‘Rustic Renaissance Man’ to perform on Fripp

By Margit Resch

“Calling John McCutcheon a ‘folk singer’ is like saying Deion Sanders is just a football player.” 

To really appreciate this compliment by the Dallas Morning News, you should ask a football fan about “Neon” Deion’s many varied accomplishments, and you should come to Fripp Island on March 24 to let McCutcheon, folk music’s “Rustic Renaissance Man,” dazzle you with his many talents, from writing songs, singing, and playing a dozen instruments to telling stories. Yes, McCutcheon is an accomplished storyteller, too, working with literary giants like fiction writers Barbara Kingsolver and Lee Smith and poet Rita Dove on a “written-word-put-to-music” project, but his claim to fame is primarily as a musician. 

As a youngster in Wisconsin, McCutcheon says he fought a lopsided battle between being a mediocre pianist and an all-star catcher until he “found his voice” thanks to a cheap, mail-order guitar and a used book of chords. And he never looked back, not even after graduating summa cum laude from Minnesota’s St. John’s University. He continued on his path to becoming “one of the best musicians in the USA,” according to Pete Seeger — a friend who should know. Johnny Cash chimed in with this assessment: “The most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard.” An impressive instrumentalist, indeed, McCutcheon plays a dozen different instruments and is the master of the rare hammered dulcimer, the autoharp, and the jaw harp, as well as the guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, and fiddle. 

Aside from playing some of these instruments, McCutcheon might perform material by Seeger and Woody Guthrie, from whom, by the way, he professed to have received the best advice ever: “Take it easy, but take it.” And, of course, he will sing songs of his own making, and he has created hundreds, most of them recorded on 40 albums released since the 1970s, yielding seven Grammy nominations. 

McCutcheon will perform at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, at the Fripp Community Centre, 205 Tarpon Boulevard. The concert is sponsored by Fripp Island Friends of Music and supported by the SC Arts Commission. Attendees get a free pass at the Fripp gate. Tickets at the door only: adults $30 (cash or check), students free thanks to the Peg Gorham Memorial Fund. You are invited to join John at a complimentary catered reception after the performance. For more information, visit www.frippfriendsofmusic.com or call 843-812-2753. 

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