More than 1,600 musical acts have played at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, over the last 45 years. The list on the store’s website even comes with a warning: “We lost track of a few names.”
Now Bob Riskin, the concert venue’s owner, has donated thousands of hours of recordings from those concerts to the Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) in the Wilson Special Collections Library. The SFC will preserve the recordings by creating and archiving digital copies of them.
Steve Weiss, curator of the SFC, said that McCabe’s is a premier venue for roots music. “This collection is a national treasure that documents nearly five decades of top performers in an intimate setting,” he said.
The audio cassettes and open reel tapes from 1969 onward include performances by the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, John Fahey, John Hammond, Bill Monroe, Odetta, Jean Ritchie, Dave Van Ronk, Mike Seeger, Ralph Stanley, Merle Travis, Kate Wolf, Townes Van Zandt, and North Carolina’s own Elizabeth Cotten and Doc and Merle Watson.
“It was important that these taped recordings, which are old and fragile and have significant scholarly value, go to a place where they would be carefully conditioned and conserved,” said Riskin. “We did an inventory and cataloged more than 2,000 tapes. When I began to think of who should receive the gift, several knowledgeable people I respect, including my sound engineers, all said the best choice would be the University of North Carolina.” Weiss said that UNC alumnus Robert Burns Clark, class of 1961, now a California-based writer, connected him to Riskin and to John “Kit” Alderson, a music teacher at McCabe’s who wanted to see the collection preserved.
Weiss envisions many audiences who are likely to be interested in the recordings, including students, scholars, and fans, as well as those doing research for documentaries, film, and television. They will be able to start listening to portions of the collection in Wilson Library beginning in September 2016, said Weiss. The McCabe’s store, which first opened its doors in 1958 and specializes in selling folk and acoustic instruments, offers instrument rentals and repairs as well as books, lessons, and help for musicians and music aficionados alike. The iconic venue, which will continue to present legendary musicians and vocal artists in concert on its stage every week, will add new digitized recordings to the SFC collection over time.