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The Denver Folklore Center
The original Denver Folklore Center, circa 1970
17th and Pearl Street, Denver

original denver folklore center

denver folklore center in ____

Well, the address has changed and the lighting's better now, but that's about all that's different ... because, after all, it's not about a store; it's about a community. Utah Phillips describes it well:

"...I had stumbled into a family that was in fact transcontinental. I found great numbers of people who, as part of their pattern of social responsibility, were committed to the task of making sure that folk music existed in their communities. I found singer-circles, camp-outs, picnics, concert programs, festivals great and small, celebrating a common heritage of song. And I found my community, singers and makers of songs, ... from San Diego Folk Heritage to the Denver Folklore Center to the Ark in Ann Arbor to Lena's and beyond, eking out a bare living sharing what we had together, but, most of all, in each other's company ... a community of sentiment in which people substantially cared for each other."

The Store's Beginnings
With encouragement from Hal Neustaedter – owner of "The Exodus," a folk club in Denver – and Izzy Young, owner of the first and (then) only Folklore Center, in New York's Greenwich Village, Harry Tuft opened the Denver Folklore Center on March 13, 1962. Harry's first employee was Bart Clark, now a librarian in the mid-west. The second – and youngest – employee of the Denver Folklore Center was Julie Davis. At age 14, she agreed to teach a beginner guitar class at the store in exchange for Harry teaching her intermediate guitar. Since that time, Julie has taken a leadership role in the Swallow Hill Music Association and continues her work as a teacher, leader, musician and storyteller today.

In 1965, Harry, working with Phyllis Wagner (now Phyllis Jane Rose), produced "The Denver Folklore Center Catalogue and Almanac of Folk Music," a mail-order catalogue with information about the developing folk music movement. 1000 copies of the catalogue were printed. The catalogue served as an inspiration and a reference for Stan Werbin (owner of Elderly Instruments) in starting up his catalogue business, which is a flourishing operation today.

A "Meeting Place for Musicians"
The store became a center for the growing folk music community. Its story is best told from the perspective of those whose lives it has touched.

1963-1967: Otis Taylor recalls "The summer before I went to high school I discovered the Folklore Center – that was in '63 – and I basically never left the place. It was like I lived there. I'd go there on weekends and every day after school. A lot of kids were hanging out there. You'd listen to music and make friends. My whole life was based around the Denver Folklore Center until '67, when I moved to Boulder..." Taylor purchased his first instrument – a ukulele – at the store. "I was just a poor black kid hanging around – I'd wait for the teachers between classes and get them to give me a quick lesson." He describes the store's influence on him as follows: "From the Folklore Center came the music, from home came the attitude. It was pretty incredible. It had a huge influence on me. We'd have students coming from back east to come check out the center ... My mom would put them up in our house. It was like another world."

1964: Bill Frisell "took some guitar lessons from Bob Marcus at the Denver Folklore Center ... a fantastic music store, record shop, concert hall, and meeting place for musicians..."

1964: During a Christmas party at the store, Harry sang the song "Lord Gregory" to Judy Collins as a birthday gift.

1968: Steven Fromholz recalls: "When we hit the streets of Denver we had no place to stay... The first place we went was the Denver Folklore Center. It was a great place. The summer of '68 in Denver was hippie heaven and the Folklore Center was a big part of it all. I remember the walls were all wood, it was dark and a little dusty with incredible instruments hanging everywhere...but most of all it was a group of friendly folks. We met the owner, Harry Tuft, who took us in like lost children...He was so kind to many musicians. There was a concert hall at the Folklore Center where Harry presented live music on the weekends. It was a small room with a good PA system and lights. It was an incredible place to play because people came to listen. When the popular folkies played somewhere in Denver they would stop by and visit Harry. They bought strings, guitar picks and more often than not did a special show for Harry – Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Jack Elliott, Doc Watson – I saw Reverend Gary Davis play there. It was a listener's paradise." When Steven later joined with Dan McCrimmon as Frummox, "...our main encouragement came from our old friend Harry Tuft in Denver. Harry's Folklore Center was a tremendous place to play and we always had great luck there."

1975: Nick Forster and Charles Sawtelle met while both worked at the Denver Folklore Center, later forming the bluegrass group Hot Rize.

... and Now

Today's Denver Folklore Center

Jewell and South Pearl Street, Denver
(35 blocks south of the original store)
denver folklore center today

For an illustrated DFC history, read "A Folk Music Mecca" – a fascinating, well-illustrated article about Harry Tuft and the early days of Denver Folklore Center, published in the Winter 2006 issue of Colorado Heritage. Copies are available at the Colorado History Museum, 1300 Broadway, Denver, CO 80203.

This is just the beginning of the story. If you remember the old store in the old days, we'd love to hear any recollections you'd like to share.

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1893 South Pearl Street, Denver, CO 80210