John Depew is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and performer who makes his home in South Central Kansas near the small town of Arlington in Reno county. He is the Kansas State Mandolin Champion of 2022, as well as a NewSong Showcase Winner at the Walnut Valley Festival in 2021. John’s music is influenced by a wide variety of sounds, from bluegrass and old-time music to modern jazz and global rhythms. His songwriting tends toward topics relevant to rural life, agriculture, wilderness, work and family. He is inspired by writers such as Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Rumi, the trash bill (“Whatever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might”), as well as other songwriters and musicians like Darrell Scott, Mike Cross, John Hartford, Tim O’Brien, Bela Fleck, Chris Thile and many others.
Depew’s recordings and performances currently feature mandolin-, guitar- and banjo-family instrumentation, though he is always excited about taking on the challenge of a new instrument. Harmonica, fiddle, piano, and hambone are a few that may soon appear in the repertoire. Musicians and other people with musical backgrounds seem to enjoy John’s work especially, for although he is playing catch-up in classical music theory as a self-taught musician, his songwriting and composition display no shortage of musical command.
John offers concert performances from 30 minutes to 2 hours in length for a wide variety of settings and audiences. Some of his favorites include music festivals, outdoor concert series (botanical gardens, arboretums, library/courthouse lawns, etc.), and intimate listening room/house concerts. John uses acoustic instruments and distinctive vocals and song-craft, along with his unique dry and sometimes absurdist sense of humor to create an interesting and entertaining performance for humans of all ages, plus the occasional dog, goat, or pet tarantula. Sound equipment can be provided by the host, or John can provide his own PA for small to medium spaces, up to around 100 people.
$500-750. Fees are variable based on performance time, sound equipment requirements, etc. Additional fees may be required for travel. When lodging is needed, the host may only need to provide a quiet parking space.
John enjoys offering instrument and songwriting workshops for beginning and intermediate level instrumentalists for mandolin, clawhammer banjo, or flat-pick guitar. He includes thoughts on technique, practice, creativity and improvisation, as well as a more general philosophical theory of music as a form of expression and life-beautification.
John can also offer “How to Figure Out Just About Anything,” broadly speaking about the role that creative exploration can play in life. This can vary depending on audience need, venue, and the event. Examples of what this can include are thoughts and tips on songwriting and other creative writing, shared stories of ways John has applied creativity to specific life challenges, benefits to giving yourself the space to explore, and encouragement to enable audience members to take creative agency in their own lives.
After building his own wood burning rocket stoves to heat his home, as well as for outdoor cooking, John is excited to share his experience and willingness to experiment with audiences in a hands-on workshop about rocket stoves, and wood-heating in general. An indoor space with a projector will be needed for the first instructional portion, then an outdoor space for assembling a rocket stove core for the final part of the workshop. Participants will learn the basics of how a rocket stove works, and have the hands-on experience of putting one together and firing it up. This workshop can take an hour or two, depending on the needs of the host.
**An extra bit of explanation from John: A lot of my music is centered around the idea of personal agency, trying to do things at a high level, and being thoughtful about our place in the world. I’m a highly independent guy (sometimes to a fault) and get a lot of satisfaction out of building things myself, especially out of hyper local materials, the creativity involved in reusing things in unconventional ways, or building with natural materials, when nothing is straight or square.
I can point to some message out of most of the songs I’ve written that relates back to that core idea of agency and independence in some way. Building rocket stoves have been an outlet for that interest, but I also firmly believe they could really change the world. These stoves produce a huge amount of harvestable heat from a small amount of wood by burning it super-efficiently, and because of their nature they are well suited to burning lighter woods that tend to be invasive, at least in my part of the state, and they’re relatively easy to build at a very small monetary cost.
Much of my writing points back to this idea of trying to be intentional about how we fit into the natural world, and trying to be rigorous about how we engage with our interior worlds. I’m certainly no expert at either, but there are many avenues to open that same conversation. Music is one, stove building is another.