Folk artist visits Englert


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Six Grammy nominations, 35 albums, and more than 40 years of making music are just some of the impressive figures in folksinger John McCutcheon’s musical life.

Coupled with a variety of instrumental abilities, the socially and politically conscious McCutcheon has grounded himself in a genre distinguished by natural storytelling woven into the melodies.

“The amazing thing about folk music is that it’s the root of the world’s music,” McCutcheon said. “I can’t think of something that is so dynamic and is so universal and linked to the heart of a culture in the way that folk music is.”

McCutcheon will make a stop in Iowa City 8 p.m. Saturday at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., to promote his newest album, Passage.

He is one of several nationally acclaimed musicians welcomed by a fan base that makes up a large part of the local folk community. The Englert has served as a venue for icons in the folk genre, with influential figures such as Joan Baez and Jeff Tweedy performing sold-out shows this past year.

“Iowa City is, generally speaking, very receptive to folk music,” said Nathan Gould, an Englert marketing associate. “There’s always been a really strong fan base for quality folk music.”

To better understand the audience, customization is key for the musician. McCutcheon said he makes sure to acquaint himself with the town and the venue that he’s set to play in to better connect with the audience during a performance.

“I want it to be a cool night,” he said. “I want to have fun. I want Iowa City to be memorable.”

And, Gould said, McCutcheon’s talent is not only in his ability as a folk artist but as a high-level instrumentalist.

“He plays a lot of rare instruments in his show,” Gould said. “That makes him stand out, and it makes him more exciting.”

McCutcheon, playing a variety of the more obscure instruments, transcends the typical assumptions of a musician. Though he can play the guitar, fiddle and banjo, the folksinger also knows how to play the autoharp, jaw harp, and the hammer dulcimer.

“He plays so many instruments, and that kind of surprises people,” said Mark Noonan, McCutcheon’s road manager. “It’s always really kind of an exceptional experience, and we’re received with a warm welcome.”

The artist targets a variety of audiences along with his varied talents. After finding most children’s music to be subpar to standard music, he released the 1983 album Howjadoo. Yet he is also inspired by works of literature and poetry. His 2006 album, Mightier Than the Sword, featured collaborations with authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Wendell Berry, and Rita Dove.

“As a songwriter, you’ve listened, you’ve learned, and then you give it back to the people who inspired the song, and they recognize themselves in the song,” McCutcheon said, “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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