Today as I drove into the quaint Victorian town of Guthrie, Oklahoma, billows of smoke could be seen. There was a silence on the paved brick streets. Fire trucks, with lights flashing, news cameras on every corner, people gasping in shock… while others showed tear-streamed faces, reminiscent of stories from yesteryear. Today, memories, history, and stories became embers as the Double Stop Fiddle Shop burned beyond restoration.
It was on April 1, 1995, that Byron Berline and his family made the move back to his native Oklahoma from California. Byron had a sparkle in his eye, and was on the hunt for the right place to build his own “McCabe’s Guitar Shop” in Guthrie, OK. The sparkle became reality within a month, as Berline opened The Shop, his dream becoming a reality with a retail store, a music hall, and a museum.
Always with a smile, and a bow in hand, Byron welcomed musicians of every age to jam with him. Six days a week, Berline could be found behind the glass door of the Double Stop Fiddle Shop with stories to share and tunes to play. Some of the best smiles I have witnessed from Byron came when he was giving a tour of his pride and joy. To personally know the icon is one thing, but to have had the opportunity to hear the stories behind the posters, album covers, autographs, and instruments, leaves a memory that I will forever hold dear.
Berline, of course, is a legendary bluegrass fiddler who first made his name with Bill Monroe in 1967. With Monroe he recorded their instrumental co-write, Gold Rush, among the most beloved fiddle tunes in the repertoire. He had already cut his first fiddle album with The Dillards in 1965, Pickin’ and Fiddlin’, which had cemented his reputation as a bow man. After a stint in the US Army, Byron moved to California where he was deeply involved in the burgeoning country rock scene around Los Angeles. There he was a founding member of both The Flying Burrito Brothers and Country Gazette, and toured with Steven Stills’ Manassas.
Recently, I was honored as a tour guide hosting The Medicine Show Radio Moose Mobile from Canada, and got to introduce Rob Ellen and Ruth Purves Smith to Byron. The tour started in the North corner of the shop where a prize fiddle hung with illustrated stories of Bill Monroe. After about an hour in the front part of the shop, we meandered back into the bowels, the museum where more history was kept, for all to see, to touch, to hear.
Byron insisted that he take us up to the Music Hall. Hanging to the right of the staircase was an original painting that his wife, Bette, had painted of Byron. In his office, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of records and tracks, perched alongside other honors on their wooden shelves. As we entered the dining hall, I noticed a John Hartford autograph, along with pictures of Berline with Vince Gill, Bill Monroe, and all of the greats. As you walked into the music hall there were lines of metal chairs awaiting the live music of Byron and his Band. Everywhere you looked was a piece of music history.
Saturday, February 23, 2019, the story forever changed in Guthrie. An iconic piece of history was destroyed by wind gusts of over 50 MPH and a ravaging fire. Around noon, the local fire department was called to the East End of Division Street to a fire that began at the Flower Shop, just two doors down from Byron’s shop. There was no stopping the flames in the wind, and the fire engulfed the historic site of the Double Stop Fiddle Shop.
As embers and ash were flying in the air, all of Guthrie was in total shock. Standing on every corner, someone was sharing a memory, a tear, and the history of this brick building that was engulfed in smoke.
Byron and Bette were on vacation, and at the time of this writing no injuries were known. Becca Berline, Byron and Bette’s daughter stated, “Collin was there (at shop) and a customer noticed the fire, but it was already taking over the flower shop and the back of the shop. He got Dad’s playing fiddle and mandolin and that’s it.” There were no injuries.
A part of history died today, but through the embers… there will always be the memories.