Ten years ago, four musicians gathered for an intimate performance in a cozy room in a Moss Beach meadow. Wielding their guitars, mandolins, bass and lush vocal harmonies, Beargrass Creek Band captivated the audience with a special blend of handmade acoustic music.
On Friday, the band’s original members gave an encore performance at Cypress Meadows, celebrating a decade of acoustic music in this unique Coastside venue.
Half Moon Bay resident and musician Bob Peterson has been booking talent for the monthly acoustic concert series since it began back in 2009.
He calls it “a house concert in a big living room,” and that is certainly the vibe. The audience sits on chairs or wicker couches, with the first row just a few feet away from the musicians.
The setting sun filters through large windows, framing the green grass and cypress trees that give the building its name. The high-beamed ceiling and hardwood floor provide the acoustics of a carefully designed concert hall.
There is no stage, no microphone, no amplifier, no distraction. Just seasoned musicians sharing the pure joy of their music.
Dave Trabue, the leader for Beargrass Creek, said his group always loves playing at Cypress Meadows.
“It is like sitting around in your best friend’s living room playing music, but there are people hanging on your every word,” he said. “Most places you play are in bars or restaurants. The people are not really there just to listen to you.”
Trabue began his professional music career at 14 in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. He played for several years in Northern California, then moved to the Bay Area, where he started dating MaryAnn Johnston.
He soon discovered that his new girlfriend had a beautiful singing voice, and the pair started looking for a few more musicians with whom to create a group. Matt Lauer answered an ad for a stand-up bass, and Len Anderson came on board right before the first gig at Cypress Meadows back in 2009.
“It is wonderful to have people to sing with without all the drama,” said Trabue. “These are just wonderful human beings that also happen to be great musicians.”
At their Friday performance, Beargrass Creek delivered a fantastic set inspired by progressive and traditional bluegrass, old-school and alternative folk and country, and a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll.
“Here’s a song by my favorite writer and singer, a Texas boy named Rodney Crowell,” said Trabue, breaking into the country ballad “Till I Gain Control Again.” His strong voice and solo guitar were joined by Johnston and Anderson’s rich harmony on the chorus.
“I want to play a little dobro,” said Trabue, picking up the resonator guitar and sliding on his metal finger picks. Lauer busted into the bluegrass classic “Walls of Time” while Trabue soloed on the dobro. At 6-foot-5, Lauer stood almost as tall as his string bass, which he played in an animated, string-slapping, foot-tapping style.
Later in the set, Trabue and Johnston shared a sweet ballad called “The Bramble and the Rose.” As their voices blended on the chorus, their eyes met, they shared a secret smile, then Trabue gave Johnston a playful wink.
Local gems like Beargrass Creek are just the kind of treat audiences can expect at Cypress Meadows. Last month featured Coastsider Mo Robinson playing Irish tunes in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, while the next concert will showcase Montara-based singer-songwriter John Lester.
It is all a labor of love, said Peterson. The concerts are paid for with donations.
There is a jar in the back where people can contribute to the complimentary wine, beer and other beverages, and Peterson passes a black top hat at intermission to collect something for the musicians.
“I make no money out of the darn thing. I think Sharon just makes enough for wine she serves,” said Peterson of Cypress Meadows owner, Sharon Dardanelle. “Neither one of us are businessmen. We haven’t figured out how to capitalize on it.”
But that is not the point.
“This is just good people playing good music,” said Peterson. “It brings people together.”