Charmas Musician Biographies


Charmas’ core 5-piece band includes:

 temporary file for headshots AARON CLEGG – lead vocals, wooden flute, whistles, saxophone
 Aaron Clegg: At age 13, Aaron first went to a traditional Celtic music session with his musician father, and his life changed forever. He returned to that session in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the next 15 years off and on, learning to play Celtic flute and tin whistle, singing Irish songs and sea chanties, and eventually taking classes and playing in sessions with many famous Irish musicians. Meanwhile, he played saxophone in high school and college jazz bands. Rounding out his versatility in instruments and genres, Aaron became part of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir for two years, performing at major concerts and sporting events and on national television. In 2013 he sang at the San Francisco Sea Music Festival. Aaron teaches private lessons in classical and wooden flute, tin whistle, saxophone, and voice technique, performs at weddings and memorials, and earns the balance of his living teaching at schools in the Santa Cruz area.
 temporary file for headshotsELISE MACGREGOR FERRELL – fiddle, Great Highland Bagpipes

Elise’s musical family started teaching her piano and music theory ate age 5. She played  flute in her middle school’s marching band, and fell in love with folk music at Yosemite’s first Strawberry Music Festival. (Yikes, how many years ago?) She learned stage band mechanics from spending a decade operating handheld cameras and directing real-time music videos for live-feed screens at the Concord Pavilion. A whimsical decision to take up fiddling doomed her to misspend countless early motherhood evenings learning hundreds of traditional Irish and Scottish tunes at Santa Cruz’s drop-in Celtic sessions, joining monthly old time jams, and occasionally fiddling for a bluegrass jam or barndance. Elise’s first inspiration for founding Charmas came from her favorite Celtic bands, The Old Blind Dogs and Molly’s Revenge. She was inspired to learn bagpiping by a lifetime of marching behind weekly summertime bagpipe parades, and nowadays competes with the Monterey Bay Pipe Band, marches with Canada’s Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band, and performs solo as a “Phantom Piper” for a historic lighthouse in Canada.

temporary file for headshots JIM POWELL – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals
Jim started playing guitar at 14. His first job was taken solely to be able to buy a Fender Stratocaster and an amplifier – the guitar is now considered “vintage” – Jim is not sure how he feels about being the original owner of a vintage guitar. He discovered Celtic music by hearing Alisdair Fraser and the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers playing in the late 1980s. He played with that group for several years, before switching to smaller, local Celtic (and non-Celtic) groups. Over the years, he has accompanied fiddlers, pipers, flautists, accordionists and singers. He also plays bouzouki and mandolin.

Dan Headshot DAN BLAKE – bass, vocals                                                                                            Dan’s musical adventure began at age 10 when his Scottish grandma gave him guitar lessons. He didn’t keep up the lessons, but grandma insisted he keep the guitar just in case he decided to pick it back up. That’s exactly what happened and he still owns and plays that old Yamaha guitar 45 years later! While still playing guitar, he found a love of all things bass along the way and has played in local bands for many years. He has also sung with the Santa Cruz Peace Choral and hopes to continue if time allows. He’s excited to continue his musical journey with Charmas. If you don’t see him on stage around town look for him in the audience watching others playing! His motto? Support live music!

temporary file for headshots DEVIN LARA – kit drums
Born in County Santa Cruz, and working as a plumber by day and a musician by night, Devin spent a decade playing guitar/bass for bands whose styles ranged from stoner metal and jazz, to blues, heavier metal and everything else in between. Stale coolers filled with warm, cheap beer in San Francisco’s late-night clubs might not have motivated Devin’s switch to drums, but he has since developed a passion for percussion that swerved dramatically when he joined Charmas. It seems that the Stars have always wished for Devin to play Celtic music, because (we kid you not) he was born on St. Patrick’s Day! And this consummate “band guy” is so musically-driven that he would drum for Charmas every night of the week, if we would let him.

Additional musicians who rotate in with Charmas include:

temporary file for headshots RICHARD DWYER – lead vocals, low whistle, bodhran
At the tender age of 6 Richard started piano lessons and went on to spend 5 years studying music at the Royal College of Music in Dublin, Ireland. A long stint with an Irish Rock band ensued, but eventually life took a hand and Richard left the music scene, and the country. Quite a few years passed before he took an interest in music again, in of all places, his local church. Thanks to their St. Patrick’s day celebration and his nomination as the token Irishman, he began organizing their annual shindig and developed a love for Celtic music. He now plays whistle and bodhran, and is the lead singer in his own band Luckless Pedestrians, as well as the traditional bodhran drummer for Charmas.
temporary file for headshotsMATT JOHNSON – tenor banjo, pennywhistle
Matt’s diverse musical background began with playing trumpet and baritone horn in his high school’s symphonic, marching, and jazz bands. He claims to have learned to play old time banjo from a dubious relative in Aptolachia (south of Sokewell and Capittola), but, then again, he also claims to know someone who is his own grandpa. We do have proof that Matt took up playing pennywhistle, guitar, and banjo during the 1980’s, and that he became a regular fixture at Santa Cruz’s legendary Britannia Arms Irish sessions. Matt spent a subsequent decade playing rock and blues by night, while running his business, T&M Concrete, during the daytime. As soon as he returned to playing in local Celtic sessions, he got swept up by Charmas like sheet music in a sea breeze. Today, the old-spice scented minstrel looks back upon his nearly 30 years of picking strings, and playfully admits that he might finally be “getting serious” about music. His lingering childhood dream is to someday play Celtic tuba for Charmas.
temporary file for headshots RUSS BENNETT – bodhran
Russ played drum set as a teenager, and at 20 years old, he went to work overseas, playing concerts and entertaining military personnel. During a long career of operating a construction-based business in the SF Bay Area, he studied various styles of percussion with experts John Santos, Michael Spiro, Brian Rice, and Jim Griener. A decision to move to Santa Cruz got him involved with Cabrillo College’s Latin Jazz Ensemble, and inspired him to specialize in playing hand drums. Russ plays the Brazilian Pandiero, Middle Eastern Darbuka (for belly dancers), Tar, Conga, Cajon, Bongo, as well as full drum set. Russ fell in love with Celtic music and started playing the Bodhran Irish frame drum. He has studied Celtic percussion with David Brewer and some the very best teachers from Ireland such as Colm Phelan and Eamon Murray.

MIKE LONG: Best known as the author of Santa Cruz’s own “bible” of traditional Irish and Scottish tunes – the King Street Tune Book – Mike claims to have known all the tunes in his giant book at one time or another. He is the guitar player for the band Dance Around Molly. And, in addition to impeccably keeping the beat, he plays tenor banjo for local sessions and dances.

temporary file for headshots CHRIS WILL – vocals, octave mandolin, bouzouki, standup/electric bass

Chris was born in the UK, both of his parents natives of the town of Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  He spent many summer hols visiting his grandparents and family, learning to fish on the river Ugie and walking on the beach in the lee of Rattrey Head.  He fondly recalls his first taste of Whiskey, thieved from a barrel in the Long John Distillery where his grandfather was the cooper. He has actually been to where the Gaudie Rins (o’er the back o’ Bennachie).  If you every hear the band perform The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie, or Ye Canna Shove Yer Grannie Off a Bus you know who to blame.  Chris also owns what he believes to be one of the largest collections of The Broons & Oor Wullie Annuals in the Bay Area. As for music, being versed in styles ranging from jazz and blues to rock and funk, Chris has gigged extensively up and down the West Coast, supporting acoustic singer songwriters and finger-style guitarists,  joining full electric free jazz ensembles, and being the bandleader of his own rock and  R&B projects.  Chris’ influences draw from classical, ambient and world music, embracing improvisation while holding down the bottom end. His move to the Bay Area in 1999 led him to play bass & mandolin for the East Bay Celtic band “Snakes in Eden,” and then another move to the South Bay in 2005 redirected him to join the Jerry Garcia tribute project “The Days Between,” while also spending several years playing pub rock with local Morgan Hill favorites “The Newcastle Brothers,” and sitting in with great players from all over the area. A baritone singer, Chris plays 4, 5 & 6 string fretted & fretless bass, as well as guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, and cello.

temporary file for headshotsDOUG SIMMONS – vocals, acoustic and electric guitar
Doug has been playing guitar since watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in ’64. Well, he was only four then but he knew what he wanted to do! At eight years old he got his first department store electric guitar and amp. Took lessons for a few years, hated the rapping on his knuckles by Mr. Pulley, his very excellent jazz teacher. He started his first band, a 3-piece power trio at 13 and started booking gigs at 14. The band grew in popularity throughout southern New England and was constantly touring, making high school graduation a difficult hurdle to overcome, but he did it. He’s been playing all his life, collaborating with dozens of musicians in that time. He prefers all styles of music except raw rap and hip-hop. Classical music, western country, blues, rock and of course Celtic are all in his musical vocabulary. In Santa Cruz for the past 27 years, he has his own recording studio and continues to write, collaborate and record new music every waking minute.
temporary file for headshotsJOSH REILLY – vocals, octave mandolin, acoustic guitar
Josh usually changes the subject when asked about his musical background.  Best to broach the subject after a shot of 12 year old single malt, especially if you are buying.  He does know something about Irish history and music, earning him the nickname of “The Professor.” His guitar style was developed playing in “various garage bands,” and studying with Santa Cruz’s own Celtic guitar master, Bill Coulter.  Josh counts John Doyle, Joe Pass and Jesse Ed Davis among his heroes.  When he is not holding down the guitar/mandolin chair with The Wise Fools of Gotham, or sitting in with Charmas, he plays with a local jazz trio, and stays busy at his day job, Executive Safety Factotum with the County of Santa Cruz


CARL HYLIN: Carl is a versatile multi-instrumentalist who has played in musical styles ranging from Renaissance madrigals to punk rock. As a pre-show performer for Michael Johnathon’s Troubadour Concert series in Kentucky, Carl warmed up for Dave Brubeck, Emmylou Harris, Janis Ian, and other greats. He is versed in musical traditions from Russia, the Middle East, and Ireland, and has won a bronze medal at the prestigious All-Ireland Music Festival. When he’s not playing music, Carl dreams about building a legion of robotic spider-minions. He used to be a rocket scientist.

GALT BARBER: Galt is the fiddler for Dance Around Molly. He has been avidly playing Irish music for 20 years. He loves the Irish language and has two sons who speak it with him. Nothing’s more fun for Galt than playing music for others.

CARLETON EYSTER: This local marine biologist is a long time fixture of Irish sessions in Santa Cruz. His Celtic wooden flute seems to know just about every tune thrown at him, and he plays the flute with lyricism that can  pacify savage beasts and summon song birds.

DEBBIE DOSS: Raised in Miami and South Beach, Florida by her proud Irish family (The Mullaney’s from New England), Debbie grew up on a steady dose of Celtic music with Latin musical surroundings. Her musical training started at a young age while she was learning the alphabet – getting solid on letters A-G on the recorder and soon performing Baroque classics with her brother. After trying her hand at several instruments in her youth (ukulele, guitar, violin, clarinet, bassoon) she settled on the flute/piccolo for high school and university bands and choral groups. She eventually found that playing the drums/percussion was her passion. For the past 20 years she has been performing with a wide variety of musical groups on drums and percussion from small singer/songwriters, pop/rock groups, choral to concert /marching bands.

KIM FULTON-BENNETT: Another local marine biologist, Kim is a multi-instrumentalist who enjoys playing Celtic flute and occasionally mandolin. He has classical training on clarinet, bassoon, flute and alto sax. His diverse musical interests have inspired him to perform regularly with bands who play rock and reggae, as well as Celtic music.

MATHEW HARMON: When Mathew turned 18, he was gifted an ovation guitar, which inspired him to begin learning and writing folk songs. Throughout the years, Mathew has studied bouzouki, banjo, fiddle, and guitar. He plays many styles of folk music, including Turkish, Ladino, Klezmer, Irish, and traditional American. Between 2010 and 2013 he toured the country with the Indie folk bands Matador and Pale Robin, performing at the Northwest folklife festival. In 2013, he received an AA degree in Music with emphasis on Cello. He currently studies guitar with folk legend Jim Oakden in Santa Cruz.

BRUCE DORAN: “Bassman Bruce” occasionally holds down the low end for Charmas, and frequently performs with various Santa Cruz jazz ensembles.

MICHAEL KERWIN O’BROAIN: Michael started playing bass at 17, mainly due to uncooperative girlfriends.  He quickly worked his way up to managing a 10-piece band, and producing multiple recordings of his own original music, arranged for full band with three- and sometimes four-piece horn sections.  Although he is a bassist at heart, he has also performed and recorded on guitar and piano, and has many lead and backing vocal credits.  Fortunate enough to attend Alisdair Fraser’s “Fiddle Camp” for a few years as an “accompanist” on bass and guitar, Michael learned the subtle intricacies of Celtic rhythms.  Seven days in the woods with over a hundred fiddle players will definitely change a person.  These adventures also included regular study under preeminent Celtic guitarist Tony McManus.  A tragic addiction to Guinness stout, acquired during a hitch-hiking trip through Ireland, still haunts Michael, but he assures us regular access to “the Black” was not a major factor in his joining the band.

JACK HANLEY: Frequently performing in a Klezmer band, Jack is a spunky outdoorsman who loves all kinds of folk music, and looks swank keeping the beat on his Irish bodhran drum.