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McCutcheon brings a little Appalachia to HR

John McCutcheon wasn’t supposed to become a folksinger. He was headed for a lucrative career as a social worker in migrant labor camps. But Woody Guthrie got their first.

He heard the songs of the Dust Bowl refugees, the Grapes of Wrath stories that crackled on the airwaves of the early 1960s radio and knew something was going on. From there, McCutcheon has blossomed into one of the premier folk artists in America.

Gorge Arts and CRFT members Kristen Dillon and Paul Blackburn will present 5-time Grammy Award nominee John McCutcheon in concert in Hood River on April 12.

The show will be held at Hood River Valley High School in the Bowe Theatre. Tickets are $12 at Waucoma Books or $15 at the door. Children’s tickets for ages 3-12 are $5.

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Raised in the Wisconsin, McCutcheon hitch-hiked the Appalachians armed with a backpack, a banjo, and a healthy measure of youthful curiosity.

In the process, he discovered a new home, both musically and geographically. Learning at the knees of some of the great traditional masters, McCutcheon mastered the banjo, guitar, fiddle, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, and jaw harp.

He became a knowledgeable and powerful singer of traditional material, with a wry wit and a ear for a good story.

But his real mastery was in his uncanny ability to see the meaning in the mundane, to lay out the horizons in one’s own backyard. “The Wendell Berry of folk music” is how one writer described him.

The praise for his songwriting — rich in detail and still broad in scope — has put him in the forefront of contemporary singer-songwriting. But his determined inclusion of traditional material in his performances is what truly sets him apart. Songwriting, storytelling, social activism all met and finally made sense with McCutcheon.

Critics reserve their most lavish praise for McCutcheon’s mastery of the hammer dulcimer, an instrument on which he is widely recognized as a world master.

He has pushed the boundaries of the instrument, exposing it to country, rock and jazz audiences.

His recent successes in showcasing the dulcimer in the symphonic settings have brought this ancient instrument — the inspiration for the invention of the piano — full circle back to classical audiences.

Equally at home in a recording studio, McCutcheon has recorded 26 albums, all meeting with both critical and popular acclaim.

His concert audiences join together professionals and factory hands, folk music veterans and novices, children and grandparents alike, who find his song and story, humor and pathos, contemporary and traditional, a very telling story of Americana.

“The pithy insight of Will Rogers, the understated delivery of Garrison Keillor, the song leading ability of Pete Seeger and the virtuosity of an orchestra,” has been said of McCutcheon.

Even Johnny Cash said McCutcheon was “the most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard.”

From his series of chance beginnings, trading a university classroom for the front porches, picket lines, union halls and churches of his adopted home in the Appalachians, McCutcheon has become what many would say ‘the most overwhelming folk performer in the English language.”

For more information on the Hood River show, call 387-4011.

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