Every few weeks a stately Irish fella named Charles McCutcheon, along with his distinguished wife, Alicia, make their way from California to Charlotte where they spend countless hours meeting with local cultural and tourism officials hoping one day to make their vision of breaking ground on the Folk Music Hall of Fame Museum and Media Center a reality.
No, that's not a misprint, you read that correctly -- the Folk Music Hall of Fame Museum and Media Center. Presently, there's no such facility anywhere else in the world and if the McCutcheons have their way, they'll make it happen right here in the Queen City.
Surprisingly neither Charles nor Alicia has previous ties to Charlotte. Charles spent much of the 1970s working in London for Warner Bros. Records and different public relations firms where he represented such artists as Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, The Four Tops and Bob Geldolf. Alicia is from the U.S. and has spent time living in "Music City" Nashville and California and yet neither of them express any reservations whatsoever about making Charlotte home to this beloved endeavor of theirs.
"In many respects there were a number of cities that we talked about," Charles explains in an exclusive interview with Creative Loafing. "There was Boston, New Port [Rhode Island] and in North Carolina [in addition to Charlotte] we looked at Raleigh/Durham and Asheville."
He continues, "We knew it had to be on the East Coast and in Appalachia, because when the European immigrants came across they fanned out from Ellis Island and basically reformed their homelands in the Appalachian Mountains initially, and a lot of the music that became American Folk Music came from this area."
"We also wanted it to be in a city that has a relevance to history. And quite frankly, a nice English Queen's name attached to it," he adds with a hint of laughter.
In the end, Charlotte's accessibility gave it the edge over the other cities under consideration. "If relevance was the only important thing, we'd have it in New Port, Rhode Island," Alicia opines. "But it has to also be a great location and be easy to get in and out of and Charlotte has that. We really like the fact that Charlotte has so many wonderful gateways from all over the United States as well internationally. It's a great location for anyone throughout the world to get to."
The McCutcheons were also enticed by our city's infrastructure and growth. "You've got lovely hotels," Alicia affirms. "Your city is growing by leaps and bounds. The infrastructure of the city is very impressive and we liked the people of Charlotte, too. They're very warm and open, and easy to work with."
Once the McCutcheons were convinced that Charlotte was the best suited location for their project, they began meeting with representatives from the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the Charlotte Chamber and the Arts & Science Council for guidance. They also secured the locally based marketing and advertising agency Wray Ward because as you'll see, there's more to this than just a building ... a lot more, in fact.
The McCutcheons are also planning to make Charlotte home to the annual Folk Music Hall of Fame Awards Show, an induction ceremony with a live music component that celebrates the artists, composers and leaders who have contributed to the development and continued popularity of folk music.
That's right, we just stated that folk music still might be considered popular and if you were to spend just one minute with this couple you would be easily convinced.
"The folk music movement worldwide encompasses many colors of the musical kaleidoscope," Charles says. "You can really make a case for almost every form of music to have its folk element." And he's not just talking about your parents' folk music of yesteryear either.
"There's a whole broad dimension to folk music that people don't get," he insists. Just think about it. If you were to try and name artists who might define the genre you'd probably think of The Spinners, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger or Joan Baez. But according to Charles, folk music is much, much broader.
"Celtic music is folk music," he says. "Reggae music is folk music." He continues, "Robert Plant has said 'Stairway to Heaven' started out as an acoustic folk song ... so there really is a case to be made for virtually every artists I've ever met -- if only for the fact that they sat in their bedrooms strumming 6-string guitars when they were playing whatever songs they could learn at the beginning of their careers."
In addition to an annual Awards Show, the McCutcheons plan to produce a documentary special and subsequent PBS Pledge Special -- something Charles has many years of experience doing. They also hope this will lead into a concert tour similar to one of their more recent projects, The Outlaw Trail.
Just as that project, the show and tour would include newer artists as well as some of the traditional names associated with folk music.
"On the show that we've got, you're going to have a broad spectrum. We'll be courtesy and gracious to the legends but we also want to get across to people that the neo-folk scene that exists today is as relevant and as powerful as the folk scene of the '60s," Charles says.
"We're trying to break the popular imagery of folk music, which is right in certain aspects but also wrong on many levels," he continues. "And indeed the show that we're creating isn't going to be a few lovely songs about leaving on a jet plane. It's going to be a kicking show -- much like the show we did in Austin.
"A lot of people thought when we were doing an Outlaw music show it was going to be a country music show ... but it is a rock 'n' roll show. And that's what we always want to create. We want to surprise people and delight them with new artists."
Currently the McCutcheons, along with their executive committee members Preston Sullivan, a longtime producer and Ramona Simmons, a key player in the launch of Arista Records in Nashville, are planning a formal announcement of their plans in Charlotte in early December. CL will be there to continue to report on this developing story.