McCabe’s tapes to be housed at UNC Chapel Hill

McCabes Guitar ShopGreat news for lovers of live music recordings. More than 40 years of live concerts recorded at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA have been donated to the Southern Folklife Collection at the UNC Chapel Hill library.

Open since 1958, McCabe’s has always been what they called a “folk store” back then. They trade in acoustic instruments used in American folk traditions (guitars, banjos, mandolins, ukulele’s, dulcimers), along with other stringed instruments more common in Central American, Indian, and Middle Eastern cultures. In fact, McCabes has served as a model for the many other similar shops that have sprung up across the country since the ’60s.

Since the shop moved in 1969, they have hosted acoustic concerts in the store each week, with many of the biggest names in folk, bluegrass, and acoustic country music appearing on their simple stage. Store owner Bob Riskin has been recording these live shows and storing the tapes all this time, recently giving them over to the Southern Folklife Collection for archival and preservation.

Among the performances on these tapes are sets from Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, Doc & Merle Watson, Mike Seeger, Jean Ritchie, Merle Travis and many others.

Steve Weiss, curator of SFC, says that they have already begun the process of digitizing the more than 2,000 hours of music, which were given to them on a mix of open reel, cassette, and DAT tapes. He says that the audio quality is quite good, and that the tapes are in fine condition.

“We are really excited about acquiring these tapes, and that there are so many bluegrass artists in the collection.

The plan is to digitize the whole thing for preservation and access, which we think we can complete by the Fall of 2016. Ultimately, we would like to secure the rights to at least stream the recordings online.

It’s such a trove it would be a shame not to share it with the public.”

Weiss said that the tapes found their way to Chapel Hill through a convenient coincidence.

“Robert Clark, a friend of the collection, takes guitar lessons at McCabes from Kit Alderson. When he explained what we do to Kit, he got me in touch with Bob Riskin, who was happy to arrange for them to reside here.”

The SFC describes their mission thusly…

The Southern Folklife Collection is an archival resource dedicated to collecting, preserving and disseminating traditional and vernacular music, art, and culture related to the American South. We do this to advance the study and public recognition of these art forms, and support the educational, research and service missions of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And with Chapel Hill just about 30 minutes from Raleigh, Steve is hoping that attendees at this year’s World Of Bluegrass in September will consider a side trip to the Library to see what they have, and what they are all about.

SFC is partially funded by UNC Chapel Hill, but also relies on grants, endowments, and private donations to continue their work. A new grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is set to double their work force for the next few years.

More details can be found online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.