Folk musician engages students at Writers House


While Wainwright got his start in '60s, his music still appeals to Penn students




For Valentine’s Day, a veteran of the 1960s folk music revival shared his music and story with a small crowd of students and fans.

This year’s Blutt Singer-Songwriter Symposium brought singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III to the Kelly Writers House. One of the House’s few invitation-only events, the symposium allowed 50 guests the opportunity to meet — and listen to — the Grammy award-winning artist.

The Blutt symposium has been connecting the Penn community to working artists since 2006. Mitchell and Margo Blutt, who have funded the event since its inception, described the symposium as “a fantastic way to tie together writing and music” and their way to “try to encourage music in an academic way.”

Previous featured artists have included Wainwright’s son, Rufus, punk rock artist Patti Smith and rock musician Lou Reed, among others.

The symposium featured questions from the audience and a conversation between Wainwright and Anthony DeCurtis, an English professor and a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. Wainwright also performed three songs from his newest album, “Older Than My Old Man Now.”

Earlier, guests had the opportunity to speak to Wainwright at an hour-long reception.

While the elder Wainwright got his start in the ’60s, his music still appeals to College sophomores Brennan Cusack and Julia Schwartz. Neither had been familiar with his work before the symposium, but both were impressed by recordings they heard online.

“The music was a technique that I like,” Cusack said.

Schwartz added that she “was really interested in his music and the type of music he performs.”

DeCurtis and Wainwright began the symposium by discussing the singer’s life and music. Many of his songs are deeply personal, with Wainwright calling himself “the protagonist of the songs.”

He hopes, however, that his music speaks to universal experiences, including the looming fears that accompany old age.

DeCurtis believes that Wainwright has largely succeeded in keeping his music both personal and relatable.

“Some of his songs are so close to the bone that they’re hard to listen to,” he said.

But Wainwright also has a funny bone. Though he acknowledged that he’s partially known as a writer of novelty songs — his breakout hit was a ditty called “Dead Skunk” — he explained that he would rather make records that he liked than try to get on popular radio.

“Doing stuff like this is what I do to make a living,” DeCurtis said. “It’s interesting for students to meet active, working artists.”

DeCurtis explained that having working artists come and speak may help dispel some of the popular misconceptions of the trade.

Additionally, he is hopeful about continuing to attract more well-known artists in the future.

“Now that we’ve had really good people come and do it, finding guests is easier,” he said.

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