Slaid Cleaves tells stories with guitar at McPherson Opera House

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At 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 8, American singer-songwriter and guitarist Slaid Cleaves will perform at the McPherson Opera House. Cleaves, born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Maine, is based in Austin, Texas. He studied at Tufts University, majoring in English and philosophy, but music remained at the forefront.

As Cleaves describes it, the characters in his songs live in unglamorous reality. They work dead-end jobs, they run out of money, they grow old, they hold on to each other (or not), and they die. With an eye for the beauty in everyday life, he tells their stories, bringing a bit of empathy to their uncaring world.

“As befits the times we live in, there’s a heavy dose of disappointment and disillusion here,” Cleaves said.

But somehow, through the worst of it, optimism remains, as if to say, “Yeah, things are pretty bad out there. But there’s still some good stuff if you know where to look.”

One place his characters find solace is with each other. Traditional love songs are not often found on a Cleaves record. Here he approaches the subject less as a romantic gesture, and more as a world-weary appreciation of the one who’s seen you through thick and thin. Described as “terse, clear and heartfelt” (NPR Fresh Air), his songs speak to timeless truths.

“I’m not an innovator. I’m more of a keeper of the flame,” Cleaves said. “Songs are so accessible. You don’t need an education to fully appreciate them, you don’t need a lot of leisure time to spend on them, you don’t need to learn the language of song. We seem to be born with it. “With no preparation at all, they can bring you to tears in a matter of seconds. I remember being three or four and getting a lump in my throat when I heard Hank Williams sing.”

The New York Daily News called his music “a treasure hidden in plain sight,” while the Austin Chronicle declared, “there are few contemporaries that compare. He’s become a master craftsman on the order of Guy Clark and John Prine.”

Tickets are $15-$30 and available at mcphersonoperahouse.org, by calling 620-241-1952, or visiting the box office at 219 S. Main Street, McPherson.

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