Citation
Folk music in Denver

Material Information

Title:
Folk music in Denver
Creator:
Malkoski, Paul Alexander
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
vii, 153 leaves : illustrations ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Folk music -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Folk music ( fast )
Colorado -- Denver ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 150-153).
General Note:
Department of History
Statement of Responsibility:
by Paul Alexander Malkoski.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
166395559 ( OCLC )
ocn166395559
Classification:
LD1193.L57 2007m M34 ( lcc )

Full Text
FOLK MUSIC IN DENVER
by
Paul Alexander Malkoski
B.A., University of Colorado at Denver, 2004
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
In partial fulfillment
Of the requirements for a degree of
Masters of the Arts
History
2007


By Paul Alexander Malkoski
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Masters of the Arts
degree by
Paul Alexander Malkoski
has been approved
by
Rebecca Hunt
Apy^vi ^ ,;oQl
Date


Malkoski, Paul Alexander (M.A., American History)
Folk Music in Denver
Thesis directed by Professor Thomas J. Noel
ABSTRACT
This paper explores the impact folk music has had at the local, and to a lesser
extent, national levels, and why folk music matters. The Folk Revival, commonly
delineated as 1940-70, saw the rise and fall of folk musics commercial popularity,
a time when its image moved from rural America to the urban landscape.
Through the Folk Revival, and two Denver institutions in particular the Denver
Folklore Center and Swallow Hill Music Association this paper will explore folk
musics influence on popular music and culture, the recording business, guitar and
stringed instrument making and merchandising, and community. In short, this
papers examines why folk music matters, why is was important in the
development of American culture, and why it remains a force in present day
Denver.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its
publication.
Signed


TABLE OF CONTENTS
PAGE
Figures....................................................vi
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.....................................i
2. HARRY TUFT COMES TO TOWN........................ 4
3. HARRY TUFT RETIRES; SWALLOW HILL IS BORN.............33
4. SWALLOW HILL FINDS A NEW HOME...................44
5. A CHANGING OF THE GUARD.........................59
6. THE NEW MILLENNIUM..............................81
7. DENVERS FOLK PLACES............................89
Background....................................89
New York, The West Coast, Chicago and the Mid-West.95
Denvers Early Folk Scene.....................96
Denvers Club Scene..........................100
Swallow Hill Music Association...............103
Pearl Street and More........................105
71 East Yale Avenue..........................108
The Home Front................................in
8. GUITARS, FOLK MUSIC AND BUSINESS...............113
Guitar History...............................113
New Guitars and Big Production...............118
The Vintage Market Emerges...................119
The Luthier Renaissance......................122
Colorado Luthiers............................124
9. CONCLUSIONS: WHY FOLK MUSIC MATTERS............127
Folk Music And The Recording Business........127
Folk Music And The Expansion Of Musical Awareness..132
Guitars And Music Merchandising..............134
Community And Race...........................136


ENDNOTES.................................140
BIBLIOGRAPHY.............................150
VI


LIST OF FIGURES
FIGURE Page
1. FAN BRACING.............................114
2. X-BRACING (FOREGROUND)..................115
3. MARTIN D-28 DREADNAUGHT.................116
4. HERRINGBONE TRIM........................120
5. BAXENDALE DREADNAUGHT...................124
6. BASHKIN BELLAZA.........................125
7. VICTOR MODEL II.........................125
vi i


CHAPTER i:
INTRODUCTION
Culture, especially in the age of mass media, can be an indicator of how
muchor how littlea city reflects the national scene. In exploring the ways in
which Denver reflects a national cultural movement, or differs from it, one
unexplored measurement of Denvers cultural identity is folk music.
From the 1940s until about 1970, the United States witnessed what scholars
have referred to as the Folk Revival. The name, it would appear, is a misnomer,
since interest in folk music was not so much revived as established in urban areas.
Participants and casual listeners alike discovered folk traditions, often adopting
music or folkways that had little, if anything, to do with their own history or
ethnic heritage. Nevertheless, America embraced many musical types based on
rural folk forms largely rooted in acoustic American music. In its later stages, the
Folk Revival expanded to incorporate world or ethnic musical varieties, especially
from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
While not as prominent a Folk Revival center as New York City, San
Francisco, Boston, or Chicago, Denver did flower. This thesis explores the
development of folk music in Denver. It will examine two institutions, the
Denver Folklore Center and Swallow Hill Music Association, which presented
folk music to a public audience, and how they helped to preserve American
acoustic music through presentation and education. It will also attempt to
demonstrate that Denver possesses a unique folk community that can be
Page 1 of 153


measured by the types and diversity of the music presented at various concert
venues and taught by institutions dedicated to preserving acoustic music styles.
As a child, I was always aware of music. In one of the oldest snapshots of me,
standing in front of our house in Huntington, West Virginia, I am wearing a
battered black cowboy hat on my head, scuffed boots, and a guitar hanging from
my neck. I was five years old. Like many other boys, I watched Roy Rogers and
Gene Autry on black and white television, and tuned the radio to the hillbilly
music programs from WWVA in Wheeling. I listened to radio constantly and
memorized the songs, especially the story songs.
I sang in a church choir and with a couple of buddies in a folk trio. We were
attracted to the popular folk songs we heard on the radio. I tuned in to watch
Hootenanny on television every Saturday night. I heard, for the first time, Judy
Collins playing a twelve-string guitar and singing her haunting sad ballad of death
and betrayal, Anathea, and, the Canadian folk duo, Ian & Sylvia, singing, The
Greenwood Sidie, a cappella in parallel fifths harmony. The power and directness
seemed so much more real than the pop I heard on radio. I was hooked. I bought
Ian & Sylvias second albumthe first record I ever purchasedand began to
listen. A month later I bought a guitar and taught myself to play.
A year later I moved to New York City, naive enough to think I had the
talent and skill to make it as a professional. I was soon disabused of that idea. But
I never lost my passion for music. I lived in Greenwich Village till 1969, then on
Staten Island. I played solo and in bands, and enjoyed the informal musical
companionship of other like-minded people. I even played in a bluegrass band
that featured a Jewish fiddler and an Italian banjo picker. I had the good fortune
to see and hear many of the best performers in Village clubsthe Gaslight, the
Bitter End, and Gerdes Folk Cityor at larger venues, including Carnegie Hall
Page 2 of 153


and Town Hall. I sat on the floor at Izzy Youngs Folklore Center to hear the
Rev. Gary Davis and others. While never a mover or shaker in the New York
Folk Revival, I at least enjoyed a front row seat for its last few years. My
participation does not take the place of good academic research, but it does
inform my vision and writing. I experienced a portion of this history.
Page 3 of 153


CHAPTER 2:
HARRY TUFT COMES TO TOWN
On a sunny day in the late 1960s, a scraggly, rumpled looking Vietnam veteran
walked into the Denver Folklore Center at East Seventeenth Avenue and Pearl
Street. It was a typical bustling business day for the DFC: young people coming
and going to their guitar lessons; others, usually older, simply hung out,
passionately arguing the virtues of new versus old Martin guitars; still others
buying strings and picks or thumbing through bins of folk records. Harry Tuft,
the Folklore Centers owner and proprietor, barely noticed the vet, recognizing
the man as an occasional visitor who did not usually engage in the regular flow of
conversation, a man who seemed a bit strange.
By the late 1960s, the Folklore Center had become the Mecca for Denvers
acoustic musicians, a place unlike contemporary music stores. Tuft opened his
doors in 1962 at a time when music stores usually meant pianos and band
instruments. If they sold guitars or stringed instruments at all, it was not much
more than an annoying sideline for the commissioned sales people. Customers
came to the Folklore Center as much to talk as to buy; the atmosphere centered
more on camaraderie than commerce. People came to share their excitement
about non-conformist music and felt as if they were part of something special,
like being in on a hip joke the mainstream had not quite gotten. Tuft, never one
to oversell, encouraged customers to try out instruments and find the one that
suited their requirements rather than the one he needed to sell. Customersin
Page 4 of 153


twos and threesmight fall into an impromptu jam if the tune and the time
seemed appropriate. If one word could describe the DFC it was comfortable.
Tuft and some of the DFC regulars knew the veteran, who would come in but
not take part in the goings-on. He seemed perhaps a bit more agitated than usual,
but the young men coming home from that faraway war often appeared
tormented by ghosts others could not fathom. The customers that day hardly
noticed him as the conversation ebbed and flowed. Until he pulled a pistol from
his coat pocket.
Pistols were never a common sight at the DFC. The mild-mannered Tuft was
as surprised as anyone, at First thinking it might just be a sick joke, then realizing
that the situation was far more serious. Not knowing any better, perhaps just
innocent enough to know he had to do somethinganythinghe began to talk
to the veteran, who slowly responded to Tufts calm voice. Who knows how long
it took? Two minutes? Five minutes? Thirty seconds? Tuft recalled, He ended up
weeping... thats what happened then. I forget if he gave me the gun or just put it
away and walked out. Im sure that these kids, whoever they areas old as they
are nowstill remember that. But it was that kind of place.1
It was that kind of place. Not that gun-waving Vietnam vets came in every
day, but people of all kinds, of all ages, from all walks of life found refuge in the
funky, and normally calm confines of the Denver Folklore Center. They might
buy a little something, a set of strings, some picks, a record or a book, but buying
was often an afterthought, perhaps something people felt compelled to do. But
neither Tuft nor his customers seemed to place an emphasis on commerce; it was
more about community in a time of turmoil.
Harry Tuft had not set out to be a merchant, much less a community builder.
He was born in 1935, raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and attended West
Page 5 of 153


Philadelphia High School. His Jewish father, a doctor, and his mother, a social
worker, had hoped their son might go into medicine. After graduating with a
degree in philosophy from Dartmouth College, and two years of graduate work in
architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, it was clear he had other dreams in
mind. Like others in the mid- and late-50s, Tuft had become infatuated with folk
music. He had taken piano and clarinet lessons as a child and began plunking the
ukulele when he was thirteen. Before long he traded his four-string baritone uke
for a six-string guitar, began performing for youth groups and hanging around the
Gilded Cage, Phillys popular folk music coffeehouse. Through his participation
in the Sunday hoots at The Gilded Cage, Tuft became friends with Dick
Weissman, a talented banjo and guitar player, who soon moved to New York
City to find paying work as a studio musician. Weissman would play a critical role
in Tufts folk education.2
Tuft, like many of his college contemporaries, got his introduction to folk
music from the Weavers. The popular quartetPete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred
Hellerman and Ronnie Gilberthad rocketed to fame in the 1951, when they
charted Kisses Sweeter than Wine and Goodnight Irene. But it did not last.
The 1950s were a strange and contradictory time for folk music in New York and
America. Folk music had first gained popularity with urban audiences through
efforts of the Left to connect with the working class.3 No artist personified this
connection better than Woody Guthrie. Born to an Oklahoma Socialist father,
the young singer Guthrie became radicalized through his connections with the
California branch of the Communist Party of the United States of America
(CPUSA) in the late 1930s. In 1940, he moved to New York City, where he
became the darling of the Left and the poet of the downtrodden. He fell in with a
group of performers who shared a belief that America could be a better place for
Page 6 of 153


the common man. His singing partners often included Pete Seeger, Cisco
Houston, and Bess Lomax. He counted actors Burl Ives and Will Geer as friends
and fans.4
By the 1950s, after serving in the Merchant Marines during World War II,
Guthrie became too ill to perform regularly. McCarthyism and Cold War fears
had driven other radical singers, such as Pete Seeger and the members of the
Weavers underground and off the airwaves.5 But not before they had touched
millions, especially high school and college students with their lusty singing and
playing. Harry Tuft was one of those students inspired by the Weavers to take up
folk music. Nonetheless, popular music, in spite of the emergence of rock and
roll, was hardly revolutionary.
No one is quite sure why a mostly urban America embraced rural folk music.
Sociologists, historians and journalists have speculated that it was a form of
cultural rebellion, a reaction to the pedestrian pop music dominating the charts
during the Eisenhower era. Others have postulated that it was the beginning of
the splintering of mass culture. Still others feel that it reflected a need to connect
to something perceived as more authentic, more real. None of these explanations
are entirely satisfactory or free of speculation. Historians often rely on the
comments of participants for whom the music meant the most. For them, there
was something in music based on ancient and rural roots that spoke more to the
human condition than the Tin Pan Alley hits, which appeared to be
manufactured and tailored to meet public acceptance. Arguments aside, folk
music was, like the Beats, an underground phenomenon, not typically in the
mainstream.6 There was something decidedly Bohemian about folk music, and no
place was more attuned to it than New Yorks Greenwich Village, home in the
late 1950s to a budding folk community. Jazz, with it jangly energy, intellectual
Page 7 of 153


stance and atonal rebellion was the public musical face of the Beat Generation,
but folk music was the Beats communal meeting ground.
Performers vied for attention in smoky clubs and recorded when they could
for small record labels dedicated to non-commercial musical styles. All that
changed in 1958 when the Kingston Trio scored a smash #1 hit with Tom
Dooley. Folk music reemergedde-fanged of its left leanings and scrubbed
cleanas a form of mainstream entertainment.
In i960, Tuft made his first trip to New York to visit his friend Weissman,
and to sample first-hand the folk culture of Greenwich Village. Weissman took
him to visit I zzy Youngs New York Folklore Center, whose key concepts he
would carry to the West.7
Few characters in what is now called the Folk Revival were more seminally
important and harder to label than I zzy Young. He was not a performer, artist
manager or record company executive, and his Folklore Center was unique.
Opened in 1957 at no MacDougal Street, just a short walk from Washington
Square, the Center became important to the Folk Revival. Locally and
nationally, the Folklore Center became a locus for folk music, supplying books,
records, new and used instruments, and all sorts of information, and offering
performers and fans a convenient gathering place, as historian Ronald D. Cohen
has noted.8 In his cramped musty store, Young occasionally presented
performances by new and emerging, as well as established, folk artists, while
peddling his eclectic collection of instruments and records.
Later in i960, Tuft and Weissman made a trip to Chicago where Weissman
was scheduled to meet with the director of the Old Town School of Folk Music.
There, Tuft saw another aspect of the Folk Revival not present in the Village.
Founded in 1957, the Old Town School of Folk Music wasand remains
Page 8 of 153


todaythe largest school of its kind, offering lessons to eager students wanting
to learn guitar, banjo, mandolin, song writing, folk dance and nearly anything
associated with folk music.9 Visiting musicians offered workshops on a variety of
topics and skills, as well as providing live performances four or five nights a week.
At this center of the budding folk community in Chicago, and Tuft saw his
future.
In December i960, Tuft traveled west to Colorado with Weissman, who was
on his way to Los Angles to perform. Tuft landed a job in Georgetown at the
Holy Cat, a small ski lodge. He was able to pursue his love of skiing at A-Basin
during the day and spent most of his evenings at the Holy Cat bussing tables,
sweeping the floor and toiling in the kitchen in the hopes of having a few minutes
to perform for guests at the end of the day. In 1961, he and his girlfriend found
work at the Berthoud Pass Lodge, enjoying the chance to ski the Rockies but
making little money. After the ski season ended, they worked for a while in
Aspen as housekeepers, then traveled to the West Coast, where Tuft drove a cab
for the Sausalito Taxi Company and looked for chances to perform. By chance,
he met up again with Dick Weissman, who by this time was playing with John
Phillips (later of the Mamas and Papas fame) in a popular folk group, the
Journeymen, who were playing at San Franciscos Hungry i.10
Tuft performed at the Hungry i as well, singing and playing his guitar. Paying
music jobs were few, and Tuft came to the realization that performance, while
satisfying, was not likely to be his fulltime career. He had auditioned for Hal
Neustaedter, owner of the Denver folk club, the Exodus (1999 Lincoln). Since the
Exodus had opened in 1959, all manner of performers had appeared there,
including Judy Collins, the Smothers Brothers, and the Kingston Trio.
Neustaedter had a good eye for talent and the word was that if he liked you, you
Page 9 of 153


had a good chance to succeed. He was lukewarm to Tufts performance. Tuft
began to consider the possibility of a store, which would combine the commercial
merchandising of the New York Folklore Center with the teaching and
performance setting of Chicagos Old Town School of Folk Music. Neustaedter
encouraged Tuft to consider Denver for his enterprise. Tuft returned to the East
Coast, and began making plans. Naive about business, Tuft used his meager life
savings of $900 to purchase merchandise from Izzy Young (mostly obscure
things Izzy knew he would never likely sell), packed his belongings into his 1951
Dodge panel truck, and began the return trip west. He arrived in Denver in
December 1961.11
Hal Neustaedter, who died in a private plane crash the very day Tuft arrived
back in Denver, had suggested locating somewhere along Twentieth Avenue, but
the places were either too expensive or too far out of the way of traffic flow. Tuft
decided on a place at 608 Seventeenth Avenue near Pearl Street, which he rented
for $55 per month. The area, known as Swallow Hill, lay just east of downtown.
The areas name comes not because of the unusual presence of feathered
creatures but from George R. Swallow, a late nineteenth century real estate
investor. Swallow came to Denver in 1894 and had his law office at 521 in the
Ernest-Cranmer block on Seventeenth Street, the self-proclaimed Wall Street of
the Rockies. In 1895, he became the president of the Denver Savings Bank at
Sixteenth and Arapahoe, and began investing in real estate development, his
biggest project being the block of East Seventeenth Avenue at Pearl Street.
The brick buildings in the block had seen better days. When Tuft found the
space, it was in need of considerable repair, but it was affordable. Next door was
a restaurant called the Green Spider (612 East Seventeenth Avenue). In early 1963,
as Tuft was unloading material in front of the store before it opened, he asked a
Page 10 of 153


passerby, Larry Shirkey, to give him a hand. What kind of place will this be?
inquired Shirkey, as they unloaded lumber. A folklore center, replied Tuft.
After hearing the explanation of what it was all about, Shirkey, recently
graduated from high school, decided that it would be a place worth keeping an
eye on. Shirkey, already bitten by the folk bug after hearing Tom Dooley, had
begun to teach himself five-string banjo.12 Shirkey, who today works for Frontier
Airlines, would be one of Tufts first customers when the store opened for
business, March 13,1962.
Tuft wanted his place to resemble the New York Folklore Center, with the
same rustic, rough-hewn look that made it feel old and antique, like much of the
music he favored. He had become friends with George Downing, a high school
math teacher, carpenter, and former student of architecture at the University of
Denver. Tuft wanted knotty pine, but Downing found some inexpensive tongue-
in-groove redwood siding, which they used to design the DFCs varied-heights
interior, with a walkway between the front and back of the store. The hidden
space above the entry walkway provided another necessitya place where Tuft
hid his sleeping pallet. What profit the DFC made, Tuft poured back into the
store, constantly expanding its stock of records and instruments. He had little
left over to live on, and used the store as his residence for five years.
The early years proved to be pretty lean. He began to search for what MBAs
call a revenue stream or lines of business. In addition to his meager opening stock
of used instruments, Tuft wanted to add records but had no cash or credit. The
1960s were the days before the now ubiquitous big box retailers or the Internet.
Tuft met Austin Miller, who worked for American Records Distributors, run by
Joe and Lou Oxman, and when Miller visited the store, Tuft asked for and
received a $200 line of credit. It was not until years later that Tuft learned that
Page 11 of 153


Miller, impressed by Tufts honesty and sincerity, had extended the credit on his
own personal guarantee. With his new credit line, Tuft purchased his first batch
of one hundred LPs. He also became friends with Maury Samuelson, the
proprietor of the Crown Drug Store on California Street, which, at the time, was
the only local retailer of Folkways and Elektra records, the two largest and most
respected purveyors of non-commercial, non-mainstream folk music. Like Miller,
Samuelson extended a small line of credit to the DFC.
Tuft knew that to have any legitimacy in his venture, he had to offer musical
instruments, especially guitars, which were gaining daily in popularity. The two
biggest names in guitar manufacturing in the U.S. were C.F. Martin and Gibson.
Martin was by far the oldest (established in 1833) and most respected steel-string
guitar maker in the world, their handmade instruments played by nearly all of the
leading folk performers. There were three Martin dealers in the Denver area, all
located downtown: Knight-Campbell Music, Wells Music, and Happy Logan,
and none of them were about to give up this popular but relatively expensive line.
Tuft made contact with Coast Wholesale Music in California, who allowed him
to purchase Martin guitars for resale. Gibson Guitars of Kalamazoo, Michigan,
had no confidence in Tufts adventure and refused to deal with him at that time,
so he made arrangements to carry another brand. Guild Guitars came into being
in the 1950s after Gibson bought out Epiphone Guitars and absorbed their
production into Gibsons Kalamazoo plant. The craftsmen formed the new
company and made a name producing good quality acoustic and electric
instruments.13 Over time, Tuft became their leading local dealer. Like a number
of others, Tuft began to acquire a good understanding of the older vintage
instruments built before World War II. Myths had begun to grow up about the
build-quality and tonal characteristics of the pre-war Gibson, and especially
Page 12 of 153


Martin, instruments. Top players sought them out, often paying considerably
more for a used 1930s Martin D-28 than a comparable new one. Selling vintage
instruments became a specialty business of the Folklore Center.
Martin guitars gave the store certain legitimacy with the local folk crowd, but
it hardly made for a substantial cash flow. Even with a stock of instruments,
records, books, and other musical paraphernalia, something more was needed,
something that would create public awareness and bring income to the struggling
establishment. Tuft began opening on Sundays to allow for song-circles or song-
pulls, which became known as hootenannies. The derivation of the term is
unknown, but the dictionary defines hootenanny as a gathering at which
folksingers entertain often with the audience joining in. Players formed a large
circle and took turns performing songs and, when appropriate, others joined in
on other instruments or harmony vocals. It was a way to make a little cash and
share the warmth of the music at the same time. Because of their novelty, the
Sunday hoots gave the DFC some much-needed publicity. Still, when his parents
came to visit in the summer of 1962, they were a bit dismayed by the sparseness
of the shop. His parents continued to be supportive, but his mother later
admitted that she nearly cried when she saw how poor her sons store was.14
Even before the store opened its doors, Tuft had been offering group guitar
lessons at the Jewish Community Center, and it seemed natural that he should do
the same at the new Denver Folklore Center. He began by offering group guitar
and banjo lessons on Saturday afternoons. As business improved, Tuft expanded
the store into the recently vacated adjacent space, which gave him a chance to
enlarge the classes. Using the approach he had seen at the Chicago Old Town
School of Folk Music, Tuft had a group of up to eight guitar players would with
their instructor in one of the stores spaces. There they would learn one to three
Page 13 of 153


songs and/or new techniques in their hour-long lesson. At the same time the
guitar students were plunking away, a group of banjo students would be learning
the same songs in another part of the store. At the end of an hour, the students
and instructors would gather for coffee, soft drinks and cookies, milling around
and discussing music. After the break, Tuft would gather both groups together
and the fall ensemble of guitar and banjo students would play the just-learned
songs, showing the others what they had mastered and gaining self-confidence in
performing for others. On occasion, nationally known musicians would visit,
often providing workshops for the more advanced and daring students.
Within the first few weeks of opening, Tuft made a critical personnel
decision: he hired Julie Davis to teach guitar. Davis, a student at near-by East
High School, was a fifth generation Coloradan on both sides of her family. A
slender girl of medium height, with straight blond hair and intense blue eyes, she
had the long-fingered hands of a musician. She had taken piano lessons in grade
school and began to teach herself guitar when she was ten. By fourteen, she was
an able guitarist who knew plenty of folk songs, including cowboy tunes learned
from her cattle ranching cousin out on Colorados eastern plains. She had also
picked up other songs from early Joan Baez and Judy Collins records.
She was a renegade who didnt fit in to the normal high school patterns: I
was passionate about music and social issues, especially civil rights. East was quite
integrated, and there were many who were openly committed to civil rights....
Blacks were moving into our [Park Hill] neighborhood, and my parents said, Of
course, were going to stay here, and we welcome anyone who comes. Our
familys political stance was, We are completely for civil rights and we will stand
up and work for that. My parents were very active and I was very active and it
was a time a East that was intense.15
Page 14 of 153


Davis started going to the weekly Sunday jams, and played with banjoist Larry
Shirkey and guitarist Jack Stanesco. From the beginning it was a gathering of
kindred spirits. Even though a lot of us were in high school or college, it was
people we couldnt necessarily find at our high school. We were there every
Sunday. You just didnt miss one. So there was a community that built in the
Folklore Centers first year. I was one of the younger people at the Folklore
Center. I had wanted to take lessons from Harry, but he thought I knew too
much since I had taught myself a great deal. So, I couldnt take the beginning
lessons or advanced beginning, so he finally let me into an intermediate class, and
Harry hired me to teach. So the very first job I ever had, even before I had a
drivers license, was teaching guitar at the Folklore Center.16
Tuft taught group lessons on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.
Davis recalls: So I would come on Saturday and take the beginning guitar class,
then turn around and teach it the following Wednesday evening. We would cycle
through and I would teach the beginning, then advanced class.17 Davis claims
that she learned an important lesson from both her piano teacher and Tuft, her
two models of teaching: its about the student, not you. You watch them grow.
For a while, she was the only guitar teacher Tuft hired. Later, he added Ray
Chatfield to teach banjo, and Matt Ferris to teach mandolin. That trio formed
the core of the DFC faculty for some time. The whole idea was empowering
people, getting them out there with their guitars and letting them play.18
And it was more than the music. Davis recalled, It was absolutely special and
magical. I felt that I had a place where not only I could express myself, but I
could learn from other people who were older than me. For example... Phyllis
[Wagner} was in philosophy at DU, Bart was in graduate school, and just listening
to them talk, engaging them in conversation, I felt I was learning so much about
Page 15 of 153


the social movements, about life, about things that people who were curious were
paying attention to. But because they were so much older, they were bringing
experience to it that I didnt have.19
Social issues have always been important in folk music, and the 1960s proved
to be a time of flowering for songs of social comment. The Vietnam War had not
yet escalated into the televised horror it would become, but nightly news carried
pictures of the civil rights struggle from places like Birmingham and Little Rock.
Music played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement, whose leaders
used it to unite and energize, as well as to calm fears when confronted with
blatant hatred. At lunch counter sit-ins, protest marches, and church meetings,
singing became a bond that buoyed flagging spirits and calmed fears. The Civil
Rights Movement was born in the Southern Churches, so rich with musical
history. In time, folk and gospel music intertwined, and created the Movements
best known and loved songs, We Shall Overcome, Keep Your Eyes on the
Prize, and We Shall Not Be Moved.
The folk music community, always sensitive to human rights issues and its
roots deep in the New Left, embraced the movement. Singers like Pete Seeger
and Joan Baez donated their time and talents, marching with protesters and
leading crowds in song. Later, Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan, sang and
wrote about the struggle. For Julie Davis, and others one suspects, the Folklore
Center was a extension of the music and social ideals.
We [Harry, Phyllis, me] talked about Civil Rights and other movements all
the time. They were the subjects that brought people together, recalled Davis.
It was a time when records were coming out from all over the world. We talked
about other cultures, the mores of other people, about political systems, about
politics all around the world. And we talked very definitely about the politics and
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what was going on with the Civil Rights Movement and the folk music
movement and the whole emerging network of communications around the
country. As Harry got into concert promotions, even before he had the concert
hall... Harry produced concerts and there was a steady stream of people that were
coming through who were at the forefront of the Civil Rights {and folk]
Movements. So we had Peter, Paul, and Mary, we had Josh White. All these
people talking about what was going on in Washington and elsewhere. And it was
what Phyllis and I would talk about when we were working the counter.20
Community means many things to many people, but there has been a special
bond in the folk community that extends beyond the camaraderie of the music
itself. In the 1960s, the Folklore Center provided a home away from home for
visiting musicians and patrons alike. Tragedy sometimes illustrates the communal
bond. Davis recalls: I remember where I was when I heard about Kennedy. I was
in Spanish class, and the teachereverybody was devastated. We were sitting
there when we first heard he was shot, then somebody came door to door and
said he had died.... The school reacted, I mean, for so many of us. Well, I came
from a liberal Republican family, not a conservative, an old-style liberal
Republican family, but I had been very hopeful about Kennedy. And the school
seemed to be of one heart and mind and soul when that happened. Here we were,
an integrated school, about a third of us were white, a third black, and a third
that was everything else under the sun. And here was someone who we felt was
trying to create a model for all of this to work.
And so, I actually left from there {the school] and went to the Folklore
Center, as did a lot of us. It was where we gathered. Vince deFrancis, Jack
Stanesco, Larry Shirkey. A lot of us that went to the Folklore Center.... The
mood was somber, very somber. Just sitting there trying to comprehend. Of
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course, it turned out to be just the first of a long string of assassinations.... There
was very little speaking.... There wasnt a TV on, there wasnt a radio on. At that
point it was just being together.... It just felt like the right place to be. It was a
gathering place for many people for days afterwards.21
As business grew and his reputation in the folk community solidified, Tuft
saw more opportunities to grow. When the Green Spider closed in 1967, Tuft
expanded the DFC into their vacated space. His enterprises eventually occupied
600-614 Seventeenth Avenue, more than half the block along the busy
thoroughfare. Feeling rather good about his success, he approached guitar maker
C.F. Martin and Company saying, Ive been selling Martin guitars for a few
years. Would you allow me to deal with you direct? They agreed.
Key to the success would be accomplished bluegrass guitar and banjo player,
the late David Ferretta, who passed away at the age of 47 in 1994.22 A committed
conscientious objector, Ferretta came to Denver in the 1963 where he completed
his alternative service at the offices of the American Friends Service Committee
on Pennsylvania Street, near Colfax Avenue. Ferretta was up front with Tuft
from the beginning, telling him that it was his intention to open his own shop
within three years, and if that precluded him from consideration for a job, so be
it. Tuft was not concerned; he hired Ferretta. According to the contract between
Martin Guitars and the store, the Folklore Center would place an order for
instruments every six months, paying half the bill when placing the order, and the
remainder upon delivery. Tuft recalled, Id get the order form and give it to
David to fill out. When I got it back Id say, David, how are we going to pay for
these guitars? Hed answer, Dont worry; well sell em. What he really meant
was, Ill sell them. And he did. He really built the store. Pete Wernick, former
banjoist for the band Hot Rize said, He went out of his way to make a customer
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and a friend.23 The DFC eventually became the largest Martin dealer between
Chicago and Salt Lake City, and Ferretta went on to open his own shop
(Ferrettas Global Village, 76 South Pennsylvania), which he patterned on the
Folklore Center.
Because of his connections with many leading performers from his time in
New York and Philadelphia, and Denvers convenient location on the way to and
from the West Coast, Tuft began to promote performances. How did a young
entrepreneur, with no promotion experience, reputation or cash, get started? It
was mostly a case of being in the right place at the right time. The promotion
business at the time was considerably simpler and less legally bound up than it is
in the twenty-first century. It often began when a visiting artist would stop in at
the store and Tuft might ask him or her to conduct a workshop. Larry Shirkey
recalls Tuft talking with Taj Mahal, the then Boston-based blues/folk artist, who
had stopped off in Denver on his way to Los Angeles. Tuft asked Taj if he would
consider giving a concert. Taj answered, Sure. Where? How about right here?
In a matter of a few days, word spread quickly that the DFC would host the very
talented Taj Mahal in concert. He used the performance space next to the store
where the DFC hosted hoots and open microphone nights. The show was a
sellout.24
Because of Denvers growing reputation in folk music circles as a great place
to play, in no small part because of the DFC, Tuft received a call in March 1964,
from Manny Greenhill, Joan Baezs manager. Greenhill was well regarded in the
entertainment business and considered as a member of the folk mafia, a group
that included Albert Grossman, manager of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Peter,
Paul and Mary.25 They had earned the sobriquet not so much for a predilection
toward violence and dark acts but rather for their managerial control over the
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folk musics most successful acts and of the Newport Folk Festival. Tuft and the
Folklore Centers reputation had spread in the world of folk music primarily
through its mention in articles and columns in Sing Out!, widely recognized as the
official magazine of the folk movement. Greenhill wanted Tuft to promote
Baezs first-ever Denver show. In 1964, Baez was regarded as the reigning queen
of folk music and was at the top of her career. Tuft had none of the needed
experience and resisted Greenhills initial request, claiming that he had neither
the background nor the money to promote Baezs show. Greenhill countered
saying that he would take care of all the expenses and would give Tuft ten
percent of the shows gross, and, Ill walk you through promoting. They struck
an agreement and the show sold out weeks in advance.26
Joan Baez arrived in Denver on the train. Alone. She had no entourage or
handlers and Tuft picked her up at Union Station. Greenhill arrived a few days
before the show to help make final arrangements, and Baez delivered an
outstanding performance. The day after the show, Tuft took Joan to Red Rocks
to show her Denvers famous outdoor amphitheatre.
Situated near the town of Morrison about fifteen miles from downtown
Denver, Red Rocks is the only naturally occurring amphitheatre in the world and
a geological wonder. Its story dates to the creation of the Fountain Formation,
sedimentary rocks which eroded from the ancestral Rocky Mountains some 300
million years ago. As a way to preserve and protect the sites unique geology,
Denver acquired the 640 acres in 1928 to create one of its thirteen Denver
Mountain Parks. George E. Cranmer, then head of Denver Parks and
Improvements Department under Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton, was impressed
by the sites natural acoustics. Having enjoyed a play at an amphitheatre while
visiting Italy, Cranmer believed Denver could create an outdoor stage in this
Page 20 of 153


unique setting.27
The city hired noted architect Burnham Hoyt to handle the design. Hoyts
challenge was to create an amphitheatre with its stage, dressing rooms, and
seating while making minimum impact on the physical beauty and structure of
the 440 foot-tall red rock spires. His design shaped the seating and architecture
to fit the site rather than molding the site to fit a plan. He succeeded. Cranmer
convinced the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) to build the roads
and parking lots. Between 1935-41, the federal Civilian Conservation Corps
(CCC) put hundreds of 17-25 year-olds to work constructing the park and
amphitheatre. With seating for 9,400, Red Rocks is the only naturally occurring
amphitheatre in the world.28
Tuft and Baez strolled around the facility and walked onto the stage where
they performed an impromptu drama to an empty amphitheatre. Tuft had been
quietly urging Baez to perform there. Seeing the place convinced her it would
work, but what really cemented the deal was when Baez learned that the Beatles,
then the hottest music act in America, were scheduled to play the Rocks on their
first U.S. tour. That summer, Harry Tuft presented Joan Baez in a successful
show at Red Rocks. A week later, Joan returned to Denver and got her wish: she
met John, Paul, George, and Ringo for the first time.
It all sounds rather glamorous in retrospect, but the promotion and music
business was much less pretentious in the days before the Woodstock Festival
and arena rock shows. Once Greenhill had mentored Tuft, he expected
reciprocity. A short time later, Greenhill called and said, Its pretty short notice,
but I want you to do something for me. Now that Ive made you a lot of money I
want you to do a concert with Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band at Phipps
Auditorium. Tuft knew the band and had met Kweskin and singer Geoff
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Muldaur, but the band was not exactly a household name in Denver. The week
before the Denver date, they appeared on The Steve Allen Show, one of the most
popular shows on television. But promotion was often hit and miss, and
Kweskins group sold just 350 of the 900 seats at Phipps. Through the 60s and
early 70s, Tuft promoted a few big named artists at Red Rocks, including the
successful first-ever pairing of Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in 1969. Tuft
focused most of his performance promotion on smaller shows at the DFC,
including performances by Judy Collins, Jack Elliot, and guitar great Doc
Watson. He promoted local acts, such as the City Limits Bluegrass Band, and the
Rambling Drifters, who would one day morph into the successful bluegrass
group, Hot Rize. Jazz/country guitar great, Bill Frisell took some of his first
guitar lessons from Bob Marcus at the Folklore Center, and remembers it as a
fantastic music store, record shop, concert hall, and meeting place for
musicians.29
To publicize the store, Tuft devised what might be the first comprehensive
folk source catalog. Working with Phyllis Wagner (now Phyllis Jane Rose), they
produced The Denver Folklore Center Catalog and Almanac of Folk Music It
combined the mail-order catalog with a compendium of information regarding
the developing folk movement, such as listings of stores, manufacturers, and
music festivals. Tuft had 1,000 copies printed, but how to market them? How
could he reach the national folk community? He reckoned that the 1965 Newport
Folk Festival might give him the reach he sought.
The Newport Folk Festival grew out of the successful jazz festival held at the
posh seaside resort. First held in 1959, it had grown into the largest festival of its
kind, and featured performers from eveiy possible corner of the folk spectrum.
Acts included string bands from the Appalachian Mountains, Delta and country
Page 22 of 153


blues (Mississippi John Hurt and Fred McDowell), as well as the more rock-like
urban blues from Chicago (Paul Butterfield Blues Band), bluegrass and gospel (the
Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys), and an assortment of the
best the urban Folk Revival had to offer (Phil Ochs, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob
Dylan). The festival drew large crowds over a four-day weekend run; 175
performers in six concerts and twenty-six workshops. The 1965 festival, however,
was most noted for Dylans first public foray in the electric world of rock and roll,
when he performed a short set backed by Butterfields hot band. It shook the
folk world to its core.30
Earth-shattering or not, it seemed like a good marketing venue. Tufts
catalog, the first of its kind to draw so many folk sources together, drew praise
from everyone. It bestowed on Tuft and the Folklore Center something of a
national reputation among folk musicians and fans. Oddly, Tuft did not exploit
his marketing success or move to expand aggressively into mail order marketing.
But Stan Werblin saw the genius of the effort. Attending Newport, he purchased
one of Tufts catalogs and exploited the idea. He eventually founded Elderly
Music in Lansing, Michigan, growing it into one of the largest and most
successful catalog and Internet instrument and music suppliers.31
Most days Tuft spent at the store, talking to customers, scheduling classes,
and trying to stay out of debt. The stores relaxed atmosphere attracted a wide
variety of people, and not just musicians. A young lawyer, Richard Lamm, known
as Dick to his friends, often visited during his lunch hour. Lamm walked up from
his from his offices in the Petroleum Building at Broadway and Sixteenth Street.
Lamm does not recall how he and Tuft first met or how he became aware of the
DFC, but I regarded it as a place of refuge. I was a very high-tension young man,
over-committed, and I used the Denver Folklore Center as a place to relax and
Page 23 of 153


meet real people. I used to go there and just sit. I attended many of their
concerts, and would love to just go and talk with Harry, a real human being in a
world of self-important people.32 The store had that kind of effect on the many
people who made up the DFC community.
Tuft never considered himself a true political activist, but Lamm, then head
of the Young Democrats, drew him into that organization and asked him to help
organize political events, such as the Bury Goldwater Hootenanny and the
Goldwater Hate-In. Tuft rented out a place, brought in a jug band and a gospel
group, and sold out the 400-seat hall.
Following the successful Baez promotion, 1966 brought another unexpected
opportunity. Tuft received a phone call from the manager of the Mamas and the
Papas, whose leader, John Phillips, was Dick Weissmans old singing mate from
the Journeymen. The Mamas and the Papas, with their exceptional Phillips vocal
arrangements, had an unexpected smash hit with their first release, California
Dreamin. While it wasnt exactly folk music, they needed a promoter for their
upcoming Denver show at the Auditorium Arena, but in order to promote the
show, Tuft needed to come up with a $5,000 guarantee, the kind of money he
simply did not have. He talked about it with Lamm during one of the lawyers
lunchtime visits, and Lamm agreed to become Tufts partner for the show and
fronted the guarantee. While not showing it at the time, Lamm was clearly
nervous about the arrangement. The way Lamm remembered it, Harry asked me
to cosign a loan, one thing young lawyers should never do. But I did, and it
looked like we were going to lose money until the week before the concert. They
[the Mamas and Papas} appeared on the cover of Time magazine.33 The Time
cover was the result of the groups phenomenal popularity. Tuft recalled, And
suddenly he relaxed. Anyway, we sold the concert out. And I fondly remember
Page 24 of 153


giving him two bags full of money to take up to what was then the Denver
National Banks night deposit box with a police escort... with $17,000 out of a
total gross of $22,000. It was a sellout, 6700 attendees. And Dick took his half of
the money and ran his first campaign for the {Colorado} House of
Representatives. The whole idea of it all tickled John Phillips, who would later
joke that he was a king maker, that he had helped make Lamm governor of
Colorado.
Concert promotion aside, Lamm and Tuft became friends. Tuft says, I dont
know if youve met him, or if you know much about him, but hes naturally one of
the most charismatic people I have ever met. He just has a wonderful way about
him, and I enjoyed his company. And he was very generous, included me in his
social world, and I went on hikes with his family. I was alone and didnt know
anything about the mountains or climbing. His brother Tom came out, and Tom
became my lawyer. With Tom, I did a bunch of technical climbing.34
Often together, Lamm and Tuft organized and performed at fund-raisers,
anti-war protests and supported other liberal causes throughout the 60s and into
the 70s. While he never considered himself a proselytizer, he kept songs with a
social message as part of his repertoire, and appeared at concerts advocating
peace and social justice.
By the end of the Sixties, the DFC had gained a reputation as a hippie hang
out, at least to more conservative people. The stores location on Seventeenth
Avenue placed it squarely among coffeehouses like La Petite Cafe, and youth-
oriented organizations like the Hip Help Center at Seventeenth and Ogden, run
byjoe Arnold. Tuft remembered getting calls from parents who could not
understand what was happening to their children. In general in the community,
we were considered a good store although some parents were sometimes afraid to
Page 25 of 153


let their kids go down there for lessons, not so much to the store but to the area.
It was a time when parents had difficulty understanding their children, when
popular music seemed more alien than ever, and drugs seemed to be everywhere.
Some parents perceived Tuft and the Folklore Center as a bridge between them
and their children. These were folks with 40S-50S values of home and family, and
here were these kids that were just totally different. They just couldnt
understand.35
Not everyone thought well of the DFC. The Rocky Mountain News published a
story in the late 60s about the people who owned businesses along East
Seventeenth Avenue, including Tuft and the owners of the neighboring Third
Eye Theater, and the Green Spider nightclub. The story included a picture of the
business owners with a caption calling them Hippie Leaders, as if there was
some kind of organized movement. In their concern to clean up some of the
drugs on the street, detectives at the Denver Police Department decided to make
an example of one of those leaders. An anonymous caller, apparently in the DAs
office, informed Tuft of the detectives intents. Tuft, while appreciating the
concern, had never had a taste or tolerance for drugs, and considered the plan
silly, knowing he had nothing to hide. Still, for a time he noticed mysterious
clicks on his phone line every time he used it. Nothing more came of it.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tuft continued selling instruments and
presenting concerts at his Seventeenth Avenue facility, as well as at other Denver
venues. Having had success with Joan Baez concerts, Tuft sought to bring
hometown girl, Judy Collins, back to Denver.
Judy Collins was Denvers own folk singing daughter. She was born May 1,
1939, in Seattle, Washington, and from the time she was a toddler, demonstrated
an ability to carry a tune. Her father, Charles Thomas Collins, was born in Idaho,
Page 26 of 153


and due to a birth trauma, was completely blind by age four. The elder Collins
graduated from the University of Idaho, where he led a dance band with his
sweet Irish tenor. After college, he began his radio career in KOMO in Seattle.36
Charles Collins took a job in Denver in 1949, when Judy was ten. He hosted a
popular radio program each day at 10:15 AM called Chuck Collins Calling, where he
sang songs, read poetry, and philosophized. Judy had begun piano lessons a few
years earlier, and showed considerable promise. But shortly after moving to
Denver, she learned she had polio. Remarkably, she recovered, but only after a
long stay in the hospital. After her recovery, she reinitiated her study of the
piano. She auditioned for the famous Dr. Antonia Brico, who had been the first
woman to conduct a symphony orchestra in America. Collins passed the audition,
and while she worked hard, Brico, who thought Collins had considerable talent,
complained she did not practice nearly enough.
There were other musical influences in her life. Like many youngsters, Collins
had learned the pop songs of the day from radio, and Irish ballads from her
father. The elder Collins invited his daughter to play piano and sing on his radio
show, and Judys performance career was underway. She appeared regularly, and
met many of the celebrities who appeared on the show.
Collins attended East High School, where she often performed in school
programs with two of her classmates in a group called the Little Reds. It was
while she was in high school that Collins heard her first folk song. Jo Staffords
version of Barbara Allen entranced her; the emotion of the lyrics was like
nothing she had heard before. Sensing that piano was not the instrument of
choice for folk music, she badgered her father into getting her a guitar, and she
taught herself to play.37
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In 1956, when she was sixteen, she met Lingo the Drifter. Lingo hosted an
all-folk music radio program on Saturday afternoons that Collins and her father
listened to frequently. It was from Lingo that Collins learned not only a bit more
about guitar accompaniment, but also about songs with political themes, the
songs of the Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston.38
After graduating from Denver East High School, Collins auditioned at
Michaels Pub in Boulder, in 1959. Even though the owner claimed to hate folk
music, the crowd loved her. The owner knew a good thing and invited her back
for an extended stay. From then on, Michaels was known as a folk club. Her
success at Michaels led to her first appearance at the Hal Neustaedters Exodus.
During an extended Exodus engagement, she opened for notable folk acts such as
the Terriers (one of the first integrated folk groups) and Bob Gibson. Her
Exodus appearances and other shows around Colorado gave her the courage to
expand her horizons. Collins was invited to appear in April at the Gate of Horn
in Chicago, where she received good reviews and lots of exposure. In 1961,
Collins realized that if she were to advance her career, she would have to relocate
to New York, the acknowledged center of the folk universe. She made the move
and soon began singing at Gerdes Folk City on West Fourth Street in Greenwich
Village.39 There she met another Village newcomer, Bob Dylan, who had arrived
a few months earlier and was just beginning to try his hand at writing new
material. That same year she met Jac Holtzman, the owner of Elektra Records,
then a small privately owned folk-oriented record label. Holtzman liked what he
had heard and encouraged Collins to record her first album. While not wildly
successful, the critics liked it and her recording career was on its way. Over the
next two decades, Collins would record twenty albums for Elektra Records.
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By 1965, Collins had clearly established herself as one of the leading female
folk vocalists. Her appearance on Hootenanny had given her wider exposure, and
her albums were gaining larger audiences. In the 1960s, Collins returned to
Denver to visit family and perform. Harry Tuft booked Collins a number of
times, but one appearance stood out in his mind. In town for Christmas with her
family, Collins joined Tuft and a group of local folkies for a private Christmas
party at the Denver Folklore Center, where they all took turns playing.40
Collins went to greater fame and much wider recognition. After introducing
the world to the songs of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen through her album,
Wildflowers, she scored a big hit with her cover of Ian Tysons Someday Soon.
She followed that up with a most unlikely hit with her haunting version of
Amazing Grace, with bagpipe accompaniment.
The Folklore Center had gained the well-deserved reputation as Denvers
home for folk and acoustic music, but business was changing. The popularity of
folk-style music declined sharply in the late 1970s as bubble gum rock n roll and
disco dominated popular music, and it was increasingly difficult to keep the store
profitable. With the shift in musical tastes and the economic recession, acoustic
guitar sales fell perceptibly. C.F. Martins annual instrument production
plummeted from a high of 22,637 guitars in 1971 to just 3,153 guitars in 1982.41 The
DFC was struggling with fewer customers and fewer students. Tuft contemplated
closing the store.
At the end of 1978, Tuft totaled up the years expenses and revenue, and
discovered that the concert hall had lost $15,000. The concerts provided good
advertising for the DFC, but it was hard to justify that level of expense. Tuft sat
down with a few of his long-time Denver friends, including Jeff Withers, Alan
Kelly, and Larry Shirkey, and discussed the option of creating a non-profit
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organization to run concert promotions. As a non-profit, the group would be able
to apply for grants and would have fewer tax burdens, while reheving the DFC of
the expenses. The group agreed to the idea, but then discovered that in order to
qualify as a non-profit, they would need to offer educational services. Tuft
responded by agreeing to turn over the music classes that had been a central part
of the Folklore Center since its inception, and provide space at no charge. The
group cast about for a name and created the Music Association of Swallow Hill
(MASH). It seemed like a good arrangement for everyone, and Swallow Hill had
little trouble at the beginning, presenting shows at the DFCs concert space at
700 East Seventeenth Avenue, as well as at a number of locations around Denver,
and expanding school operations.
Then Tuft learned that he had lost the lease on the Seventeenth Avenue
properties when the owners decided to sell out to developers wanting to
construct a 7-11 convenience store on the site. Tuft and Swallow Hill had few
options. In March 1980, Tuft closed the store.
But not everyone was willing to see it all go away. The DFCs repair shop
manager, Rick Kirby, convinced Tuft to sell out to him, taking the name and
most of the stores stock, and re-establishing the Denver Folklore Center at 440
South Broadway. The building was a converted house, and Swallow Hill was able
to rent the rooms on the second floor and converted them into classrooms for
music lessons.
Tuft was relieved to be able to do other things with his life. He had put nearly
all his time and energy into the DFC for nearly seventeen years, and it was time
for a change. He continued to give guitar lessons and perform occasionally, and
for a time served on the Swallow Hill board of directors. His friend, State
Treasurer Sam Brown, had just purchased the BMH Synagogue building at
Page 30 of 153


Sixteenth and Gaylord, and asked Tuft to convert it into a performance space
and manage it. Swallow Hill and others presented shows there, but the project
never made money. Tuft continued acting as Browns closing manager for low-
income housing projects and developed condominium associations. In 1989, the
Denver Musicians Union hired Tuft as Executive Director, where he remained
until 1991 when the unions new president wanted to re-establish the traditional
union infrastructures of president, vice-president and secretary.
The economic recession overtook Rick Kirby and the relocated Folklore
Center. In 1983, Tuft briefly returned to the store and paid off all outstanding
debts, even though he was not personally responsible for them, keeping the name
of the Folklore Center in good standing with its creditors. He closed the Folklore
Centers doors for good. Or so he thought.
By the early 1990s, Tuft began to reconsider his options. He had served on
Swallow Hills board since the mid-8os and Tuft looked at the possibility of
resurrecting the Folklore Center. Times, Denver, music and Tuft had changed.
He had opened the original DFC in 1962 because he believed that Denver needed
such a facility to serve the community. Swallow Hill performed many of the
services for the same community. When I opened the second time, there was a
need in me for a store of that kind. I realized that of all the things that I had
done, it was the one that had given me the most pleasure, which was what I was
the best at. He paused and then humbly added, I wasnt very good at anything
else.42 Tuft secured the building at 1893 South Pearl, just across Jewell Street to
the north of Swallow Hills facility, and reopened the Denver Folklore Center in
March 1993.43 With Swallow Hill nearby, he recreated the same synergy of store,
performance and school that he had originated on East Seventeenth.
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Tufts efforts at promoting folk music and acoustic instruments and
accessories inspired other entrepreneurs to follow in his steps. Two of Denvers
most successful music stores dedicated to acoustic instruments, the Old Town
Pickin Parlor in Arvada, and Acoustic Music Revival on South Broadway,
mimicked the feel and atmosphere of the DFC.
To this day, Tuft continues to operate the Denver Folklore Center at its
Pearl Street location. Those who remember the original store often remark that
the new store looks the same. It isnt, but it has the same homey feel the old
store exuded. Tufts vision of combining a store, instrument repair, school,
concert space and performance promotion was unique locally and nationally.
Other instrument merchandisers, like Mandolin Brothers in Staten Island and
Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, are considerably larger and better known nationally.
Only Chicagos Old Town School of Folk Music exceeds Swallow Hill in folk
education and concert schedules. Others, like the Seattle Folklore Society, have
been successful at education, but do not rival Swallow Hills concert promotions.
The New York Folklore Center closed in 1973. Disillusioned, Izzy Young moved
to Sweden.
Long time customers continue to look to the DFC as their source for
instruments and recordings; new customers find solid advice on instrument
purchases and a most extensive collection of folk-oriented sheet music and
instruction manuals. More than anything, the Folklore Center remains the focal
point for those interested in acoustic music, and the unique sense of community
still permeates the store. After forty years, the DFC remains a Denver cultural
and social landmark.
Page 32 of 153


CHAPTER 3:
HARRY TUFT RETIRES; SWALLOW HILL IS BORN
The beginning of the 1970s saw significant change in America. The Summer
of Love and the Hippie Era came to a crashing close. America agonized over its
involvement in the Vietnam War; it had been President Lyndon Johnsons
downfall. President Richard Nixon had resigned in disgrace. Musical tastes and
economic fortunes had changed considerably, and acoustic music in general, and
folk music in particular, was in recession. The Top 40 and album-oriented AM
and FM radio stations played an increasingly homogenized mix of music,
dominated by dance, disco and bubblegum (a derisive term that described sweet,
mindless Top 40 pop). Punk, a new, edgier and rebellious music was beginning to
percolate just beneath the pop mainstream. Folk acts popular in the 60s (the
Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, the Highwayman, the Brothers
Four) had disappeared from the popular stage, disbanding with their members
often retreating to the corporate world. Folk music was simply not hip. In the
days before wide-spread cable television, fans on folk and country music were left
with few choices, the exception being Austin City Limits on PBS.
Arguably, folk music had never been truly hip. The boom in folk music
popularity in the late 50s and early 60swhat some participants, like Tom Rush
and James Taylor, with their tongues firmly in cheek, refer to as the Folk
Scareregistered only marginally on the national scene. If Billboard #1 Hits are
any indication, folk music was a breeze, not a hurricane. The Kingston Trios
Tom Dooley reached the number one position in November 1958, but no other
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folk group was able to duplicate that feat until September 1961, when the
Highwaymen put Michael Row the Boat Ashore on top of the charts. The
Rooftop Singers followed in January 1963 (Walk Right In), but that was it.1 A
reasonable number of folk acts charted Top Ten records during the early 60s
(Peter, Paul and Mary, the New Christy Minstrels, the Brothers Four), but none
cracked the top spot.
Folk music was popular enough to generate some interest from the television
networks. ABC television broadcast Hootenanny for a season and a half in 1963-64.
Set on college campuses and hosted by Jack Linkletter, the program showcased
established and up-and-coming folk acts, from a very young Judy Collins and Ian
& Sylvia, to commercial (and often cookie-cutter) groups like the Back Porch
Majority, the Limeliters and Brothers Four, to traditional acts such as Flatt and
Scruggs and the Carter Family. Hootenanny was far from daring and its producers
assiduously avoided the young, controversial, often angry protest singers like
Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs. Paxtons pro-labor The High Sheriff of Hazard
(Now the High Sheriff of Hazard is a hard working man / To be a Fine sheriff is
his only plan / With his hands in our pockets he takes what he can / For hes the
High Sheriff of Hazard) and Ochss anti-war I Aint Marchin Anymore (Oh I
marched to the battle of New Orleans / At the end of the early British war / The
young land started growing / The young blood started flowing / But I aint
marchin anymore) did not endear them to the shows producers, who had
blacklisted Pete Seeger. Other artists, notablyjoan Baez and Bob Dylan, refused
to appear.2
Television was not the only media to avoid the controversy of protest singers.
Radio gave no airplay to controversy. The 1960s witnessed the rise of the topical
singer, and after Bob Dylan began his climb to stardom, others followed his
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protest singer mold. Young, angry writers took to the stage and recording studio
to comment on civil rights, labor conflict, and the vagaries of nuclear war. The
best of them (early Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Richard Farina, and Tom Paxton) were
more than protest singers, to be sure, but made their initial marks writing about
controversial subjects. Only Dylan flirted with runaway success charting two #2
hits in 1965, though the Byrds folk-rock cover of his Mr. Tambourine Man
made it to the top spot that year.3 Blowin in the Wind and The Eve of
Destruction were among the few topical songs to make it into the Top 40.
There had been just three folk music #1 hits4 by the time the Beatles swept
into American popular music in February 1964, when they twice appeared on the
popular Ed Sullivan Show. By the summer of 64, the Beatles dominated the
charts, having seven of the top ten singles at one time. The Beatles led the so-
called British Invasion and the subsequent shift in popular tastes more or less
killed folk music, at least as the center of popular culture.
Folk and acoustic music in its many formsstring bands, old-timey,
bluegrass, new age, blues, and especially singer/songwriterssoldiered on through
the 60s and into the 70s, but never regained the center of attention either
nationally or locally. Harry Tuft continued to present music of all folk forms at
the Denver Folklore Center, and other local venuesEbetts Field, Sweet
Lorettas, the Regency Room at the Oxford Hotel, the Exodus, Cafe York, the
Green Spider, and the Satire Lounge. All had bustled in the 1960s and early 70s,
but either shifted their presentations to other more popular musical forms or
went out of business entirely.5
On Monday, November 13,1978, a crowd of some thirty to forty hardcore folk
music fans gathered at the Folklore Centers concert hall. Rather than play or
listen to music, they heard Tuft explain that his concerts were losing more than
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$10,000 a year, and had been for the past five years.6 The rest of the Folklore
Centerthe music school, instrument sales, repair shop, and bead shopwere
apparently fiscally sound. Tuft was reluctant to simply end concert promotion at
the DFC and sought the opinions of his loyal customers.
A series of meetings of concerned patrons ensued, and several ideas for saving
the concert hall emerged. The best scheme, an idea Tuft supported, seemed to be
the formation of a non-profit, community-supported organization that would
operate independently from the Folklore Center. After some investigation,
however, it became clear that to qualify for non-profit tax status, the organization
had to include an educational component. Tuft offered the organizers not only
the concert hall rent-free, but also agreed to turn over the school segment of his
business. With the school in the mix, advocates grew excited about the
possibilities, throwing out ideas for music workshops, songwriting showcases, and
grant-supported concert series. Alan Kelly, then the concert hall manager,
suggested that remodeling the hall and getting a liquor license might add to the
bottom line.7 The organizers finally agreed that a non-profit focusing on
education and concert promotion was the best avenue.
In February 1979, the group elected its first Board of Directors: Geoff
Withers would serve as president, while Roz Brown, Emmie Hewitt, Bill
McCreary, Tom McMillan, Elissa Meyer, and Larry Shirkey made up the board.8
The group debated over a name. Combining the name of the Swallow Hill
neighborhood, music, and the influence of the hit television show, the board
dubbed the new organization MASHthe Music Association of Swallow Hill.
Tuft officially closed the Folklore Center concert hall on March 1,1979, and
turned its operation over to MASH. They celebrated their new beginnings with a
three-day benefit concert March 16-18. The performers included Harry Tuft,
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Rich Moore, Steve Stajich, Dan McCrimmon, the Rambling Drifters (soon to be
Hot Rize), Kathy DeFrancis, Roz Brown & Friends, Jaime Brockett, David
Ferretta & The Sunday River Boys, Greg Price, Lariy Sandberg, Alan Kelly,
Michael Stanwood, Sweet Georgia Brown and Generic Bluegrass.9 The Rocky
Mountain News on March 31,1979, noted, The transition has been a seamless
one. Swallow Hillians, now 80 strong, want no radical change but seem content
with the mellow coffee-house format. They retained Alan Kelly as concert
manager.
The concert was a success but the road remained rocky for years to come.
More than once Swallow Hill teetered on the brink of extinction as money and
organizational problems plagued the organization. When the Denver Folklore
Center relocated to 440 South Broadway, Swallow Hill followed. The building
was an old two-story house with a storefront tacked on.10 The DFC music shop
and store occupied the street level; Swallow Hill subleased the upper floor from
the Folklore Center where they set up their school space. It consisted of three
lesson rooms, an office, and restrooms. Less than a year after moving, developers
razed the old Denver Folklore Center building on Seventeenth Avenue and built
a 7-11 convenience store.
In 1980, the overall condition of the Denver folk music scene was far from
rosy. MASH had 143 members, and no competition from David Ferrettas Global
Village (76 South Pennsylvania), which had closed the previous December,
leaving MASH as the last venue specializing in folk music. I wouldnt say the
future of folk music here is bleak, Harry Tuft told The Denver Magazine.
Tentative or vague or fragile, maybe, but not bleak.11
Tentative or bleak, Swallow Hill struggled. There was no shortage of
ideassome rather grandiosebut no one seemed to be able to create funding
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for any of them. The school was moderately successful; at least it broke even. To
celebrate the move, MASH planned a lively concert series at the now-defunct
West Auditorium in City Park (behind Phipps Auditorium) featuring folk legend
RamblinJack Elliott, Jim Ringer, Mary McCaslin, Hot Rize, Rachel Faro, Kate
Wolf, and Norman and Nancy Blake. With the loss of the old concert hall,
MASH booked its shows in a series of leased venues including the Cherry Creek
Gallery, the Events Center (1580 Gaylord Street), West Auditorium, Phipps
Auditorium, the Corkin Theatre at the Colorado Womens College (Montview
and Quebec), First Unitarian Church Chapel (1400 Lafayette), the back room of
the Monastery, and Coneleys Nostalgia (554 South Broadway).u
Later in the year, MASH held a fundraising and organizational meeting to
establish goals for the association. They agreed that their primary organizational
goals should be to increase interest in the folk arts, promoting related programs
and increase the visibility of folk arts in the community.13 Additionally, MASH
would act as a clearinghouse for folk arts information and pursue the
establishment of a permanent facility to house folk arts programs, artifacts, and
organizations.
MASH held the First Denver Folk Festival on August 9,1980, at the
Colorado Womens College. The program extended from 11:00 A.M. until
midnight, and headlined nationally known artists Bruce Utah Phillips and
Michael Cooney, ably supported by local players including the Mother Folkers,
Grubstake, Roots & Branches, Rene Heredia, Sunday River Bluegrass Show,
Dick Weissman, Dan & Chaz, and Mary Flower. The show proved to be an
artistic success but a financial disaster: The festival director quit just before the
event took place and MASH was left $2,000.00 in the red.14
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At the opposite end of the concert spectrum, MASH established a house
concert series, which singer Jerry Rau kicked off November 5,1980. Embracing a
long-standing folk tradition, artists performed in the intimate settings of peoples
homes, usually for fewer than twenty-five people. The series never made much
moneythe numbers were simply too smallbut it presented a steady flow of
fine musicians to a dedicated audience.
MASH survived because it had been founded on the Folklore Centers
concert series and school. In spite of great energy from an enthusiastic band of
volunteers, it was a rocky beginning, and they nearly went under more than once
when a concert event cost more to produce than it brought in, leaving the
organizations cash flow strangled. Still, the folkies struggled forward. They
established their first newsletter, Simple Gifts, in 1981, with Nancy Thorwardson
manning the editors chair.15 While some shows struggled to attract audiences,
others made money. Hot Rize, the local bluegrass group made up of ex-Folklore
Center employees (Charlie Sawtelle, Tim OBrien, Nick Forster, and Pete
Wernick), was gaining a national reputation and packed listeners in to three
consecutive sold out shows in 1981. Undaunted by the previous years loss, MASH
presented the Second Annual Denver Folk Festival, this time at the Arvada
Center, and at least did not lose money. They reached out to the community and
established the Swallow Hill Troubadours, who provided free music to hospitals,
nursing homes, schools and prisons.16
By the beginning of 1983, MASH had nearly cleared up its debt. There was a
small surge in membership, largely driven by people wanting to learn to play
guitar, banjo and mandolin. But an unexpected blow came when, in March 1983,
business conditions forced Rick Kirby to close the Folklore Center for good.
Kirby fell prey to hard economic times, lagging interest in acoustic instruments
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and music, and overall poor management, leaving Swallow Hill homeless, at least
for a time.
MASH initially moved their operations to the Capitol Hill Community
Center at Williams Street and East Thirteenth Avenue. They presented concerts
in a number of leased venues, but it was a struggle. Without a real permanent
home, MASH suspended its school operations. The concerts were, at best,
breaking even, but the organization had no cash flow it could count on. With
concerts, it was hit or miss. A show might make a profit but, just as easily, it
could go in the red. There was little margin for error. Then MASH got a real shot
of leadership and enthusiasm in 1984, when Julie Davis agreed to take over the
school operation.
Nobody had deeper roots in the Denver folk community than Julie Davis and
she was an experienced music instructor who understood the instruction
methods pioneered by the Chicago Old Town School of Folk Music. Davis
graduated in 1964 from East High School and wanted to continue in some way
with music. She entered Adams State College, where she majored in history and
music. She discovered she possessed a historians passion for research, which she
combined with her music and explored the history of madrigals and other folk
music forms. After graduation from Adams State, she moved to Charlottesville,
Virginia, to pursue graduate studies in American history at the University of
Virginia. Her stay in Charlottesville coincided with the sale of the Denver
Folklore Center and the founding of MASH, and Davis maintained her
connections to her Denver folk music friends and musicians, visiting with them
whenever they came to play the Charlottesville area.17
Davis returned to Denver in 1982 to take care of her ailing mother. She knew
all the people involved in MASH, including musician Roz Brown, John Wolf
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from KVOD, and Jeff Withers; they all had their roots in the Folklore Center
community. People were burned out, a situation not uncommon with volunteer
run non-profits. They had put so much of their souls into MASHs survival and
the rewards were meager. Harry Tuft, who was working in real estate at the time
and not directly involved in Swallow Hill management, approached Davis and
asked if she might be willing to work with the organization, perhaps the school.
MASH certainly needed some fresh blood. The board had begun to think in
terms of shutting down the entire operation, believing the whole folk movement
had run its course. Perhaps it was time to move on. Davis was not the least bit
daunted at the prospect of restarting the school. When she previously worked at
the Folklore Center, Phyllis Wagner had been the organizational force behind its
school program. And Phyllis was the most natural organizer I had been around.
And I had been a good organizer as well. I had been president of my class,
organized Girl Scouts, organized camps. But Phyllis was the best. It just came
naturally.... So when I came in [to Swallow Hill] the organizing was natural to
me. After some study, Davis created a business plan for the school and
presented it to the board.
I said, Just give me six months. Let me make a presentation and give me six
months.... You dont have to pay me anything, just a commission on classes. Let
me see if I can start the music school. It just felt like... Well, I had been living in
small communities, and it felt like it was what was needed to me. It felt like it
needed someone who believed it could work.18
Over the years, Davis had noted that there were people willing to drive
considerable distances for eventsconcerts and workshopspresented by the
Folklore Center and MASH. She and her husband, Roy Laird, agreed to give it a
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try; he said he would support her with his carpentry work. Davis threw herself
fulltime into organizing the school.
Organization skills or not, it wasnt going to be easy. MASH was located in
leased space in the basement of the Capitol Hill Community Center. In Daviss
words, it was just the pits; a tiny place. It didnt even have a teaching room. So
we had to use these two teeny rooms. You couldnt even have the instrument
cases in there.... There was just enough room for a teacher, a pupil and a music
stand. At night we would use the office.19
Davis was right. There was interest in the school. From the beginning, she
organized workshops and some private lessons. And people came, especially to
the workshops, which proved surprisingly popular. She recruited local folk singer,
Carla Sciaky, to present a psaltery (a zither-like instrument) workshop. Twenty-
four people showed up. Who knew there were twenty-four people who even
knew what a psaltery was? Eileen Niehouse, a wonderful finger-style guitarist,
offered a DADGAD (an alternate tuning) guitar workshop. Thirty students
attended. And nationally renowned musician, John McCutcheon, put on a
successful hammered dulcimer workshop. People were hungry to come back and
hungry to learn more.20
They used the big community room or the hall at the Center for the
workshops and continued using the dinky, dank basement space for private
lessons. Teachers included Ron Jones (guitar, fiddle), Richard Reed (blues and
finger-style guitar), Carla Sciaky (guitar, voice), Eileen Niehouse (DADGAD and
Celtic guitar), and Doug Birch (dulcimer). As demand increased, they added
banjo, mandolin, bass, and harmonica instruction.
The schools success re-energized members and the community. Eileen
Niehouse joined the board; soon, others pitched in. They brought more fresh
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blood, ideas, and most of all, energy. New members came from the old Folklore
Center community, as well as the folk dance community, which had always had a
strong and faithful following.
With five hundred members in 1985, and Julie Davis the acting director of
nearly everything, Swallow Hill knew it needed to find more permanent quarters.
Board member Richard Reed was driving in South Denver when he spotted a
For Rent sign on a converted house at 1905 South Pearl Street. He immediately
went to the Community Center and brought Davis and Niehouse to investigate.21
They thought: It just might work.
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CHAPTER 4:
SWALLOW HILL FINDS A NEW HOME
The new facility was rusticand decidedly cozy; small might be a better term,
but it was the best Swallow Hill could afford at the time and certainly an
improvement over the Community Center. Skyloom Fibers had originally
transformed the building into a storefront,1 and Leo Instruments now occupied
the space. Bruce Leo Anderson, the former proprietor of the Zither Shop, built
dulcimers and instrument kits. (Dulcimers are three- or four-stringed
Appalachian instruments; the player holds the instrument on the lap and strums
the strings with a pick in the right hand, while fretting the strings with the left
hand fingers or with a small wooden dowel.) Anderson agreed to pay one-third of
the rent. It seemed like a good fit for Swallow Hill. They agreed to a three-year
lease.
They moved in and held concerts and classes in the same space. Davis would
take charge of the space during the day, presenting a combination of private and
group classes for a variety of instruments and styles. Janet Wong was Concert
Director, and she initiated a concert series, New Faces in Denver Folk, which
presented a number of local musicians including Willie and Carol, Spencer
Bohren, Bonnie Carol, Linda Maitch, all who went on to national recognition.
At night, they cleared out the space, set up rented chairs (they had no space
to store them) and presented their shows. It was an intimate concert space, but
so many people loved it, and the players really loved it. It was when Swallow Hill
was put on the map because the performers loved working there, so close to the
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audience.... There was a community connected to it. It was, for the performers,
different from just going in to a place to play. It was more like visiting family....
We were inundated with calls to book an acts.2
The relationship worked two ways. The audience came to trust those booking
the concerts. Reminiscent of the 1960s, many concertgoers came to shows
without knowing the artists. Swallow Hill gained a trusted reputation for bringing
in solid, interesting artists, and people came out for the shows.
I was working on the school and it was growing, recalls Davis. I feel one of
my contributions to Swallow Hill is the culture. I wanted people who were well
known in the community to teach. Mary Flower [blues singer], Mary Stribling
[bass player extraordinaire]... people who were out [performing] and people could
say, I could take lessons from that person at Swallow Hill. But I did not want
people who were self-absorbed. I wanted it to be about the student. I was on a
search for people who could play. But many who can are not good teachers. I
think it says something that a big number of people I brought in here are still
teaching here or elsewhere in Denver.3
While Davis worked fulltime at the school, her husband, Roy Laird donated
his time and skills. Laird, Bruce Anderson of Leo Instruments, and Bruce Burnell,
built a new staircase, constructed and soundproofed the lesson rooms, erected
the stage. Laird went on to become one of the Tattered Cover Book Stores
general managers.
Growth was solid, especially in the school, but it was taking its toll on Davis.
She and concert director Wong were paid on commission: If a show or class went
well, they made money; if it tanked, they didnt. There were other organizational
issues. So, after all this, I was getting completely burned out. The board had a
vision of what it should be.... And I came to the conclusion that we couldnt
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move on until the concert and school directors were paid at least a partial
salary.... I became to realize that I couldnt advocate for that and be the recipient
of it.4 The school was making money and concerts were, at best, breaking even.
Julie Davis announced that she was retiring from School Director feeling that
she had done all that she could to establish a stable music education organization.
Swallow Hill advertised for a new school director. The ad read: Wanted:
director of folk music school. Low pay.
Seth Weisberg responded.5 Weisberg was born in 1961 in Huntington, West
Virginia, the third of five children. His father owned the successful State Electric
Supply Company in this industrial city of some 75,000 on the shores of the Ohio
River. As a youngster, Weisberg showed some interest in music, took piano and
played in a local rock group. As devout Jews, his parents attended synagogue
regularly where Weisberg heard Jewish sacred music. While attending Jewish
summer camp, he encountered Israeli folk music popular at the time. He
attended the West Virginia Folk Festival one summer where he saw, for the first
time, people playing dulcimers and singing Appalachian folk music.6 It planted a
bug in his brain.
Inspirationor obsession, some might saycomes upon people in strange
ways. After high school, Weisberg set out for Washington University in St.
Louis, looking to get away from small city West Virginia and stretch his horizons
a bit. He wrangled a non-paying job on the universitys radio station hosting the
jazz program. But at the same time, the magic of folk music pulled him back. He
discovered Harry Smiths seminal collection, The Anthology of American Folk
Music7 Originally released in 1952, Smiths 84-song collection covered the gamut
of American folk sounds, including such diversity as Appalachian ballads
(Clarence Ashel/s The House Carpenter), mountain string bands (Carolina Tar
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Heels Peg and Awl), blues (Mississippi John Hurts Frankie), popular folk
music (the Carter Familys Engine 143), and sacred music (the Alabama Sacred
Harp Singers Rocky Road). Like Bob Dylan and others before him, the young
Weisberg was captivated. By his own admission, instead of studying, he listened
to every ethnic recording in the university library, from drums to ballads to
African chants. He began introducing folk recordings on the jazz show, much to
the dismay of his audience. It got him fired from the job.8
After switching from engineering to economics, Weisberg graduated but was
not sure what he wanted to do. He was sure that he did not want to go home to
West Virginia and work in the family business. At least not at that time. Having
married a Colorado girl he had met during his senior year on a visit to Boulder, he
decided to move to Denver where, if nothing else, his in-laws might provide free
baby-sitting for the couples new baby. He was twenty-two.
They moved into a small Washington Park rental house owned by his in-laws,
and applied for teaching jobs. He taught economics at the Community College of
Denver, but jumped when he saw the ad for Swallow Hill. He arrived at Swallow
Hill for an interview with Eileen Niehouse and Julie Davis. I was working my
damnedest to impress them, and little did I know they were working their
damnedest to reel me in. Both Davis and Niehouse were burned out on the long
hours and low pay, and were ready to move on to other projects. I realized that
they didnt have anyone else. The last guy bowed out because it was a hell of a lot
of work and he couldnt make any money at it. Too many pieces to keep going;
too hard to keep the board pleased.9
They hired Weisberg immediately. Niehouse left within a week.
He was ambitious, a real go-getter. They proposed to pay him $200 a week
plus a cut of the fees for lessons he booked. I was pretty successful. If you got on
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the phone with me, you were probably going to come in. And if you came in, you
would probably book a lesson. And if you came for lessons, you would probably
take a membership.10 He proved to be a good salesman.
There were organizational troubles, the kind most non-profit volunteer
organizations go through. The organization had gotten to the point where there
wasnt a clear nucleus of people invested in keeping the organization alive. Some
early board members had come back in 1985 when Julie Davis had reconstituted
the school and given Swallow Hill new focus. The organization had put some of
the active volunteers on the board, but people were not much interested in
donating cash, and there was confusion over who was serving and who was being
served.11
While Harry Tuft was not involved in Swallow Hills day-to-day operations,
he cast a long shadow over it and Denvers folk music community. He taught a
few guitar classes each week but was not engaged in any of Swallow Hills
business or organizational decisions. Yet his influence had significant impact on
Swallow Hill, but not always to the organizations benefit. Weisberg, as a Denver
newcomer, had not yet become fully aware of Tufts legacy. In 1986 or so, we
had a benefit concert, and the proceeds went into someones bank account. And,
in 1987, they decided to disperse the funds. They decided to give Tuft $3,000 to
help organize his record collection at his house, and someone to help him with
the computer to get it all listed. And I was pretty outraged. I was pretty bold at
the time. Dammit, this {Swallow Hill] is where it is happening. Were the folk
people. Were doing it all. Hes not doing it! Now, I was too young in the
organization to say that. In the end, though, Weisberg was able to convince the
Board that it was unwise to spend the funds in such a way.12 It was a rough way to
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start out, but regardless of the decision, Tuft and Weisberg became close friends
and confidants over time.
In 1986, Swallow Hill had 550 paying members,13 but cash flow remained a
problem. Weisberg set about implementing changes both within the school and
in the organization as a whole, but he was young and working against a typical
newcomers problem. I knew how to drive a business, but I didnt know all the
people.... I didnt know who Harry [Tuft] was.14 Weisberg contends that Judith
Joyner, the concert director, knew Celtic music, so she booked a lot of it, but she
did not know agents or contracts. And there was confusion about who and what
Swallow Hill was and what business strategies were appropriate. Both board
members and volunteers thought they had tried everything to raise awareness and
money. Weisberg contends that part of the confusion was in defining the term
folk music. There was an idea that we did not book bluegrass music.15 Many
thought that it was not folk music, or that they had their own organization that
would promote it. To make matters worse, says Weisberg, Hell, we didnt know
what a marketing campaign was.
But we knew the Music Association of Swallow Hill didnt sound as good as
the Swallow Hill Music Association.16 Apparently, early board members had
been enamored to the TV sitcom, M.A.S.H. and wanted to have that acronym.
But it wasnt a marketing success. The general public was unclear about Swallow
Hill. Over time, the organization changed its name to Swallow Hill Music
Association, placing more emphasis on Swallow Hill, and less on music. And
we had a flowery logo, says Weisberg. Then we got rid of the flowery logo and
went to more of a woodcut look that was more rustic, more Americana. Then
Judith IJoyner] came up with, Your Home for Acoustic Music, because people
wanted acoustic in there.17 To highlight the change, Leo Anderson designed the
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woodcut logo and made the first sign.18 Step by small step, Swallow Hill expanded
its folk music vision and definition to a more inclusive purview that embraced
bluegrass, ragtime, drumming, and all manner of ethnic music. There was some
initial resistance. {But} people realized that we werent putting drumming in the
middle of their bluegrass concert, so the conflict wasnt serious. It was really
about making money to keep the place going; having more programs, more ways
to bring you in, a broader target.... The definition had to be broader for a
community-based organization. It had to be more than just white guitar players
doing the specific ballad-driven tradition.... There was a flowering, over time, of
what became world music. There was, for example, a greater array of Cajun
music, and African music, Tejano music, and people were more conscious of
presenting it.19 Swallow Hill also embraced dance, not just American folk or
square dancing, but other ethnic representations.
By 1988, Swallow Hill had a membership of 800 and a mailing list of 4,000.
The 1980s had been a generally bleak time for folk and acoustic music, but the
worst times seemed to be in the past. In spite of the rise of MTV (or maybe
because of it and other cable TV-based entertainment, like CMT), guitar sales
began to recover and interest in acoustic music regained a foothold in the cultural
landscape. Paul Simon released his landmark album, Graceland, in 1986, the same
year British singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel released So. Simon worked in the
folk-rock-pop vein, while Gabriel continued to develop his art-rock approach.
Both Simon and Gabriel integrated African rhythms and instruments into the
mix, giving listeners a texture not previously heard. Other artists followed suit,
adding Celtic, Cajun and other ethnic sounds to their musical pallets and shining
more light on ethnic music sources. Both artists embraced MTV and music
video, putting a greater visual emphasis on their work. As the 1980s came to a
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close, folk and acoustic music did not regain the prominence it held in the early
1960s, but it was no longer entertainments bastard stepchild.
When Leo Instruments vacated its Pearl Street space in 1989, Swallow Hill
moved to take over the entire building, all 2,500 square feet. That fall, Weisberg
became Executive Director and launched Swallow Hills first successful capital
campaign. It allowed for the purchase of the Pearl Street facility for $97,000.
Owning its own facility was a significant milestone for the still struggling
organization.
But even as it broadened its musical definition, most observers still pictured
Swallow Hill as a white mans organization that did notor could notrepresent
the cultural traditions of Denvers people of color. This was in stark contrast to
the image of the folk tradition. The folk music community that grew out of the
50s and 60s prided itself on inclusion; they were the first to openly embrace black
blues, Celtic and Israeli music, along with the long-standing English-Scottish
ballad tradition. But by the 80s, the African-American community had turned its
back on blues; older people saw it as music tied to the South, the plantation, and
oppression, while younger blacks were embracing the sounds of the city
represented by dance music and rhythm and blues which morphed, over time,
into hip hop and rap. In an odd turn about, it was a white audience that bought
blues recordings and attended concerts. Still, Swallow Hill wanted to reach out to
Denvers ethnic communities. It was not easy.
Weisberg remembered one telling conversation. Tony Garcia, of Su Teatro
{Denvers leading Hispanic theater and music group], was saying, Seth, you and
your white Anglo-Saxon traditions are not going to be appropriate for our
traditions, and, I said, Tony, look at me; Im a Jewish guy from Poland, okay? I
dont know what youre talking about. And if you want to get on the board, get
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on the board. But his identity was that they had to have their own place and
their own things.... It was part of the on-going political struggle in this country.
You know, Let me into the mainstream, youre ghettoizing me! Then, What?
Im in the mainstream now? Youre watering me down! Im gonna lose my ghetto
where I have my cultural sense. Even as it expanded its definition and offerings,
Swallow Hill could not, much to Weisbergs chagrin, completely shed it white
loaf reputation.
Under Weisbergs leadership, the early 1990s saw Swallow Hill refurbish its
Pearl Street building. Growth was steady and it was soon bursting at the seams
with little or no space for expansion of classrooms. The building had a small
concert space that held about one hundred people, just right for intimate
performances. When an artist could draw a larger crowd, Swallow Hill would
lease larger halls, like nearby Cameron Church (1600 South Pearl Street). As they
expanded their operations and public profile, Weisberg sought and won, for the
first time, significant grants from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities Tax
District (SCFD), and from the Colorado Council for the Arts and Humanities.20
The additional funds allowed for extended hours of operation and provided
concert series support. In 1990, Rebecca Becky Miklitch joined the staff as
Assistant School Director and made a significant impact.
Miklitch was born in Honolulu where her father was teaching psychology at
the University of Hawaii. She grew up in Lakewood with her brother, who was a
gifted and serious student dedicated to the sciences. Rather than compete with
her brother, Miklitch decided to distinguish herself in other ways. She took
recorder and flute lessons. She liked music. Her father gave her brother a guitar
in an effort to expand his interests beyond science. When the guitar languished
for months in her brothers room, Miklitch adopted it. She had spent hours
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sitting with her mothers records and had memorized every John Denver song she
found. She took to the guitar and spent a year studying music in Norway after
high school before entering Colgate University as a language major in 1986. There
she found she could sing and play at a local coffee house, and get paid for it. And
she enjoyed it. After bouncing from one major to another, she graduated Phi Beta
Kappa in 1990 with a major in music and a minor in psychology.
She returned to Denver with little or no direction but was determined not to
be a part of the evil establishment. After a week or more looking for jobs,
Miklitch spied an ad in a Swallow Hill brochure looking for someone to assist at
the school. Though she had grown up in Lakewood, she knew little about
Denvers cultural underground and nothing about Swallow Hill. But the job
sounded intriguing. She noticed that applications were due at 4:00PM that
afternoon, and it was already 3:45PM, but she called to inquire. As luck would
have it, she talked to Weisberg, who, in his laid back manner, told her not to
worry and that she should come down and chat with him.21 Throwing on what she
called sensible clothes (something other than the cutoff jeans she had on), she
arrived at Swallow Hills South Pearl Street facility within the hour. Weisberg
met her and whisked her into one of the practice rooms for an interview. She
learned that someone else had been hired and fired within the last few weeks for
the position, and the job was open again. But Miklitch balked: was she willing to
work evenings and weekends, twenty hours a week, for a paltry $5.00 an hour?
What would her friends think? Or her parents?22 Weisberg was insistentand
charming. With a little arm-twisting, he had a new part time employee. Her title
was Assistant School Director. Basically, I was hired to answer the phone
because the business had gotten to the point that that it was too much for Seth
to handle by himself.... So, my job was to be the front office.23
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She jumped into what she called the lovable chaos that was Swallow Hill.
On her first day, Weisberg was trying to repair an inexpensive table, and since
Swallow Hill was always broke, he had a few two-by-fours in his hand and asked
Miklitch, the music major, to help him. So there I was. I was whining about it,
trying to use a saw, and Seth turns to me and says, Ah, in the long tradition of
Swallow Hill, women strong of mind and weak of arm. {She Hughs.} That was day
one at work. It wasnt great, but at least the pay allowed her to get a basement
apartment.24
Almost immediately, her hours changed when Weisberg asked her to come in
on Saturday mornings and help manage the new guitar classes Harry Tuft was
teaching. As another newcomer, Miklitch had no idea who Tuft was or what role
he had played in Denver folk music, but she agreed. Now, if you know anything
about Harry and the hours he keeps, and me, the incredible night owl I am,
having Harry and me together on Saturday mornings at nine oclock was a really,
really bad idea. Harry and I got off to such a bad start.... We were both so not
morning people. And Harry and I are always both running late. It was like both
of us were going against each others nature. Wed both get there, wed both be
late, and wed both be mad that other was late and hadnt gotten there early
enough to get the chairs set up.... Harry was always mad that I wasnt there ten
minutes before him to make the coffee. And I was, of course, pissed off that
some man thought I was there to make coffee for him! I mean, I dont drink this
stuff. If you want coffee, you can damn well make it yourself! Im a liberated
woman, and I dont make coffee for no man! {Laughs hardily.}25 They got off on
the wrong foot, but soon became good friends and learned to work with one
another.
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I dont remember ever working twenty hours a week.... But I had no social
life. The school was fairly well organized at the time, but shortly after Miklitch
came on, the school switched the teaching staff from being on straight
commission to salary. It was necessary for survival.26 But it was never just a job.
She was working thirty hours plus a week and getting paid for twenty, and
learning that it was a community and an organization that operated on the good
will and help from many people. It was a real adjustment, but something that she
made willingly. It never is just a job here. I see it when I hire teachers. You
know within a month if they are going to make the adjustment. It is all about
community. If they dont get it, theyll think that Swallow Hill is just abusing
them. And if they do, theyll just love it and want to do whatever they can for
it.27
About 1991, I dont remember if I was full-time or not, because everything
was in this constant state of Jell-O, but I remember unloading [packets of] the
new newsletter. Its always exciting when the newsletter comes in and to leaf
through it and see what its like. So I opened it up, and Im paging through, and I
get to the staff page, and I see: Rebecca Miklitch, School Director. And I went,
Huh? [Laughs.} And Seth says, Oh, yeah, I thought Id make you school
director. I thought itd make you feel good to get that official title.
Unbeknownst to Miklitch, Swallow Hill had received a grant, which funded an
executive director position, and Weisberg had young children at the time and
was trying to get off an evening schedule. Though he meant it in a sweet way, it
did mean greater responsibility and not much more authority for her. And no pay
increase initially. It was laughable, in those days.... I got on full-time, and got a
raise to $7.00 an hour, but there was no health insurance.... My parents were
asking, Why are you doing this? My father thought it was just a phase. Shell
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grow out of it. Meanwhile, my brother was getting his PhD; hes a noted
physicist, and hes publishing papers, and Im the black sheep of the family.
{Laughs, again]28
While the concert series was the public face of Swallow Hill, with many non-
members attending shows presented at numerous locations in Denver, the school
was the moneymaker. When Weisberg joined the staff at Swallow Hill, the
school stuck mostly to the tried and true guitar, banjo, mandolin, and bass
classes. Weisberg sought to expand the schools offerings to include instrument
instruction in drumming, harmonica, and dobro, as well as playing styles thought
by some to be outside the folk milieu. Where else might you find a class on how
to finger-pick Beatles tunes? Or Irish flute? They all fit in with the ever-changing
definition of folk music as acoustic music in many styles. But Miklitch wanted to
expand it farther, and, to Weisbergs dismay, got rid of some of the old
fashioned offerings. She wanted to drop the Carter Family Guitar lessons,
arguing that there were too few takers. Weisberg resisted. Miklitch won.29
By the mid-pos, Swallow Hill seemed to be on footing that appeared more
solid than in the past, even though they constantly struggled for funds. In a letter
to the Colorado Council on Humanities and the Arts endorsing the nomination
for a Governors Award, Marc Shulgold, music critic for the Rocky Mountain
News, wrote: Swallow Hill fills a large void in the Denver areaand fills it well.
The mix ofstar attractions and more obscure, but equally deserving ones, is
generally well managed. Also commendable is the Associations support of
Hispanic and other ethnic styles.... Performers always speak praise as part of their
onstage patter.30 In 1995, there were some 2,000 paying members and a mailing
list of 25,000, while the school employed thirty-five teachers who instructed
more than 750 students annually. With the addition of Meredith Carson as
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Concert Director, the concert offerings rose to a new level as Swallow Hill
attracted an increasing number of nationally known acts, as well as deserving, but
less well-known local performers.
Miklitch took a summer off in 1992, an unpaid leave of absence. She was
having boyfriend problems, and the stress at Swallow Hill and the low pay did not
help. She spent the summer working at a camp as its music education director.
She had worked there previously and had been invited back. It was a good
break.31
After years of struggling for the smallest attentions, the real growth began.
Swallow Hill had their newly refurbished facility on South Pearl Street and had
enough room for the first time. There had always been a demand for new and
additional classes, but there was no way to pay the staff more money without an
increase in business. And there was additional incentive: Deidre Shaffer, one of
the board members, was determined that the staff would get benefits. At budget
time, each department devised a plan on how they would increase revenue and
net the required annual income to pay for benefits. As it worked out, Carsons
expanded concert plan failed to meet expectations, but Miklitchs expanded
school plan netted twice its projected revenue.32 And the staff got health
insurance and other benefits for the first time.
There was friction between these two competitive and talented women,
something that increased over time as the school made more money as it
attracted an ever-increasing number of students to a widening array of classes,
and the concert series netted less and less as the operating costs increased. It
boiled down to competition for scarce resources, and Swallow Hill was always
broke. On more than one occasion, the organizations future was on the line
based on the success or failure of a big show. Bankruptcy was never far away.33
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Miklitch claims most teachers live below the poverty line. Teachers eke out a
meager living through a combination of teaching and playing whatever live gigs
are available, from parties to shows to clubs. It would appear, on paper, that
teachers make a good hourly wage. But it is deceptive. They might be at the
school for six to eight hours, but get paid only for the couple of hours they
actually teach.34 It is definitely a source of stress within the Swallow Hill
community.
It isnt just the teachers. The prevailing myth holds that performers are, if not
over-paid, at least nicely compensated. Star performers fill halls and collect fees
in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. But most performers work on
a commission, usually tied to a portion of the gate receipts after the house
deducts expenses. Miklitch recalled a story that serves as a good example. At the
first weekend concert she worked at Swallow Hill she had the responsibility of
setting up the room, managing volunteers, and collecting proceeds. That Saturday
night, Swallow Hill presented the Country Gentlemen, one of Americas
foremost and best-loved bluegrass bands, a group with a national reputation and
numerous recordings in their portfolio. After counting up the till and subtracting
the promotion fees, she could not quite believe what the numbers told her. Here
were four outstanding musicians, who had just presented a fine show to a sold out
room. They netted $288 for their efforts. A Saturday night. The big money
night. And theyre on the road! They have to pay for gas and hotels!35
As time passed and Miklitch took complete charge of the school, Weisberg
took on more of the day-to-day responsibilities of the management beyond the
school. It was not a power play; it was a practical development. Weisberg believes
it freed others up to put their energies into focusing on more immediate needs.36
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CHAPTER 5:
A CHANGING OF THE GUARD
In 1995, after eight successful years at Swallow Hill, Seth Weisberg
approached the board and told them that he was resigning from the position of
executive director; he agreed to stay on through the search for his replacement.
He felt as if he had given all that he could and had taken Swallow Hill as far as he
was capable. He intended to return to his familys business. During his time at
Swallow Hill, he had been able to survive on slim paychecks, in no small part
because of his devoted in-laws, who had rented him a house and often bought
new clothing for his kids. He claimed that food had not been much of a problem
because he was part of a food co-op with Deidre Shaffer and kept a garden. Still,
he and his family had taken no vacations and never went out to dinner. And they
had no TV or stereo.
When I left Swallow Hill, I didnt leave because of the money; but the
moment the other paychecks came in, I realized how poor we really were. We
bought a bed, a new bed. We bought a stereo. We filled the pantry with food.
We bought {our son] a new baseball glove. We had just worn down the whole
capital base of the Weisberg household. We just didnt buy things for a long
time.1
Swallow Hill had come a long way under Weisbergs enthusiastic leadership.
The schools teachers instructed more than 1,500 students annually; Swallow Hill
had qualified for a $7,500 grant from the Denver Foundation; Westword, Denvers
alternative weekly newspaper, had named Swallow Hill Denvers Best Folk
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Music Venue; and, the concert series presented more than ioo shows in 1995,
featuring such notable artists as Tim OBrien and Jerry Douglas, Celeste Krenz,
Carla Sciaky, Tom Paxton, BeauSoleil, Grubstake, Battlefield Band, Triple Play
(Kevin Welch, Jimmy LaFave, Michael Fracasso), Jean Redpath, Tish Hinojosa,
Garnet Rodgers, Clive Gregson, John Renbourn and Robin Williamson, Katy
Moffatt, and Dan Crary.2
The board of directors set about finding Weisbergs replacement. More than
fifty applicants, many of them apparently qualified, applied. Some board
members approached Becky Miklitch and inquired as to her availability. She was
flattered, But, you know, Meredith {Carson} is a very head-strong person. Shes,
what, fifteen years older than me? And there were issues between us, mostly
about funding and resources. There was no way I could be Merediths boss and
would never have the Boards backing in it. So I didnt apply for the position.3
The Board narrowed it down to six or seven candidates. All but one of them
turned it down when they heard the salary: $24,000 a year.4
After months of searching, the board appeared ready to name a replacement
when local bandleader and musician, Chris Daniels applied. Even though Daniels
was educated and interested, some board members, including Harry Tuft and
Seth Weisberg, were initially lukewarm. Daniels was not what might be termed
your typical folky.5
Chris Daniels bristles with energy and enthusiasm even when he is not on
stage. Medium height and wiry, with close-cropped light-colored hair, and
intense blue eyes, he seems to be in constant motion. Daniels was born in 1952 in
St. Paul, Minnesota; his father was an executive in the agriculture business and
his mother a homemaker. Daniels was, by his own admission, an indifferent and
somewhat rebellious student, something that may have had to do with what he
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terms his raging dyslexia. His parents enrolled him in Colorado Academy after
his expulsion from a private school in Minnesota. Daniels took up the guitar at
the age of ten, but did not study it or music formally with teachers. Yet he
became an adept musician by the time he was eighteen. When he dropped out of
college, he said his parents disowned him, so he moved to Colorado in 1970,
spending his time jamming with an array of local musicians. He lived in a
commune in Eldorado Springs, sleeping in a converted school bus. In 1971, he
joined the Colorado musical group, Magic Music, writing songs for them during a
period when they briefly flirted with a national recording contract. It was at this
time when Daniels played his first gig for Harry Tuft at the Denver Folklore
Center. He finally came to the realization that he needed formal musical training
and education, and he entered McAllister College in Minneapolis, getting his BA
in journalism. He also studied music theory at the Berkeley College of Music in
Boston. He completed four years of study in three years between 1976 and 1979.
After graduation, Daniels played in the band Spoons with his friend, Sam
Broussard, a Louisiana born guitarist, who had backed Michael Martin Murphy.
He then spent two years touring with Russell Smith, the former leader of the
Amazing Rhythm Aces, who had had a national hit in 1976 with Third Rate
Romance and won a Grammy the following year for The End is Not in Sight.
It was a valuable learning experience for the young Daniels, and when Smith
decided to move to Nashville and get off the road, Daniels elected to form his
own band, Chris Daniels and the Kings, a group which combined the sounds of
rock and roll and rhythm and blues with horns, similar to the Average White
Band or Tower of Power. The band proved to be an immediate hit with the
college crowd, many of whom had never experienced a live dance-oriented band
with a full array of horns. Ultimately, Chris Daniels and the Kings proved to be
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more popular in Europe than in America, and would play an extensive tour there
each year, selling a considerable number of albums and CDs on each trip.
Sandwiched between tours of the U.S. and Europe, Daniels returned to college
and secured an MA in history from the University of Colorado, Boulder. By 1995,
radio changed its play format again and squeezed out bands like the Kings. With
band revenues sagging, Daniels applied for the job of Director at Swallow Hill
Music Association.6
At first, neither Harry Tuft, the godfather of Denver folk music and
influential Swallow Hill board member, nor Seth Weisberg was impressed with
Daniels. Tuft seemed more swayed by Danielss image as a hard rocking
singer/guitarist than his education or credentials as a businessman who had
successfully led and managed a band and balanced its books.7 But Weisberg soon
took to Daniels, believing that he brought unique management skills and a high
energy level to the position. Daniels was eventually able to overcome most, but
not all, of the resistance on the boardsome of whom never saw how a rock and
roller could lead a folk music schooland secured the position of executive
director. He was to start September 1,1995; the pay was $24,000 per year.8
Weisberg recommended that Daniels spend August following him around for
a month of unpaid on-the-job training. Daniels agreed, believing it would be the
best way to become familiar with his responsibilities and the staff personnel. His
first official day on the job, September 1, started with a bang. Becky Miklitch, the
dynamic school director, who had done an outstanding job expanding the schools
offerings and enrollment, dropped by his office and stated that if she were to
continue, she needed a raise. Later the same day, Meredith Carson, Swallow Hills
successful concert director, visited Daniels and said that if she were to continue,
she too needed a raise. The following day, Daniels learned that, for all practical
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purposes, Swallow Hill was out of operating funds and would be broke if they
could not find additional income.9
Daniels was not about to be cowed by the situation. Through his internship
with Weisberg, he understood the cyclical nature of Swallow Hills revenue
stream, which stemmed primarily from membership (the steadiest and most
predictable income), newsletter advertising, concerts (something of a loss-leader),
and the school (the most consistently profitable operation). Additional funding
came from SCFD grants, but just that year, the SCFD had voted to reduce
funding from $20,000 per year to $10,000. One SCFD board member, a black
women, perceived a lack of diversity in Swallow Hill membership and program
participation, something that was, at the time, perhaps true, but it stung the
leadership to be perceived as biased. Folk music has a long and storied history of
involvement with civil rights and has always embraced black and minority music
as essential parts of its make up. But minority participation in Swallow Hill
programs and events was, indeed, low: Folk music simply had little appeal to the
majority of Denvers minority populations. Even B.B. King, the great black blues
singer has noted that, since the late 1960s, his audience and that of other blues
singers have been almost entirely white. Still, Swallow Hill had not been active in
reaching out to the community, and the SCFD voted to reduce funding.
In the short run, there was little Daniels could do about changing SCFD
funding, but he immediately set out to raise additional funds from sources he
knew in the community. He successfully found donors who provided an
additional $20,000 in funding, and Swallow Hill finished fiscal 1995 some $2,000
in the black, a small but important lesson in fundraising and a proof of Danielss
management talents and leadership.10 As Daniels and Swallow Hill entered 1996,
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the overriding issues they faced were fundraising, space, public relations and
operations, all tied, in some way, to one another.
As for operations, the school had been, for some time, a significant source of
operating revenue. Rebecca Miklitch, the schools director, continued to
successfully grow the school year after year. Wheneverand wherevermore
space became available, she put it to use creating new classes, and, most
importantly, filling them. The Pearl Street facility was bursting at the seams, with
every available space used for classes and administration. Swallow Hill continued
to present shows at the ioo-seat performance space at Pearl Street, and leased
space when needed, which, with one hundred shows a year, was more often than
not. On the balance, concerts, at best, added little to the bottom line. Miklitch
argued that Swallow Hill should seek additional classroom space and, since classes
were the moneymakers, the school should take over the concert space, and
Swallow Hill should consider curtailing the concert schedule.
It comes as no surprise that Meredith Carson, the concert director, disagreed.
She argued that, while it was true that the concerts did not add considerably to
the bottom line, they were the main source of publicity. Many concertgoers were
not members and on attending a Swallow Hill concert, some became aware of
association for the first time, and often joined. Concerts provided much needed
publicity in the papers and folk music publications and it was, in Carsons view,
the concerts, which provided Swallow Hill with much of its public face. Carson
also had a vision for Swallow Hills music program: in her mind, Swallow Hills
concerts represented something special in the community, where such
musiccontemporary and traditional folk and acoustic musichad few other
outlets. No radio stations, let alone television, programmed this type of music,
and Swallow Hill represented its only outlet. Concert attendance provided
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sufficient proof of the musics popularity. In 1996, there were more than no
shows, with an average attendance of two hundred people per show."
Daniels realized the wisdom in both arguments and his solution took two
routes. First, he sought to revise Swallow Hills mission statement, so that there
would be no confusion about the organizations stated goals: its two main focuses
would be education and concerts, and the board quickly agreed. The second part
of the solution was to lease additional space, which he quickly found in the
buildings across Pearl Street and around the corner on Jewell Avenue. After
signing a lease, Daniels moved nearly all the administrative offices to the new
space, freeing up space in the main building for additional classrooms. Miklitch
did not hesitate; within six months she had filled all the classrooms with a steady
stream of new offerings; she clamored for more space. Daniels encouraged
Carson to continue and expand her concert offerings while utilizing leased space
for shows.
Daniels had to face the main issue before him: the 1905 South Pearl Street
building was simply inadequate to meet Swallow Hills growing needs. The matter
was not new. Seth Weisberg had begun to consider alternatives before he stepped
down. Knowing that space was a never-ending issue, Weisberg had initially
proposed that Swallow Hill buy the building lot next door, but they were unable
to secure the $7,000 purchase price. Some time later, he suggested a major
overhaul to the building. With about 2,500 square feet available, it was clearly
inadequate, and Weisberg contacted an architectural firm who designed an
addition that, if built, would raise the usable space to about 6,500 square feet.
The addition would cost $500,000.12
This, of course, raised a central issue: Swallow Hill had no track record when
it came to fund raising. No one on the staff or among the volunteers had any
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experience in it and the board of directors took no leadership on the issue.
Nevertheless, the board authorized a capital campaign with the expressed goal of
raising the half million dollars needed for the Pearl Street expansion. By the time
Daniels took over, they had made little progress toward the goal, and the
campaign seemed to have stalled out even before it was under way. To make
matters more complex, Daniels began to doubt the wisdom of expanding the
existing facility. By the end of 1996, it was apparent to him that 6,500 square feet
would be inadequate to meet current needs, let alone provide for the future.
Weisberg had not wanted or could not face the eventuality of finding another
facility; he had put his heart and soul into Pearl Street, and saw it as the only real
home Swallow Hill had known.13
Danielss view was more analytical and less emotional. While the Pearl Street
building was warm and cozy and had seen its share of historic concerts, it could
never grow to meet the needs of an organization that was experiencing
substantial growth. In his mind the board faced a clear but tough decision: either
find land for expansion or begin looking to relocate. The building expansion
would never fly, but the board remained, at least for the moment, committed to
the expansion project.
Daniels quietly began the search for a possible new home. He learned that
Sandy Gurtler and those who represented the old Elitch Gardens were looking
for someone to take over the old and famous Elitchs Theatre. Daniels, Carson
and Miklitch went to investigate and were impressed by the size of the old
theater, which could easily hold 1,000 concertgoers, had a good stage and boasted
more than acceptable acoustics. Other buildings could be converted to
classrooms and administrative offices and Gurtler was willing to donate the
building free of charge to Swallow Hill, but further investigation showed that the
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Elitchs site would require substantially more than $500,000 in needed repairs
and modifications, probably closer to $1 million.14 Indeed, Elitchs is presently
undergoing a $1.5 million renovation. And it was outside the area that Swallow
Hill considered its neighborhood.
Before he could brief the board, word of Danielss visit to Elitchs leaked out
to the press and board members learned about it through the newspapers. They
were not happy to hear about their supposed relocation, which they had not yet
approved. Daniels faced them at the next meeting and was able to convince them
that the papers had misquoted him and Gurtler and that he had made no deal.15
The assessment process continued. Daniels investigated a number of
warehouses located near Interstate 25 and Speer Boulevard, but they too proved
unsuitable. Then Daniels located the vacant South Broadway Christian Church at
First and Lincoln Avenues and he convinced Harry Tuft to go with him to
investigate. The church facility was nearly perfect: a large performance space
where the main meeting hall had been, and an attached school that would provide
plenty of classroom space and administrative offices. Daniels thought it was
perfect, but when they returned to the car and began to discuss it, Tuft was less
than eager. There was, Tuft pointed out, no parking lot and very limited on-
street parking, and the noise from the traffic at that busy intersection was
intrusive. Daniels disagreed. He said, You dont understand what Im saying. Its
perfect. Tuft responded, I do understand what you are saying; I just disagree
with you.16
Danielss background as a performer gave him a certain perspective on space
that placed a great emphasis on the performance aspects. After all, as a
bandleader, he knew performance and flash mattered. The conflict with some
staff and board members came in this area of image. Becky Miklitch believes that
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Daniels thought that a LoDo site would be better for performance and would
expand the concert audience, allowing Swallow Hill to make concerts more
profitable. Miklitch, on the other hand, wanted to maintain the profitability of
the school. She had created zip code maps of both Swallow Hill concert-goers
and school attendees, which showed that the concert-goers came from all across
the metropolitan area, while students where drawn from the immediate area
within a mile or two of the South Pearl Street neighborhood. Maintaining some
kind of local presence would be critical to maintaining school revenue, which
would be critical to ongoing operations.17 Flash wasnt everything.
It didnt take Daniels long to see the wisdom in Tufts and Miklitchs points
of view. The traffic and parking would make it nearly impossible for students and
concertgoers. After all, who would want their kids dragging their guitars and
harps to and from class while dodging traffic on the busy one-way main arteries of
Broadway and Lincoln? And the area clearly was not in keeping with the friendly
neighborhood vision embodied at Pearl Street. The search continued.
But the model that the church represented became a clear guidepost: When
it came to their basic design and plant, old churches had exactly what Swallow
Hill could use. Daniels and others were convinced that the right church building
could make a workable new home. But other recent developments did nothing to
encourage them.
Fund raising remained central to Swallow Hills problems since they would
not likely be able to depend on operating revenue to cover its expenses. Daniels
secured concert sponsorship from Wild Oats Market and the Pearl Street Grill,
and general sponsorship from Schumacher Accounting. Recognizing that their
main business model was the Chicago Old Town School of Folk Music, Daniels
contacted their director, Jim Hirsch, in order to learn more about their operating
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practices. He discovered that the City of Chicago was far more supportive of its
institution than Denver was of Swallow Hill. In 1994, the City of Chicago
donated the abandoned 43,000 square foot Hild Library building, in one of
Chicagos most diverse neighborhoods, to Old Town.8 In addition, Chicago
corporations provided strong, ongoing financial support.
Daniels believed Swallow Hill needed a new business plan, with an emphasis
on fund raising and community outreach. He had no experience in the former, so
he set about educating himself through reading and meeting with community and
business leaders. His self-education led him to understand one of the reasons
Swallow Hills capital campaign had failed to generate much enthusiasm: For its
entire existence, Swallow Hills board of directors neither contributed to the
capital campaign nor did they solicit contributions. In Danielss words, they were
not a giving board.19 His first step toward successful fund raising was his
confrontation with the board over their lack of demonstrated commitment. He
contended that, if the board did not feel compelled to contribute, how could they
expect others to make financial commitments?20
Then, by good chance, Daniels met Frank Isenhart, co-founder of Tempest,
Isenhart, Chafee, Lansdowne & Associates. At the time, Isenharts investment
company was producing a biographical film on Dave Gibson, the Denver jazz
impresario, and needed a homey place to film interviews. A friend suggested he
contact Swallow Hill. Daniels met Insenhart at the Pearl Street facility, which he
showed to Isenhart, who felt it was the perfect setting for the filming. Daniels
agreed to make Swallow Hills concert space available for filming the interviews.
Upon learning about Swallow Hill, Isenhart was so impressed that he
immediately took out a membership. After learning about Danielss
organizational dilemma, introduced Daniels to a top-notch business consultant
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who, at that time, had been working with General Electric. The consultant
taught Daniels that a key element of business planning was that the best business
plan is worthless if the management team did not buy into it. Daniels set out to
get buy-in to his plan that included a new building.
He did something no one had done before: He initiated a mailing campaign
to Swallow Hills membership asking them what they wanted most from the
organization. What priorities did they place on the school? On concerts? Was
one more important than the other? What about location and setting? The
members responded that they wanted a place that retained the warm friendliness
of Pearl Street, and that both the school and concerts were equally important.
Armed with that information, Daniels engineered an off-site meeting hosted at
Frank Isenharts house with school director Becky Miklitch and concert director
Meredith Carson, and board member, Larry Fish in attendance. That meeting
helped to heal some of the schism between Miklitch and Carson, the two most
important staff members, and brought Fish firmly into Danielss support group.
Daniels then approached the Board and convinced them to fund a
workshop/seminar on organization management presented by Jim Hirsch, the
director of the Old Town School of Folk Music.21 The reasoning was simple: Old
Town was the only organization that closely resembled Swallow Hill. Hirsch had
been successful there; perhaps they could learn from him and his experience.
Hirsch is a driven, charismatic and opinionated man; he can polarize people. But
he also had the type of experience Swallow Hill could use to their advantage and
the meeting helped to spell out the organizational requirements and business
strategies that would move Swallow Hill forward. The meeting produced a clear
consensus from both staff and board.
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Danielss efforts began to bear fruit. The board began to change its focus, and
its president, Steve Gavan, voiced solid support for Danielss new directions.
Other board members began to come around, especially Robert Hickler, James
Martin and Bob Ambrosius, who put their full support behind Danielss call for a
giving board.
When the Capital Campaign director unexpectedly resigned, Daniels agreed
to manage that function. Under Seth Weisberg, Swallow Hill had received not
one, but three El Pomar awards for excellence. Taking its name from the Spanish
for the orchard, Spencer and Julie Penrose had established the El Pomar
Foundation in 1937 to enhance, encourage and promote the current and future
well being of the people of Colorado through grant making and community
stewardship. El Pomar contributes $20 million annually to support non-profit
organizations devoted to serving Colorado communities.22 Daniels believed that
the time was ripe to approach them for a grant for additional operating funds.
When he was successful, he made grant writing a central part of the
organizations efforts. A Swallow Hill volunteer, Susan Dimichalis, who wrote
grants for the Colorado Chorale, reviewed and edited his work. He caught on
quickly.23 Armed with excellent writing skills learned as a graduate history
student, he hit his stride: He approached the Coors Foundation and Gates
Foundation and secured additional grants.
Earlier, the SCFD charges that Swallow Hill was too white had hurt Seth
Weisberg considerably; to counter the SCFD, Daniels enlisted Julie Davis,
longtime Swallow Hill music instructor, to create the Swallow Hill Traveling
Troupe. The Troupe was an outreach effort, which visited schools throughout
the metro area, bringing music and culture to a large number of children not
otherwise aware of folk music. Swallow Hill received the Denvers Mayors Award
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for Cultural Excellence and, shortly thereafter, the Colorado Governors Award
for Cultural Excellence. With the success of its community outreach programs,
Swallow Hill was able to request and secure new and expanded annual SCFD
funding. The SCFD provided $35,000 for the production and continuation of
outreach educational programs. Over time, Daniels was able to build up a war
chest of $60,000, with the idea that it might come in handy for expansion.24
Still, economic challenges remained. The annual budget in 1996 was more
than $300,000, and space remained at a premium. The board, while more
receptive to many of Danielss ideas, was not yet ready to abandon the Pearl
Street expansion project, but no other alternatives seemed reasonable.
In 1997, when it seemed likely that the board would move on the expansion
project, an alternative appeared almost out of nowhere. Daniels received a fax
from a realtor offering a church for sale at 71 East Yale Avenue, about a mile
from Swallow Hill. Daniels took Carson and Miklitch to investigate. The
property was on the northwest corner of East Yale and Lincoln Avenues and had
previously been the home of the Southside Church of the Nazarene. The church
built the original structure in 1941, and expanded it to its present size in 1953. The
church community had remained vital into the 1980s, a time when a young and
dynamic pastor led it. When he left in the early 90s to direct a church in
California, the church community lost much of its vigor and its parishioners
drifted away to other newer Nazarene communities in the Denver area.25 The
church building was vacant, the parish unable to maintain mortgage payments or
meet ongoing maintenance expenses.
Carson and Miklitch were impressed with the property; it had everything they
needed. Miklitch saw that the building was about 20,000 square feet, nearly ten
times what was available at Pearl Street, and three times more than what the
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expansion plan would provide, so there would be more than adequate instruction
space. Carson saw that there were three potential performance spaces that could
accommodate between seventy and three hundred concertgoers. There was an
area the church had used for Sunday school that would make ideal classroom
space, and the original building to the rear of the main building had more than
sufficient office space. And there was a paved parking lot across Yale and Lincoln
to the southeast, and the building was far enough away from Broadway that noise
would not be an issue. Daniels was not immediately impressed,26, thinking that it
did not have the appeal of a LoDo site. Cason and Miklitch won him over with
their enthusiasm.
As good as the building appeared, the board was initially torn by the new
opportunity. They had grown somewhat attached to the idea of expansion and
here was a building in the general neighborhood that was more than adequate,
but the asking price of $650,000 intimidated them. How could Swallow Hill pay
for such a place? According to Daniels, board member Bob Ambrosius went to
investigate.27 With his extensive knowledge of real estate, he compared the
purchase price to other commercial properties and to the proposed expansion.
Ambrosius concluded that the church was a bargain. He pushed the board to act
and make a commitment to the property. They resisted. They did not believe
they could manage the financial commitment. Daniels believed otherwise, and
Seth Weisberg, a trusted advisor, encouraged Daniels to commit to the goal.
Daniels acted quickly to re-energize the capital campaign. His father put him
in contact with people who had raised money for a community arts center in
South Carolina, where Danielss parents were living. Daniels contacted the
manager and asked permission to appropriate the design they had used for their
brochure and received unqualified permission. But to kick the campaign off, to
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prime the pump, Swallow Hill needed a lead grant; Daniels approached his
parents who generously provided a $125,000 donation.28 With its lead grant in
hand, Swallow Hill designed and printed their brochure and kicked off the capital
campaign.
At the same time, Daniels and board member Ambrosius put together a
financial plan that demonstrated that the ongoing costs of the leases on Pearl
Street and Jewell Avenue for additional classrooms and office space, coupled with
performance hall rentals needed for concerts, would be offset through the
purchase of the church. Swallow Hills operating budget for 1998 was a projected
$600,000. Ultimately, Daniels and Ambrosius were able to convince the board
that the move made good economic sense and that they could raise the necessary
funds for the down payment and ongoing debt service.
With the commitment of the initial donation, Frank Isenhart put Daniels in
touch with all the right people at the Coors Foundation, the Gates Foundation
and other leading charitable groups, and the capital campaign gathered
momentum.29 Perceiving the possibilities, the board committed to the new
building, made the $50,000 down payment from the war chest, and moved
forward with the purchase.
While the plan to expand Pearl Street appeared more elegant to some, as
Daniels put it, the purchase of the church was more practical, but the building
required much work before they would be able to occupy it. There was an open-
air courtyard at the entrance, which Daniels decided should be filled in. Gerry
McCallum and Daniels led a team of volunteers who filled in the area, placed a
roof over it, and spread and finished yards of concrete to create a foyer where
people could gather before concerts, and artists could sell their CDs. McCallum,
Swallow Hills volunteer coordinator, was tireless. He organized gangs to attack
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the plumbing, the electrical work, and the roofing, refurbishing or replacing
defective materials. Member and musician, Rich Moore, Molly OBriens
husband, was the owner of a heating company, and he inspected the furnace and
found that not only did it not meet code, but also that it was downright
dangerous. Moore agreed to refurbish the clunky unit at cost.30
Swallow Hill scheduled its annual Folkathon to coincide with the grand
opening of the new facility. While the name folkathon was Harry Tufts idea,
the concept came from board members in 1992. The original idea was to present
a weekend-long, around-the-clock celebration of folk music and dance, featuring
the finest in local talent. The goals were simple: offer Denver citizens a unique
and memorable summer entertainment that would raise funds and create greater
interest in Swallow Hill Music Association. First musician to play the original
Folkathon was Bob Tyler, who penned the Folkathon Theme Song. The event
included food and craft vendors, childrens games, all-night jam sessions, and
dance demonstrations on multiple stages.31 At the old facility, the city had given
Swallow Hill permission to block off sections of Pearl Street and Jewell Avenue
to create a street fair that had been quite successful and the neighborhood stood
solidly behind it.32 But the new facility straddled two municipalitiesDenver and
Englewoodand their new neighbors were somewhat suspicious about such a
gathering. The plan called for an outdoor main stage on Lincoln Avenue adjacent
to Swallow Hill, with other performance stages inside, while food vendors plied
their wares on Lincoln. But to get ready, Daniels felt that they would need to
refurbish the floor of the main concert hall, which was covered in dingy industrial
carpet. The volunteers removed the old carpet only to find inches-thick layers of
carpet glue on top of the old hardwood floor, which would require hand
stripping. With his so-so Spanish, Daniels went to Labor Ready and hired a crew
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of Spanish-speaking workers to strip the glue from the floor. After instructing
the workers, Daniels removed himself to his office to tackle a waiting mound of
paperwork. The Folkathon was just two days away and there was much to be
done. The workers decided that a little water might just do the trick in loosening
the glue. Without asking permission, they brought in a hose from outside and
flooded the floor. When Daniels took a break from his work, he found, to his
dismay, the workers happily scrapping away at the glue, now covered in an inch or
so of water. No aqua! No aqua! he shouted excitedly. He turned the water off
and scoured the facility for towels, cloths, paper towels, and even toilet
paperanything to soak up the water. They finally brought in a fan and dried the
floor for twenty-four hours. To his relief, the wooden floorboards did not warp,
and the hall was ready for the crowds the following day.33 The Folkathon was
another success, with Chris Daniels and his band, the Kings, closing the show
with an energetic horn-soaked set in the early evening.
Swallow Hill moved into its new building after the Folkathon. True to form,
Becky Miklitch set up the classrooms, helped create new offerings, and filled the
classes. Meredith Carson had three halls at her disposal in the new building: the
Cafe, which would hold about sixty people; Tuft Hall (named, appropriately, for
Harry Tuft) which seated ioo comfortably; and, the main performance area,
Daniels Hall, which could accommodate 340.34 (Danielss parents had wanted the
hall to be named for their son, but Daniels demurred, sensing that it might
appear to be too egotistical, but did agree to have it named for his family.) Carson
could book actsboth local and nationalwithout leasing performance spaces
except in rare instances when the artist was sure to draw more than 350 fans.
Chris Daniels and his band donated the PA system, which Swallow Hill
professionally installed in the main hall, running the cabling from the stage under
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the floor to the sound board in the rear, and mounting the speakers in a way that
took advantage of the rooms natural acoustics.35 Artists often comment about
Swallow Hills good sound and attentive audiences.
The new building brought Daniels and Swallow Hill new opportunities and
new challenges. With the improved performance space came increased notoriety:
artists wanted to play Swallow Hill, but now felt they could ask for larger
performance fees. Swallow Hill also had to be more diligent in tracking and
paying performance royalties to ASCAP (the American Society of Composers,
Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), the largest companies
that manage publication and performance copyright in America. Even though
Swallow Hill no longer paid out money to rent performance space, the cost of
presenting concerts rose, putting financial pressure on the organization and the
budget.
Daniels believed that, in order to better serve local musicians, Swallow Hill
should have a recording studio where musicians might record their work without
spending excessive sums of money. Charlie Sawtell, the outstanding guitarist
from the nationally known bluegrass band, Hot Rize, had recently passed away
after years of battling cancer, and Daniels approached Sawtelles family and
convinced them to donate the professional-grade recording equipment, which
Charlie had installed in his private home studio. His family agreed and in return,
Swallow Hill named the studio after this outstandingand much
missedbluegrass guitarist. The Sawtell Studio now occupies rooms in the
basement of Swallow Hill.36
Daniels continued to manage the capital campaign, and set a goal of
$800,000, believing that it would require that amount to reduce the
organizations debt load, refurbish the building, and keep a reasonable cash
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reserve. By 2000, the campaign had managed to collect $680,000, a significant
success for someone who had started with no fund raising skills. Swallow Hills
operating budget continued to grow as well. When Daniels took over the
executive directors position in 1996, the operating budget stood at a little more
than $300,000. It had increased to nearly $600,000 in 1998, and approached
$1,000,000 in 2000.37 The effort required to continually find additional funding
was beginning to take its toll.
By early 2000, Chris Daniels was feeling burned out. He had made, he
thought, a significant contribution, but the pay, even though it had increased to
$40,000 per year, was still a bit low considering the number of hours the position
required. Chris Daniels and the Kings had continued to play 130 shows a year,
and were experiencing renewed popularity. One day, Daniels ran into blues
musician and friend, Mary Flowers, in the hallway outside his office at Swallow
Hill, and Mary said, You look like shit, Chris. He had to agree, and after
discussions with his wife, he decided it was time to resign. The board reluctantly
accepted his resignation and set about looking for a suitable replacement.38
Characterizing Danielss tenure as Executive Director is not simple. The
numbers tell only part of the story, but an essential part nonetheless. Daniels was
executive director from 1995 until 2000. The annual budget grew from $300,000
to nearly $1,000,000; membership grew from 1,800 to more than 2,500; teachers
from twenty-two to thirty-five; and students grew from 1,500 to more than
2,6oo.39 Daniels engineered the search for a new building, initiated a successful
capital campaign, and moved Swallow Hill into a 20,000 square foot facility. One
might say that it was not a bad run for a rock and roll bandleader with no formal
business education.
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But that represents only a part of what he accomplished, and not the
accomplishments of which he is most proud. In an interview in 2005, when asked
what he considered his most important accomplishments, his first response came
quickly: Daniels was delighted in Swallow Hills continued emphasis on
excellence in all its programs. And while he was proud of the fundraising success,
he took greater pride in Swallow Hill having presented the first Acoustic Blues
Festival west of the Mississippi and the creation of Swallow Hills Traveling
Troup. He was pleased to have been able to move the board toward a more
business-like environment and getting them to come around to believing that the
board needed to lead the fund raising through their own giving. His eyes reflected
his enthusiasm for taking ideas from nowhere and making them work, but he was
quick to credit the volunteers who made it happen. If Danielss leadership had a
theme, it was, Okay, this is gonna work!40 Rebecca Miklitch stated that is was
Danielss enthusiasm and energy that frequently carried the day and got people to
believe they could reach the goals.41
Amidst the obvious plusses, there were disappointments and failures. Daniels
reflected that he never fully resolved the conflicts between Miklitch and Carson,
noting that Miklitch clung to the profit center concept, and that the concerts
never made much money, not even in the new building where costs should have
been lower but were not. And, by his own admission, he never fully changed the
dysfunctionality of the board of directors, who used to meet mostly to discuss
folk music rather than address Swallow Hills business and organizational needs.
When Daniels left, the capital campaign had only taken in $680,000 against its
$800,000 goal.
When asked why he ever wanted the job in the first place, Daniels quietly
responded simply that he thought he could make a difference. He didnt come in
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with a definite set of goals, but he felt that he could help the organization. I felt
that I could make a difference in the way Swallow Hill perceived itself. Until Seth
[Weisberg}, they saw themselves always as struggling; then they hit a wall.42
When he left, the board elegantly and succinctly summed up Danielss
contribution by saying that he had pulled them all through a knothole.
Daniels believes he got a lot more out of his experience than he gave. He
pointed to his bands CD, Louie, Louie, which he believes grew from his time at
Swallow Hill. Another CD, The Spark, released in 2003, a few years after he left,
reflects his re-attraction to acoustic music. He fondly remembered three shows
presented during his tenure: French finger-style guitarist Pierre Bensusan at
Cameron Church (I was knocked out! How can anyone play that well?); local
singer/songwriter Chuck Pyle, with Gordon Burt on fiddle, at the old Swallow
Hill (His songwriting is so tight and his guitar playing unique.); and, playing the
then newly named Daniels Hall with the Kings (...And beaming because the
room sounded so good). When Daniels visited Swallow Hill in 2004, he was
delighted to find his old couch in the area backstage. Its like a piece of me is
there for all the performers, he said. But you know, Im really glad of one thing.
Im proud we never sold the naming rights to one of the halls. We named it Tuft
Hall. That was the right thing to do.43 And that might summarize Chris
Danielss time as Swallow Hills executive director: He did the right thing for
Swallow Hill.
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CHAPTER 6:
THE NEW MILLENNIUM
By mid-2000, the board hired Jim Williams to replace Daniels. It marked the
end of one era and the beginning of another. Swallow Hill faced some of the same
issues it always had-money-and new challenges as it strove to keep itself fresh
and relevant. Williams was a good find.
Williams wears his long graying hair pulled back in a ponytail. His eyes give
his face the wise but sad appearance of an uncle who might have played in a rock
band in the 60s. He was born in 1945 in Beaumont, Texas. His father was of
Scotch-Irish descent and his mother, a Christian fundamentalist, part Cherokee.
Listening to and making music, both religious and secular, formed an important
part of his family life. Growing up in east Texas and Louisiana, he heard a gumbo
mixture of Cajun and zydeco music, with a strong dose of the blues spun into the
mix. (Zydeco is an accordion-based musical genre that originated in south-central
and southwest Louisiana, the music of the Creoles of Color, who borrowed many
of its defining elements from Cajun music.)
As a teenager too young to drink in Texas, he and his friends visited the clubs
in south Louisiana where liquor was available and the music was a loud
concoction of rhythm and blues and blue-eyed soul. After attending a stifling
freshman year on a football scholarship at Abilene Christian College (a disaster;
too restrictive; it was a strict fundamentalist school)1, he transferred to Lamar
Tech in Beaumont for a semester, then finished his education at the University of
Houston, graduating in 1967 with a degree in research psychology. After
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graduation he did some computer programming at the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA).
Williams worked his way through the university as a chauffeur for an oil
pipeline company; he was the only white chauffeur on the staff, but struck a close
bond with the other drivers who welcomed him into their social group. His
fellow drivers introduced him to country blues, taking him to the then mostly
black juke joints to hear such greats as Lightning Hopkins.2 It was a world of
difference from Beaumont, where, in the 1960s, schools and society were very
much segregated.
During college, Williams worked a few summers at a liberal Christian youth
camp in New Jersey, funded by Clinton Davidson, a wealthy insurance man.
Somehow, Williamss work there earned him a divinity deferment from the
Selective Service, considerably fortunate in the midst of the Vietnam War when
every male over eighteen was eligible for military service. Williams and others
from the camp proposed a new program to Davidson that would recruit
volunteers who would dedicate a year to working with disadvantaged kids in New
York City ghettos. Volunteers would raise their own funds and had to live on less
than $300 a month.
From 1967 to 1971, Williams and his wife lived in a sixth-floor walk-up in the
Tremont section of the Bronx where they were responsible for early childhood
education programs. He and his co-workers were white; while living in the Bronx,
he and his wife were the only white faces within twenty blocks. He also
received training as a corporation founder, part of President Johnsons War on
Poverty and Model Cities programs, which were spending millions in American
ghettos in a noble, if failed, effort to eradicate poverty. His job was to find
community leaders and help them set up non-profit corporations that would
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receive federal funds for daycare, housing, arts and crafts, recreation and music.3
Part of his fund-raising efforts had Williams organizing rock concerts of mostly
local bands, which gave him some of the fundamentals of music promotion.
While in New York, his wife earned her Masters in Education from New York
University, and Williams studied urban planning.
After four difficult years, burned out from job stress and living in poverty,
they moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Williams had his first exposure to
country music. We hung out at [Roy] Acuff studios and met lots of people. Saw
the recording process where Acuffs famous rule of thumb was: do it in one take.
I took in lots of music at local clubs: the Old Time Pickin Parlor, Bluebird Cafe,
the Exit Inn. My buddy Roy and I would carry empty guitar cases around to the
stage door of clubs, including the Ryman {Auditorium, then home of the Grand
Ol Opry] and walk in and hang out backstage. I just wanted to see what it was all
about from a musicians point of view. I met Norman Blake {outstanding
guitar/dobro/banjo player], who held court at the Old Time Pickin Parlor, where
his title was president of the Dobrolic Plectoral Society. All the great players
from the Ryman came by. It was my intro to Appalachian-based music.4
After a few years in Nashville, the Williamses were caught up in the
alternative life-style movement. They sold everything they owned, bought a
pickup truck with a camper, and moved to Eugene, Oregon, where they lived for
twelve years. Eugene was, at the time, the most experimental place on the West
Coast, everyone was there: Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell.5 He
worked at a mental health center, and then became involved in the creation of
the Woodmen of the World (WOW) Hall, a non-profit organization somewhat
similar to Swallow Hill.
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The Woodmen are a fraternal organization that was founded in Omaha by
Joseph Cullen Root in 1890. Today, it is a large financial services organization.6
Their building in Eugene was originally a Presbyterian church, built in 1906. The
Woodmen of the World purchased the building and renamed it. In 1932, they
replaced it with the present building.7 In the late 1970s, local musicians banded
together to buy the hall. They raised $10,000 in a week. Just a bunch of old
hippies who had no money themselves, but we presented a 23-hour marathon
where some 300 musicians played one set after the other. Its still there. As its
first executive director, Williams booked acts, including autoharpist
extraordinaire Bryan Bowers, folk singer Tom Rush, and the rocking Paul
Butterfield Blues Band.
It was at this timethe mid- to late-yoswhen many organizations like
Swallow Hill and WOW, came into being. Counterculture people and anti-war
activists, who never exactly went along with the cultural mainstream and retained
much of their 1960s idealism, created new cultural organizations. One of them
was in Oregon. The Oregon County Fairits sorta Woodstock meets Swallow
Hillcame into being. It was crafts, a collective, and camping on 1000-acre
festival site, featuring all handmade goods. Kinda like the Renaissance Festival in
Larkspur.8
Williams was also involved in founding the Eugene Performing Arts Center.
I was on the Commission that raised the [$2om] bonds and designed the
building, with a 2,500-seat room and a 500-seat room, on two city blocks. I was
the production coordinator during its first three years.9 Then, for five years,
Williams was the cultural arts director for Austin, Texas. He then worked as a
cultural exchange consultant for the Netherlands government. Figuring he could
perform consulting from almost anywhere, he moved to the mountains between
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Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. He then Finally was the Director of the
New Mexico Jazz Workshop until end of 1999.
Williams claims he heard about the opening at Swallow Hill byword of
mouth and initially, had no real interest, but then decided to pop a resume in
mail. Swallow Hill Board Member, Judith Pierson, invited him to interview with
the whole board of directors. And he talked with Chris Daniels. I liked the
extended family of Swallow Hill, but was not particularly attracted to living in the
city.10 In the end, he accepted the position as Swallow Hills Executive Director.
There was little formal transition between Daniels and Williams.11 It was a
troubled first year, with lots of financial problems. Swallow Hill had not figured
out the costs of operating the new building, which required many improvements.
We were in the red.... And, I had to learn about the school operation, but relied
on Becky, who had great experience. The school was making money, but the rest
of the operation was not. We had to get a handle on spending. We had to reduce
staff.12
With the concerts losing money, Williams asked Meredith Carson to resign.
Relying on his long experience booking shows, he would assume the duties of
concert director and save Swallow Hill the cost of a separate position. He let
other staff members go. It was painful, but it had a stabilizing impact on finances.
In 2004, Swallow Hill was able to move into SCFD tier-two, which added
substantially to annual funding. It was a big turning point: with dependable
funding, Swallow Hill could plan for the future in a way not previously possible.
Tier-two provided more funding for general operating support, rather than
specific project-related funding. For the first time, Swallow Hill could establish
better staff and with better pay.13
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Williams contends that Denver is different from the Northeast, where he
believes there is a greater tradition of supporting the arts and culture, citing, for
example, the city of Chicago giving a building to the Old Town School of Folk
Music. And there are companies and individuals more inclined to give. And
states provide funds; Colorado did not initially do that. But SCFD funding
changed {that}. Williams believes that Swallow Hill provides Denver and
Colorado with a special service: it preserves and presents not only touring
artists, but local artists who represent local culture {cowboy, Latino, etc.}.14
And he believes that it goes beyond culture. Let me tell you a story: A fellow
in his mid-fifties showed up one evening wearing a business suit, with his
daughter. They were both carrying Fiddle cases. Out of curiosity, I asked them
why they were here. The man said that their family had been in trouble. They
needed a way to communicate, so he and his daughter were taking Irish fiddle
lessons. Together. Thats part of the uniqueness of Swallow Hill; {it can do}
something most other cultural organizations cant do.15
But challenges remain. For Swallow Hill to remain in SCFD tier-two beyond
2009, it will have to increase its annual revenue $250,000. Increasing the revenue
and attracting and maintainingand payingquality staff is his biggest concern.
Concerts and the school now represent equal revenue streams, netting about the
same each year. Williams believes that they achieved the balance through
increased quantity, developing target (i.e., repeat) audiences, and raising ticket
prices to a more realistic level. Under his leadership, Swallow Hill launched a
website, and then improved it so that it would allow patrons to book classes and
purchase tickets online, thus helping to hold down expenses.
If there is a weakness in Denver, Williams believes it is the lack of local
media support for cultural organizations like Swallow Hill. Local NPR outlets,
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KCFR and KVOD, focus on news and classical music respectively. They see no
place in their programming for synergy with Swallow Hill and its community.
More broadly, consolidation has hamstrung local commercial radio. Stations are
no longer locally owned or programmed; the bottom line is the only thing that
matters. With the exception of KGNU, no local stations present the music
oflet alone conversations withartists who perform at Swallow Hill. Williams
says, I believe you are what you eat. If you dont get to hear some of this music,
you never develop a taste for it. And none of it gets played locally. How are you
going to develop a love for it? It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. {Radio programmers
believe] if you dont hear the music, people must not like it. Radio stations today
are all about making money, which means getting listeners and advertisers. Most
stations do not have a program manager. The music is beamed in via satellite.
They have a receptionist and a sales staff, neither of which can tell you what
music is on the air. They only know the Arbitron ratings. The Internet may
represent our best chance to get on the air.16
Williams wants to reach out to other ethnic communities. Swallow Hill is
seen as part of the white suburbs, and blacks and Latinos generally do not accept
it. Most of the Latino music presented at Swallow Hill, for example, has crossed
over to a white audience. Same for blues. We need to find a way to reach out and
include non-white audiences. What I learned from living in the ghetto in NYC is
that you dont do something to people, you do it with them. Swallow Hill needs to
do the same some how.17
At a time when most non-profits earn from thirty to fifty percent of their
annual income, Swallow Hill is unique: it earns a remarkable seventy-five percent
of its income. Still, the organization needs to learn to leverage its political
advantage. At the national level, only the Old Town School of Folk Music is
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comparable to Swallow Hill in the scope of its educational and concert offerings.
But Swallow Hill essentially serves more than its metropolitan area, it serves the
ten state western area. There is really nothing quite like it between St. Louis and
the West Coast. Williams believes that it must find a way to formulate a
marketing message that will convince politicians of its unique cultural and
economic contributions. Essentially, they must first learn to help themselves.
That had always been true, but from the beginning, folk music had always found
homes in a wide variety of venues ranging from saloons to churches, from clubs to
arenas.
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CHAPTER 7:
DENVERS FOLK PLACES
Since its founding at the foothills of the Rockies in 1859, music of all forms
contributed significantly to shaping Denvers cultural landscape. Music proved
popular in early Denver saloons. Never a jazz hot bed on a par with Kansas City
or New Orleans, Denvers Five Points nevertheless boasted clubs where both
local and national artists performed. From its earliest days, Denver citizens
seeking real culture in a tough mining town found opera and classical music at
such landmark sites as the Tabor Grand Opera House. In the decades of the
1950s and 60s, like many urban centers across America, Denver experienced an
explosion in the popularity of folk music as such artists as the Kingston Trio and
Peter, Paul and Mary charted a string of radio hits. Interested listeners found
folk music in a wide variety of venues, from the simplest clubs and bars to major
concert halls, and that array represented a measurement of how the public
accepted and supported the genre. In most respects, Denvers folk scene
mirrored other American cities, yet proved unique in many ways.
Background
Folk music emerged as a commercial phenomenon for the first time in urban
America in the 1950s. Before the Eisenhower years, folk music was little more
than a curio, an oddity that held little interest for Americas dominantly urban
population. They generally ignored it in preference for the Tin Pan Alley pop
music found in their bars, on the radio and, in the 50s, on television. What many
now understand as folk music (at least in a narrow, Anglo-Saxon orientation), that
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is, music based on the Scottish-Irish-English song forms generally associated with
the people of the Appalachian American Southeast, held little appeal to the
sophisticated ears of urban America in the 1930s and 40s.
Ralph Peer produced the first commercially successful sound recordings of
folk and country music in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee. Peer had a knack for
discovering rural musicians, and on one of his many trips to the southland; he
recorded both the Carter Family (A.P., wife Sarah, and Maybelle) and Jimmie
Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman. While they all hoped to make money, Peer
intended to sell his records to rural listeners, for he believed their appeal strictly
limited to those regions.1 Similarly, other recording companies released 78-rpm
disks of country blues artists for sale to African-Americans. These recordings,
known in the trade as race records, seldom found listeners outside black
neighborhoods until after World War II.2
The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) and the
New Left played a surprisingly central, role in bringing rural music to urban
centers. One of the most noted and widely respected scholars of protest music,
R. Serge Denisoff, wrote extensively of the history of folk music and its
association with the American Left. Before the wide commercialization of folk
music began in the 1950s and 60s, the urban public perceived folk music as much
a foreign culture as songs in other languages. The Folk Consciousness of the
Old Left refers to an awareness of folk music which leads to its use in a foreign
(urban) environment in the framework of social, economic, or political action.3
The awareness of folk music as a viable medium came slowly to the Old Left. The
CPUSA idealization of folk song nearly paralleled that of the Nazis in Germany.
The adoption of folk song was, in many ways, curious since social crusaders
historically have relied upon songs that were familiar to their potential
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audiences,4 and most urban audiences had no particular desire to identify with
rural musical forms.
Denisoff wrote that foreign-born members, at least until the late 1930s,
dominated the CPUSA. Only one-seventh of the 20,000 American Communists
spoke English.5 As such, they and other left-wing movements tended to favor the
songs they had learned in the home, the church, or especially the old country,6
few of which were likely to attract new adherents. The growth of the CPUSA was
greatly hindered by it isolation from the masses, something that appears to have
been a major source of irritation with Moscow.7 Connection to the massesand
folk musiccame through two significant sources: strikes in the southern coal
fields and textile mills, and a young singer/songwriter, Woody Guthrie.
The 1929 strikes at the Loray textile mill in Gastonia, North Carolina,
brought the urban-centered CPUSA into connection with a grassroots union
movement. The CPUSA interpreted the confrontation between striking workers
and the company town of Gastonia as a textbook example of the Marxist image
of ruthless capitalists exploiting a tormented proletariat.8 The CPUSA heard,
perhaps for the first time, American folk song forms used to exhort the strikers.
At about the same time, coal men, striking in Bell and Harlan counties in eastern
Kentucky, provided more vivid examples of radical song, even more surprising for
the CPUSA, because the most literate and powerful of the singers was a woman,
not a miner. Mrs. Florence Reece, wife of a miner, was the initial source of
radical song. Following a number of attacks by gun thugs and the local sheriff,
Reece, so the story goes, ripped a sheet from a wall calendar and wrote a song
about the combatants of bloody Harlan County:
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They say in Harlan County,
There are no neutrals there:
Youll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair....
Dont scab for the bosses,
Dont listen to their lies.
Us poor folks havent got a chance
Unless we organize.9
It was not long before Reece and others traveled to New York to assist in
union organization, their songs and voices seen as tools to encourage the
downtrodden. In time, a small but talented community of singing country people
found homes amidst the radical New York Left.
Three thousand miles away on the West Coast, Woody Guthrie had found a
radio audience among the Okies and other rural people displaced by the Great
Depression and the Dust Bowl. Guthrie, the rough-edged but talented son of an
Oklahoma socialist, had landed a job on the Los Angeles radio station, KFVD,
and connected to the many newcomers from the depressed South. In 1939,
Guthrie wrote a song about onetime labor leader Tom Mooney, who had just
won his release after twenty-two years in prison. That song brought him to the
attention of the local CPUSA chapter, who employed Guthrie at rallies and
meetings. His exposure to the CPUSA, and his travels in 1939-40 to the work and
migrant camps sharpened Guthries Populist feelings, which he began to express
forcefully in song.10 But while his songs were by and of the workingman, Guthrie
was anything but doctrinal dogmatist; he was simply too restless and
undisciplinedand too orneryto become a religionist for the Left.
Guthrie hitchhiked to New York City in 1940 at the request of Will Geer,
the actor and activist, and leading spokesman of the folk agiprop school. Geer,
a graduate of the University of Chicago, who had attended Columbia and Oxford
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as a graduate student, was acting in a Broadway play. Geers primary historical
contribution to the proletarian renaissance was his ability to recruit raggedy-
assed singers into the so-called radical scene of New York City. He helped to
organize fundraisers for a variety of leftist causes and introduced the young Burl
Ives to New York City, where he performed for various affairs. Guthrie fell in
with Geer and activist singer, Pete Seeger, working in such groups as the loosely
knit Almanac Singers before World War II took Seeger to the Army and Guthrie
to the Merchant Marines.
Denisoff noted that the folk song renaissance was collectively oriented and
that the performers of the time were perceived as part of the collective. The
collective ethos of the period minimized the importance of the individual
performer. For example, no member of the Almanac Singers, which included
Guthrie and Seeger, were given public credit for their songwriting abilities.12
Singers like Guthrie, Seeger, and Negro blues artists Josh White and Huddie
Lead Belly Ledbetter performed at rent parties (designed to collect a bit of cash
to pay rent), rallies and other functions, as much to make a dollar as to establish a
political view.
Folk music remained limited in its appeal into the 1940s, largely due to
World War II when most of the New Left buried their more revolutionary
ideals, and sang patriotic songs supporting U.S. war efforts. When Hitler
attacked Russia, many joined the service.13 When the war ended, folk musicians
sought to find new ways to express themselves and make a living but the
public failed to embrace their initial offerings. Seeger and Guthrie published The
Peoples Song Book in 1948 and joined other left-wing artists in supporting Henry
Wallaces unsuccessful run at the presidency, but it did little to advance their
careers.14
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