Colorado Music-Related Business|

Saul Rosenthal (L) and Claude Brachfeld (R) pose for a photo August 12, 2016. They are buying the Denver Folklore Center from Harry Tuft (standing). (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post)

Saul Rosenthal (L) and Claude Brachfeld (R) pose for a photo August 12, 2016. They are buying the Denver Folklore Center from Harry Tuft (standing). (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post)

Harry Tuft dropped his bomb over lunch with a pal: It was time to sell or walk away from the Denver Folklore Center, the more-than-a-music-store institution that has nurtured acoustic music in Colorado since the golden-throated musician Tuft founded it in 1962.

That was a Tuesday in January 2015. Three days later, that pal, the guitar-playing Saul Rosenthal, had a plan.

“He didn’t think it was right that the Folklore Center would go away,” Tuft said.

It’s taken more than 18 months, but on Tuesday Rosenthal and Claude Brachfeld expect to finalize their purchase of the store that has hosted the biggest names in folk, from Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Bob Dylan to Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Bill Monroe.

“I saw an opportunity and I realized we can’t lose the Denver Folklore Center,” said Rosenthal, who has played music with Tuft and been a customer of the South Pearl Street store for decades. “We are very excited to be able to follow Harry, as best as one can follow a legend, and do the best we can to keep that store and the community it serves moving forward and growing.”

In 1961, Tuft was a wandering musician who landed in Denver hoping to seed a career on stage. In his ever-modest way, Tuft says he lacked “a fire in his belly” to make it as a performer. But a friend suggested a store — a folk center to foster the music he loved.

“I thought ‘Well, I’ll try it out,’ ” Tuft said. “So I became a businessman and ran a business for 50 years and I made music as I could.”

Now, at age 80, his voice is still a smooth tenor. Arthritis hasn’t dulled his picking skills. So it’s time to follow his initial dream.

“I’m going to keep making music,” he said.

There’s a collective sigh of relief among the state’s acoustic players that Tuft is passing his golden guitar to friends of the Denver Folklore Center.

“They both have a respect for the history of the store and the legacy and the value that it continues to provide to the community,” Tuft said.

An independent guitar shop is a rarity in today’s world and the Denver Folklore Center is much more than a shop. Tuft in 1979 founded the Swallow Hill Music Association as his shop hosted superstars and fostered the next generation of folk and bluegrass greats. Innovative banjo master Pete Wernick, mandolinist and fiddler Tim O’Brien and the late Charles Sawtelle, one of the first managers of the Denver Folklore Center, formed the influential Hot Rize after long jam sessions on the shop floor.

The list of Tuft employees who continue to grace stages is long. Tuft counts all of them as close friends.

“If there’s one accomplishment I could claim from my years at the store, it is the fact that so many of the people who worked for me still regard me as their friend,” Tuft said.

There was a plan a few years ago to maybe sell the shop to the Swallow Hill Music Association but that never reached fruition. Rosenthal, who serves on the Swallow Hill board, said any changes to the shop will be transparent. Maybe some technical improvements to the point-of-sale system and some other modernization but certainly no sweeping overhauls.

“We don’t want to change the spirit or the culture of the place,” said Rosenthal, who, with Brachfeld, is leading a small group of silent investors. “It’s a very warm and inviting and comfortable environment and none of that is going to change.”

Paul Lhevine, the chief executive of Swallow Hill Music Association, said the sale to Rosenthal and Brachfeld bodes well for his musical community. But they have a broad, bright spotlight to fill.

“Harry, he’s the godfather of our folk community,” Lhevine said. “The Denver Folklore Center is a big part of the ecosystem and our music community. Saul and Claude are the right people to be carrying on and honoring Harry’s legacy.”

By Jason Blevins |
Follow Jason Blevins @jasonblevins

About Jason Blevins
Jason Blevins covers tourism, mountain business, skiing and outdoor adventure sports for both the business and sports sections at The Denver Post, which he joined in 1997. He skis, pedals, paddles and occasionally boogies in the hills and is just as inspired by the lively entrepreneurial spirit that permeates Colorado’s high country communities as he is by the views.

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