Sue and Donald Cramb (middle), owners of Steel Bonnet Brewing Co. in Scotts Valley, enjoy the hometown scene during the Hops n’ Barley Festival on Saturday. The couple says they are planning to launch a Salinas expansion soon. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

More than 40 breweries and 40 food and beverage vendors took part in the Hops n’ Barley Festival on Saturday, attracting dozens of vintage Volkswagen buses and punch buggies. 

Adults were overjoyed to receive a shot glass so they could sample the wares of the various alcoholic product purveyors.

Just before the event’s noon kick-off, co-organizer Jacob Agnone, 46, was making last-minute preparations and checking on the status of a couple participants who were stuck in a traffic jam on Highway 17.

“I think this is the calm before the storm,” he said, adding he was lucky to have so many helping hands behind the scenes. “We have a lot of volunteers.”

The gathering at Scotts Valley’s Skypark field had a jam band and rock ‘n’ roll vibe, and it was all for a good cause: proceeds from the sudsy extravaganza are being directed to support the Homeless Garden Project.

“They have so many things that they’re growing,” Agnone noted, just after he checked Pacifica Brewery in. “It’s awesome.”

The Haze’s Carl Atilano (left) says his musical trajectory was shaped by his involvement in the Homeless Garden Project. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

Michelle Masshar, a 60-year-old Felton resident, wandered onto the grass, intrigued by the delicious morsels on offer—curious if there’d be any English meat pies available.

“I come every year,” she said. “I’m a big fan of beer.”

Rafael Ramirez, 37, had just arrived from San Jose with several friends in-tow.

“I actually started coming here the second year it started,” he said, adding he’s returned every year he’s been able to.

Their six-person group included Eloy Ramirez, 34, who drove all the way from Reno with his wife Paola Caceres. “We just came for this,” he said.

“The beer is my passion,” said Caceres, who is a Colombian immigrant. “In Columbia we have similar events. Once, I drank 24 cans.”

Decked out in pretzel necklaces, Rafael Ramirez, Eloy Ramirez, Paola Caceres and their friends wait for the rest of their thirsty crew to arrive. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

Over at the Santa Cruz Scrumpy Cider booth, Chris Skinner was ready to pour up a storm, but thought he might get to break away at some point for a break.

“I’m probably going to go check out the vintage clothing,” the Bonny Doon resident said. “It’s just another day in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

Bev Jensen popped in from her home up Glen Canyon to set up the artisan stall she was holding down with her daughter.

“It took me a whole eight minutes to get here,” she said. “My daughter’s out of Felton.”

She used to sell her art at Bumblebees by the Sea until that shop was shuttered.

“Now I do local events,” she said.

Her daughter, Melody Barker, previously organized activities for children at an earlier incarnation of the festival. Since she sold her daycare, she’s exhibiting cute jewelry and wall hangings alongside her mom, this time.

“We enjoy working together,” Barker said. “I have a laser and she does everything by hand.”

Bev Jensen and daughter Melody Barker attend the festival. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

The early afternoon air was filled with the energetic growls of “Kaleidoscope / Kaleidoscope Highway!” wafting over from one of two stages, where the Haze, a Nevada City band, was throwing down.

Carl Atilano, a 36-year-old bass and guitar player, said the group met in Santa Cruz. He explained that his journey into music was facilitated by the Homeless Garden Project. He’d decided to volunteer with the organization and one thing led to another.

“I got the garden bug,” Atilano said, of how he came to toil away at the nonprofit’s Westside growing location. “It was exactly what I needed, because you’re working with people who are knowledgeable.”

He put in more than 100 hours of sweat equity into the organization, getting his hands dirty out in the field but also contributing his musical talents, too.

“I was coming so often,” he said. “I would perform for Homeless Garden Project events.”

A woman came up to him at one holiday fundraiser and asked him to join her jazz project. Ultimately, this new venture would lead him to meeting the love of his life.

Wife Jen Sylvester, who’d been filming the Hops n’ Barley set, confirmed the account. Atilano said it was just a coincidence that the show they’d been booked for was in support of the organization that had had such a powerful impact on his life.

For Kofi Asare, 52, it was just the opposite. He was down at Hops n’ Barley from Harlem, N.Y., soaking and shaping woven baskets and spreading positivity at his Africa Unite booth.

“The guy who put it together is my friend,” he said, noting he was at Hops n’ Barley last year, too. “Everything is beautiful.”

But what about the scorching triple-digit temperatures that had been forecast for the region?

“I was in Arizona last week,” he said. “It was 117. This is great.”

The Higher Collective pumped out the reggae feels with authority. (Drew Penner/Press Banner)

The Higher Collective had begun playing roots music from the other stage. The Bob Marley song they were covering seemed to capture the mood of the day perfectly: “Every little thing / gonna be alright.”

The festival was a chance for Donald Cramb and wife Sue, both 61, the owners of Steel Bonnet Brewing Co. in Scotts Valley, to take stock in advance of a massive business move. It seemed there were more people in attendance than for previous editions, they mused.

“We get a lot of regulars coming by,” Sue said. “It’s always nice, because we’re surprised by how many people come from Scotts Valley and still don’t know who we are.”

Donald said the company is indebted to the loyalty of customers, who stood by them during the tough pandemic years.

“The main reason we did get through is because of the support of the community and regulars,” he said. “It just showed how important having that hometown community is. Because we don’t do any distribution.”

Well, until now, that is.

“We’re just about to open a production facility in Salinas,” Donald revealed, stressing that the local operation will continue to play a critical role in their operation. “Scotts Valley will be our pilot facility.”

The Salinas site will be about 3,500 square feet—10 times larger than their current digs.

Previous articleGuest Column | Scotts Valley Rebuilding City Services
Next articleAlcohol suspected in Boulder Creek crash that killed man, injured another
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here