By: Dawn Duncan
I have lived here for 22 years and never noticed the obscure little alley behind 7-11 at Mulberry and Shields. This area, now becoming known as “Butterfly Alley,” is gradually being fixed up and is a testament to the artisan culture of Fort Collins and the commitment to taking pride in the community. Nestled down the alley to the south is a new business that is springing to life and it’s nothing short of fascinating. Cloverlick Banjo Shop, located at 1208 ½ W. Myrtle Street (note: anytime someone tells me they have a “1/2” in their address, I know I am in for something interesting), harkens to times gone by while incorporating modern business sensibilities and a strong desire to bring our community together around music.
Mark “Rooster” Austin, locally known as a member of Von Stomper as well as his solo act, Pappy Longlegs, who moved to town from North Florida, and business partner BJ Kinney, an electrician who moved here from Minnesota seven years ago, assumed ownership of Cloverlick three months ago following Rooster’s employment with company founder, Jeff Kramer, who started his company in 2001 in Wisconsin. Kramer, a music veteran from generations of musicians, opened his business to keep the old fashioned tradition of hand making banjos alive. The banjo is America’s oldest instrument following the settlement of Europeans, who brought the instrument from travels to Africa and the import of slaves to the United States. Its roots are deep and the people who play this instrument seem to share an affinity for times past and American history, infusing music as the cornerstone of keeping the past alive.
As I entered Cloverlick, a residential property which has been renovated from a ramshackle storage building to what is now coming together as a cool, rustic shop and an outdoor music venue, complete with a kids’ corner for children’s activities during events, I was greeted by the “shop dog,” a friendly pit bull named Rosemary who belongs to Rooster. I entered the front door (which has 20+ knobs on it, all antique and different one to the next) and stepped into “The Parlor,” where there was a vintage record player, a vinyl collection, and the warm welcome spot of Cloverlick where guests and musicians are greeted. From here, I went into “The Headquarters,” a small, sunny room where banjos and guitars are handcrafted and a small library of books on lutherie and woodworking was on display.
Adjacent to The Parlor from the other side was the main shop, complete with a handmade workbench from Kramer’s original business in Wisconsin. The bench, referred to as “Daisy” featured a handcarved duck on the side of it and the markings, etchings, and nicks from years of crafting instruments on it. Community members (20+), mainly musicians from the area, built Cloverlick, cleaning up the building, pouring a new concrete floor, making a backyard (fenced) that features a covered stage where shows will be presented, and installing ventilation systems.
This is a place that the community continues to build as the business leads up to its official opening on April 22 where they will host their launch party and first music showcase. The musical entertainment that day will be Cary Morin, Whipporwill, Woodbelly, Derek Blake, Tyler T., and Tallgrass, 3 to 8 pm. And, here’s a special surprise (don’t tell them I told you) there will be a special “Parlor Session” featuring Cary Morin with Derek Blake and a collective musical experience led by Tyler T. If you love music and want a real taste of something authentically Colorado, built by hand, and rooted in sharing the love of song and friendship, you cannot miss this event. Bring your kids and they’ll meet teachers from Riversong Waldorf School who will be leading a fun arts and crafts session in the “Butterflies and Banjos” Kids’ Corner.
Rooster commented on his years in Von Stomper, a band that averaged 150+ days on the road each year, by saying, “After being a road dog and a transient of sorts, living on the road with the band and performing so many shows a year, I wanted a way to really grow a community. I wanted to really live here and share the love of music and collective energy among us. I feel more creative here in this endeavor than I ever have in my life.” Kinney, who was at the moment rocking in an antique rocking chair known as “Eileen,” was quick to comment on this idea as well by stating, “I came here from Minneapolis to relocate my family (wife Gemma and boys Liam (10), Sam (7), and Benjamin (2) — all musicians) and build my electrician business. Beyond this, I came to discover community and free my entrepreneurial spirit. I wanted to carry on the tradition of ‘ma and pa business,’ bringing community, farms, family, art, and music together. I see banjos as a root of community.”
Rooster added, “Banjos have life to them and this place was created for people to create music together. Banjos are the true ‘working man’s instrument’ and they are representative of tension, hard work, and strength.”
Find Cloverlick Banjo Shop on Instagram: @RoosterBuilt
Visit the shop at: 1208 ½ W. Myrtle Street
(down “Butterfly Alley” behind 7-11 at Mulberry/Shields)
Contact the business at: 850.284.7082
• April 22: 3 to 8 pm: Grand opening party at the shop/music venue. Kids and instruments are welcome! Note: backyard is not covered other than the stage, so bring your hat and sunscreen.
• June 4: “Let’s Feed Jeff,” party and fundraiser for FoCo Café and in honor of FoCo Café co-founder, Jeff Baumgardner, noon to sunset, musical entertainment scheduled, food/drink on site,
kids and instruments welcome!