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Folkie John McCutcheon creates musical pictures of life's little moments.

Little Snapshots


Charlottesville musician John McCutcheon credits a healthy dose of "hormones and headlines" during his teen years in mid-'60s Wisconsin for turning his life around and putting him on the folk music path. The era's civil-rights marches and status-quo defying music proved to be a perfect match for McCutcheon's youthful spirit. Protests were turning the "idea of power and righteousness on its head," and, like others during those times, McCutcheon began to think he could change America through his own music.

Now some 25 CDs and many years of worldwide touring later, multi-instrumentalist McCutcheon has not lost any of his humor, his sense of community, or his trust in music as an expression of man's hopes and dreams. He'll bring his unique performing style to Richmond on Tuesday for the 18th Old Fashioned 4th of July Celebration in Glen Allen.

Raised by a social-worker mom and a traveling-salesman dad, McCutcheon was reared with a belief in social equality and a notion of the open road. Like many, he started out playing rock 'n' roll when he first picked up the guitar. But Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger caught his ear, and at 15 he was writing "earnest, sophomoric and terrible" songs and playing folk tunes on his Sears and Roebuck Silvertone six-string.

When college called, McCutcheon headed off to St. Johns University in Minnesota where he found an atmosphere that encouraged his folk interests. He took up the banjo, joined alternative-learning groups and soaked up American mountain music. Eager to get to the source, McCutcheon made a break around 1972 and hitchhiked south to the Appalachian Mountains to hear the music first-hand. What he found surprised him.

"I thought I was going to learn how to play the instruments," he says. "But I discovered the place of music and storytelling. I felt I had a job to do."

McCutcheon has pursued this job since. He's become a world-class hammer dulcimer player and has also solved the mysteries of guitar, fiddle, piano and banjo, among other instruments. His songwriting addresses a nearly unending number of topics, from kids' daydreams to life in a small town to social injustices past and present.

His most recent CD, 1999's "Storied Ground," tells little tales of events large and small, and McCutcheon sees equal importance in both. He portrays those such as Rosa Parks who do "small things greatly" on par with those fate picks for fame for much lesser reasons.

McCutcheon's music celebrates a spirit that's born of fairness and individual worth. He says other folks can write about their busted love affairs; he prefers to write about "things I've heard." With his "little snapshot" songs, McCutcheon sings of greatness in the commonplace.

"Those little moments … those are the kinds of things I find interesting," he says. "The little things that make a difference."

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