Photo by Mara Robinson
Dave Molnar playing with The Dreadful Yawns
Months later, Cleveland continues to mourn the sudden death in spring of Dave Molnar, a vital member of the local music scene.
Molnar, who was a musician, teacher, sound engineer, and beloved family member and friend, passed away unexpectedly on April 28th. He was 42 years old.
Known for his sharp intellect and wit, his kind heart, and prolific musical talent, Molnar was a ubiquitous presence on the scene, whether playing in one of many local bands, teaching at the School of Rock, or operating the sound board at Happy Dog.
“Dave had an energy that could light up a room. He was big-hearted, opinionated and hilarious. From the moment we met, it was as though we’d been friends for years,” said Mara Robinson, close friend, bandmate and band photographer who has spent the last few months cataloguing his work and intimate images she’d taken of him performing.
Originally from North Olmsted, Molnar studied at Youngstown State University and graduated with a degree in history. While at school, he was involved in the orchestra and jazz ensemble where he played guitar. After graduating, Molnar moved back to the Cleveland area.
He was a proud member of ‘The Davenport Collective,’ a local group of musicians and friends formed in the mid-90s who were well known for producing memorable bands who pumped out strong material.
Molnar was a member of or influential in local acts such as The Dreadful Yawns, New Planet Trampoline, Expecting Rain, The Hot Rails, Volcano Fortress and The It*Men. He released a solo project under the moniker The Artificial Sweeteners in 2007. He was also part of late Happy Dog co-owner Sean Kilbane’s Tadpoles/Tadpole Jr. (2010-2011), who recorded a 7-inch album called “Let’s Dance” before Kilbane’s tragic and accidental death in 2014. Molnar also ran sound at the Happy Dog for several years.
“It's terribly sad and awful to lose Dave,” said Tony Cross, GM of the Happy Dog and notable local musician. “He was a real sweetheart of a person, extremely talented, and an integral part of the Happy Dog family. He was a real musician, and I always loved any project he was in because he brought his intuition and character and it always shined through. He was one of the great ones - he will be missed.”
“Dave could play virtually any style; that was one of his greatest strengths,” said Nick Tolar, former bandmate and member of Herzog. “He had very good taste and had an incredible memory. Also we shared a musical vocabulary and that really helped get things done. If I told him to make a part ‘Beatlesy,’ he could do it just like that.”
Out of all of the people who knew and played with Molnar, one man probably played with him more than anyone. This is close high school friend and bandmate Ben Gmetro, who helped found The Dreadful Yawns, The It*Men and New Planet Trampoline among others.
"I played in a bunch of bands with Dave and he was one of the best musicians I've ever met. It's staggering how much he knew and I learned so much from him in the 25+ years we made music together," said Gmetro. "He had a deep expressive sound when he played blues and jazz guitar, and he had a giant, aggressive sound when he played bass. Nobody could play like him. He wrote a ton of great songs. He could play piano. He sang the most beautiful harmonies. We lived together for like 10 years. His knowledge beyond music seemed endless. He read all the time. He had a photographic memory. I could go on and on- and probably will for the rest of my life."
Molnar continued to play right up until his passing, working with Lottery League 2013’s Queen of Hell and being a part of their second album, as well as joining them for their 2016 transition to their alter egos, Heavenly Queen.
Mike St. Jude and the Valentines, who reformed in 2017 and who were active at the time of Dave’s passing, finished recording a new album the night before the COVID-19 lockdown happened. The album name and release date are currently TBD. The lineup was Dave (guitar), Mike St. Jude (guitar, lead vocals), Ed Sotelo (bass), and Jason Weiner (drums).
It is clear that he touched many people in the local community and that his presence has left a great void.
Dave’s family and specifically his twin sister, Kristin Molnar, provided some biographical information for this article and said of their family, “We are still trying to process all of this…We have a long road ahead of us for dealing with this tragedy as well as sorting out all of that that has been left behind.”