Frisco: A storyteller with strings attached
Ryan Summerlin February 28, 2013
Between his dinner sleigh ride gigs, Friday nights at the Blue Spruce Inn in Frisco and regular appearances at preschool story time at Summit County Libraries, local singer and guitarist Randall McKinnon estimates he puts in 250 nights a year. But it’s a labor of love from which he hasn’t strayed since embracing his calling 20 years ago.
He’d always dedicated himself to noble causes – including doing a stint in theology grad school in Denver before serving as a minister, executive director of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and social worker in child protection for Park County – before deciding to make a go at a full-time music career.
“The last year I worked for Park County I played 180 nights; it led me to believe I could probably make it work to play music full-time,” McKinnon said. “I worked in churches for eight years and then decided there were other ways to do good in the world. I try to live up to that with volunteer work.”
Ask him when his next performance is and if it’s peak season, the answer is usually “tonight,” but that doesn’t keep the 25-year Summit County veteran and Silverthorne resident from volunteering with Summit County Libraries’ reading initiatives.
“He is known as ‘Mr. Randall’ to hundreds and hundreds of Summit County kids, probably over a thousand by now,” said Summit County Library trustee Dan Taylor.
That’s because McKinnon is a regular sight at the North Branch Library in Silverthorne, in addition to appearances at the South Branch Library in Breckenridge, where he graces the library’s preschool story times once a month. The library staff comes up with the program themes and McKinnon often tailor-makes songs to accommodate, putting new lyrics to old kids’ favorites like “Twinkle, Twinkle” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” with topics ranging from holidays and dragons to underwear.
“This warmhearted and gentle giant of a man has shared the joy of his music with hundreds and hundreds of tots and teens, with whom he has a special and wonderful rapport,” Taylor said. “They will long remember his harmonies and lyrics.”
“Out of respect for my great age and gray beard, I suppose the kids call me Mr. Randall,” acquiesced McKinnon, who was recently awarded the 2012 Van Woodford Service Award for long-term, dedicated and exceptional volunteer service to the library.
“I was tremendously honored to receive that kind of recognition from the library board,” McKinnon said. “I’ve just been doing it to help out. I get my payback every time I show up.” He also assists library staff in spring, visiting area elementary schools to encourage kids to participate in the summer reading program.
Professionally, McKinnon plays the dinner sleigh rides at Keystone Stables on Sundays and Tuesdays, Four Eagle Ranch in Eagle on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays and the Blue Spruce Inn, his most public appearance, on Fridays.
“I don’t go into a gig with a definitive setlist, and I take requests,” he said. “I’ve got a vibe that I want to create.” On a dinner sleigh ride, depending on who shows up, he might bust out some cowboy songs or John Denver tunes – whatever it takes, he said, “to help create that sense of place with the music. The playlist may be the same, but how those pieces fit together for that particular audience is my craft. That’s something that keeps it fresh for me.”
After many years playing guitar – from his roots in rural Arkansas to playing “music that belongs around the campfire in the mountains” – McKinnon has taken a shine recently to the mountain dulcimer. It’s a fretted string instrument of Appalachian origin that generally has three to four strings, and McKinnon has crafted several himself.
At 4 p.m. Sunday, he will share his handcrafted dulcimers, which are currently on display at the County Commons in Frisco, and discuss and play the instruments as part of the free artist speaker series from Summit County Arts Exhibit Committee. Guests can expect songs from old Appalachia, some of McKinnon’s dinner sleigh ride tunes and Colorado-themed pieces at the event, which takes place at the commons.
“When you’re an entertainer you’re really working on bringing joy to folks and that’s really what I’m about,” McKinnon said. “I enjoy being part of people’s vacations and helping make their experience in Summit County special and memorable.”
“The community stuff that I do is because this is my home,” he added. “That sense of community is important to me; it really is.”