SARATOGA SPRINGS– Matthew McCabe, owner of Saratoga Guitar, local musician and former city commissioner died earlier this week at 63 after suffering from complications with the coronavirus.
“The music community in Saratoga is small . . . and he was certainly one of the key players,” said Sarah Craig, the executive director of Caffe Lena. “He opened his shop on Caroline Street right around the time I moved to Saratoga and so I have always thought of him as one of the anchors of downtown. If you were involved in music in any way in Saratoga, you knew and worked with Matt and thought of him as a colleague.”
According to a previous Gazette article, McCabe grew up in Elizabethtown but moved to Saratoga Springs in 1994 to open Saratoga Guitar, which he ran for the last 27 years under the motto “It’s not the price of the guitar, it’s the heart of the player.”
“His goal was to get instruments in people’s hands to get them making music and to get music out into the world. So he was a small business owner but he was almost more like a saint of music in Saratoga,” Craig said. “I think everybody has a story of wandering in Matt’s shop with some idea or some vague notion of something they wanted to do or maybe their kid wanted an instrument for Christmas and they didn’t know what to make of it. And he would just take you in hand, encourage you, help you shape your ideas and send you out the door having spent as little as possible, ready to make music.”
Chelsie Henderson, owner of Rural Soul Music Studio in Schuylerville remembers McCabe’s generosity, especially when she was first getting the studio off the ground.
“Matt became like an uncle – and certainly a music business and community leader mentor – to me, someone who always had advice at the ready (and had a lot to say!),” Henderson wrote. “He was an idea-generator and a mover-shaker and had the most generous soul I have ever met. It has been said that he ‘gave away more guitars than he sold.’ As a recipient of countless donations and ‘Chelsie discounts’ (as he would call them), I can’t think of anyone more giving, more community-minded than Matt McCabe.”
Last year, when Caffe Lena was getting its Music School off the ground, Craig stopped by Saratoga Guitar to see if she could buy some refurbished instruments that could be loaned out to keep costs low for anyone who wanted to be part of the school
“[McCabe] took me into this back room where he just had mountains of instruments in cases and just said basically ‘Take what you want. We’ll make sure it’s in good enough condition to play and we’ll get these kids started,”’ Craig said.
McCabe frequently performed around the area, including at Olde Bryan Inn, First Night, and Caffe Lena. He also helped to get the Capital Region Guitar Show started, which has been running for more than two decades. In recent years, Saratoga Guitar has expanded to two locations, one on Broadway and one on Weibel Avenue.
Beyond his role in the music community, he served two terms as commissioner of finance for the city of Saratoga Springs in the early 2000s. John Franck, the city’s commissioner of accounts, worked with McCabe when he first joined the council.
“My first two years in office [were] 2006 and 2007, and those were Matt’s last two years in office, that’s when I had the honor to work with him closely and he was like a mentor to me,” Franck said.
Though McCabe decided against running for reelection in 2007 to spend time with his family, including his three sons, Franck said McCabe’s was one of the most popular councilmembers at the time.
“In our business … everybody goes after everybody. You know how politics is,” Franck said. “In the two years I was in office with him … he never ever badmouthed another politician or anybody’s political views. It was just amazing.”
Since his death, many who were friends or acquaintances with McCabe have posted their memories of him on Facebook.
“He gave me my first job in the guitar business,” wrote Alex Whitman. “There was not a more generous or trusting man in the industry. His friendship and support meant the world to me. A true force for good in the Saratoga community and music world. You will be missed by many.”
“His business has been vital to the local music community of Saratoga Springs, and he was a pillar for small businesses within the city,” wrote Zac Rossi. “Matt, you were a great boss and a passionate supporter of live music and local musicians. I will miss you terribly.”
It’s been a particularly difficult year for small businesses in Saratoga Springs, a community that McCabe had a big impact on.
“This downtown business community, it’s taken such a punch this year and as it comes back to life and reconstitutes itself, you want people like Matt, with those [kinds] of values, that kind of community spirit and giving nature to be there to get it all going again and help everybody through the stress of this time. To not have him around is just unimaginable,” Craig said. “I do know that this community will band together and keep that spirit alive in his name. . . I think we just have to follow his example in how we go forward with music in this town.”