You could say that singer-songwriter John McCutcheon’s last album, “Trolling for Dreams,” was the product of a poorly read CT scan.
His conversation with his doctor went something like this:
Doctor: You have cancer.
McCutcheon: Don’t you have to do a biopsy to make sure?
Doctor: We’re going to do a biopsy, but trust me, I’ve seen this a hundred times. You have cancer.
McCutcheon didn’t have cancer.
What McCutcheon did have was a serious lung infection. So it was during his three months of home confinement that McCutcheon began combing through a musical file filled with songs in various states of incompletion. And thus was born “Trolling for Dreams,” his 38th album.
Fans will get to hear many of those new songs when McCutcheon performs Sunday at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.
McCutcheon has been recording and performing songs for more than forty years. A multiple Grammy award nominee, McCutcheon continues to write and create music long after the creative impulse of most musicians has faded. The late Johnny Cash once called him, “the most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard.”
McCutcheon was a music student at St. John’s University when he convinced his professors to allow him to pursue an unusual independent study program. For three months, he traveled around Appalachia learning how to play the banjo. The move established a life-long pattern. When McCutcheon pursued something, he went off the deep end.
“I still feel like that 20-year-old kid who went off on that adventure,” he said. “I still have that kind of energy.”
McCutcheon was also a student when Garrison Keillor was starting his variety-style “Prairie Home Companion” show from St. John’s auditorium. McCutcheon played in one of his early broadcasts. On the show’s 35th anniversary, Keillor flew him out to perform at Lake Woebegone Park for the anniversary show.
McCutcheon attributes his longevity to a receptivity to songs and narratives that lurk just beneath the surface of daily life. One of his albums was devoted entirely to baseball. From his vantage point, the world teems with potential songs.
“The world is full of great stories, and people like those stories,” McCutcheon said. “In some ways, you’re performing a rescue operation on a good story, snatching it from the inevitable death of the 24-hour news cycle and turning it into something that you can sing every night.”
McCutcheon said most of the venues he performs at are larger than Crossings. But what he likes about Crossings is the chance to play at the old converted Carnegie library. Plus, he loves the name Zumbrota, Minnesota. How many times do you get to play in a city where the name of city rhymes with that of the state.
“I just love saying, ‘I play in Zumbrota, Minnesota,” McCutcheon says with a poetic lilt to his voice.
He is also a big fan of Crossings owner Marie Marvin. “Marie is such a great soul, and I love supporting her work,” he said.
“I’m going to have a ton of new music,” he added. “It’s maybe my most favorite album that I’ve ever done.”