“Take the inventiveness of Bob Dylan, the melodic voice of John Denver, add the showmanship of Garrison Keillor … and that’s Michael Johnathon.”
- Bob Spear – Publisher, HEARTLAND REVIEW
“While folksinging, delightful guitar picking, and environmental concerns have defined his professional life, this popular songwriter has embraced the modern age in a very unique way.”
- Jonathan Widran – All Music Guide
“Michael is one of the few performers who understands that music of the future must respect the music of the past. His strong understanding of the folk tradition is a breath of fresh air in this era of cookie cutter singer-songwriters.”
- Phil Shapiro – Bound for Glory
See MJs bio on Wikipedia click here
See THE MEDAL he wears on his jacket click here
See MJs MARTIN Signature guitar, gear and instruments click here
LISTEN to MJ being interviewed by Bob Sherman of WFUV-FM in New York City. MJ discusses his history, WoodSongs, the SongFarmers movement and performs several songs.
PART A 25 minutes click here
PART B 25 minutes click here
Among the throngs of artists in the music world, few have elevated “dreaming” to such a high art form as folk singer Michael Johnathon. He recently won the prestigious Milner Award of the Arts in 2020, presented by Governor Andy Beshear in Kentucky. “The Painter” is his 17th album release. He is a touring songwriter, author of six published books, the screenwriter for the upcoming Caney Creek motion picture, playwright of the Walden Play performed in 42 countries, composer of the opera, Woody: For the People, organizer of the national association of front porch musicians called SongFarmers, the full symphony performances of SONGS OF RURAL AMERICA and as the creator and host of the live audience broadcast of the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour with a radio audience of over two million listeners each week on 500 public radio stations, public television coast-to-coast, American Forces Radio Network in 177 nations and now on the RFD-TV Network nationwide.
WoodSongs produced its historic 1,000th live audience broadcast November, 2019
Michael grew up in upstate New York along the shores of the Hudson River. At 19 years old, he moved to the Mexican border town of Laredo, Texas and found a job working as the late night DJ on a small radio station. One night, he played ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ by Roger McGuinn and The Byrds. As the song played, he recalled seeing the songs writer, his neighbor Pete Seeger, performing in his Dutchess County hometown. By the time the song had ended, he decided to pursue a career as a folksinger.
Two months later, he bought a guitar and a banjo and settled into the isolated mountain hamlet of Mousie, Kentucky. For the next three years, he traveled up and down the hollers of the Appalachian mountains knocking on doors and learning the music of the mountain people. Michael experienced hundreds of front porch hootenannies where folks would pull out their banjos and fiddles, sit on their front porches with him and play the old songs that their grandparents taught them. Soon enough, he began performing concerts at hundreds of colleges, schools and fairs. He performed two thousand Earth Concerts, plus benefits for the homeless, farm families, and shelters helping battered women and children. In all, he sang to over two million people in one four-year stretch.
Now settled in the foothills of Appalachia, the Kentucky-based songwriter is a tree-hugger at heart, Billboard Magazine headlined him as an “UnSung Hero” and he has been featured on CNN, TNN, CMT, RFD-TV, AP, Headline News, Newsmax, NPR, Bravo and the BBC.
Recently, Michael helped organize the national WoodSongs Front Porch Association to help organize rural and community music and a massive educational program. Members of the WFPA are called “SongFarmers,” which is also the title of his SongFarmers album, the very first national CD release to be completely recorded on an iPhone.
His 176-page book WoodSongs III released September 2017.
The 176 page book WoodSongs 4 was released March 2019.
The 176 page book WoodSongs 5 was released Jan 2022
The full album SONGS OF RURAL AMERICA with The Ohio Valley Symphony was released June of 2019, filmed for Public television and the RFD TV Network.
The LEGACY album
Michael Johnathon, has released his 16th studio album, Legacy. The album features 10 songs including the massive title track, Legacy, a nine- minute epic about the history of songwriters from Bob Dylan to James Taylor, Harry Chapin to the Kingston Trio, hip-hop tp the collapse of the record industry as we knew it. “Legacy is a tribute and celebration of all artists,” says Johnathon. “We are in an odd time in America and a strange time in music. Everyone is struggling to find their audience, and it’s getting harder.”
The PAINTER Album
The Painter was released February 2021. Born during the pandemic when Michael turned to oil painting, studying the works of Monet, Gaughan and others. He settled on the stylistic inspiration of Vincent van Gogh and, while painting, wrote the songs for the new album. It is a full song cycle about art, music, love and family. The album is all originals and includes “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” by Don McLean, “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin, the classic Blue Moon and “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan.
The CANEY CREEK Motion Picture
The pandemic was a productive time for Michael, aside from painting and writing for the new album. He also wrote a complete screenplay “Caney Creek:The Legend of Alice Lloyd” described as the “Dances with Wolves” of Appalachia, a powerful and true story that presents the mountain communities in dignity and praise. CaneyCreekMovie.com
The MILNER AWARD
The most important, prestigious Award given to any artist in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is called the Milner. Presented by Governor Beshear, Sec. Mike Berry of the Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet and the Kentucky Council of the Arts selected Michael putting him in the company of Wendell Berry, James Still, Jean Ritchie and other legacy artists.
Michael Johnathon and the message of America’s Front Porch
FEATURE STORY Sept 2022
(ITEM Lexington, KY) He is a banjo playing folksinger. His worldview is shaped from the front porch of his Log Cabin home outside of Lexington Kentucky.
“Never before in the history of the world has the need to revisit the meaning and spirit of the front porch been so needed,” he says.
Indeed, war, pandemic and economic uncertainty, civil unrest and gun violence, the shattering of accepted norms and the incessant social media noise have caused many to look back to re-examine where we are heading.
“This is not a political idea. It’s not left or right, republican or democrat, black or white, liberal or conservative. It is hometowns and neighbors, families and friends. It’s America, Canada, Ireland and beyond.” says Johnathon. “It’s the poetic calmness of rural communities that built arguably the greatest nation in world history.”
There is merit in that musical message. Generations ago there was a Slavic saying that went, “if everyone in the whole world simply took care of their own homes you would not have to worry about the world anymore.” In the 1960s that was rephrased into a bumper sticker, “Think globally. Act locally.”
To that end, the community-driven Michael Johnathon is not your average folksinger. A prolific songwriter with 19 nationally released albums, six published books, he also created and hosts a mammoth all volunteer-run public radio and TV broadcast, the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour airing on over 500 radio stations, millions of TV homes on PBS stations and the RFD TV Network, and worldwide on the American Forces Radio Network.
In fact, the WoodSongs broadcast is described on-air as a multi-media front porch.
He conceived and created the national community of SongFarmers, artists and musicians faced with the post pandemic collapse of the music world and redirecting their efforts into their home towns and communities. Already there are 89 active chapters from Australia, across America and Ireland.
“We are living among the first generation in human history that gets its music and art as a flat screen, cell phone, digital tsunami of ones and zeros,” he says. “The real, front porch, organic world of music and art is fading away.”
Johnathon has tapping into a global need for friends, community and the genuine comfort that organic art can give in a world of incessant stress.
It is an unlikely career trajectory that hasn’t been seen since folksinger Pete Seeger decided to build the Clearwater sloop to help clean up the Hudson river. While musicians and songwriters reach out for a golden ring that no longer exists in a record industry that has essentially collapsed, Michael Johnathon reaches instead to a global fan base made up of neighbors, families and fellow musicians.
“I think the truth of music and art is not being told to the world of struggling songwriters,” he says. “There is an illusion that the age of million selling records and world tours are still there, but it is not. The truth is that 99% of musicians will not get a record deal, will not get a booking agent, will not become stars.”
Johnathon believes in the passion and energy of those artists, that the greatest stage in the world is literally the emotional and spiritual front porch, the brightest spotlight shines on the figurative living room couch.
“Musicians have a wonderful opportunity to follow the example of artists like Pete Seeger, Harry Chapin and others, In the age of YouTube doing good work is the equivalent of having a hit record.”
Johnathon continues to tirelessly pursue the idea of good work. He latest book WoodSongs 5 is a tribute the the struggling artists of yesterday and today including Vincent van Gogh. He completed the screenplay for the pending motion picture, “Caney Creek: the Legend of Alice Lloyd,” described by industry producers as the Dances with Wolves of Appalachia.
Beginning in October, he is launching another volunteer run TV series dedicated to the music of youngsters called “WoodSongs Kids,” a Mr. Rogers meets the Grand Ole Opry style broadcast.
“I wish musicians understood that free is the new business model,” he explains. “Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter allows everybody in the world to use their platforms absolutely free. It is very much an incarnation of the front porch business model. Music can work that way as well and you can accomplish amazing things with it.”
WoodSongs was created and is sustained on the free business model. This past spring the folksinger reached out to the WoodSongs community and collected over 1000 instruments and delivered them free of charge to the musicians who lost everything in the ravage destruction of tornadoes in western Kentucky.
Recently, massive floods devastated the mountain communities of Appalachia and again he is enlisting the passionate front porch spirit of his fan-base to collect another 1000 guitars, banjos, dulcimers, pianos and more and deliver them free of charge to the musicians in the mountains.
His belief in the front porch spirit has resulted in powerful partnerships. The Commonwealth of Kentucky gave him the prestigious MILNER AWARD of the ARTS reserved for the likes of Wendell Berry, James Still, Jean Ritchie and others. The Department of Kentucky Tourism came on board as a global partner of WoodSongs.
“To me, Kentucky is like the comfortable rocking chair on America’s front porch,” he says.
To find out more on how you can participate in the musical efforts of America’s front porch spirit you can visit these websites:
woodsongs.com, songfarmers.org, michaeljohnathon.com