Just two years ago, the Saratoga Springs community was celebrating the 25th anniversary of Saratoga Guitar, one of the city’s oldest downtown businesses and a popular port of call for many of the area’s top musicians. Today, it mourns the passing of its longtime owner, Matt McCabe, who died at the age of 63, who had been suffering from complications with the COVID-19 virus.
McCabe first opened Saratoga Guitar at 8 Caroline Street in June 1994, with the business quickly becoming a fixture for the area’s many musicians (including me). The shop had its requisite Pink Floyd–style wall of vintage and modern electric and acoustic guitars to gawk at, and McCabe was always quick to bring one down and let you take it for a test drive. McCabe would also go on to own Saratoga Music Center on Phila Street for a spell, as well as Glens Falls Guitar. Although the shop ping-ponged around Saratoga over the decades, in recent years, Saratoga Guitar had two locations, one at 75 Weibel Avenue, the other at 480 Broadway in the Collamer Building, which also doubled as McCabe’s office.
McCabe was also instrumental in getting the popular Capital Region Guitar Show off the ground, with the shop presenting it at the Saratoga Springs City Center for well over two decades. And he even left a mark on the city government, serving as Saratoga’s commissioner of finance for two terms in the early aughts.
Of course, McCabe was also a talented musician and guitarist in his own right, performing at many First Night Saratoga celebrations, benefit concerts, at a regular gig at the Olde Bryan Inn and at Saratoga’s most hallowed and historic folk venue, Caffè Lena, where he first performed in ’95. “He was just my go-to person if I needed to know anything musically about anything in Saratoga,” says Sarah Craig, executive director of Caffè Lena, of McCabe. “He knew everybody, and everybody loved him.” McCabe’s last appearance at the Caffè came on December 14, when he performed as part of longtime local musician Rick Bolton’s “Rick’s Picks” local showcase. “I was in his store the very first day he opened here,” remembers Bolton. “He was the warmest and gentlest light, you know? He did everything in a quiet way. He was one of the good ones.” Bolton remembers the countless benefit concerts McCabe played, noting that he would often donate a guitar for charity (Bolton guesses that McCabe donated hundreds of instruments to charity in his lifetime). Bolton also says McCabe was endlessly generous with the people he hired. One former employee, Peter Pashoukos, who worked for McCabe for a decade and was a customer for even longer, remembers McCabe offering him a job at one of his lowest points in life. A single father in his mid-30s, Pashoukos had long been a full-time musician, and McCabe helped him in any way he could to get back on his feet, including offering him a job at the shop. “He made sure I had anything and everything that I needed to start to rebuild a living as a musician,” says Pashoukos. Another former employee and the recent manager of Saratoga Guitar’s Weibel Ave. location, Alex Grandy, echos that sentiment. “He gave away more guitars than he sold,” says Grande. “He really, really played a huge part in this community and the music scene. Everyone that had a position in town or ever bought a thing from the store knows that he was always trying to help out his community.” Skidmore College Artist-in-Residence Joel Brown, who says McCabe helped him out of a number of jams with instruments and gear, as well as leant a hand to many of his guitar students at the college, adds: “He was the kind of guy who was always there for you. He was the nicest person you could ever meet. He’s going to be sorely missed in this community.”
McCabe’s generosity even found its way into the life of an American bluegrass star. Leigh Gibson, of the award-winning Gibson Brothers, met McCabe in the early ’90s, when Leigh and his brother, Eric, were performing with a mutual friend of McCabe’s. Gibson, who married a woman from the Capital Region, found himself in the Saratoga area in the early 2000s with a lull in his music career, and McCabe stepped in, offering him a job at the shop. “I got back on the road right away, but he was the kind of guy who would always say, ‘The gig comes first.’ So, if I was on the road for two weeks, he didn’t care; as long as I came back, I’d have work. He really cared about people and believed in them, and he’d take chances on people.”
McCabe is survived by his three sons.