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McCutcheon opens Mountain Green Concerts series

October 14, 1998

John McCutcheonBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer




John McCutcheon won't be working from a set list of songs when he performs at Hagerstown Community College Saturday night.

He'll have some CDs in the lobby before the show, and his road manager will see what people seem to be interested in. Then he'll just go out there and start singing.

There's so very much to choose from.

--cont. from lifestyle--

McCutcheon has recorded 25 albums since 1975. The 46-year-old singer and songwriter is master of many instruments, including the hammer and mountain dulcimer, six-string, 12-string and electric guitars, five-string and six-string banjos, fiddle and autoharp. He could be considered the quintessential American folksinger, but he's so down to earth, he'd probably be annoyed by such a fancy label.

His albums are a mix of traditional and topical music. He sings about working people, politicians, friends, lovers, sailors, holidays, kids and a bird dog who fails his trials because he loves birds.

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McCutcheon's version of Woody Guthrie's "Ludlow Massacre," a true story about a United Mine Workers tragedy in the early 1900s, is beautifully heartbreaking.

McCutcheon grew up in Wisconsin, and piano lessons he started taking at the age of 8 battled with his baseball playing.

He connected with the guitar when he was about 12, but he never took formal lessons.

He went off to college in Minnesota and spent his last four semesters studying not in the classroom, but in eastern Kentucky coal camps, union halls, country churches and at the kitchen tables of true masters of Appalachian music.

McCutcheon says it was a school unto itself. He says he learned how to learn, a skill he calls vastly underrated.

"I had to learn how to listen and learn to remember."

McCutcheon has gathered Grammy nominations for four of his albums - "Fine Times at Our House," 1995's "Summersongs" and "Wintersongs," the first two of his four seasons collections, and "Bigger Than Yourself."

Some people might regard these and some of his other recordings "children's" music, but McCutcheon balks at dividing his audience and his work. He prefers to consider it "family" music. He welcomes kids at his so-called "adult" concerts, and he's had grown-ups request "Rubber Blubber Whale."

"The line has become really blurred," he says.

He got into the genre in 1983 when he wrote an album of songs for his older son. He needed "something you could stand to listen to 40 times in a row," because that's what happens with little kids.

McCutcheon also writes about baseball.

"Doing My Job," a song on his 1997 live album with Tom Chapin, "Doing Our Job," was inspired by Cal Ripken's record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game in September 1995.

"World Series '57" - written with Si Kahn, as are so many other McCutcheon songs - recalls a 5-year-old Wisconsin boy remembering every play of the only World Series the Milwaukee Braves ever won - against the New York Yankees.

McCutcheon is thinking about a collection of his baseball songs. He recently started a song about the man who retrieved St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire's record-breaking home run ball.

Another song, not yet recorded, tells the story of Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Jackie Robinson in front of the whole abusive crowd in the middle of a Cincinnati stadium.

The song is about more than baseball.

"There are moments when each of us has to decide, small, little moments that change the world," McCutcheon says.

Small things done greatly are what John McCutcheon says has kept him in folk music.

He notices the small things, and he writes and sings and plays about them quite greatly.




John McCutcheon in concert

  • When: Saturday, Oct. 17, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Kepler Theater

    Hagerstown Community College

    Robinwood Drive, Hagerstown

  • Tickets: $15 for adults; $5 for children younger than 18. A season package of seven Mountain Green Concerts costs $90. A package of four concerts costs $50.

    For tickets, call Hagerstown Community College at 301-790-2800, ext. 309.

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