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      Off to California

            Music from the Gold Rush Era

The Band

Traditional music in California owes its complexity to the diversity of peoples who found their way here.  Off to California uses as its starting point the California Gold Rush of the mid-nineteenth century and the music the miners carried in their hearts to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.

Together the musicians of Off to California have more than enough years of experience performing traditional music in northern California to exceed the life span of a grizzled old miner.  Each member has played a variety of musical styles, but all share a special love for the music of the Celtic nations.  The band takes its name from a popular Irish tune called "Off to California," which celebrates the thousands of Irish who left home in search of a better life in the Gold Country.  The group also infuses its repertoire with traditional Appalachian tunes, French dance music, cowboy songs, Mexican corridos, Swedish tunes, Civil War ballads and other types of traditional music.  A special feature offered by Off to California is "living history" presentations of the music, story and song of the California Gold Rush.

Members of Off to California were selected to provide historical songs for the Gold Rush portion of  the eight-part series The West, produced by Ken Burns and aired on PBS during the fall of 1996.  They are also featured on the soundtrack recording of The West and appear on the Coloma episode of Huell Howser's popular California's Gold series.  The group was pleased to be selected to perform at the 1998 Sesquicentennial Celebration of the California Gold Rush in Coloma.

Alan Beilharz Fuller 

Alan Beilharz Fuller is an accomplished guitar and mandolin player, a singer and collector of traditional songs.  He grew up in a musical family that enjoyed singing songs in German, French, Spanish and other languages.  As a young man he joined a troupe of Spanish Gypsy musicians who played, sang and danced Flamenco music.  Alan's Flamenco guitar work brought him awards and recognition while overseas in the U.S. Army.  For the past 30 years, Alan has avidly collected Celtic tunes and songs from Ireland and Scotland.  He plays jigs and reels on the mandolin, sings poignant emigration songs from Ireland and is known for his energetic, rhythmic guitar style and innovative chord usage.  He is a versatile musician and singer, moving easily among many traditional ethnic styles.  After moving to Coloma in 1978, Alan began collecting songs of the California Gold Rush and now has one of the largest repertoires of this music.  He recently retired from a career as an interpretive ranger for Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, CA.

Dorothy Hawkinson

Dorothy Hawkinson began her relationship with the fiddle at the age of nine, but it was while living in Georgia in the late 1970s--climbing telephone poles in rural counties for Southern Bell, then working as a lineman for Seaboard Coast Line RR--that she became inspired by the folk and traditional music of the southern Appalachians.  She has been playing, performing, writing and teaching in the greater Sacramento area since the early 1980s and has won a number of awards at fiddling contests.  Celtic, Appalachian, Swedish and French fiddle styles are included in her repertoire.  She is one of few musicians in the western United States working to preserve the traditional dance music of France.  The liveliness of her clear, sweet fiddle style is well-suited to the music of the Celtic nations.  Dorothy also contributes vocal harmonies to Off to California. Her interpretive readings from the letters and journals of women of the Gold Rush era are a popular part of the band's historical presentations.  Her original compositions are also creeping their way into the band's repertoire.  Dorothy worked for not-for-profit and charitable organizations for 25 years.

Andy Alexis 

Andy Alexis began playing folk music more than 25 years ago on a variety of home-built instruments. He has been performing in the greater Sacramento area since 1980.  He is an accomplished hammered dulcimer and banjo player; he specializes in several early banjo musical styles.  Andy's clawhammer banjo playing is unusually melodic and lends itself well to both Celtic and Appalachian music. He has received a number of awards for both his banjo playing and finger picking-style guitar work. Andy is a strong singer who contributes songs and vocal harmonies to the band's material.  He's particularly fond of gospel singing in the "shaped note" tradition and shares with Dorothy a love for the musical traditions of their Swedish ancestry.  Andy is an air pollution specialist  for California's Air Resources Board.