Roger McGuinn doesn't make his set lists in advance. He likes to plan them the day of the performance when he sits down with his wife and manager, Camilla McGuinn. It's just how he rolls.
And McGuinn, who lives near Orlando, will be rolling into Largo on Friday in his Ford van filled with an assortment of instruments to perform at the Largo Cultural Center. It's the third time in four years that the former frontman for the Byrds has played the Tonne Playhouse.
"I like to make our set list the day of the show. My wife and I sit and talk about what we've done previously, and then we come up with it," he said. "I'll definitely do some Byrd songs as well as many others. I'll tie it all up with one big story.''
McGuinn, who has lived in Florida since 1984, discovered his musical abilities as a teen in Chicago, listening to folk singer Bob Gibson and studying guitar and banjo at the Old Town School of Folk Music. In 1964, when he was performing at the legendary Troubadour in Los Angeles, he met first Gene Clark and later David Crosby. The trio's relationship would eventually lead to the formation of the Byrds, the band many think of as engineering the folk rock phenomenon of the 1960s.
More than four decades later, the 71-year-old McGuinn is still going strong, dividing his time between live performances and Folk Den, a project he began in 1995 dedicated to preserving American folk music.
We caught up with the American icon by phone Nov. 14 while he was traveling to Lynchburg, Va., to perform at the Academy of Fine Arts.
You perform in giant cities all over the world, but you seem to enjoy visits to the Largo Cultural Center. How come?
I like the size of it, and Largo is a friendly place. I love the people, and the audiences are always warm.
What instruments are you bringing with you this time?
Guitars I've designed — a 12-string Martin acoustic, a seven-string Martin acoustic, a 12-string Rickenbacker and a five-string long-neck banjo.
I heard a fun story that when you were here last time, a fan wanted you to sign a Fender guitar, but you told him that you wouldn't sign it because it was a Fender. Is that true?
Actually, I won't sign any guitars these days. It seems the reason people get guitars autographed is to sell them, and guitars aren't meant to be sold. They're meant to be played ... I like Fenders. I have one.
Since you've lived in Florida for so long, do you have a particular opinion on the music industry, particularly folk music, in the Sunshine State. Is it prevalent in one place over another?
The music industry is a business, and no matter where we are, it is acted out the same way ... In Florida, there's folk music being played all over, but it's hard to pinpoint where it is most prevalent, but certainly more in the rural areas.
Since you started Folk Den in 1995, what's the biggest revelation you've had from the project?
I'm amazed by how many hidden meanings are in the (folk) songs. A good example is Follow the Drinking Gourd, a secret code for the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. I'm also fascinated by the way songs are distilled to mean different things, such as She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes. A lot of folk songs were co-opted by political movements and the words were changed to fit certain agendas. It is fun to find out the original lyrics and meanings.
Where do you go after Largo?
We'll travel down to Miami where the Miami Book Fair will be going on. I'll play with the Rock Bottom Remainders. It's a great band made up of bestselling authors including Dave Barry, James McBride, Amy Tan and Ridley Pearson, among others.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.