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 Crooked Road Céilí Band ~ A Presidential Performance at Filoli House

By Julie Horner

In bold late October sunshine, Filoli House stood magnificent and sprawling, its lush gardens, vines, and hedges sweeping like wings verdant and moist against the dry, tawny expanse of rolling California oak lands. Catering staff was adding finishing touches to the tables stationed throughout the grounds – local wine, lustrous crystal and silver on small tables draped with white linen under fragrant boughs.

The Crooked Road Céilí Band had been invited to play traditional melodies in the courtyard at the storied mansion’s front entry – hammered dulcimer, fiddle, and guitar to welcome guests as they arrived for a gala garden party as if from a page out of Alice in Wonderland.

The motorcade pulled abruptly to the graveled walk promptly at 3:15. Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabina, escorted by an entourage of secret service and local insiders, were ushered past, smiles and polite nods, into the reception in full swing. What an honor to share this glorious day of music and cheer with the Bay Area Irish community – a rare, celebrated instance of international import.

Based in the Santa Cruz Mountains, The Crooked Road Céilí Band is anchored by Julie Horner and David Chadwick. David and I met at the Sunday traditional Irish seisiún at O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub in San Jose a dozen years ago and have hosted the Tuesday night seisiún there ever since. I cut my teeth on Celtic music at John Taylor’s iconic King’s Head Pub seisiún in Campbell back in the day and performed for many a Highland Games in the 1990s with the now defunct group, Celtic Blacklyst. David rode his bicycle across Ireland with a mandolin strapped to his back, spending years woodshedding the music on fiddle back at home.

The Crooked Road Céilí Band features a high-ranking roster of professional musicians to round out the trio, and sometimes a quartet, to provide lively acoustic music for a wide variety of events including weddings, dances, and public and private occasions of all kinds. We share our love of traditional music prolifically, keeping a calendar bursting with musical endeavorings.

We discovered our regular third member, guitarist and singer-songwriter, Ken Bewick, at the seisiún at the Poet & Patriot Irish Pub in Santa Cruz. Ken puts the groove to our traditional tunes, taking the energy to new levels. Adding another layer of interest, we often ask local bluegrass legend, Mark McCornack to join us on 5-string banjo, which gives our sound a down-home Americana feel. And when we’re fortunate, bodhrán player, Russ Bennett is available when an event calls for the drive of the traditional frame drum.

Together in many forms, The Crooked Road Céilí Band has been invited to play on stage at Ardenwood’s annual Tartan Day celebration; the highly regarded international music festival, Church Street Fair in Santa Cruz; the Big Trees Scottish Festival and Highland Games at Roaring Camp; and for the South Bay Scottish Society Robert Burns supper – eight years running if you include the years we were playing as Cooking with Turf!

Doug Lowder (fiddle) and Jack Gilder (concertina, flute) make up The Crooked Road quartet. We met at the famed Plough & Stars Irish seisiún in San Francisco, and Jack, David, and I are regulars at Lark in the Morning annual music and dance camp in Mendocino. The Crooked Road plays once a month for Irish set dancing at the Plough and we host the enormously popular twice-a-year Irish céilí at the Felton Trout Farm Inn.

The Crooked Road Céilí Band is also in demand to play traditional dance music for Scottish céilídhs, joining forces with callers Linda Henderson and Juliet Davoren for numerous private parties throughout the year.

One of our favorite specialties is providing music for weddings. We’ve traveled as far as Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe to help families celebrate very special moments, performing in cathedrals of stone and cathedrals of redwood forest alike. The hammered dulcimer is much sought after for adding an evocative magic to traditional pieces like Amazing Grace and Pachelbel’s Cannon in addition to melodies from the Irish and Scottish tradition.

The Crooked Road Céilí Band plays for the sheer joy of making music and being able to share our enthusiasm with our community, aiming to put a jig in your step and a song in your heart! Longtime hosts of the traditional Irish seisiun at O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub on Tuesdays in downtown San Jose, the Poet & the Patriot in Santa Cruz, and Thursday’s at Rosie McCann’s in Santa Cruz (RIP).

On the web: www.santacruz.com/places/the-crooked-road-ceili-band

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/CrookedRoadCeiliBand/

Phone: 831-325-1974

Email: leap2three@gmail.com

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The San Lorenzo Valley Post ~ Small Town America Newspaper, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA

Support your local Santa Cruz Mountains newspaper! Invest in your community!

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Did you know that San Lorenzo Valley has its own newspaper? The San Lorenzo Valley Post: www.slvpost.com

The Santa Cruz Mountains is home to a rich array of restaurateurs, musicians, artists, crafters, writers, makers, growers, educators, brewers, business owners, healers, do-gooders, and contributors of all kinds to the local economy. We boast dozens of wineries and vineyards in a booming wine region that is touted to be one of the most unique natural environments in the world. We are home to Big Basin and Henry Cowell State Parks, the Santa Cruz Sandhills, Fall Creek, and countless natural destinations. We attract international and local talent to several live music venues, and offer sumptuous dining opportunities at any number of fantastic locally owned and operated restaurants.

Welcome to the San Lorenzo Valley Post, an independent, local women-owned, community supported newspaper and online news and event resource for the San Lorenzo Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Considered and curated content, balanced local reporting, robust community calendaring, dedicated information sharing. Co-founded by Julie Horner and Mary Andersen with support from a team of writers, editors, graphic designers, and community advocates in the Santa Cruz Mountains in collaboration with the people and organizations of the San Lorenzo Valley, we are “The Valley’s Voice.”

Contact the San Lorenzo Valley Post

Website: http://www.slvpost.com
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831-335-6500 Business
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San Lorenzo Valley Post
P.O. Box 1621
Boulder Creek, CA. 95006-1621

Co-Founders/Co-Editors

Mary Andersen:
mary@slvpost.com

Julie Horner:
julie@slvpost.com
leap2three@gmail.com

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Laura Testa-Reyes:
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Have the San Lorenzo Valley Post delivered to your home via the U.S. Post Office. Yearly subscription is $50 prepaid. Send your request to mary@slvpost.com or use our GoFundMe donation link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/san-lorenzo-valley-post-newspaper

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The San Lorenzo Valley Post invites excellent writers to join our team. Articles should be 500-700 words for print. Longer articles can be posted on our web page and social media. Note that all submissions will be professionally edited for length, accuracy, spelling, and grammar.
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Consider placing an advertisement or underwriting one of our columns. Rates are highly competitive for the area, and special pricing is in place during the health crisis. Ads should be received in print-ready PDF form or you may send high resolution images with your text, and our graphic designer will create something for you. Available ad sizes:

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The San Lorenzo Valley Post welcomes your contributions to our local grassroots effort to connect the community. Thank you for supporting independent journalism in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
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As we turn our hearts and efforts toward the “think local” movement, consider displaying, reading, and advertising in the San Lorenzo Valley Post. Small town newspapers are the life blood of the community, and when the community pulls together, we all succeed.