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“John McCutcheon is not only one of America’s finest musicians, but also a great singer, songwriter and songwriter. And not just incidentally, he is committed to helping people who work hard all over the world to get organized and push this world in a better direction.

—Pete Seeger

Over the past few years, John McCutcheon has headlined more than a dozen different festivals across North America – including repeat performances at the National Storytelling Festival – recorded an original composition for Virginia Public Television involving over of 500 musicians, toured Australia for the sixth time, toured Chile in support of a women’s health initiative, performed at a Woody Guthrie tribute concert in New York, performed a featured concert at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival , taught performance art techniques at a North Carolina college, performed symphonic pop concerts across America, served as president of the Union’s fastest growing chapter musicians and performed a special concert at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

On February 26 and 27, he will perform and speak at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville as part of the McMichael Lecture Series. His program is called “Make Me an Instrument: Singing the Unsayable”. McCutcheon answered these five questions for What’s Up!

Q. Tell me about your musical influences as a youngster?

A. Oh, I was listening to the radio, like most children. It was the start of the Beatles, so it was exciting. R&B, Motown, you know. … The big change came on August 28, 1963. My mom made me sit my 11-year-old butt next to her and watch the March on Washington. The music was really varied and amazing: Marion Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, and that’s the day I discovered folk music: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Odetta. But, above all, it was the way the people – 200,000 of them! – sang. It was participatory. He told me that I was welcome and that I could do it. And, not by chance, it was connected to something just and bigger than me.

Q. When/how did you know that music was going to be the centerpiece of your life?

A. I probably realized that after it happened. My best friend and I were obsessed with folk music. … We got guitars and pretty quickly I was OK, which energized me even more. …I guess when I was about 20, I did my taxes and realized that all the money I made that year was from music, and I realized that I was a professional musician.

Q. Based on this knowledge, what did you do to devote yourself seriously to music?

A. First of all, it’s my job and, like any worker, I take pride in it and try to constantly improve myself. … I write almost every day, find myself lost for hours playing a strange old instrument among the many that litter my studio – I have just started taking oud lessons online – and I listen, read, explore in hopes of finding information and inspiration to help me do my job better. It’s been like that for 50 years.

Q. The new album, “Bucket List”, came out of being confined by the pandemic. What did you learn about yourself and your music that you wanted to put on CD?

A. I returned from a tour of Australia in mid-March 2020 and immediately entered quarantine in our North Georgia cabin. And, relieved from the daily activity that eats away at my day, I wrote. And writes. Some of them dealt with things specific to the pandemic (“Six Feet Away” “Sheltered in Place” “Front Line”), others were the result of readings or conversations I had had with friends or things that happened in the world (“The Night That John Prine is dead”). What I learned was that, given the time, relieved of distractions, I was first and foremost a writer. … I discovered that I loved being at home and surprisingly my wife still loves me after being locked up with me for two years.

Q. How is this tour different from previous tours?

A. First of all, my tours have never really been typical “tours”, with a few exceptions. …Although this is a “talk series” appearance, I’ll mostly let my songs do the talking. The subject will be “Singing the Unsayable”, an exploration of how music is able to tell us stories in ways that other media do not or cannot. Although the title sounds intimidating, humor is a big part of what I do. So don’t be afraid. There will be something not only to chew, but also to laugh.



McMichael Lecture Series:

John McCutcheon

WHEN — Reception at 6 p.m., concert at 7 p.m. on February 26; forum at 10 a.m. on February 27

WHERE – St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 224 N. East Ave. in Fayetteville

No cost; places are limited and first come, first served