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James Durbin album party brings fans from near and far
By Wallace Baine, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 11/22/2011 10:38:58 AM PST
Updated: 11/22/2011 10:49:25 AM PST


Santa Cruz Gardens Elementary fourth-grader Betsy Cuellar... (Shmuel Thaler, Santa Cruz Sentinel)«12»SANTA CRUZ — We don't know where to send Father of the Year nominations, but somebody needs to launch a campaign right now for Ray Nafez.

Among the 500 or so people who lined up to see James Durbin at Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz on Monday, Mr. Nafez, and his 11-year-old daughter Lily were the very first in the queue. They had parked themselves at the back door at Streetlight at 7 a.m. for an event scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Oh, and the kicker? They came to see Durbin from their hometown of San Diego.

“Yep,” said father Ray, “it was nine hours on the road exactly.”

Lily said her father took a few days to soften, but finally relented. After all, she figured, seeing Durbin in the flesh on the very first day of the release of his very first album isn't something that's ever going to happen again.

The story of the Nafezes was remarkable but certainly not extraordinary in a crowd of fans and family friends that stretched down Elm Street and wrapped around Caffe Pergolesi on the next block. People came in custom-made clothing, announcing their allegiance to Santa Cruz's former “American Idol” star. Others came with signs, baked goods and gifts for the 22-year-old rocker who dutifully signed everything offered to him at Streetlight's buy counter, his fiancee Heidi and young son Hunter behind him.

Fan-tastic

The occasion was the release of Durbin's debut album “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” (Wind Up Records), which was not only playing inside the record store, but blasting from the car stereo of fan Chris Maddox's white Volkswagen Beetle, hours before Durbin's scheduled appearance.

Also in line was Marissa Erickson who enjoyed a bit of celebrity in her own right back in May during the unforgettable Durbin Day concert at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. She was the young woman who Durbin, while performing, saw crying in the audience and insisted that she be brought up on stage for a hug in front of 35,000 fans. She had made the drive all the way from her home in Alameda County to be part of the Streetlight experience. When she finally reached Durbin, he signed just about everything she owned, including the custom-made T shirt she was wearing.

While Durbin was inside courting writer's cramp, four young men stood outside on Pacific Avenue in the front of the store, dazed and elated at the goings-on. They constituted Durbin's band — Blake Bunzel, Jeff Fabb, Tyler Molinaro and Dylan Rose, the latter two Santa Cruzans, like Durbin.

A woman of about 40, once she had learned who the guys were, began jumping up and down like a child on Christmas morning. Soon, the band

was posing with several grinning women. Patty Zoccoli of Zoccoli's Deli — Durbin's unofficial favorite Santa Cruz restaurant — looked on in amusement while her young daughter, Cassie, stood at the center of Durbin's band, which is set to play their first public gig the day after Thanksgiving at Santana Row in San Jose.

While the line was packed with fans, it also featured several boasting long connections with Durbin. Jeff Marshall, a local musician, knew Durbin's father, the late Willy Durbin.

“Willy was an incredible bass player,” he said.

Sally DiNapoli carried five CDs for Durbin to sign, as well as a book on Durbin's favorite pastime, professional wrestling, as a gift.

“His father taught me to play the drums. We were in the Harbor High band together.”

Memories

Debi Boring of Scotts Valley, a grandmother of three, wore a James Durbin T-shirt designed by a friend.

She had first seen Durbin perform in 2009 when he sang the Beatles' “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at a concert for the White Album Ensemble. She carried with her a CD of video and audio clips she had made herself chronicling Durbin's journey from local phenom to national star. She planned to give it to Durbin.

“I'm really doing it for Hunter,” she said, referencing Durbin's toddler son, “so that one day he can see what's happened here.”

Liz Hodgin Anderson was in line escorting several special-needs kids, including her son Daniel, a huge Durbin fan. Durbin, diagnosed with Asperger's and Tourette's syndrome, has developed a special bond with such young people, said Anderson.

“Many of them realize that on some level that James is one of them,” she said. “But I think every one of them is subconsciously inspired by him.”

First in line also means first out the door. Lily Nafez, who somehow talked her dad into driving from San Diego from the event, emerged from the store with a signed CD and poster. She was barely able to speak through her tears.

“We come all this way, and all she does is cry,” said her father, good-naturedly. “Go figure.”

IF YOU GO

Durbin at Santana Row

WHEN: 10 a.m. Black Friday; performance at noon

WHAT: Album signing and performance

WHERE: At the Row's 40-foot-tall holiday tree, which is being set up this year near the giant chessboard in Santana Row Park instead of at Park Valencia in front of Maggiano's Little Italy.