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"We almost burned down. That was December 9." Gentry McCrea is not sure exactly how the fire got started, but the source turned out to be the restaurant next door. The flames toasted a part of an outside wall as they made their way up to the century-old timbers that form the industrial strength half domed beam roof, odd for a music store.

"It was Drew Ford originally," he says from behind the perpetually cluttered counter of what has been a family-held (his family, to be specific) neighborhood music store now for three decades.

Inside the shop the air is redolent of music recitals, of cork grease and brass. Cellos and tubas and trumpets and saxophones and guitars sprout from every surface. There's a piano on an old stage painted a shade of brown favored in school districts past, and folding chairs enough to seat one hundred guests.

"A hundred and twenty, if we use the upstairs loft."

From behind closed doors in the store comes the sound of music lessons. Painful, perhaps, for the parents to must bear witness to the slow and unsteady advance up and down fretboards or brass keys as they wait it on in the stuffed chairs along the back wall, but something bordering on magic if you are a kid; music lessons generally start around the age of 10. Mine did: I got a few free starter lessons with the purchase of a Conn alto sax at a now-defunct place on El Cajon Blvd called Ozzy's Music.

Hipsters invade occasionally: "Dizzy's came here while Chuck Perrin was looking for a home," McCrea says. "I think he's done eight shows." A sax player named Daniel Jackson has hosted shows there as well, and Joe Marillo, the tenor saxman has aired the possibility of starting up a jam at McCrea's.

Now comes the San Diego Clarinet Quintet, of SD Clarinet 5. From their own web site: "Its members have performed with national touring Civic Theater productions, Starlight Opera, Old Globe Theater, internationally renowned chamber music festivals, and have each appeared as a featured soloist." Think classical, like Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, and Ravel, with sassy Brazilian, Spanish, Japanese, or Klezmer, interspersed with show tunes. "Musical arrangements feature the work of two talented San Diego writers: Charles Ellis-MacLeod and Lynne Harrington-Crick."

"We try to do a recital or some live music at least once or twice a month, McCrea says. "I'm entertaining the idea of starting an open mic night. College age singer songwriters want a place to perform in La Mesa."

SD Clarinet 5: Monday, Feb 4th, McCrea Music, 8361 Allison Ave, La Mesa 619-698-7272 all ages. Free

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