John McCutcheon’s clear tenor voice, mastery of instruments — guitar, hammered dulcimer, fiddle, autoharp, banjo and piano — and talent for writing lasting songs have made him one of the most beloved folk musicians working today. McCutcheon makes his annual visit to Winters at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, at The Palms.
McCutcheon says that returning to The Palms and the handful of other venues he plays annually “keeps me on my toes” and that “it’s a project of developing new material, dusting off long-neglected stuff, and balancing the new with the nuggets in a way that keeps folks happy and returning.”
During the last 40-plus years, McCutcheon’s songs have reflected and then been incorporated into the nation’s heritage. Not one to be consigned to a narrow category, the subjects of McCutcheon’s original songs range from the poignant sweep of history (“Christmas in the Trenches”), to daily life (“Room At The Top of The Stairs,” “Kindergarten Wall”), to current events both outrageous (“Ashcroft’s Army”) and inspirationally hopeful songs of ordinary people transcending their situation (“Sara Tucholsky,” “Streets of Sarajevo”).
McCutcheon also has an ear for interpreting music, be it traditional Appalachian and Celtic tunes or more recent fare by his songwriting colleagues. McCutcheon’s success with the songs he selects to cover is such that people routinely refer to “Cut The Cake,” “Rubber Blubber Whale,” “The Great Storm Is Over,” and “Howjadoo” (by Tina Liza Jones, Si Kahn, Bob Franke, and Woody Guthrie respectively) as “John McCutcheon songs.”
The Palms is the only venue at which McCutcheon has performed every year since he started touring on the West Coast more than 30 years ago. “It’s turned into a family reunion of sorts,” says McCutcheon, “with so many familiar faces out there.”
McCutcheon will weave his musical and story-telling spell at The Palms Playhouse, 13 Main St. Tickets are $25 and are available at Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland, Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit palmsplayhouse.com or folkmusic.com.