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Shopping Around for the Unusual

At Boulevard Music, a string store becomes a venue for the unexpected. Mandolin, anyone? Harmonica?


Culver City is more known as a hub of movie-making than music-making, but Gary Mandell is hoping his 2-year-old guitar shop will change all that.

A guitarist and musician with more than 30 years in the business, Mandell opened Boulevard Music to serve lesser-known musical acts and their fans. He figured there were plenty of places to hear rock music, but hardly any performance spaces catering to acts like the national mandolin champion, the western regional flat-picking champ or even a harmonica trio.

"I wanted to create a concert hall, rather than a bar, where people of all ages could see some of the interesting things that are going on in the music scene," said Mandell, who taught and booked music at McCabe's for 25 years. "People know when they come here that they may not have heard of the musicians playing, but they're going to hear good music."

By day, Boulevard Music sells new and used string instruments, including cellos, violins, mandolins and guitars. The store also offers private and group lessons in everything from voice and guitar to harmonica and piano.

After hours, the displays of music books, how-to videos and the rows of guitars in the spacious showroom are moved aside. Guitars, banjos, mandolins and ukuleles still hang from the walls, and leather guitar cases are neatly arranged in the rafters. Folding chairs are set up in neat rows, and the cash register area is covered with fresh baked goods and coffee.


When the lights dim and the music starts, this cozy is transformed, feeling and looking more like a coffeehouse or church hall than a trendy nightclub.

Most of the acts that play Boulevard are acoustic and don't usually work the L.A. club circuit. Many, however, have had long careers and built a faithful following of denim-clad baby boomers, yuppies, Gen-Xers, even teens. It's not unusual to see a whole family at a show.

"The vibe here is great," says Tim May, a studio musician who has recorded with Frank Sinatra and John Williams. He recently played Boulevard with four other musicians. "It's a very intimate place to play."

The high ceilings and crisp acoustics make the sound here so good that it doubles as a recording studio for Major Label. The in-house record label records many of the acts that have played here, including the Dave McKelvy Harmonica Trio.


It's obvious that the musicians dig this venue. But then, so do the toe-tapping, finger-snapping fans who come here.

"When you see a show here, you're right there with the musicians," said Cliff Lee, 50, of West Los Angeles, who has been to almost every show over the last three months. "You can watch what they're doing and really hear the music they're playing. In a nightclub, people are too busy picking up on someone or drinking to notice the music."


Boulevard Music, 4316 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 398-2583. All ages. Cover varies. Concerts are typically held Friday through Sunday nights at 8 p.m. A few Sundays a month are reserved for open-mike nights.

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