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John McCutcheon |
John McCutcheon's March Newsletter
Happy March, Folks,
It’s an unseasonably warm day here in Georgia, even for Georgia.  But I’m preparing to visit a bit of winter this weekend out in the Pacific Northwest.  Portland, Corvallis, Olympia, and Seattle will provide one last opportunity for scarf and sweater weather.  By then, it’ll be tomato planting time back home and spring begins in earnest.
My February travels took me to Pennsylvania for a weekend of shows and then to Kansas City for my first visit to the Folk Alliance conference in many years.  I attended many time in my role as president of Local 1000, but have had that weekend off in recent years.  So this was my first time as an attendee with minimal responsibilities.  This afforded me the chance to meet up with old friends (Nora Guthrie, Billy Bragg, Tom Paxton, Sonia, and others), see some amazing new artists (Red Tail Ring quite simply knocked my hat in the creek), hook up with folks who I’d somehow never met (Bruce Cockburn and John McEuen…we’ve been repeatedly confused for decades), and run into some remarkable characters. 
2 Bald Men (w/Tom Paxton)
with Billy Bragg
with John McEuen
No one surprised me more than a young man named Ramy Essam.  He’s a young Egyptian musician who wrote what has been described as the “We Shall Overcome” of the Arab Spring uprising in Tahrir Square back in 2011.  For this he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and now lives in exile in Sweden.  It was a stark and humbling reminder of the courage many artists face in speaking truth to power.  In this country the greatest consequences of speaking out on stage is to be booed or lose fans or lose gigs.  Fear being the necessary prerequisite of courage, the risks we take in a free society pale by comparison to those like Ramy and others around the globe.  And, still, Ramy approaches his work with joy, with the faith that what he does matters, that people depend on him to speak, that he must.  To quote the old hymn, “how can I keep from singing?”  How indeed?
But the clear stand-out this past month by far and the greatest gig of my life was an appearance at my grandson, Sam’s, preschool class.  I arrived with guitar and banjo in hand for a 20-minute session with an overflow class of 10 little rug rats.  I also brought along a cigar-box ukulele I’d picked up for Sam, something to pass around to the kids and let them get the feel of a stringed instrument.  Now, Sam has heard me play music his entire life.  He’s heard me sing on the CDs that magically come out of the ceiling of his mother’s minivan.  And he’ll play along with me during backyard bonfires.  But he has no idea what I do for a living, that I sing for anyone else.  So when Miss Lisa positioned a tiny-tiny chair for me in front of his classmates, he picked another one up, set it up next to mine, grabbed his ukulele, and looked up at me as though to say, “Okay, let’s play!”  As soon as I started in on “Howjadoo” he joined right in and our first joint gig was underway.  My own astonishment was nothing compared to that of his classmates and Miss Lisa.  A star was born.  
There are times in one’s life when your purpose becomes clear.  A few years ago, while singing Ruby to sleep one nap time, I realized that a near-half-century of practice had nothing to do with concert halls or recording sessions.  No, it was meant to prepare me for the task of wooing a 2-year-old to sleep.  Such was the feeling I had that day in Sam’s classroom: playing music was as natural to Sam as eating.  It was something we do together, something that’s “ours.”  I can die a happy man.
But not just yet.  After my jaunt in the Nortwest I’m joining my friends Chuck Brodsky and Braves’ organist Matthew Kaminski for our annual Opening Day baseball show at Eddie Owens’ Red Clay Music Foundry in Duluth, GA.  This show is a total blast…nine innings of baseball song and shenanigans celebrating the return of America’s Game.  If you're anywhere in the Atlanta area, come on out, this is a must-see.
And finally, I’ll tempt winter once more with a weekend of shows in Minnesota and Wisconsin before returning to the Southeast for a weekend in South Carolina and the North Georgia Storytelling Festival with my lovely and far-more-talented wife, Carmen.  April is busy, but more on that later.  See you next month!
Songwriting Camp Update
Well, folks, we’re not going to be able to do a third session of the Songwriting Camp at Highlander this year.  Their schedule is simply to booked up.  So the two sessions are officially sold out.  You are welcome to sign up for a waiting list for either Camp, as cancellations do occur.  There is no deposit required for the waiting list and you will be notified immediately if something clears.
We’ll open up registration for the 2018 Camps as soon as this year’s sessions are completed.  We limit the number of registrants, so signing up early is the best way to assure a spot.  Thanks for the interest in these workshops.  I take a pretty unique approach to the subject matter and Highlander, of course, is an even more singular place to explore the craft of songwriting itself.
If you’re interested in the waiting list and/or receiving notice when the 2018 Camps are open for registration, please contact the Appalseed office at
Utah Phillips Library
I met Utah Phillips at the first folk festival I ever attended, up in Ashland, WI.  I was 19 years-old college student, a near-professional hitchhiker, and a fledging banjo player, hoping to re-connect with Guy Carawan, who’d visited my campus earlier that year and who was also on the festival’s bill.  I was unprepared for the astonishing Phillips whose theatrical rants were punctuated with everything from political analyses to recipes for moose-turd pie.  He was a stunning guitarist and an even more stunning songwriter.  He was the first person I saw meld music and storytelling, creating a world in which no one was dispensable. 
We ran into one another again months later at the Highlander Center’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, the first stop in my college-sanctioned 3-month independent study, and thus began a friendship and partnership that lasted over thirty-five years, right up to Utah’s death in 2008.  We performed together many times, bunked at one another’s homes, served on boards together, and I was honored to give one of the eulogies at his memorial celebration.  He was a cantankerous and outrageous old fart and I count him as one of the great souls I was blest to have known in my lifetime. 
Utah was a great lover of railroads and railroad characters and lore.  He was also a voracious reader and collector of books.  Now there’s a movement afoot to turn an old railroad car he lived in back in the 1970’s into a library and resource center, housed at the Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture, right at the foot of Mount Shasta in Weed, CA.  Please consider joining me in supporting this effort by donating to the campaign to make this happen.  Utah was a great believer in projects created by grassroots organizing and funding.  Click here to learn how you can become involved.  Thanks for whatever you can do.  I’ll keep you all apprised of the progress of this campaign and hope to attend a ribbon cutting in the future.  All aboard!
John McCutcheon on Deck
Portland, OR
Alberta Rose Theater
Corvallis, OR
1st Presbyterian Church
Olympia, WA
Traditions (2 Shows!)
Seattle, WA
Triple Door
Duluth, GA
BASEBALL Show @Red Clay Theater
Excelsior, MN
318 Café
Mahtomedi, MN
Chautauqua Fine Arts Center
Menomine, WI
Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts
Zumbrota, MN
Crossings at Carnegie
Sunset, SC
Founders Hall
Young Harris, GA
GA Mts. Storytelling Festival
Leverett, MA
Mt. Toby Concerts
Marblehead, MA
Me & Thee Coffeehouse
Fair Lawn, NJ
Hurdy Gurdy Folk Music Club
Brooklyn, NY
Jalopy Theater
Vienna, VA
The Barns of Wolf Trap
Richmond, VA
Tin Pan
Charlottesville, VA
Main Stage Theater
Floyd, VA
Floyd Country Store
Asheville, NC
Isis Music Hall
Boone, NC
Jones House Cultural Center
New Market, TN
Songwriting Camp at Highlander
PO Box 2999 | Tucker,‎ GA‎ 30085

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