Roger McGuinn will perform at the Latchis

Roger McGuinn will perform at the Latchis

The founder and frontman of The Byrds melds folk and rock in a career that spans six decades

BRATTLEBORO — The historic Latchis Theatre continues its mission of “promoting and hosting cultural activities for the benefit of our community” with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer, songwriter, and guitarist Roger McGuinn on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.

As described on the theater's website, McGuinn combines folk and rock but is “best known as the front man and leader of The Byrds, a band he created in 1964 along with Gene Clark, David Crosby, Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman.”

The show promises a mix of storytelling and music. McGuinn told The Commons that he hopes audiences will “be entertained and that it makes them happy” and that he hopes the show will “take their minds off the events of the day that are sorrowful.”

Jon Potter, executive director of LatchisArts, called McGuinn “a legend - a brilliant musician in his own right and a seminal influence on many other legendary musicians from the '60s right up to today.”

“I can hardly believe that he will be gracing the Latchis stage in just a few days,” Potter said by email. “It's such a thrill. This show will have a very intimate feel - Roger will share his music and stories from a much-storied career.”

“It will be a night to remember,” Potter said.

McGuinn's musical legacy

According to McGuinn's biographical materials, The Byrds' hits include Eight Miles High, Turn! Turn! Turn!, and So You Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star.

The group covered Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man, My Back Pages, and It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) and was part of Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review tour in the mid-'70s.

McGuinn, Hillman, and Gram Parsons created The Byrds' critically acclaimed 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo and, after the group dissolved, formed the band McGuinn, Clark & Hillman.

In 1991, McGuinn released Back From Rio, an album featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Elvis Costello, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Penn, and John Jorgenson.

In 2002, McGuinn's Grammy-nominated Treasures from The Folk Den CD featured duets with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Odetta, Jean Ritchie, Josh White Jr., and Frank and Mary Hamilton.

McGuinn says he hasn't been to southern Vermont, so he's looking forward to playing at and staying at the Latchis Theatre and Hotel.

“I love historic theaters and love to play on stages where Vaudeville took place,” he says, invoking performers of the era like George Burns and Jack Benny.

“My wife Camilla and I have been living in Florida since 1984, when we moved from California to Orlando,” he says. “We love it here and want people to know that there are actual residences here, not just Disney,” McGuinn adds with a laugh.

When asked why his music is still so popular today, McGuinn credits an early influence: their manager, Jim Dickson, who “told us to 'always do something of enduring quality.'”

McGuinn explained that Dickson “was involved in the Hollywood scene and was married to Diane Varsi, an actress. He made us read the book by [famed Russian theater director Konstantin] Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, and got us into method acting.”

“We made a conscious effort to record songs that had meaning to them,” McGuinn says.

Early influences

McGuinn cites as his influences Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, and later, Pete Seeger.

“In 1957, I started attending the Old Town School of Folk Music in my hometown of Chicago, which had just opened up, and I was one of the first students,” he says. “I studied there for three years before graduating.”

“Folk singer Bob Gibson taught us, and he was influenced by Dixieland jazz, so he put a jazz spin on folk songs,” McGuinn explains. “That is how my early sound was formed.”

At the Old Town School, “I learned to play the five-string banjo and the 12-string guitar at this school with teacher Frank Hamilton, who taught me everything I know about guitar and banjo,” he continues.

Upon graduation, McGuinn toured and performed with the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Bobby Darin as a guitarist and banjo player.

Guitars of choice

McGuinn plays two acoustic Martin guitars: his signature 12-string guitar and a seven-string model that he designed for the iconic company.

“The advantage of a 7-string is that you have a low G and a high G that you can play together,” he says. “You can play lead lines all up and down the string.”

McGuinn also plays a Rickenbacker, a 12-string electric guitar, the origin of the jingle-jangle electric folk sound that he's known for. The song Mr. Tambourine Man has a chorus where the sound of the Rickenbacker really comes out.

One of the Byrds' most famous songs of that era, Turn! Turn! Turn!, written and first recorded by Pete Seeger, is also one of McGuinn's all-time favorites.

“It's optimistic,” he says, quoting the lines based on the Bible's Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes: “a time for peace, I swear it's not too late.”

“Pete Seeger's publisher told him to stop writing protest songs because he couldn't sell them,” McGuinn says. “Pete pulled a poem out of his pocket and it was this particular Bible passage and he rearranged it to make it rhyme and he came up with the phrase 'turn, turn, turn' to tie it all together.”

Storytelling and music

“Since the '80s, I've been touring and doing a one-man show. It's like the life of Will Rogers, except it's not Will Rogers,” McGuinn says with a hearty laugh.

“I love what I'm doing! I'm 80 years old now and my wife Camilla and I travel together and it's kind of like mom and pop,” he adds with a chuckle.

This tour also includes stops in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, and Virginia.

McGuinn's storytelling is also coming off stage and into print, in the form of a new limited-edition, collectable coffee-table book, The Byrds: 1964–1967, published by BMG Books and set to be released on Sept. 20.

The 400-page 10.5-in.{x}13-in. book by McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby features 500 photos and comes in several versions ranging in price from $125 to $1,700. To preorder, visit

Return from hiatus

The Commons asked Potter about what it's been like opening up the Latchis after a two-year hiatus because of COVID-19.

“Our track back from Covid has been long and is still ongoing, but we feel really good about the successes we've had,” Potter says.

Some pandemic-era programming remains, notably the ability for people to rent the theater for private film screenings. But the return of movies to multiple screens marks a return to normalcy, as do live performances in the historic Art Deco theater.

“Don McLean sang American Pie from our stage in April, and [singer-songwriter] Livingston Taylor charmed us all a week later. We just wrapped up the most amazing experience with Tundi Productions' Wagner in Vermont Festival,” he continues. “And our summer movie season was very encouraging.”

Potter remarked that “people are still finding their way back to us, and we're glad to see them.”

“Just last week, a woman returned to the Latchis to see a movie for the first time in 2{1/2} years, and as she approached the ticket counter she burst out into tears,” he says. “It's deeply moving to know we live in people's hearts like that.”

Potter notes, “We've got some great things coming up this fall- the brilliant jazz vocalist Kendra Shank will perform a benefit concert for Groundworks Collaborative on Saturday, Oct. 8. “Don't miss that one,” he says.

Comedian Bob Marley will return to the theater on Saturday, Oct. 15, and Potter promises “a hot blues show” on Saturday, Oct. 29.

“And more things are in the works,” he says.

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