What Work Can Be — 100 Days A Year On The
"In my line of work," says singer, musician and
songwriter John McCutcheon, "I go onstage and get
appreciation every five minutes. Not many jobs offer this
kind of constant affirmation. The difficult part with my
family was realizing that that wasn't going to
Balancing a life of performance, travel,
creativity and celebrity with marriage and family is no
small challenge. In his 30-year career, McCutcheon has
released 24 recordings and earned five Grammy
nominations. But he's worked equally hard to keep his
He lives in Charlottesville, Va., rather than
Nashville or Los Angeles. "I purposely live in a place
focused on what's best for my family." There he
cultivates an identity "more focused on my family than on
my celebrity. I'm Will or Peter's dad, or I'm Parthy's
Flying into Alaska in 1993, McCutcheon was
surprised to recognize landmarks after a six-year
absence. "It occurred to me how quickly those six years
had gone, and simultaneously that six years from now my
oldest son would be gone. I landed, got my bags, called
my agent and said, 'Right now, 20 percent of my gigs are
gone.'" A year later he settled on a formula: 100 days of
travel and performing, 265 days at home.
McCutcheon balances work and life by following the
same daily routines: "I try to maintain some semblance of
normality when I'm on the road. If I get up in the
morning and go to the gym, that's what I do on the road.
If I go to some house of worship on Sunday morning when
I'm home, that's what I do on the road."
But traveling and performing are stressful, he
says. "Everything is focused on getting to the venue and
the preparation." He stays in touch with family via
e-mail and instant messages. "I'll check the weather in
Charlottesville and the local paper's online site for
news and headlines and sports scores."
Back home he's often immersed in mundane
activities: gardening, teaching songwriting, driving to
the orthodontist and volunteering.
He also runs Appleseed Productions from an office
in his home. A lifelong activist on issues of justice and
labor (he's president of Local 1000 of the American
Federation of Musicians), McCutcheon employs five others
whom he calls his "co-workers." Balancing life and work,
he says, is about "attitudes and how you relate to the
people you work with. It's not just a cornucopia of
programs and benefits."
The foundation for balance in McCutcheon's life is
his 22-year marriage. "It's been easier for me than most
people," he says, "because I've had a very vocal and
opinionated spouse. She is more than willing to say
exactly what she needs and wants." He thinks he's got it
right: "When you come home at the end of the day, at the
end of a tour, at the end of your life, this is the
audience that is most important."
McCutcheon's balance is there in his music, from
instrumentals on fiddle, guitar and hammered dulcimer to
original ballads and children's tunes. "My kids have
grown up knowing that dad loves his job," he says
proudly, "and that you can make a difference in people's
lives. That's what work can be."
August 2000 NFC