By Tamas Mondovics
Mountain City’s Heritage Hall Theater has had no shortage of featuring great performers giving testimony to the vital role the facility plays in the community.One of such performers soon to enjoy entertaining his audience is John McCutcheon also known as folk music’s renaissance man — master instrumentalist, influential singer-songwriter, storyteller, activist, and author. McCutcheon’s appearance is scheduled for Saturday, June 23, at 7 pm.
According to a recent biography, McCutcheon has emerged as one of the most respected and loved folksingers.Called “the most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard,” by Johnny Cash, McCutcheon is a master of a dozen different traditional instruments, most notably the rare and beautiful hammer dulcimer. Critics and singers around the globe have hailed his songwriting. Dozens of recordings have garnered McCutcheon a variety of honors including seven Grammy nominations. His books and instructional materials have introduced new players to the joys of their own musicality, while his commitment to grassroots political organizations has put him on the front lines of many of the important issues.
McCutcheon’s apprenticeship to many of the legendary figures of Appalachian music imbedded a love of not only homemade music but a sense of community.The result is music, including his 39th album, Ghost Light.
“It was a complete accident,” McCutcheon said. “I sat down over Memorial Day weekend, and suddenly a line pestered me, ‘Billy didn’t come home last night.’ I thought, ‘Okay, so who’s Billy? Where’s home? What happened to him?’ And it was off to the races. 25 days and 30 new songs later, what was I supposed to do?”
The impression is that McCutcheon didn’t mean to record. And as has happened so often in his forty-five-year career, those races brought McCutcheon a collection of stories that are real, seductive and unexpected. A young man doesn’t come home. An old man faces the future in a bank, a baby dances, a small town celebrates a local hero. No scene is too small, no idea too big for John McCutcheon.
Wrapped in his distinctive Appalachian-rooted sound, he still manages to stretch out his musical wings.
Whether highlighting his bluegrass credentials with the Woody Guthrie-McCutcheon penned “When My Fight for Life Is Over,” the rocking insistence of “Big Day,” or the chamber-folk delicacy of the title track, the musicianship is stellar. With appearances by fiddler Stuart Duncan and vocalists Kathy Mattea and Tim O’Brien, the production is pristine, and the songwriting is both spare and muscular; classic John