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SHADE TREE STRINGED INSTRUMENTS

Greg Mirken and his wife, Margie, both survived what he terms the “Great Folk Scare” of the 1960s.

“I discovered traditionally based folk music when others were listening to urban groups like Peter, Paul and Mary,” Greg Mirken said. “That urban sound was a ‘Pat Boone-ized’ version of bluegrass and folk music. “

Today, the South County couple are the self-professed custodians of traditional music. To keep the thread of folk music taut throughout the ages, the Mirkens own and operate Orange County’s only bluegrass and folk music store, Shade Tree Stringed Instruments.

“Regional people have always been important in the dissemination of folk music,” Margie Mirken said. “In our culture, everything has to have the same sound, the same look to get played on the airwaves. Traditional music doesn’t fit in with that look or sound. So, we have to promote folk music ourselves.”

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Their promotional efforts include hosting a radio program from Saddleback College on KSBR 88.5 FM every Sunday night from 6 to 8 p.m. The Mirkens have also been the mainstay in the folk group Blackthorn, which often takes its show around the county to elementary schools and classrooms.

However, the emphasis of the couple’s work in preserving the sounds of dulcimers, fiddles and banjos happens inside their Laguna Niguel music store. Shade Tree Stringed Instruments is filled with odd-looking guitars, music books and the compact discs of contemporary bluegrass and folk musicians. A display of harps and dulcimers draws the attention of customers.

“People walk in here,” said Greg Mirken, “and wonder, ‘What are all these wooden boxes with wire?’ That’s when I’ll show them around the shop.”

One wall is covered with guitars, Dobros and mandolins (an eight-stringed instrument tuned and chorded exactly like a violin, except it is played with a pick). The Dobro, a guitar-like instrument with an aluminum resonator that resembles a hubcap, was invented in 1926 to create a metallic sound and, according to Greg Mirken, is a precursor to the electric guitar.

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Every type of instrument offered at Shade Tree can be rented and lessons in each instrument, including Irish harp and hammer dulcimer, are also available.

“We teach a variety of lessons from adult beginners to coaching performers,” Margie Mirken said. “Plus, we teach a variety of styles, including contemporary sounds.”

To further their goals of spreading the traditional sound, the Mirkens produce concerts and seminars in a converted warehouse next to their shop. World-famous touring musicians such as guitarist Dan Crary, a Fullerton resident, and Dobro player Mike Auldridge have been featured performers and seminar leaders. The concerts attract a steady crowd of folk-music devotees, stoking the Mirkens’ fire and drive in promoting the music.

“Greg and I have never strayed from the belief that if people were to hear traditional music they would embrace it,” Margie Mirken said. “I don’t want to sound corny, but I think it is part of the reason we were put on this earth.”

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Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Address: 28062-D Forbes Road, Laguna Niguel

Telephone: (714) 364-5270

Miscellaneous Information: Call for concert/seminar schedule.

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