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Steve Free: Five things to know
By Tami Mosser / Staff Writer

Posted Jan 8, 2018

WOOSTER — Singer/songwriter Steve Free will open the 25th year of the Voices from the Past series Sunday, Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. at the Wayne County Historical Society on East Bowman Street. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are $6 for students, $10 for society members and $14 for non-members and can be purchased in advance only at the historical society office, Local Roots Market and Cafe on South Walnut Street or via mail to the society.

Five things to know about Steve Free: Steve Free

1. He’s a storyteller, first and foremost: “I’m not a Bob Dylan,” said Free from his home in southern Ohio. “I’m not a prolific songwriter.” Still, he cites Dylan as an influence, along with Neil Young and Woody Guthrie. “They made me want to be a writer,” he said. He took a class taught by Pete Seeger 20 years ago and recalled the “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” writer asking the group: “What’s your goal? You want to be a star? You’re in the wrong place.”

2. He was Americana before Americana was cool: At one point, Free might have been labeled a folk singer, a point he doesn’t necessarily argue. Seeger told him that folk singers were the ones who wanted to be at eye level with the audience. “You’re not better than them,” Seeger said. “You’re one of them.”

Still, Free draws on different styles, in part as a reflection of his heritage. A product of Appalachia, he also has Shawnee-Cherokee roots. So, he said, audiences may hear some guitar or a Native American whistle or drums and chimes. A record executive who wanted to enter one of Free’s albums in competition told him he made the entry under the Americana category. He explained to the artist that Americana was the category “for people we can’t find a category for.” Now, Free noted, better-known artists — John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Jackson Browne — also claim the label. “I listened to some of it,” he said. “That’s not me.”

What is “him”? “Well,” he said, “there’s not a lot of ‘baby, baby, baby’ or ‘shake your booty’ in it,” he said.

3. He’s more popular in Europe than the in the U.S.: Free has a theory about what makes him popular across the pond. In America, he said, “I hear from deejays — ‘We love your music, but we can’t play it. It’s not our format’.” European radio programming is more like the American AM radio of the 1960s, he said, when stations played only two genres — country or rock. Now, he said, there are all kinds of sub-genres and a satellite station for every one of them. Jocks in Europe “are very open,” he said. “Whatever they like, they play.”

4. His most treasured award was presented by a fellow ‘Deer Runner’: Free has three Americana Music Awards, a Grammy nomination, nine trophies from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and a platinum record. Still, he said, the honor that means the most was his 2008 Ohio Arts Council’s Governor’s Award for outstanding individual artist. Then Gov. Ted Strickland, also from the Deer Run area of Scioto County and a fellow alum of Northwest High School in Lucasville was on hand to make the presentation.

5. His biggest seller is a Christmas song: In 2011, Free’s record label asked him to write a Christmas song that could be sent to both clients and radio stations. The result was “Just a Baby Boy”. “All of a sudden,” Free said, “they just started playing the heck out of it.” Stations asked for the entire Christmas album, which Free did not have. “Nobody makes one Christmas song,” he was told. “You make a Christmas album.”

“We didn’t know the rules,” said Free, laughing at the memory.

Since its release, his song has been covered by ensembles ranging from church choirs to orchestras. “To be honest with you, it’s very humbling,” he said. “My God, that’s my little song. It takes talent to take a little song and make something out of it.”

A woman in Canada called Free at home and asked if she could get copies of the sheet music for the song, which she had heard on Canadian radio.

“How many do you need?” he asked, thinking it was for a large ensemble.

“Twenty-four,” she said.

“Is that for the whole choir?” he asked.

“It’s for the whole town,” she said, explaining that she lived in a small town close to the Arctic Circle.

“Now I can tell people,” Free said, “there’s an entire town singing my song.”

By Reporter : Tami Mosser

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