LISTEN: Thousands Of Rare Recordings From Folk Music Greats Come To Chapel Hill

Jun 25, 2015

McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA has seen more than 1,600 musicians perform in the store. Those live performances have produced thousands of recordings documenting the livelihood of folk music for the past 45 years.

Those recordings have now come to North Carolina. Bob Riskin, store owner, recently donated the collection to the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“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,” Riskin said in a statement. “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.”

"McCabe's Stringed Instrument School" at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA
Credit Steven Weiss / Southern Folklife Collection


Steven Weiss, curator of SFC, said Chapel Hill is a good home for the collection. SFC already houses hundreds of recordings of folk and roots music, but Weiss said McCabe’s collection is one of a kind.


“This collection is a national treasure that documents nearly five decades of top performers in an intimate setting,” Weiss said.


Weiss said people will be able to listen to portions of the recordings starting in September of 2016.

Riskin donated the collection of audiocassettes and open reel tapes to the SFC so it can preserve it by creating digital copies of the recordings.

The recorded performances include those by:

  • Ramblin’ Jack Elliot
  • John Fahey
  • John Hammond
  • Bill Monroe
  • Odetta
  • Jean Ritchie
  • Dave Van Ronk
  • Mike Seeger
  • Ralph Stanley
  • Merle Travis
  • Kate Wolf
  • Townes Van Zandt
  • Doc Watson

It also includes live performances by Carrboro's Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten. Check out an excerpt of Cotten playing "Going Away" at McCabe’s in 1978 below.

NOTE: Cotten says she is from Chapel Hill, North Carolina when she introduces herself. Our guess is that Chapel Hill may have been a little more familiar to her audiences.

You can find recordings like these and more great collections exploring the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.