If he had his druthers, Josh Mitcham would be performing on the Master Musicians Festival stage July 13-14 with his country-roots band, Jericho Woods.
But the alternative is pretty great too, he says. Mitcham will appear on stage for the 25th anniversary festival both nights as his portrait of legendary musician and MMF headliner John Prine is auctioned to support the festival.
A full-time singer-songwriter and painter, Mitcham first reached out to MMF President Tiffany Finley in 2017 to express interest in Jericho Woods joining the lineup.
“But I was too late,” Mitcham said. “So Tiffany said, ‘But you paint too, why don’t you get a vendor booth and sell some artwork?’”
So Mitcham and his son, a budding artist himself, brought several paintings to sell at the festival. They had a successful weekend, but he wouldn’t know just how successful until several months later when Finley called to tell him the board had selected him as the 2018 featured artist.
“We were blown away by his artwork last year as a vendor,” Finley said. “After seeing his portraits of Willie Nelson and Bill Murray, we knew we had to ask him to do one of John Prine.”
Mitcham’s 4-by-4-foot acrylic portrait, a representation of Prine’s latest album cover, will hang at Jarfly Brewing Company until festival weekend.
“My style is big,” Mitcham said. “That’s more fun to me than doing something on a little canvas.”
It may also be symbolic of the largeness of MMF’s headliner. Throughout his 45-year career, Prine has been labeled a songwriting hero — making listeners crave to go back to Muhlenburg County with the first chord of his Kentucky anthem “Paradise,” and garnering praise from famed musicians like Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Petty, Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) and Bruce Springsteen.
“I kind of had a hard time figuring out what to do,” Mitcham said of the commission. “I decided to go with his new album cover because it’s a really poignant photo of him. It isn’t doctored, it has a very stark background, just black behind him. He seems very comfortable with where he’s arrived in his career.”
The Webster, Kentucky, resident spent the better part of two days creating the portrait. When he’s not on the road with Jericho Woods, you can find him at his home studio, BigHead Studios, doing commission work on wood or reclaimed items. He has painted professionally for nearly 10 years.
“I never studied art, just always did it,” Mitcham said. “I actually taught agriculture in high school for a little over a decade out of college. Luckily I have painting, so it has allowed me to do music and art at the same time.”
Mitcham will return to the festival this year with his family, watching as the John Prine portrait is auctioned to raise money to continue MMF, a 501(c)3, all-volunteer organization. He will have a vendor booth again this year to showcase his artwork. He said he appreciates Prine’s contributions as a musician and hopes Jericho Woods will someday be a part of the legacy the festival has created for Kentucky musicians.
“I respect his longevity and how he is very genuine,” Mitcham said. “I’m thrilled that they have him. I think he’s a treasure.
“I’m a very pro-Kentucky artist, and I think that’s what I like about Master Musicians in general. They’ve been very good to Kentucky artists and I appreciate that.”