Harry Tuft’s musical journey began in Philadelphia in 1960 where he played on Sunday “hoots” at the Gilded Cage. It was there that he met Dick Weissman (banjo, guitar, The Journeymen, and later, music business book author). The two first ventured to New York where Weissman introduced Tuft to the ‘folk revival’ scene that included venues like The Bitter End and Izzy Young’s Folklore Center in Greenwich Village, and later to Chicago and Colorado. After a short residency in California, Harry arrived in Colorado carrying only his guitar and a leather briefcase. He spent time waiting tables in Georgetown at the Holy Cat, performing, skiing, and enjoying all the magic of the state. With The Old Town School in Chicago and Izzy’s in New York serving as inspiration, Harry opened the Denver Folklore Center in March 1962 – putting on concerts and selling instruments, books, records, and other musical paraphernalia on 17th Avenue. Within a few years, the Denver Folklore Center became a mecca for the national folk revival.
Denver Folklore Center – The Stronghold of Folk
Tuft’s vision caught on, and the DFC became the center of the folk revival scene with Walt Connelly, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and the legends of the folk revival gathering to trade songs, the love of the instruments, and the community created by Harry and the shop. Harry and the the DFC became a force in the early development of the Colorado concert industry presenting concerts by Elizabeth Cotten, Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Muddy Waters, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Mike Seeger, Taj Mahal, Ian & Sylvia, The Mamas and the Papas, and the first-ever performance of Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger, among many others. During those incredible years, the “sign in book” at the DFC included signatures from Jim Morrison and Frank Zappa, among many other national artists and music icons. In 1964, Joan Baez, regarded as folk music’s reigning queen, worked with Harry who promoted her first show at Red Rocks on August 28, two days after the Beatles appeared there. Through the years, Tuft promoted performances by Judy Collins, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and guitar great Doc Watson. In 1965, the Mamas & the Papas made a stop in Denver during their first American concert tour; future Colorado governor Dick Lamm partnered with Tuft to secure the concert, personally fronting the $5,000 needed.
During the store’s glory days Harry created what was possibly the first comprehensive “folk music opus,” – the Denver Folklore Center Catalogue and Almanac of Folk Music, which merged a mail-order catalog with a compendium of information regarding stores, manufacturers, and music festivals. It was well received at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival and gave the DFC a national reputation among folk musicians and fans. Also, the Folklore Center also became the place where bands came together. A very young Nick Forster, working behind the DFC counter, got together with Tim O’Brien to form Colorado’s first national breakout bluegrass band, Hot Rize.
With the change in music and the city that accompanied the dawn of the 1980s, Harry’s rent reached an unsustainable level and the famed “Folklore Center Block” was sold to developers. Harry and the greater folk and acoustic music community foresaw the changes, and in 1979, Tuft founded The Swallow Hill Music Association to continue Harry’s mission of supporting and encouraging folk music in all its forms. Through a few fits and starts the DFC and Swallow Hill both prospered and moved to Old South Pearl Street in Denver where the DFC still resides. Harry’s legacy also lives on at Swallow Hill where he still leads ‘hoots’ and gives concerts. Under the direction of Chris Daniels (Executive Director 1995-2000), Swallow Hill moved to their current location on Yale and Lincoln where they have three concert halls and 20,000 square feet of space for the music school named after the founder of that program, Julie Davis.
Harry Tuft at the Colorado Music Hall of Fame
Our Harry Tuft exhibit features many items to connect you to Harry’s mission and his musical contributions to Colorado history. You can find all of the following:
- A replica of Tuft’s signature Guild D-40 guitar and leather briefcase (c. 1962)
- Tickets and handbills from Tuft-promoted concerts
- Highlights of Tuft’s discography
- Entries from the Denver Folklore Center’s guest register
Harry Tuft is one of the icons of Colorado music, but perhaps his more significant legacy is as the creator of a music “community.” The City of Denver recognized that contribution. On October 17, 2016, the Denver City Council adopted Proclamation 16 – 0990, honoring Harry, and they declared that day “Harry Tuft Day in the City and County of Denver.” Longtime supporters, musical partners, and friends from the community, Eileen Niehouse, Chris Daniels, Chuck Morris, and former Governor Richard “Dick” Lamm spoke in support of Harry Tuft and the Denver Folklore Center. In true folk style, Harry closed the event with guitar in hand – performing “Cool Colorado.”
Colorado Music Hall of Fame Presented by Comfort Dental
Our mission is to preserve, celebrate, and educate visitors and the public about the living history of music in the “Centennial State.” The Colorado Music Hall of Fame is an excellent source when it comes to learning more about Harry Tuft and other legendary members of Colorado’s musical history. Different exhibits document this state’s rise to global prominence in the music scene. Our exhibits are located at The Trading Post at Red Rocks. For more information or questions contact Chris@CMHOF.org. This museum, along with the Red Rocks Amphitheater, serves as a mecca for music fans and performers alike. Learn more about our story online, or visit us in person to see for yourself!