dCEC Hosts Colin Cutler for Concert and Conversation

Author: Kenneth Hallenius

Colin Cutler plays a banjo

The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture welcomed singer-songwriter Colin Cutler for a concert and conversation in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 students, faculty, staff, and members of the Notre Dame community on February 8.

The event, titled “The Original Tin Ear: Flannery O’Connor, Music, and Theology,” opened with a conversation between Cutler and Jennifer Newsome Martin, director-elect of the de Nicola Center and associate professor in theology and the Program of Liberal Studies, around the influence of O’Connor’s writing on Cutler’s work.

“The event was a genuinely convivial celebration of Catholic culture in its broadest sense, an occasion to share in and with the local community not only an appreciation of one of Catholicism’s most interesting writers, but also to enjoy music, food, and friendship together,” Martin said.

The Georgia-born author celebrated for her sacramental vision has a historical connection with the University: O’Connor visited Notre Dame a number of times during her life, including a visit in 1957 where she lectured on Southern Catholic fiction and recorded a reading of her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” in O’Shaughnessy Hall. 

Colin Cutler in conversation with Jennifer Newsome Martin
Colin Cutler in conversation with Professor Martin

“Having Colin and the band come out to play their new Flannery O’Connor–inspired album in its entirety not only pays homage to this historic O’Connor-Notre Dame connection,” Martin elaborated, “but also was meant to be a joyful expression of the robust interdisciplinarity and hospitality of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.”

Cutler, a veteran of the U.S. Army “who traded in his rifle for a banjo and guitar,” is a Greensboro, North Carolina–based songwriter, folk musician, storyteller, and poet, with influences ranging from Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie to modern re-interpreters of the folk and bluegrass genres, including Old Crow Medicine Show and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. When not touring with his band, Cutler teaches writing at Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro and is a freelance journalist. His latest album, Tarwater, released in November 2023, was inspired by the themes and characters brought to life in O’Connor’s work.

Cutler first encountered O’Connor during his undergraduate studies. “I could tell right away that O'Connor was good, but I wasn't sure if I liked her,” he said. After graduating and having time to take a deep dive into her collected works, he connected themes in her writing with similar ideas he encountered in Pope Benedict XVI’s Spirit of the Liturgy, writing that “for someone who was raised on 90s evangelical art, [O’Connor] was a gigantic shift from a salvation narrative–driven art to the confidence that the union of flesh and logos in the Incarnation baptized all human action. This opened up a much wider realm of artistic exploration. I decided I did like her, and her essays and short stories particularly.”

With O'Connor's centennary approaching in 2025, she has lately been the subject of renewed cultural interest, including a 2019 documentary film, a 2023 special on PBS, and an upcoming feature film directed by Ethan Hawke, Wildcat. In Cutler’s view, her enduring appeal lies in her ability to express larger thematic ideas through the tales of everyday people. “O’Connor is content to simply tell the stories of people and let their actions and language—and she had a mastery of the spoken language around her—speak for them, without feeling the need to mythologize them or even tie them explicitly or implicitly to bigger ideas she had in mind.”

“Colin Cutler and Hot Pepper Jam put on an excellent, energetic show,” Professor Martin observed, “and gave us occasion to reflect upon the craft of story-telling, literature, creativity, and the sacramental imagination within a Catholic manifold.”