McCabe's changes concert bookers only slightly more often than the Dodgers change managers, but 1996 is the year for both. John Chelew, who's overseen the concerts held in the back room of the Santa Monica guitar shop for the last 12 years, has left in order to concentrate on producing records.

Chelew brought an eclectic mix to the folk-rooted club, putting such rock-based acts as the Meat Puppets, X, Bob Mould and the Plimsouls on a schedule alongside the singer-songwriters, guitar pickers and troubadours. What he found was that both the artists and many patrons were eager to cross the stylistic lines.

"I knew we were doing something right when we'd have the Meat Puppets and get guys in their 40s or 50s coming to see that, and then getting young punk girls with nose rings and purple hair coming to see [bluegrass giant] Ralph Stanley," he says.

Chelew's album production credits include John Hiatt's much-praised 1988 "Bring the Family," the 1994 Richard Thompson tribute "Beat the Retreat" and English folk singer Norma Waterson's "Norma Waterson"--runner-up for Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize this year. Now he's developing several projects, including an album by Dan Hicks to be co-produced with Van Dyke Parks.

Zachariah Love now steps up to the booker role at the 150-capacity room after several years as Chelew's assistant, facing intensified competition from the new Ash Grove and such other relatively recent entries as the Alligator Lounge, the revived Troubadour and even the House of Blues.

"As dull as it sounds, I simply hope to continue the tradition and be as successful as John was," Love says. "No question the competition is tough, but that's why I don't have too grand a scheme. We offer an intimacy you can't get at any of those clubs and musicians and fans alike appreciate that."

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