• author
    • Kate Laddish

      Columnist
    • January 19, 2014 in Columnists

    Folk singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist John McCutcheon brings old favorites and new CD to annual “Left Coast” tour

    John McCutcheon’s clear voice, mastery of instruments including guitar, hammer dulcimer, fiddle, autoharp, banjo, and piano, talent for writing lasting songs that range from the ridiculous to the sublime to the provoking, and supreme ability to connect with audiences have made him one of the most beloved folk musicians working today. McCutcheon is currently in the midst of his “upteenth annual Left Coast Tour,” this time with shows featuring songs from his new album “22 Days” as well as hearty servings of audience favorites from his deep catalogue.

    Folk musician John McCutcheon is half way through his annual "Left Coast" tour (photo courtesy of John McCutcheon, folkmusic.com)

    Folk musician John McCutcheon is half way through his annual “Left Coast” tour (photo courtesy of John McCutcheon, folkmusic.com)

    Says McCutcheon, “It’s a tour that keeps me on my toes: there are almost no other places I play every single year for decades (the Barns of Wolf Trap and the Winfield Festival are the exceptions that comes to mind), so it’s a project of developing new material, dusting off long-neglected stuff, and balancing the new with the nuggets in a way that keeps folks happy and returning.

    “The entire tour is a kind of family reunion in many places, so it’s fun to get back to familiar haunts and reacquaint with audiences that have become more than, well, audiences,” McCutcheon adds.

    Not one to be consigned to a narrow category, the subjects of McCutcheon’s original songs range from the poignant sweep of history (“Christmas in the Trenches”), to daily life (“Room At The Top of The Stairs,” “Kindergarten Wall”) to current events both outrageous (“Ashcroft’s Army”) and inspirationally hopeful songs of ordinary people transcending their situation (“Sara Tucholsky,” “Streets of Sarajevo”). No matter the topic, McCutcheon’ songs ring with clarity, warmth, and verve.

    McCutcheon also has an ear for interpreting music, be it traditional Appalachian and Celtic tunes or more recent fare by his songwriting colleagues. McCutcheon’s success with the songs he selects to cover is such that people routinely refer to “Cut The Cake,” “Rubber Blubber Whale,” “The Great Storm Is Over,” and “Howjadoo” (by Tina Liza Jones, Si Kahn, Bob Franke, and Woody Guthrie respectively) as “John McCutcheon songs.”

    McCutcheon’s gifts as a songwriter, musician and storyteller — as well as his flashes of both righteous passion and warm humor — make for striking recordings and solo shows. Called “the most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard” by Johnny Cash, McCutcheon moves between six instruments (guitar, fiddle, banjo, piano, autoharp, hammer dulcimer) as well as vocals on stage and in the studio. His thirty-plus albums (receiving seven Grammy nominations along the way), his multiple award-winning children’s books, and years of performing have earned McCutcheon a loyal following that crosses generations.

    McCutcheon's newest album "22 Days" was released in October 2013 (image courtesy of John McCutcheon, folkmusic.com)

    McCutcheon’s October 2013 release “22 Days” (image courtesy of John McCutcheon, folkmusic.com)

    In October 2013, McCutcheon released his newest album “22 Days.” McCutcheon says that “‘22 Days’ began as an homage to my friend, Vedran Smailovic, the ‘Cellist of Sarajevo’ [described in ‘Streets of Sarajevo’], who, in honor of 22 people killed by a bomb in a Bosnian breadline, played for 22 days in a row at the bombing site. 20 years to the day of the beginning of Smailovic’s action I sat down for the same number of days, at the same hour every day, to write.

    “There was no goal, no album in sight. I simply wanted to write and see what happened,” says McCutcheon. “Over 30 new songs is what happened. With a couple of exceptions, it is songs from that writing intensive that comprise the songs of ‘22 Days.’”

    For more information about John McCutcheon’s new album and up-coming shows, visit his website (folkmusic.com) and the venues’ websites.

    Dates remaining in John McCutcheon’s Left Coast tour:
    Sunday January 19 — The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA, http://palmsplayhouse.com
    Monday January 20 — St. James Episcopal Church, Fremont, CA, http://saintj.com/wp/
    Tuesday January 21 — Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, CA, http://www.sierranevada.com/
    Thursday January 23 — Fresno Folklore Society, UU Church of Fresno, Fresno, CA, http://www.fresnofolklore.org/
    Friday January 24 — Beckman Institute Auditorium, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, http://folkmusic.caltech.edu/
    Saturday January 25 — San Diego Folk Heritage, San Dieguito Methodist Church, Encinitas, CA, http://sdfolkheritage.org/