On Nov. 15, Portland folk-bluegrass rockers Fruition played to a packed and raucous house at Bend’s Domino Room.

Afterward, a stranger quietly blended into the tangle of people hauling gear from the venue. He was casual about it, like he was helping. No one noticed him.

It wasn’t until the next day that Fruition lead singer Kellen Asebroek discovered his guitar was gone.

An instrument and the musician who plays it invariably form a bond. That’s how it was with Asebroek and his guitar — a dreadnought-style acoustic called a “Deschutes” he’s had by his side since 2012. Handcrafted outside Bend, it’s his only concert-quality instrument and it goes with him everywhere. It’s been around the world, and he’s written some of his best songs on it.

“I definitely felt violated. I also felt foolish for letting it happen,” he said.

Asebroek remembers a flurry of activity the next two days, with shows in Portland and Seattle. He tried to focus on securing a backup guitar and making great music. He was, understandably, distracted.

“It felt like having a lost dog,” he said. “Not like someone had died, but just that they were lost, and I was worried.”

He called the Bend show’s promoter, Gabe Johnson, who got hold of security footage from the Domino Room. It showed a man in a hooded sweatshirt picking up Asebroek’s guitar in its case and walking out the front door, right past Johnson and a bouncer.

“That was probably the most surreal part of this whole situation,” Asebroek said.

Bend Police and members of the local musician community circulated a still image of the thief from security footage. Soon, the man was identified as Chase Michael Rapien, 27.

Police went to Rapien’s house. He wasn’t there, but someone else was. That person let in the officers, who spotted Asebroek’s guitar in the living room and recovered it.

Rapien was later arrested and charged with first-degree theft. He pleaded guilty and was scheduled to be sentenced in Deschutes County Circuit Court this month but skipped the hearing. There’s a warrant for his arrest.

Asebroek has mixed feeling about how Rapien should be punished, should he turn up.

“I get that many people are down on their luck in this world. And what his circumstances are, I have no idea and won’t pass judgment. But also, f--- that guy,” Asebroek said. “Of all the things to steal, an instrument — my livelihood, literally how I put food on the table and pay rent and bills — like, seriously, dude?”

Fruition was founded by Portland buskers 10 years ago. The quintet was finding its sound when luthier Jayson Bowerman heard them in 2012 playing at the McMenamins Old St. Francis School in downtown Bend.

Back then, they weren’t the polished national act they are today. But with precise playing and solid original material, Bowerman could tell they had something special.

“They absolutely raised the roof on the place,” Bowerman said. “It was really obvious to everybody in the early days that they were destined for greatness.”

He hung out with the band that night. He told them that to his ear, they were 99% of the way there.

“The only thing holding them back is Kellen isn’t getting good guitar tone out of his factory-built Epiphone,” he said.

For years, Bowerman was the head of production at Breedlove Guitars. Based in Tumalo, it employs nearly 100 people. Eventually, he grew tired of the long hours and the aspects of the job that didn’t involve working directly with instruments and musicians — dealing with human resources, etc. He pulled out and started his own one-man shop where he could focus on handcrafting high-quality stringed instruments. Today, he “self-authors” about 12 to 15 pieces a year.

They’re not cheap, but they have something more valuable.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Bowerman said. “As far as the tone goes, it really starts with quality materials and a good recipe for how you’re going to build. That’s really born through experience and studying other instruments.”

In 2012, Bowerman was experimenting with a new environmentally friendly finish mixture. He used it on a prototype of his dreadnought “Deschutes” acoustic guitar, a model he was developing at the time.

When he heard Fruition, he knew what to do with the guitar.

“I felt like at that time, that guitar didn’t have a home, and Kellen really deserved and needed a new guitar,” Bowerman said. “It was special for me because I feel like I was able to help them a little on their musical journey.”

A Bowerman-made “Deschutes” retails for about $4,000.

Bowerman said the emotional weight musicians feel when they lose their “No. 1 ax” is devastating because every instrument sounds and plays a little bit different.

“It’s almost as if someone abducts a member of your family, that uncertainty and anguish of wondering if you’re ever going to see them again,” he said. “I think it rises to that level.”

Fruition is writing and recording a series of releases that members plan to release this year. Asebroek is in Asheville with the other songwriters, as he says, “crafting.”

When he returned to Bend to recover his guitar from the Bend Police Department headquarters, Asebroek decided to keep the “evidence” tags on the case, “to remind me to take care and be thankful for what I have.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, gandrews@bendbulletin.com

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