Smithsonian Folkways is proud to announce the release of The Village Out West: The Lost Tapes of Alan Oakes, out September 24. This expansive new collection of music challenges the historical preconception that New York’s Greenwich Village was the sole epicenter of folk music in the 1960s, and brings to life the nearly forgotten but equally vibrant contemporaneous scene emerging in Northern and Central California.
In this compilation are never-before-heard live performances by Doc Watson, Fred McDowell, Rev. Gary Davis, the New Lost City Ramblers, and Kilby Snow, alongside then-local and up-and-coming musicians Mark Spoelstra, Larry Hanks, Kenny Hall, Jim Ringer, and Hank Bradley, among many others. All the recordings—from fabled festivals like the Berkeley Folk Music Festival and the Jabberwock, clubs like The Cabale and the Blind Lemon, and innumerable house concerts, workshops, and impromptu interviews—were lovingly and expertly recorded on over 60 open reel tapes by forgotten autodidact documentarian Alan Oakes between 1960 and 1975.
Oakes, the self-appointed sonic Boswell of the California folk music world of the 1960s, was born in Fresno, California, in 1940. His tapes offer listeners a ringside seat at the early and enthusiastic days of musical rediscovery in California. These tapes reveal not only a destination for some of the greatest traditional musicians in America, but also the fecund breeding ground for many of their successors, themselves critical carriers of American vernacular music.
That this remarkable and unique collection survived at all is due to a chance reuniting of Alan and Marnie Oakes with project co-producer Deborah Robins and Larry Hanks several years ago. A subsequent phone call to Robins from Mrs. Oakes telling her about her husband’s death in 2019—and her plans to throw out his heretofore unknown audio archives—jolted Robins into both guaranteeing the collection’s proper preservation and long-term suitable housing and the creation of this new collection. Smithsonian Folkways, which promises that titles will be kept in print in perpetuity and houses other legendary recordings by many of the artists featured on the collection, was the natural fit to release the material.
Co-produced by Deborah Robins, Henry H. Sapoznik, and Jeff Place, the 80-page accompanying booklet contains essays by Robins, Sapoznik, and Hank Bradley plus extensive notes on the biographies of the performers, song histories, and numerous historic period photos and graphics.