Joe Hill's Last Will
Thursday November 19, 2015 7:00 pm
Six-time Grammy nominee John McCutcheon performs “Joe Hill’s Last Will,” an inspiring one-man play about the famed labor activist’s life and death.
The scene is a cell in the Utah State Prison at 4:00 in the morning, 100 years ago. Joe Hill, American Labor’s most iconic songwriter is awaiting execution at dawn and he’s got a story to tell. Joe Hill was an immigrant to the United States who, like so many others, worked at a variety of trades, trying to make his way in his new country. But like no other, he was a musician, a writer, a man of wit and insight, who knew how to craft songs that informed, inspired, and inflamed.
Songwriter and labor historian, Si Kahn, created the play based largely on Hill’s own words and using all of Hill’s music. And in the hands of multi-Grammy nominee and folk music legend, John McCutcheon, rarely have they had such expert treatment. McCutcheon’s tour-de-force acting, his rich voice, and stellar instrumental skills present Joe Hill and his music as never before. The story takes the issues of labor, immigration, workers’ rights, the death penalty, and war from the annals of 1915 to the headlines of 2015.
Doors 6 pm | Show 7 pm
Joe Hill's Last Will
“Joe Hill’s Last Will — A Must-See! The words and music of iconic labor activist/songwriter Joe Hill come to life in a new production of Hill’s final day in prison, before his untimely execution by Utah authorities at the turn of the last century. John McCutcheon’s performance as Hill is absolutely riveting and playwright Si Kahn has done a masterful job weaving the words of Hill with his songs. Joe Hill is now a mostly forgotten figure today, but his activist spirit lives on and his songs served to inspire generations that followed. Joe Hill’s Last Will succeeds in keeping his memory alive for future generations to come — highly recommended!” — KALW
No one remembers when the neighbors started calling the McCutcheons to complain about the loud singing from young John's bedroom. It didn't seem to do much good, though. For, after a shaky, lopsided battle between piano lessons and baseball (he was a mediocre pianist and an all-star catcher), he had "found his voice" thanks to a cheap mail-order guitar and a used book of chords.
From such inauspicious beginnings, John McCutcheon has emerged as one of our most respected and loved folksingers. As an instrumentalist, he is a master of a dozen different traditional instruments, most notably the rare and beautiful hammer dulcimer. His songwriting has been hailed by critics and singers around the globe. His thirty recordings have garnered every imaginable honor including seven Grammy nominations. He has produced over twenty albums of other artists, from traditional fiddlers to contemporary singer-songwriters to educational and documentary works. His books and instructional materials have introduced budding players to the joys of their own musicality. And his commitment to grassroots political organizations has put him on the front lines of many of the issues important to communities and workers.
Even before graduating summa cum laude from Minnesota's St. John's University, this Wisconsin native literally "headed for the hills," forgoing a college lecture hall for the classroom of the eastern Kentucky coal camps, union halls, country churches, and square dance halls. His apprenticeship to many of the legendary figures of Appalachian music imbedded a love of not only home-made music, but a sense of community and rootedness. The result is music...whether traditional or from his huge catalog of original songs...with the profound mark of place, family, and strength. It also created a storytelling style that has been compared to Will Rogers and Garrison Keillor.
The Washington Post described John as folk music's "Rustic Renaissance Man," a moniker flawed only by its understatement. "Calling John McCutcheon a 'folksinger' is like saying Deion Sanders is just a football player..." (Dallas Morning News). Besides his usual circuit of major concert halls and theaters, John is equally at home in an elementary school auditorium, a festival stage or at a farm rally. He is a whirlwind of energy packing five lifetimes into one. In the past few years alone he has headlined over a dozen different festivals in North America (including repeated performances at the National Storytelling Festival), recorded an original composition for Virginia Public Television involving over 500 musicians, toured Australia for the sixth time, toured Chile in support of a women's health initiative, appeared in a Woody Guthrie tribute concert in New York City, gave a featured concert at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, taught performance art skills at a North Carolina college, given symphony pops concerts across America, served as President of the fastest-growing Local in the Musicians Union and performed a special concert at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This is all in his "spare time." His "real job," he's quick to point out, is father to two grown sons.
But it is in live performance that John feels most at home. It is what has brought his music into the lives and homes of one of the broadest audiences any folk musician has ever enjoyed. People of every generation and background seem to feel at home in a concert hall when John McCutcheon takes the stage, with what critics describe as "little feats of magic," "breathtaking in their ease and grace...," and "like a conversation with an illuminating old friend."
Whether in print, on record, or on stage, few people communicate with the versatility, charm, wit or pure talent of John McCutcheon.