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Mark Olson brings the folk out
Posted Nov. 13, 2006

Anyone who thought folk music was dead clearly hasn’t visited the Folk Music Center in Claremont.

The historical store sits in the heart of downtown Claremont and is filled from wall to wall with musical instruments. Both new and antique guitars, bongos, ancient masks, harps and drums cover the wall space. The counter space is covered with little music makers, compact discs, antique collectable jewelry and much more.

A little stage is step up in the back corner with four microphones and two speakers that led to the one small switchboard,where more than 40 filled seats facing the stage eager to hear the legendary Mark Olson, former member of the Jayhawks Sunday.

To open the concert, David Millard and Emy Phelps played a variety of folk songs. The duo from Ashland, Ore., played for a little more than a half-hour, taking turns singing lead and back up. They sang about love and nature and Phelps told stories of when she lived near Claremont and played a song she had started on a curb not far from the Folk Music store.

The Folk Music Center had contracted Mark Olson to play Sunday but he brought his wife, Victoria Williams, who is also an accomplished singer-song writer.

"It was a surprise that Victoria came, its really cool when they both sing," said Jerry O’Sullivan, who is in charge of concerts at the Folk Music Center. "I really like both their song-writing."

The two fed off of each other’s energy, smiling ear to ear back and forth to each other. Between songs they joked and laughed with each other as if no one else was there. The two really were a perfect match up on stage.

"It’s how their voices weave in and out of each other," O’Sullivan said. "Sometimes when a couple sings together it doesn’t sound right, but they are a good match-up for each other."

It was Olson’s show so they played almost all of the new songs that he just finished recording. Williams sang back up while playing the guitar along with many other instruments.

Olson worked hard on his record for eight months and the album should be released in May or June of 2007.

"For this record I was trying to write the best songs possible," Olson said. "Lyrically there is poetry in the situations I was going through. I went on too much about the blues but sometimes you grab the guitar and moan the blues."

After playing their set, the crowd cheered for an encore and the couple returned three different times to play more songs.

Williams was a softy for the crowd and kept pushing Mark to play more.

"My favorite part I think was when Victoria kept saying lets do another song," said Katy Stone.

Olson’s career started with the Jayhawks in 1985. The Jayhawks are a country rock band that struggled through membership loss making a few records and who really toured hard to make it big. After ten years with the Jayhawks, Olson decided to leave the band to spend more time with his wife. He later formed the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers with is wife and Mike "Ruzz" Russell.

Olson’s work has changed from the time when he was with the Jayhawks.

"It’s more stripped down and loose," O’Sullivan said.

He was really appreciative of the Folk Music Center and two other venues that he still plays at for keeping folk music alive.

"I wish there was more places like this," Olson said.

The Folk Music Center is a historical part of downtown Claremont. In 1958 Charles and Dorothy Chase opened the store in the back of a Real Estate Office, giving lessons and selling guitars and records. From then on the business has continued to grow and flourish in the hands of their daughter whose son is the famous musician Ben Harper.

Harper eventually bought the store from his grandparents to keep the business in his family and alive for generations to come. Harper has had a lot of success in the music industry and it all started while growing up in the Folk Music Center.

The Folk Music Center has a full schedule of concerts including Tellebration, an international story telling night for adults, Igaba, Satori Daiko and open mic nights every fourth Sunday of the month.

For more information check out the website at

Morgan Dobis can be reached at