Neil Woodward looks, sings, and plays like someone straight out of the 1870s. A natural-born storyteller, he’s culled a portion of his extensive repertoire from old books, sheet music, and the musical memories of people he’s encountered, but an equally important part of it comes from somewhere deep within. He expertly plays guitar, banjo, and fiddle, as well as autoharp, bass, bells, accordion, concertina, dulcimer, harmonica, mandocello, mandola, mandolin, pennywhistle, spoons, ukulele, and washboard. He sings with an appealing, wizened voice.
Woodward has performed everywhere from schoolhouses, pit orchestras, and concert stages to the courtroom where Abe Lincoln first practiced law. He’s likely the only person to have played a Jew’s harp solo at Lincoln Center, a feat he accomplished as part of the original cast of Woody Guthrie’s American Song. He’s released eight CDs. Neil is held in such high regard in his home state that the legislature passed a resolution officially declaring him “Michigan’s Troubadour.” On October 15, 2010, I met Neil at his spacious log home past the outskirts of Howell, Michigan, where we had the following conversation. Continue reading