Songwriter brings passion for folk music to Encinitas event


He’s been praised by the likes of Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger, and come March 21, singer-songwriter John McCutcheon takes his folk act to the San Dieguito United Methodist Church in Encinitas.

“The luxury of being a soloist is that I can take these short trips around the country whenever I want,” McCutcheon said from his home in Smoke Rise, Ga., which is just outside Atlanta. “Also, I’m able to keep my shows fresh. I can ad-lib and take requests, and that makes it more fun for the audience and more fun for me.”

McCutcheon should know how to keep it fresh. In his 43rd year as a professional singer-songwriter, he has navigated a changing music industry while retaining the same amount of passion he had when he was first starting out.

“When I get out of bed every morning, I can’t wait to do my job,” said McCutcheon, who besides performing folk is also an accomplished producer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and passionate consumer of music history. “Even though I’m on the verge of releasing my 37th album, I feel like I have never written, performed, or played better than I am now. I still feel like that 20-year-old college student.”

It was when McCutcheon was attending a small university in the Minnesota area that he asked his college adviser if he could go on a three-month sabbatical performing music. His advisor said yes, and those three months turned into an entire career.

“It was a three-month adventure to meet people who played the banjo as a way of life, not a hobby,” McCutcheon said. “I was blessed with the audacity of youth.”

His latest album, which isn’t officially released until May but will be on hand as an exclusive preview during his show in Encinitas, is meant to honor the late Joe Hill, who was one of the first satirical lyricists in music history.

“He wrote for an early 20th-century labor union,” McCutcheon said of the late folk singer, who died exactly 100 years ago this November. “Pete Seeger used to sing some of his songs, and I thought that since it’s been a century since he passed, someone should honor his memory.”

As a result, McCutcheon poured “hundreds of hours” into the production of an album that rerecorded Hill’s music for an entirely new audience. “Most people don’t know him at all, but working in music isn’t always about hitting the right notes,” McCutcheon said of keeping Hill’s legacy alive. “It’s more than that.”

McCutcheon is no stranger to performing in North County. For many years, he regularly appeared at the Old Time Cafe, a mecca for folk music formerly located in Leucadia, which closed in 1987. Since then, the organization San Diego Folk Heritage has continued holding folk shows in place of the legendary cafe.

“The core of the audience in San Diego knows me well,” McCutcheon said. “I’ve played for the same group of people for 30 years. The reward for traveling to San Diego, and around the country, is that you get to play music. “

McCutcheon will perform in Encinitas on March 21 at 7:30 p.m. San Dieguito United Methodist Church: 117 Calle Magdalena Encinitas, 92024. For more information, visit