Generations cross on country roads

September 02, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

John McCutcheon is coming to Country Roads Folk Festival in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle on Saturday, Sept. 4.

He'll be singing and playing guitar, banjo and hammered dulcimer.

Country Roads will be McCutcheon's first gig in more than a month, and he's looking forward to it.

"Festivals are like conventions for me," he said in a phone interview from Charlottesville, Va. Festivals provide opportunities for him to get together with other musicians and friends.

There will be plenty of people to greet at Almost Heaven Farm. The concerts - daylong on three stages - begin at 11 a.m.


The lineup includes traditional and contemporary folk, music from the heart of Europe, American blues, Celtic and Celtic folk rock music, the "found sound" of Billy Jonas and the music and comedy of singer-songwriter Christine Lavin.

There are workshops, a barn dance and a tribute to John Denver. Everybody can get into the act during a community singalong. Festival founder and director Maureen Harrigan called Country Roads a cross-generational event. She expects to see grandparents, parents, teens and toddlers.

"It's a really nice mix," she said.

Crossing generations also applies to the performers. McCutcheon said he'd never pass up a chance to play with The Mammals - a five-piece ensemble Harrigan described as a "21st-century old-time string band." The group includes the daughter of folk artist Jay Ungar and the grandson of folk icon Pete Seeger. At the core it's a string band, McCutcheon said.

Magic of music

"Music is a powerful thing," McCutcheon said. Its magic for him never has waned.

He's recorded 28 albums, including two he's put out himself - 2003's "Hail to the Chief and other short shelf-life classics" and 2004's "Stand Up! Broadsides for Our Times."

The songs on the two CDs are topical, and McCutcheon said he's done topical songs such as "Ashcroft's Army" and "Duct Tape" all through his career. He writes them with humor - to denude the powerful. It gives him a sense of connection.

"It's sort of fun to chronicle the world around me," McCutcheon said.

He also writes songs for events and for people. "We Are Not Alone" was commissioned for the 25th birthday of the Hospice program in his hometown of Wausau, Wisc. His mother was one of the organization's early volunteers and died in Hospice's care in 1985.

McCutcheon said he doesn't have a lot of money to shower on a cause, so he writes a song. "In a way, it's a real blessing."

McCutcheon has written baseball songs, labor songs, a song about the people behind history's biggest scenes. There's a slice of American life in "Barbershop" on his 2002 album, "The Greatest Story Never Told," which also includes "Last First Kiss," a 25th wedding anniversary gift for his wife.

But he's not sure what he'll play Saturday at Country Roads. He'll see what it feels like.

"I'm always paying attention to what's going on," he said.

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