Folk music man

World-traveling musician presents concert of new and traditional songs

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008

Folksinger John McCutcheon loves Alaska. The Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist has traveled and performed throughout the state countless times and keeps coming back.

Irene Young / Courtesy Of Music Tree Artist Management
Irene Young / Courtesy Of Music Tree Artist Management

"There's no place like this in the United States. The natural beauty is certainly one thing, but a certain kind of person is attracted to Alaska and I just like those people. I feel comfortable around them," McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon will be performing a concert of traditional and new folk songs on June 24 at Northern Light United Church, including some songs inspired by Alaska. The event is sponsored by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Over the past 25 years McCutcheon has performed in fishing villages, cities and wild places throughout Alaska, and has written a half-dozen songs inspired by his experiences here.

"The Silver Run" is about the last coho salmon run of the season. "Each Season It's the Same" came about after a conversation on a Ketchikan bridge with an older man about the king salmon runs. "Black Gold" reflects on the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound.

McCutcheon grew up in Wisconsin but left soon after he finished college, back in the 1960s, to head for the Appalachian Mountains. He met up with and studied with two prominent folk musicians, banjo player Roscoe Holcomb and fiddler Tommy Hunter. He also spent time in Kentucky coal camps and union halls, where he developed an awareness of and passion for community.

He now travels worldwide performing traditional American music, with many of his own compositions thrown in, many of which have politically- and socially-conscious messages.

"I have an unusual job in that I'm kind of a migratory worker and I get to go around the country and see what kind of work people are doing in their communities," McCutcheon said. "Everyday I go from community to community and see great little organizations, and sometimes big organizations, really helping create and support and preserve communities."

The organization sponsoring McCutcheon's Juneau's show has a similar passion. The 15-member group represented in 13 Southeast Alaska communities from Ketchikan to Yakutat works on both economic and environmental issues affecting the region.

"We work to energize communities and get them informed about what's going on in the surrounding areas," said Jessi Schott, an intern working for SEACC. "We're trying to work on collaborative approaches to different issues that come up in the Tongass ... We like to make sure everyone's getting a say."

SEACC works with commercial and sport fishermen, Alaska Natives, tourism and recreation business owners, small-scale high-value-added wood product manufacturers, hunters, guides and others to protect fish and wildlife habitat and reduce destructive uses of the Tongass National Forest, according to its Web site.

Schott said McCutcheon and SEACC make a good marriage because they share an interest in building healthy communities.

McCutcheon said his concert is a way to bring the community together and have a good time.

"It's a party, it's fun and at the same time it supports the work of a great organization that is working to keep Southeast Alaska wild and beautiful and productive," McCutcheon said.

"It's just my small part of helping the communities that are kind enough to host me."

• Teri Tibbett is a writer living in Juneau. She can be reached at

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