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Democrat Photo by Nathan Mayberg

GAVIN DEGRAW, THIRD from left, took time out from his concert to meet with Kutsher’s owner Helen Kutsher, left, her daughter Mady Prowler, far left, Mady’s daughter Rachel, far right, and Harriet Brahms, center.

Hometown Boys
Do Come Home

By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO — August 2, 2005 – Gavin DeGraw, arguably Sullivan County’s most famous homegrown musician, drew over 3,000 fans inside the nightclub of Kutsher’s Resort in an energetic performance Saturday evening.
The concert was one of the county’s largest over the last 35 years. The crowd was decidedly young, but also included a mix of twenty-somethings and baby boomers.
The show was clearly a smashing welcome home for Degraw, the 28-year-old native of South Fallsburg, whose album, Chariot, has sold over one million records worldwide.
DeGraw, a pianist and guitarist, gave the crowd everything he had in his modern R&B voice, backed by a solid professional band. Some of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the full-length set occurred when Degraw’s piano playing took over songs.
The screams from the crowd were deafening as he began his best-known song, “Chariot,” for the finale.
DeGraw ran into the crowd several times while he sang, giving high-fives to some in the audience.
On this night, his older brother Joey accompanied him on guitar. Joe has played with him many times before but is not currently touring with him.
Brian Dennis played lead guitar, with Ryan Howard on bass and Tony T on bass.
DeGraw also performed one of the new songs he wrote for an upcoming album, which has yet to be released. The song was heavier than his other matter, with Dennis’ guitar work similar to the distorted guitar sound of Neil Young.
Fallsburg’s own rock star was excited to be back home.
“Awesome, I love it,” he said of his return home – and first show in the county since his album, “Chariot,” was released in 2003.
He will be staying home for about a week, one of his first extended breaks in two years of touring throughout the country and Europe.
“I haven’t been home for six months or more,” he said Saturday.
The crowd was just as delighted to see him. Many of them actually lived near him or knew him when he resided in South Fallsburg.
Jordan Kosinski traveled from Long Island to see Degraw.
“He’s amazing,” Kosinski said. “It’s original. People can relate to it easily.”
Robin Lois, now of Dutchess County, was raised in Fallsburg.
“He is a few years younger than me,” said Lois. “I remember seeing him at firemen dinners. He would play piano with his brother and family band. Everybody said he was very talented.”
Kutsher’s Country Club owner Mark Kutsher was thrilled to welcome a native son back home.
“He is one of the hottest people in rock and roll right now. It is a big event for the county.”
After the concert, DeGraw sat down and signed autographs for hundreds of fans – for hours. He was courteous to each, looking everyone in the eye and smiling.
Perhaps that’s due to his humble beginning, playing music with his family, whose musical roots go back to his grandparents.
Eventually, he worked gigs at weddings, Roark’s Tavern, the Nowhere Bar and the old Pines chalet. For a while, he had a stint playing the piano at Kutsher’s Country Club.
After graduating from Fallsburg High School in 1995, Degraw attended Ithaca College – which wasn’t for him. So he went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston – but again was not a fan. He gave one more shot at college by attending Mannes College of Music at New School University.
“I didn’t want to be there,” he said of his college experiences. “Most people didn’t know what they wanted. I already had direction.”
After a few years as a staple on the New York club scene, he was signed by legendary music mogul Clive Davis to his record company, J Records. Davis introduced DeGraw in 2003 at his large pre-Grammy Awards party, calling him “the next big thing.”
DeGraw said that Davis “opened a bunch of doors up.” He called him a key player whose influence was central in garnering approval and building his career.
But, he added, it takes a lot of people to make it all work.
For the last two and a half years, DeGraw has been living on his tour bus and in hotel rooms. He called the experience “pretty weird.”
“It is strange to be somewhat homeless yet somewhat successful. I am the most successful homeless guy I ever knew.”
The constant touring “takes a toll,” he said. “But I’m willing to do it because I love to play.”
DeGraw is frequently compared to two of his musical idols, Elton John and Billy Joel, which he considers flattering.
“I was inspired by a lot of classic rock, soul and R&B.”
Those influences include Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. He has covered both Cooke and Gaye on record. His rendition of Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” has received many accolades.
So what was it like growing up in Fallsburg?
“Fallsburg gave me a good sense of what life was like as opposed to in the city, where people run by each other. You get to know people, know households.”
But he’s had to leave some of that life behind, as he expects to begin recording his new album shortly. He has already written all the material.
“I am always writing and practicing. Writing is an addiction.”
How has fame affected him?
“I get interrupted eating dinner more. It has allowed me to carve my own path.”
Locals were glad that path led to Monticello this past weekend.
Kutsher’s General Manager Neil Gilberg booked DeGraw after his son, Michael, said the hotel should have him perform.
Gilberg has been working at Kutsher’s for over 35 years.
“I’ve never seen this large a crowd here, ever,” he said.
And it was a peaceful crowd.
“There wasn’t so much as a scuffle,” he added.
“I was standing next to his parents [Lynne and Wayne], and I could see the pride all over their faces.”

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