Boulevard Music: Not Just Any Music Store
by Kara M. Bachman
There are lots of music stores in and around Los Angeles. Not every store has longevity, and not every store offers the kind of expertise Gary Mandell shares with his customers.
Yeah, Mandell’s store located in Culver City supplies a full range of instruments. If you want a guitar by Martin, Eastman, Ibanez, Recording King, or any number of instrument makers, you’ll find it. If you want a banjo, or a mandolin, or even a trombone, you’ll find it. The wide selection is great, but that’s not the unique oomph behind this store…er, performance venue…er, school. Its uniqueness comes from the wealth of experience brought to the operation, and an obvious passion for helping others make music. Mandell has been at the helm there since 1998.
“A lot of stores are strictly retail, but we have a music school with 15 or 20 teachers,” Mandell said.
He is of course one of the teachers of the classes available through the shop. He’s been teaching music for over 50 years and has produced too many music events to count, including the annual Culver City Music Festival. He’s created arrangements and orchestrations for the L.A. Philharmonic, Rochester Symphony, and more. He teaches in all styles, including bluegrass. In addition to Mandell, other instructors will provide lessons at all levels, from beginner to advanced. There are mandolin lessons. Banjo lessons. Harmonica.
“For guitar, we teach virtually any style you can imagine,” he explained. There’s bluegrass. Folk. Rock. Classical. You name it.
Mandell knows his way around the music biz and is just as active in producing events as he is in making music and selling its tools.
“From 2001 until 2019, I produced the Culver City Music Festival,” he said, noting that the only reason it didn’t happen in 2020 was due to Covid-19. He said he was rolling with the punches of the pandemic, but then when this past year’s event had to be canceled, it really hit home.
“Now, this was becoming personal with me,” he said. “This would have been my 20th year.”
Missing that milestone — or, just delaying it for another year — isn’t the only way Covid-19 has affected Mandell’s normal routine.
“We had the longest-running open mic variety night in the L.A. area,” he said. He said the main room of the shop converts into a concert hall, and it has featured so many performers; there would be no way to count them, from beginners to big names. Special Consensus has performed there. John Jorgenson and his bluegrass band.
“We featured bluegrass on a regular basis,” Mandell said.
Then…it had to cease due to Covid-19. The live performances stopped. The lessons and workshops stopped. The only thing Mandell can do, for the time being, is to revert to being just a retail store.
“California and L.A. are like the [COVID-19] hotspots of the world right now,” Mandell said. Because of this, he goes above and beyond to assure the safety of his customers. Even though local regulations allow more, Mandell restricts customers to six at a time. He said people are more than glad to wait outside until their time comes, to find the instrument and advice they expect to find at Boulevard.
Mandell hopes things will get back to normal soon, but in the meantime, offered a bit of timely advice he hoped The Bluegrass Standard would spread to readers who are owners of music venues.
“A venue can apply for the ‘Shuttered Venue’ grant through the SBA,” he said, suggesting the added support that has just been made available.
We’ll all just continue to keep our fingers crossed…for the future of venue owners, music store owners, musicians, producers, and everyone who makes a living from music.
4316 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230