John McCutcheon returning for Fiddle & Bow concert

Winston-Salem Journal’s Relish
By Lynn Felder Winston-Salem Journal.

Want to go?
What: SOLD OUT. The Fiddle & Bow Society presents John McCutcheon.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Muddy Creek Music Hall, 5455 Bethania Road
Cost: $20

John McCutcheon’s name may not be as familiar as Bob Dylan’s, but he has recorded the same number of albums — 38 — and some of his folk songs would give Dylan a run for his money.

He has received six Grammy nominations, and his song “Christmas In the Trenches” was named one of the 100 Essential Folk Songs.

McCutcheon, who was the first artist that the Fiddle & Bow Society presented in Winston-Salem, will be at Muddy Creek Music Hall on Friday to help celebrate the organization’s 35th anniversary year.


He thinks Dylan’s Nobel-prize win for literature is well-deserved.

“Oh, I think it’s fabulous,” McCutcheon said. “We’re talking literature. We’ve just been talking about the delivery-system for music, which has gone from live to wax cylinders to LPs to cassette tapes to CDs to digital.

“The delivery-system for literature has changed similarly. I can’t think of another songwriter who has given as many ideas to us. That’s a rare and precious thing. How often does it happen? I think Dylan is great. He’s as quirky as a lot of previous recipients.”

The last time McCutcheon was in Winston-Salem — in 2012 at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors — he had just released an album of songs by Woodie Guthrie, “This Land: Woodie Guthrie’s America.” He will have his latest CD, “Trolling for Dreams,” with him on Friday, even though the official release date is in 2017.

“’Trolling for Dreams’ was a line from one of the songs about old men by the riverside trolling for fish,” he said. “I’ve got a whole album of new songs that I’ve never played and new stories, but people largely come for what they’ve heard in the past. During intermission, I always encourage people to leave requests.”

McCutcheon, who is known as a multi-instrumentalist as well as a singer-songwriter, will be driving to Winston-Salem from his home in Georgia.

“I will have my usual arsenal of instruments,” he said. “And I can bring some stuff in the car that Delta (Air Lines) doesn’t usually let me carry.”

He’ll be bringing a hammered dulcimer, fiddle, baritone guitar and auto-harp, and Muddy Creek will provide an electric piano.

Sonny Thomas is a founder with Bill Stevens, and the current president of Fiddle & Bow.

“John is one of the most popular artists we’ve presented over the years. His concerts always sell out. He’s pretty much a sure thing. He’s one of the most popular musicians on the folk circuit.

“He’s very versatile. He plays so many different instruments, and his repertoire is varied, from fiddle tunes to original songs to traditional songs. He’s a very engaging performer. He’s one of those artists who has the whole package.”

So versatile that he’s even done musical theater. McCutcheon has toured the country in “Joe Hill’s Last Will,” a one-man show written by Si Kahn. The play is out on DVD. Kahn is a longtime civil-rights, labor and community organizer and musician. Joe Hill was a famous labor organizer who also wrote songs. He was convicted of murder, falsely, some think, and executed in 1915 at the age of 36.

That might be the best way for you to see McCutcheon. The Muddy Creek concert is sold out.

“We are selling only 100 tickets,” Thomas said. “Bill Heath (the owner at Muddy Creek) said he can get more people in, but we want to cut it off at a comfortable number.”

McCutcheon has played in Winston-Salem six or eight times, Thomas said. “He came back for the 25th anniversary in 2006.

“The one that means the most to us was that very first one (in 1981). We did it to see if there was any interest in bringing professional folk artists here, so that first one was the most significant.

A concert that was scheduled at Forsyth Country Day School in 2001 was cut short by the announcement of the attacks on Sept. 11.

McCutcheon has written three books, “Happy Adoption Day, “ based on one of his songs; “Christmas in the Trenches,” a fictional story about a true event that happened in WWII; and “Flowers for Sarajevo,” set for publication in 2017.

The latter is a picture book about a boy, Drasko, who discovers beauty and kindness during a time of war. Drasko helps his father sell flowers in Sarajevo, but when his father is called to war, Drasko takes over the flower stall. His familiar routine is shattered when a mortar shell hits a nearby bakery, killing 22. The next day, a cellist goes to the crater and plays music. A CD is included in which cellist Vedrun Smailovic performs the melody that he played in 1992 to honor those who died.

Songs of protest and calls for justice are the folksinger’s stock in trade, so McCutcheon had a few choice words about the election.

“By the time I get to Winston-Salem, our long national nightmare will be over,” he said. “On one hand, it’s God’s gift to songwriters.

“I think that the intriguing thing is: How do we become a United States again? Donald Trump is speaking to a portion of the population — and here comes a guy who has nothing in common with them — and they are willing to be lied to. When he says, we’re going to bring coal back, everybody knows that he’s lying. It’s been so long since there were jobs in coal, but when you’re a drowning person you will grab hold of anything that gives you hope.

“I’m not interested in being part of the shouting. I’m just interested in getting stuff done. …

“Unquestioning ideological purity is the sign of a weak mind. God gave us brains for a reason.”