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 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

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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

See also:

The Brookdale Inn on the Road to Resurrection

Another New Year to Celebrate

Session drummer and host of the popular Hot Jazz Swing Night at Santa Cruz Food Lounge shares why every New Year is so special.

By Tom Leitzke

Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare life-threatening disease (cholangiocarcenoma, or bile duct cancer) and told there was an 80% chance I had only 1-7 months left to live and that very best case, if everything goes as well as possible, I have less than two years to live. At the time 10 years ago it was an 8-hour surgery that had a 25% mortality rate. 2008 was a year of treatments that included radiation and chemo. I had a recurring tumor in 2012 but there has been no evidence of cancer since.

Last New Year’s Eve was the 10th anniversary of my surgery. From this experience I have learned more than ever to appreciate every day. Three years ago, I rewired (normally referred to as retired) and moved from Campbell to Santa Cruz. My “rewirement” is filled with my wife, Roxanne, and me doing everything we like to do – and for me, the opportunity to play music with whoever wants to play.

hot_jazz3_Tom Leitzke‎ by George T. Zaferes

One of my favorite gigs is called HOT Jazz Swing. We have been at it for almost a year now. I am honored to be playing with guys like Adam G Swanson (four-time Old Time World Champion piano player), Kylan DeGhetaldi (multiple tours with the internationally acclaimed band Postmodern Jukebox), and when he’s available, Nigel Armstrong (Concertmaster for the Santa Cruz Symphony). Performing with such talent is beyond my wildest dream.

How did HOT Jazz Swing start? I saw a video of a piano player and a drummer doing a Ragtime duet and it just felt like me. I discovered Kylan DeGhetalti lived in Santa Cruz – he founded the Santa Cruz Ragtime Festival – and I sent him a message. About a month later we connected and played several gigs together. We added Adam G Swanson about five months ago. It’s Adam and Kylan doing Dueling Pianos with me sandwiched in the middle on the drums. Ironically, that video I originally saw featured Adam Swanson on Piano and Danny Coots on drums, and now I get to be doing exactly what I had envisioned from watching that video.

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Backed by the HOT Jazz Swing Band, we compile Classic Jazz standards with covers of new songs played in a vintage era way – just the opposite of doing old covers to keep them new – we do new to make them old, Postmodern Jukebox Style. HOT Jazz Swing has developed an all-ages following and what really lifts my spirits is seeing smiles on people’s faces and the swing dancers helping me keep the beat!

hot_jazz2_photo by George T. Zaferes

If a Speakeasy club atmosphere and a nostalgic trip back to the sultry, swinging era jazz bands sounds appealing, put on your dancing shoes, your feather boas, handsome fedoras, and join our spirit of fun. We promise you an evening of good friends, great music, and perfect memories. The next two HOT Jazz Swing Shows are on Saturday January 13th and February 24th at the Food Lounge in Santa Cruz.

For further information of upcoming shows, join HOT Jazz Swing on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/150358638927166/

hot_jazz_6_by Julie Horner

Copyright 2017 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

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Mountain Home

By Julie Horner

While most seemed snug and expectantly quiet on Christmas Eve, well heated and well fed, we castaway wanderers traveled by unexpected invitation through rural northeast county to the church on the Summit. Reluctant and unsure in a dark parking lot, the ragged sound of working man’s hand-bells chimed dimly from within. Forced by the chill we tiptoed inside. A score of stragglers and strangers still bundled in their beanies and down jackets sang in watery unison under the hasty direction of an itinerant salesman in a vintage frock coat.

The room echoed with eternal hollowness, leaders suddenly stricken voiceless and vulnerable, dry mouths clicking. Heads were bowed in awkward indifference; some making peace, others openly checking the hand-held. At last Silent Night’s somber manifest forced all to their feet and the weirdness was banished long enough to briefly unify those within as brothers – a reason, finally, to glance, nod, and look away – the redemption in the scent of cheap white candles shakily lit and just as quickly snuffed.

Without a word, we slipped from the warmth into the night to join Mary and her companion under crisp December stars. Only yards from the glowing holiday windows, living rooms filled with laughter, and the church with its burned-out soul and grocery store Danish, the native forest embraced the travelers in thankful silence. A flask of whisky passed from lip to lip, silhouettes round a rusty dryer drum warming fire. Home and hearth had no roof, no walls, no doors. The Heavens stretched, winking.

Copyright 2018 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

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A Simple Aesthetic

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Nicky Gaston:

www.instagram.com/nickygaston | http://ngcreativeco.com

Steel Bonnet: www.facebook.com/SteelBonnetBrewing
20 Victor Square B, Scotts Valley

Copyright 2017 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

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