Returning to the stage … John McCutcheon in Grass Valley |

Returning to the stage … John McCutcheon in Grass Valley

Submitted to Prospector
John McCutcheon just finished his 39th album "Ghost Light." As the Washington Post proclaimed, "He has an uncanny ability to breathe new life into the familiar. His storytelling has the richness of fine literature." His new ablum, "Ghost Light," is a product of that evolution.
Photo by Irene Young |


WHO: Strings Concerts presents

WHAT: John McCutcheon — Annual KVMR Fundraiser

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Don Baggett Theater at Nevada Union High School, 11645 Ridge Rd., Grass Valley

TICKETS: $20 - $35 reserved seating

Tickets are available at BriarPatch Coop — 530-272-5333

Tickets online at


Globally respected and much-loved folksinger, John McCutcheon performs at the Don Baggett Theater at Nevada Union High School for his annual KVMR Community Radio fundraiser presented by Strings Concerts on Friday, Jan. 12.

McCutcheon has made a point of stopping in Nevada County for more than 20 years as part of his West coast tour.

“Community radio in general and KVMR in particular are increasingly important media outlets,” McCutcheon said. “It’s always a pleasure to visit my Nevada County friends and help support something as special as KVMR.”

McCutcheon met and befriended the late Utah Phillips in the 1970s forming a 30-year connection with Nevada City. Soon after, he was offered his first gig for KVMR as part of the NightLive! Series held at the Miners Foundry.

As an instrumentalist, McCutcheon is a master of a dozen different traditional instruments, most notably the hammer dulcimer. His thirty recordings have garnered every imaginable honor including seven Grammy nominations.

As a producer, McCutcheon has produced over twenty albums for other artists, from traditional fiddlers to contemporary singer-songwriters to educational and documentary works.

McCutcheon’s books and instructional materials have introduced budding players to the joys of their own musicality. With a commitment to grassroots political organizations, McCutcheon has been on the front lines of many issues important to communities and workers.

‘Ghost Light’

McCutcheon didn’t mean to record “Ghost Light,” his 39th album.

“It was a complete accident,” he said. “I sat down over Memorial Day weekend and suddenly a line pestered me, ‘Billy didn’t come home last night.’ I thought, ‘Okay, so who’s Billy? Where’s home? What happened to him?’ And it was off to the races. 25 days and 30 new songs later, what was I supposed to do?”

And as has happened so often in his 45 year career, those races brought McCutcheon a collection of stories that are real, seductive and unexpected.

A young man doesn’t come home. An old man faces the future in a bank. A baby dances. A small town celebrates a local hero. No scene is too small, no idea too big for McCutcheon.

Wrapped in his distinctive Appalachian-rooted sound, he still manages to stretch out his musical wings.

Whether highlighting his bluegrass credentials with the Woody Guthrie-McCutcheon penned “When My Fight for Life Is Over,” the rocking insistence of “Big Day,” or the chamber-folk delicacy of the title track, the musicianship is stellar (including appearances by fiddler Stuart Duncan and vocalists Kathy Mattea and Tim O’Brien), the production pristine, and the songwriting both spare and muscular.

Indeed, it is the storytelling of these songs that propel “Ghost Light.”

“Me and Jesus,” muses about those biblically lost years we’ve always wondered about … with an added twist. “Story of Abe,” is the heart-wrenching tale of a man surprisingly shedding a reminder of his past. And even when tackling contemporary events, he tells the story of Charlottesville through the eyes of a World War II veteran in the stunning “The Machine.”

Coming on the heels of “Trolling for Dreams,” the best-reviewed recording of his long career, one would expect a less fully-formed effort than “Ghost Light,” especially given its surprising gestation.

But expecting the unexpected has been a hallmark of McCutcheon’s releases. His Grammy-nominated children’s music helped redefine and reshape that field. His pioneering work as a hammer dulcimer virtuoso led the instrument’s revival.

Likewise, his involvement in the storytelling world has ineffably shaped his songwriting. As the Washington Post proclaimed, “He has an uncanny ability to breathe new life into the familiar. His storytelling has the richness of fine literature.”

“Ghost Light” is a product of that evolution, classic John McCutcheon.

“The most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard.” — Johnny Cash

“He has an uncanny ability to breathe new life into the familiar. His storytelling has the richness of fine literature.” — Washington Post

“Calling John McCutcheon a ‘folksinger’ is like saying Deion Sanders is just a football player.” — Dallas Morning News

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