The "Signs of the Times" concert at the Commerce Department Auditorium Sunday night was, in a sense, a three-person folk festival. Si Kahn, John McCutcheon and Susan Freundlich presented everything from hammer dulcimer instrumentals to old union sing-alongs; from poetry readings to hilarious tall tales; from fast fiddle tunes to samples of deaf folk culture. The three took turns in the spotlight, but their wide-ranging skills and obvious camaraderie made each song a most successful collaboration.
Kahn's eccentric imagination cooked up funny new songs about a farmers' auction on Capitol Hill and a comic attempt to bluff one's way into high society. McCutcheon displayed his maturing songwriting talent with detailed portraits of a one-armed uncle and an impromptu truce during World War I. McCutcheon proved a virtuoso at guitar, fiddle, banjo, hammer dulcimer and various parts of his body, which he slapped in a hambone demonstration.
Freundlich translated all the vocals into graceful sign language that justified McCutcheon's lyric: "Our music is in your hands." She also performed with McCutcheon a scene from "Children of a Lesser God," Mark Medoff's Broadway play about a deaf woman. When McCutcheon played a sparkling version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on the hammer dulcimer, Freundlich's modern-dance-like interpretation needed no spoken translation. When Kahn sang his pastoral fantasy "Wild Rose of the Mountain," McCutcheon's fiddle bow and Freundlich's fingers made it seem almost tangible.