Once called the “finest folk troubadour of our time,” John McCutcheon is returning to the Sebastiani Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 8. Throughout his 30-plus-year career, McCutcheon has built a bridge across generations with his all-ages shows. He has appeared with Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Johnny Cash, who once called McCutcheon “the most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard.”

During performances, McCutcheon switches from banjo, to guitar, jaw harp, fiddle, auto harp and piano. He is also recognized as a master of the hammer dulcimer, America’s only traditional mallet instrument. Placing the many instruments he introduces within their ethnic framework, he says, teaches the audience to make music themselves, as he weaves tales as modern fables, rich in history and universal scope.

The lifelong interest in music of this Wisconsin-born, Blue Ridge Mountain-based folk music lover was sparked in part, he says, by the civil rights movement. McCutcheon says he heard the songs of the Dust Bowl refugees – “The Grapes of Wrath” stories that cracked on the airwaves of the early 1960s radio – and “knew something else was going on.”

While still a college student, the oldest of a large Irish Catholic family, McCutcheon took up the banjo and, under the tutelage of some of the greats of traditional Southern music, mastered seven different instruments, became an insightful and powerful singer of traditional songs, and honed an ear for a good story. He says songwriting, storytelling and social activism all met and finally made sense.

McCutcheon has recorded with Paul Simon and Mary Chapin Carpenter and made numerous appearances on National Public Radio. He has produced over 25 albums in as many years, has been featured on public radio throughout the world, and has garnered five Grammy nominations.

Admission is $25. Reserved seating tickets are available in Sonoma at Readers’ Books and at the Sebastiani Theatre, 476 First St. E. Call 996-9756. Doors open at 7 p.m.