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Mudcat to perform

Concert part of music history

Daniel “Mudcat” McKinstry plays this Saturday in Olympia. Photo credit:

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With a storied repertoire of sometimes forgotten and often unforgettable songs, Daniel McKinstry unites music past with music present, exploring the roots of rock and roll, and in the process unites generations of music lovers with foot-stomping, knee-slapping magic. Known and loved by many in the Olympia area simply as "Mudcat," McKinstry brings his brand of Americana to a special sunset performance Saturday afternoon, Sept. 17 at Bay Mercantile on Mud Bay in Olympia.

To be sure, a Mudcat concert is part music history lesson. McKinstry regards the old gospel and blues music he plays as the "roots of rock and roll."

"The wealth of music, the real meat, is gospel music," McKinstry beams, "and some of that old blues music was basically gospel, you just wouldn't play it in church." The music of Son House, Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong, he said, has been particularly influential for almost a century. "This is what the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds were riffing on decades later," he said. "Bob Dylan said it's all been played before, and I don't know if that's true, but you can sure hear the ancestry."

A Grays Harbor boy, McKinstry became "Mudcat" decades ago when he was told he needed to rename his Aberdeen music store because several other shops also used the name "The Fret Shop." He found his inspiration in an old, local, beaten-down fighter whose ring name was Mudcat.

"I had about the smallest business in Aberdeen, so I figured a mudcat is a small fish on the bottom," McKinstry recalled. "So Mudcat Music was born. I never intended for people to refer to me personally as Mudcat, but after a while, that's what people were calling me."

McKinstry's artistry extends beyond the making of music to the making of exquisite, unique musical instruments. A connoisseur of wood, McKinstry is particularly attached to western red cedar.

"The wood in this area is precious," he said. "Western red cedar is the raw material for everything I make, but it's vanishing." He reports that most of the western red cedar one might encounter these days is underground or even under water, but he has a stash of blocks good enough to last for 200 more instruments, some of which he makes of a single block of wood.

"I start with a single piece of wood the size of a guitar," he said of the process of hand crafting a mandolin, "and I just carve out everything I don't want."

The little Aberdeen music store that counted Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Krist Noveselic among its patrons would relocate east to Olympia in the late 1990s, to a Mud Bay Road location just a couple hundred yards from the site of the Saturday afternoon concert. The move also led to an enduring partnership and friendship with guitarist Evan Price, who owned the Blue Heron Bakery next door to the Olympia location of Mudcat Music.

"We did a lot of campfire music for a while," recalled Price, now the proud owner of a McKinstry-crafted guitar. "There were nights we'd have multiple bands playing out behind the bakery for four or five hours after closing time."

Along with bass player Johnny Baltimore, McKinstry and Price have been playing together ever since, almost exclusively in the Olympia area. McKinstry has seen his days of traveling the country and playing music, and although he is increasingly regarded in Olympia as a pretty big fish, McKinstry seems content to swim in a small pond.

"I don't care much for big cities," said the rustic woodsman-like McKinstry. "I don't even care much for electricity, but I tolerate it."

Though Mudcat is increasingly recognized as a treasure among music fans in the South Sound area, that's something that Price, who counts himself very fortunate to be a student of McKinstry, has known all along.

"He's a great friend and one of my favorite people," Price said. "I've learned from him to trust the power and simplicity of the chords I play and the pulse of the music. And his voice is the final layer, authentic and sincere. He cares what he's singing about."

Mudcat, w/special guest Clint Morgan, 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 17, Bay Mercantile, 5025 Mud Bay Road, Olympia, tickets available at Bay Mercantile, Blue Heron Bakery, Morgan Hill Law Office and online at

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