Rare Recordings of Musical Greats Coming to UNC

Carolina’s Southern Folklife Collection, based in in Wilson Library, is receiving thousands of hours of recordings from concerts played at a guitar shop in Southern California. Collection staffers plan to preserve the recordings by creating and archiving digital copies.

More than 1,600 musical acts have played at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif., over the past 45 years. The list on the store’s website comes with a warning: “We lost track of a few names.”

Steve Weiss, curator of the collection, said that McCabe’s has long been a premiere 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 audiocassettes and open-reel tapes from 1969 onward include performances by 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 McCabe’s owner Bob 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 Robert Burns Clark ’61 (’65 LLBJD), 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, Weiss said.

The McCabe’s store, which opened its doors in 1958, specializes in selling folk and acoustic instruments and offers instrument rentals and repairs as well as books, lessons and help for musicians and music aficionados. The iconic venue, which will continue to present legendary musicians and vocal artists in concert on its stage every week, plans to add new digitized recordings to the collection over time.


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