Jammers near a table of mandolins

San Francisco Bay Area CoMando Gathering
January 6, 2002

by Jon Sievert
Even before Larry Berger picks me up, I know it’s going to be a good day. The 49ers are up 21-0 at the half, the sun is shining despite forecasts to the contrary, and we are off to a gathering of certified mandolin crazies bearing their most precious jewels.

The drive from San Francisco to Arthur Stern’s East Bay studio in Benicia is a breeze, and we arrive at the event’s official starting time of 1 p.m. From the outside, the nondescript two-story, concrete-block building gives no clue to its contents. But pass through the front door, and you’re in the shop and gallery of a world-class designer of architectural glass. Exquisite freestanding glass panels stand throughout the huge space cleverly partitioned into display, work, and living areas. Walls are covered with original design art and intricate, multi-colored glass windows.

We walk into a large room lit by ceiling-high windows and skylights, where we discover the party in full swing. A familiar tinkling fills the air as we spot Arthur jamming with Finn Taylor. He’s standing next to a long table littered with beautiful mandolins, playing his newest acquisition, a 1984 Monteleone F5 purchased from Finn, who gave it up to buy the 1927 Gibson F5 “Fern” he is playing.

Watching Arthur blaze away on “16-16,” I’m wistfully reminded that we each took up mandolin at the same time in the late ’70s. We both started with a fever; mine abated, his didn’t. And no “Bile ‘em Cabbage Down” or “Old Joe Clark” for Arthur, either. The first tune he learned was Dawg’s “Opus 38.” Wonder how many other mandolin players can say their first chord was Am7. He recently told me that “Banks of the Ohio” is the only song he knows with words.

This contents of this table changed constantly during the course of the day as players came and went. The jammers are (clockwise from bottom left) Finn Taylor, Larry Berger, John Relph, and Bob Blanshard.
Below: Host Arthur Stern puts some mojo into his latest acquisition, a 1984 Monteleone F5.
Arthur Stern
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