isolating tracks you can become kind of obsessive.” Recording their way means “the music is performed in its natural habitat” – the control room and live room are the same room. “We’re in a room, hanging out playing music and there just happens to be a person there twiddling knobs.”
Wax Moon transcends “the intersection of visual art and music – we can create new experiences that way.” And it’s another reason why lille aeske is such a perfect fit. “It’s like picking up a conversation. We’re such a small unit, creating the energy in a small space…like a small fire burning.”
Paul says, “What’s important to me as a writer is that you’re communicating – it’s a communion with people – you’re making people want to lean into it. We don’t have the advantage of 150 watt amps…it takes a skilled listener to appreciate.
“A big thing for me in this is the vocal harmonizing…that’s something we can really grow with…I just love singing harmonies with John…it’s so frickin’ flattering to sing with.”
As a newer group, they’re “encompassing liftoff in small batches.” Their most recent digital EP, called Cool Blue Heat, is a continuation of music from the first recording with broader themes while still being very simple and spaced around simple melodies and harmonies. It also includes a booklet featuring artwork by Renee French with lyrics and a fanzine. “People like to have something to take home with them to remember the show…give them something they don’t already have.”
John says the new music is modest on some levels and he’d like to keep developing the “artistical” for larger audiences. “If you have ears and heart you’ll enjoy this.” No strings are attached to this process. “This has been more of a clinic for me – Paul has been such a prolific songwriter – like a master class on how to write songs.” John continues, “I was always wrapped up in the music. I’m such a saxophone melody person that the words layered on top weren’t as meaningful. Now it’s awesome to focus on the storyline instead of the backdrop.”
Wax Moon’s music is intimate and stripped down to the essential; their shared faith in the power of song is the way they connect with audiences and with one another. There’s an inherent optimistic humanism, even while veering towards the melancholy. If they take you to difficult places, you can be confident that Wax Moon will also walk you safely back from the edge.
Everything is so damn fragile
Every goddam thing we’ve got
Here right now, lost in a minute
Whether you’re ready or whether you’re not
Whether you’re ready or not – Title track from Ready or Not by Wax Moon
On the Web: http://waxmoonmusic.com/home
Live at lille aeske June 11, 2016: http://www.facebook.com/events/273869662950009/