John McCutcheon has spent his life sharing poetry that tells stories and singing original folk melodies.
And on Saturday, the Sautee Nacoochee Center will welcome McCutcheon and his hammered dulcimer to the Evening Star Series stage.
McCutcheon has recorded 31 albums and has had six Grammy nominations, along with multiple Parent's Choice and American Library Association awards.
We caught up with McCutcheon on his way back from Nashville, Tenn., to talk about his upcoming local performance, his love for Appalachian music and what he loves about his hammered dulcimer.
Question: What do you have planned for your performance this weekend at the Sautee Nacoochee Center?
Answer: I have no idea. One of the treats about being a soloist is that you can just stand up there and look out and see who's there and say, "OK, this is where we are going to go tonight." I have a new album ("Untold") out, so I suspect I will be doing some things from that, but in this line of work by the time you have a new album you've already been doing those songs for a while and you have even newer stuff that you are excited about doing.
Q: Who did you apprentice with while studying Appalachian music?
A: It was never an apprenticeship in the craft sense of the word. I was a young, ignorant 19-year-old who loved traditional mountain music and would seek out people who played it. What I only realize now is that I would pester these people into playing with me. Luckily they were as generous and as patient as they were talented ... I became the beneficiary of these peoples' needs and dreams of teaching young people their skills. I had the best teachers in the world.
Q: How did you get into playing the hammered dulcimer and what does it add to your music?
A: Well the hammered dulcimer I started playing in 1973 or 1974. A friend of mine built one and her only goal was to build one but had no interest in playing it, so she gave it to me. It is a stringed instrument but it is like a stringed drum in that you beat the strings with mallets and there is no other Southern instrument that you do that with; it is all plucked or bowed. Sound-wise it is unlike anything else I played - it is a mesmerizing sound. What it adds, it is a different sound and it gives you different possibilities. It is so unusual that I'm kind of like the left-handed tuba player.
Q: What other instruments will you play on Saturday?
A: I will arrive with my normal arsenal of fiddle, banjo, guitar, autoharp, hammered dulcimer. They will have a piano there for me and I might even play various body parts.
Q: Some of your songs are quite political. When did you turn your music into a statement, or has it always been that way?
A: Every song you write has an opinion about something. If your music isn't going to say anything, make it an instrumental - that is the power of words. I write love songs, kids songs, musings on the day's news and sometimes I think things are humorous, sometimes I think things are outrageous. I learned a long time ago that music does things. ... (It) is an opportunity to speak in ways that often we don't allow ourselves to speak in normal conversation.