Before the end of the year, we asked you all to . Some great people were nominated -- Councilwoman Kay Coleman, student Kelsey Lopin, President David Smadbeck -- and, as it was pointed out, there were some great people that didn't get nominated in time for the deadline.
When we asked you all to two people stood out: John Pedersen and Kathy Thornton. We will be featuring two short profiles of our People of the Year this week, starting with Pedersen.
For over 40 years, John Pedersen has been helping musicians from all over out of his little shop in the middle of the street, .
In that time, he’s welcomed in dozens high school students who need guidance, older musicians with instruments for repair, and anyone looking for some musical information.
“John has been giving to Ross Valley residents for a long time. Often, I've seen people bring instruments in for a quick repair, which is carried out and then dispatched without charge,” said Robert English, who nominated
Pedersen bought the little shop in the middle of Red Hill Avenue, across from , in 1982, after working as a repairman there for six years. At the time, he and Judy Kaufman, who now helps run the shop, lived in Lagunitas. They had moved to Marin from Toronto, where Pedersen had been an instrument repairman, to be closer to her family.
Since then, the pair have welcomed musicians of all ages and talents into Amazing Grace. They offer classes at night in the small space, passing on knowledge about the fiddle, bango and uillean pipes.
The shop will soon be moving just next door into the fancy new building that’s been built by George Lucas, who bought the strip of land a number of years ago.
English, who has been learning the uillean pipes (and Irish pipe) and fiddle at Amazing Grace, said that Pedersen is always willing to help people out with instruments, teach them what he knows, and work with them on their music.
This is especially true when Redwood and Tam High School kids come in with their yearly projects to design and build an instrument.
“A lot of kids have come in here with nightmare instruments and said, ‘How am I going to get this sorted out by tomorrow?’” said Pedersen. But, he always helps them do it.
The shop isn’t just a haven for teenagers and novices. As one of the only musical repair shops that also offers classes, expertise and products, Amazing Grace serves a wide clientele of some of the top Marin musicians.
Pedersen, who has lived with Kaufman in San Anselo for over 20 years, is himself a talented local musician. He plays the fiddle and banjo with his band, The Roadoilers, at the Mayflower’s Irish session in San Rafael and at the regularly. In fact, his whole interest in music came from wanting to be the New Lost City Ramblers, he said.
While many musicians haven’t the faintest idea how to repair their own instruments, Pedersen's love of music quickly turned to a curiosity about the instrument he was holding. He was hot to get his hands on instruments and started as an apprentice in New York “a million years ago,” he said. He began by just going to an older repairman and started sweeping up paper scraps until eventually he got to touch the instruments. He progressed to being a journeyman in Toronto, where he honed his skills, before coming out here in the 70s.
Now, he tries to pass on that knowledge, even taking an apprentice of his own – a local high school kid, who played the guitar and wanted to build his own electric guitars – for a couple years.
It’s that willingness to help everyone out and pass on all the knowledge he has that helps make him one of our people of the year.
“You just try to do the best you can with each instrument,” he said. “You treat the crappy guitar the same as the nice guitar.”