Playing music, creating community: John McCutcheon celebrates Pete Seeger centennial album with two shows at The Palms on Sunday, Jan. 20

Folk singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John McCutcheon is celebrated for his warm voice, instrumental prowess, song selection and ability to connect with audiences.
Folk singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John McCutcheon will bring his new album of Pete Seeger’s music to The Palms Playhouse in Winters for two shows on Sunday, Jan. 20. Tickets are $25 general admission ($21 with student ID). (Irene Young/courtesy photo)

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The Palms Playhouse on Sunday, Jan. 20. Tickets for the 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. concerts are $25 ($21 student admission). McCutcheon described Seeger, who was born a century ago, as “the North Star of the American folk music revival,” adding that “his activism holds special meaning at this time in our nation’s history.” “I met Pete early on in my work life,” he said. “He was immediately interested in me and treated me like a peer, despite the fact that he was my elder in every imaginable way.” They performed together numerous times. “And, yes, I became friends with both Pete and his amazing wife, Toshi,” said McCutcheon. “My friendship with them absolutely informed how I approached this project. ‘The Spider’s Web,’ for instance, is an homage to Toshi.” How did McCutcheon decide which songs to include? “Almost all the songs I chose are songs I fell in love with as a teenager,” he said. “In fact, ‘The Spider’s Web’ is the only one I learned as an adult. “I didn’t intend this to be a definitive survey of Pete’s music. I’ll leave that to the scholars. I just wanted to give a good representation of his work (kids’ songs, topical stuff, anthemic songs, songs in different languages). “These are all songs I love. That was the bottom line.” “Each of the songs have a point and fit into (Seeger’s) larger vision of creating music that moves people and creates a sense of community,” said McCutcheon. “It’s one of the great lessons he taught me and it’s how I approach my own music and choice of songs.” The songs range from acoustic folk to a sultry jazz version of “Letter to Eve.” “I felt a lot of freedom in approaching the arrangements,” McCutcheon said. “Pete was always interested in new approaches to folk music. His reference to talking blues as an early version of rap music influenced the way I arranged ‘Talking Union’ with Corey Harris.” Harris isn’t the only featured guest. “All the musicians I included are old friends of mine,” said McCutcheon, “most of whom I’ve recorded with. When I wanted to do ‘Well May the World Go’ as a bluegrass song, Hot Rize was the obvious choice. Likewise with BeauSoleil in doing “If I Had a Hammer” as a Cajun song. Other guests include singer Suzy Bogguss, fiddler Stuart Duncan and young Americana band The Steel Wheels. In a biography of Pete Seeger, McCutcheon is quoted as saying the “most striking” aspect of Seeger’s live “We Shall Overcome” album “was that here was this whole audience that surrendered to this experience.” A similar sense of concert community is a hallmark of McCutcheon’s own shows. Is that in emulation of Seeger? “Pete was a teacher to all of us,” McCutcheon replied. “He showed us that concerts can and should be more than a guy simply showing off on stage. A concert as a transformative, community-building event? Pete taught us how it could be. It’s something I do for me as much as for the audience. I’d much rather have the listener be moved than be impressed.” McCutcheon has played at The Palms once or twice a year since 1982. Because his shows usually sell out in advance, he’ll play matinee and evening concerts this year. Although the shows will be different – he doesn’t use setlists, and takes requests at intermission – McCutcheon’s confident both concerts will include songs from the new album. Tickets are available at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Davids’ Broken Note in Woodland, online via The Palms’ website and Eventbrite, and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit and]]>

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