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Is O.C. Ready to Support More Folk?


The pickings in Orange County are usually slim for fans of traditional folk music, but two upcoming concerts could indicate whether the market is ready for a bigger menu of folk offerings.

With help from Shade Tree Stringed Instruments, the little guitar shop that has been the county's steadiest venue for traditional folk concerts, the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano is presenting its first-ever bluegrass show, an April 11 performance by celebrated banjo player Ralph Stanley and his band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.

On a smaller scale, Kenneth Zwick, a Costa Mesa lawyer and guitarist, will launch what he hopes will become a monthly series of concerts with shows Thursday and March 11 by the English-Irish duo of Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle--the first at the Rose & Crown British Pub & Restaurant in San Clemente, and the second at the Rose & Crown's second location in Anaheim.

The Shade Tree, in Laguna Niguel, was the host of two sold-out shows by Stanley in February, 1992. The bluegrass pioneer wanted a return engagement on his current tour, but Shade Tree owners Greg and Margie Mirken decided that Stanley was too big an act for them to handle again in a mom-and-pop shop that seats no more than 60 people for concerts.

Not wanting to deprive Orange County fans of a chance to see Stanley, the Mirkens approached Coach House owner Gary Folgner about booking him. Folgner agreed to take a gamble on bluegrass. Margie Mirken said that the Coach House, which seats about 500 people, is assuming all the financial risk for the show, but will rely on Shade Tree to promote it via its own 3,000-name mailing list.

"Without the Shade Tree, we're not doing this show," said Ken Phebus, the Coach House concert director. "I'm glad to see this happening. Hopefully, with (the Mirkens') help, we can develop something here."


Phebus said it helped that Stanley came highly touted to the Coach House by Dwight Yoakam, the country star who has played several times at Folgner's club. "Gary and Dwight have talked about this act, and Dwight raves about him."

Yoakam raved to the whole nation about Stanley during last Tuesday's Grammy Awards telecast. "Miner's Prayer," a Yoakam-Stanley duet from Stanley's album "Saturday Night (& Sunday Morning)," was nominated for a Grammy as Best Country Vocal Collaboration. Adam Duritz, singer of the hot young rock band Counting Crows, also gives Stanley's album a plug in the current issue of Rolling Stone.

Stanley, a 67-year-old Virginian, began performing professionally in 1946 with his brother, Carter (who died in 1966), and has since presided over bands that included future country stars Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley.

Mirken, who ranks Stanley second in importance in bluegrass history only to Bill Monroe, sees the Coach House show as a test of local fans' willingness to support bluegrass music.

"This is a crapshoot. It's 50-50 whether (Folgner) will get enough people to make it worth his while," she said. "If this works, we're in the pipeline" to do Coach House shows by other major bluegrass acts, such as Alison Krauss & Union Station and the Nashville Bluegrass Band.


Zwick's plunge into folk-concert promotion began by accident when he attempted to track down a hard-to-find album by Tilston through the mail and wound up getting a transatlantic call from the artist himself.

When he learned that Tilston and Boyle, a husband-and-wife duo who record for Green Linnet Records, had not been able to find a Southern California booking for their upcoming American tour, Zwick took matters into his own hands.

In addition to their own albums, Tilston and Boyle have recorded with Brit-folk veterans John Renbourn and Bert Jansch, and Boyle's singing can be heard under the opening and closing credits on the "Patriot Games" movie soundtrack.

Zwick first approached the Shade Tree, which, along with the Living Tradition series in Anaheim, has been the county's main stage for touring traditional folk talent. The Mirkens were fully booked but suggested that Zwick try promoting a show himself.

"I've been complaining a long time to my friends about having to go to McCabe's (in Santa Monica) or go up to Riverside" for folk music, said Zwick, who plays in the acoustic band Evening Muse and has a local practice in entertainment law. "So I was saying to myself, 'What the heck, why don't I see what I can do about putting on something here?' "

Zwick turned to friends who own the Rose & Crown pubs, which each can seat concert audiences of about 100 people. He hopes the Tilston & Boyle shows will prove to be the kickoff for a monthly series. While Zwick mentions such Shade Tree veterans as Dan Crary, Laurence Juber and Martin & Jessica Simpson as acts he would like to book, he has no intention of competing with the better-established folk venue.

"We may put on some of the same people (as the Shade Tree) but not at the same time, so there's at least a few months' break" between their Orange County appearances.

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