Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Sheehan's Sketchbook: Claremont's Folk Music Center, unplugged since 1958

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Mike Sheehan sketches Southern California for Off-Ramp. He was the only person who didn't photograph Shuttle Endeavour and took us to a gangster's old hideout that's being turned into a theater in Lake Arrowhead. He sends sketches and this note about his trip to a cultural institution in Claremont.

Hi, Off-Ramp!

I spent last Saturday (and a little of Sunday) at the Folk Music Center in Claremont. I stop there sometimes on my way home to pick up strings or the occasional ukulele ... whether I need something or not.

The place has a long history. Over 50 years now. But it's how it feels now that matters to me. It's a music store that is actually musical. Throughout the day, people wouldn't just come in to pick up repaired instruments or try a new one off the wall. Instead, they play a tune, and someone else adds a little slide accompaniment, and someone else sings.

I always like all the little objects and instruments I see hidden all over the store. Little drums with faces carved in them. All sorts of stringed instruments from sitars to a lot I don't know the names of. Didgeridoos, flutes and all sorts of percussion instruments, too.

They also repair instruments of all kinds. I hung out in the shop with repairman John Roy, who, while he fixed a banjo, told me about his background working for Charvel Guitars and teaching himself to work on instruments .

Ellen Chase-Verdries, who manages the store, is the daughter of Charles and Dorothy Chase, who started it in1958. Her son, Ben Harper, bought it from his grandparents and owns it now. When I came in on Sunday afternoon, Ellen was playing a really pretty version of “The Sweetest Gift, a Mother's Smile” behind the counter with a friend. Complete with harmony. That doesn’t happen at Guitar Center.

Often, the only time you hear of these places is when they go away. But the Folk Music Center feels alive and well.

The Folk Music Center is at 220 Yale Ave., Claremont, Calif. 91711, (909) 624-2928.

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