Rounder Records quietly made the Boston area a hub of the roots music universe. Founded in the folk haven of Cambridge in 1970 by Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy, and Bill Nowlin, the label grew to promote music ranging from bluegrass to South African township jive, cowboy classics to New Orleans crooners, prison songs to Celtic strings. Many of its artists became well-known in their genres, such as Bela Fleck, Buckwheat Zydeco, Irma Thomas, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Some, like Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, won Grammy Awards. Pianist and singer Allen Toussaint is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All that history is being packed up from Rounder’s headquarters in Burlington by its parent Concord Music Group and trucked to the country music capital of Nashville.
The move places Rounder closer to the artists and producers of the label’s core Southern sounds. But it’s a familiar corporate effort to consolidate quarters. What may be lost is the spirit of Rounder’s eccentric beginnings, in which a trio of Northern college students with no industry experience lent a fresh ear to sounds around the globe. Such innovation was characteristic of Massachusetts, even without a music scene like Nashville’s.