“When pressed for the perfect example of a modern folk musician,
it’s John McCutcheon’s name that comes to mind.”
Sing Out! Magazine, Winter 2000
Collegeville, MN – For more than 20 years Saint John’s alumnus John McCutcheon returned to his alma mater for the annual Swayed Pines Festival. He particularly enjoyed emceeing the Senior category of the popular fiddle contest, and in the evening he packed the Warner Palaestra performing with such co-stars as John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Taj Majal and Richie Havens.
On May 20 McCutcheon returns once again to perform two evening concerts (7 and 9:30), capping off a day-long program that has been billed as a “Saint John’s Family Fun Day: Remembering Swayed Pines.”
With eight international music groups performing and a variety of other activities for people of all ages, this is to be the largest event in the 18-month celebration of Saint John’s 150th anniversary in Central Minnesota. “It is an opportunity for us to say ‘thank you’ to our neighbors,” said Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s Abbey.
Even before McCutcheon graduated summa cum laude from Saint John’s, this Wisconsin native literally “headed for the hills,” forgoing a college lecture hall for the classroom of the eastern Kentucky coal camps, union halls, country churches and square dance halls. (McCutcheon was finally awarded his “with honors degree”—several years late—on the Swayed Pines stage.) His apprenticeship to many of the legendary figures of Appalachian music imbedded a love of not only home-made music, but a sense of community and rootedness. The result is music...whether traditional or from his huge catalog of original songs...with the profound mark of place, family, and strength.
(McCutcheon remembers his youth as a shaky, lopsided battle between piano lessons and baseball. “I was a mediocre pianist and an all-star catcher,” he recalls. Thanks to a cheap mail-order guitar and a used book of chords he exchanged his baseball mitt for a career combining performance and ongoing research of folk music, especially in the hills and coal mining towns of Appalachia.)
Over the years McCutcheon emerged as one of America’s most respected and loved folksingers. As an instrumentalist, he is a master of a dozen traditional instruments including the rare and beautiful hammer dulcimer. His songwriting (including such staples as “Christmas in the Trenches”) has been hailed by critics and singers around the globe. His twenty-four recordings have garnered every imaginable honor, including five Grammy nominations.
Following his performance in Dallas the Dallas Morning News music critic wrote, “Calling John McCutcheon a ‘folksinger’ is like saying Deion Sanders is just a football player..,” and Johnny Cash said McCutcheon was “...the most impressive instrumentalist I ever heard.”
McCutcheon has appeared in concert halls, elementary school auditoriums, at farm rallies and with symphony orchestras, but he feels most at home in live performances. It is what has brought his music into the lives and homes of one of the broadest audiences any performer has ever enjoyed. People of every generation and background feel at home when McCutcheon takes the stage, with what critics describe as “little feats of magic,” and “a conversation with an illuminating old friend.”
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