Originally published Thursday, October 3, 2002 in the Marion Star ( WWW.MARIONSTAR.COM}

MARION -- It's all about telling a story.

That's how folk singer Steve Free describes his music, cultivated from a balance of his Native American and Appalachian roots. It's also the type of experience that Ohio State University of Marion has selected to launch this year's annual Five Nights on Campus season.

Free, who scored a number one hit on international/folk charts in January with his single "Without Your Love," will perform Oct. 10 at Morrill Hall.

The audience is likely to hear stories about life in Appalachia and about the Native Americans, said Free. Topics may include the Lucasville prison riots of 1993, the coal mines that once dominated the area and the forced removal of Native Americans from their land.

Behind many of the songs, he said, will likely be the stories of how they came about.

"It's hard for me to play a song without telling a story," said Free, who said he prefers intimate settings such as coffee houses and book stores for that reason. "It's because I'm a storyteller."

Free began playing music while serving in the military in Vietnam. He returned to continue playing songs with a message, following influences such as Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

He credits his early love of music to the rich musical traditions of Appalachia where "growing up in this part of the state everyone plays music."

Free said, though, that people coming to his concert shouldn't expect him to strum on a Banjo and don a large straw hat. Rather, they will hear stories about the area, not experience a stereotype.

He also disagrees with categorizing his music as any one thing, such as folk or country, saying instead that he makes the music so that it fits with the story.

"I always try to do three things," he said. "I try to make them laugh, make them cry and make them think."

Free's concert kicks off the Five Nights on Campus series that also will include the Central Ohio Symphony's Christmas concert on Dec. 12, Gospelfest 2003 on Feb. 20, classical pianist Andrew Manfred Brown on March 20 and the bluegrass, gospel and traditional acoustic sounds of the Muleskinner Band on May 15.

OSUM Director of Community Relations Deb Shade said she believes this is the most diverse offering that the series, launched in 1996, has provided over the past few years.

The purpose of Five Nights on Campus is to welcome the community to take part in university life. Shade said it also presents an opportunity for residents to experience other cultures and backgrounds outside of the norm in Marion County.

Marion resident Madge Cooper Guthery, who tries to attend the series regularly, said that she believes it accomplishes that goal.

"The people they have on their series are not the usual run of people," she said. "They have a nice variety and are somewhat off the beaten path."

Reporter Kurt Moore:740-375-5151 or

Originally published Thursday, October 3, 2002