“Let’s go get ice cream. Let’s go get drunk.” The words rise in song and fill the air. It’s Sunday night at the Vine, a popular Ojai venue, and Danny McGaw and the 33 are performing to a packed house. More accurately, it’s as if they’re simply leading the way.

Fresh off the Vine

“Everyone knows the words,” says McGaw. “People come over and over, and they come not just for the music but for the community that has gathered around Sundays being a meeting place. There are singing sections and clapping sections. It’s a really participatory environment. People really bring all their hearts and souls to the occasion of sharing the energy. It’s just amazing.”

McGaw thinks back to how he got here. “It started with me alone in the window,” he says, referring to his early solo gigs at the Vine. He landed the spot after meeting Tim Arlon (aka TD Lind), a fellow Englishman and musician at the Deer Lodge. “We got a pint … and [Tim] says,come down to the Vine on Wednesday … sing a couple of songs and see if you can get booked there.” McGaw did and people soon began to take notice, including many in the Ojai music scene. Most notably, McGaw met the musicians who would become his friends and bandmates. In addition to Arlon, the band includes guitarist Matt Cheadle, bassist Tim V. Hutton and drummer Greg Weiser.

From the soccer field to the Promenade

It’s interesting to look back on the road that led McGaw to where he is now. He grew up in “a tough Northern town” near Manchester. As a teenager, McGaw played professional soccer until an injury ended his career. One night he ran into an old friend who was living on the Isle of Jersey. McGaw remembers him saying, “If you’re not playing football,there’s nothing for you here.” McGaw left Manchester and spent the next 6 months in Jersey, where he performed at a local pub. Next came the move to Los Angeles, where McGaw was soon busking on the Santa Monica Promenade.

Playing on the street had a huge impact. “Above all,” he says, it taught him, “faith in humanity. I would sit at the bus stop and I’d made 300-400 bucks that day in front of everybody that’s desperate for money and it’d be 1:30 in the morning. I’d have my guitar, my amp, my bag of everything — and everybody knows I’ve got hundreds of dollars in my pocket and there’s nobody around and I’m all alone and nobody robbed me or tried to rob me.”

Heeding the call

He did that for several years until he and his future wife moved to her home state of Kansas. There, McGaw formed a band called Wells the Traveler, and continued to hone his craft. Before long, he and his wife felt the call to return to California, and to go “back in search of the dream we had abandoned.” So they moved to Ojai with two young sons in tow. 

Now McGaw is poised for a new adventure. In addition to building a strong local following, Danny McGaw and the 33 have toured with Three Dog Night. They’re also finishing the album they were working on when the Thomas Fire struck and everyone in the band had to evacuate. When they came home, McGaw says, “It was hard to get life to begin again.” But it did, and the band went on to film a video for “Let’s Go Get Ice Cream.” Set to be released in the spring, the video is directed by Michael Estrella, who has worked on movies such as The Thin Red Line.

At the end of the music video, the band plays to a crowd that’s dancing, singing and embracing a moment shared. Very much like the scene that plays out every Sunday night. McGaw looks at it all with gratitude.

“Everything that’s happening in life right now is because of the buzz we’ve put together at the Vine. I’m very inspired and grateful and hopeful. I feel that Ojai has really been a beautiful, blessed place to be as a musician and as a family.”

Danny McGaw performs on Thursday, Dec. 13, as part of the Ugly Sweater Party at Topa Mountain Winery, 821 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai. For tickets and more information, call 805-640-1190 or visit topamountainwinery.com. For more information on the artist, visit his Facebook page.