Michael Johnathon knows exactly who he is.
"I'm a card-carrying folk singer," he says. "I've enjoyed acoustic roots music since I was a kid in upstate New York. I got bit by the bug 19 to 20 years ago. I've been baptized by the banjo ever since then."
Johnathon, who will headline the June 7 First Friday for Folk Music, was strongly influenced by a legend.
"I grew up along the Hudson River in New York," he says. "We had what we considered to be a crazy neighbor. Every time a thunderstorm hit, he'd show up at our school with an ax to chop up the fallen trees and branches. It was kind of scary for us kids."
Fast forward to Laredo, Texas, where an adult Johnathon is working as a deejay at a radio station.
"I pulled out the song 'Turn, Turn, Turn' and noticed it was written by my crazy neighbor," he says. "I said, 'Oh, that's who Pete Seeger is!'
"By the time that song ended, it was an evangelical moment. I decided I wanted to be a folk singer and haven't quit since."
He remembers seeing Seeger often, toting a banjo.
"To a young rock 'n' roll teenager, I thought he was nuts," he says. "Finally, I realized I had been living next to folk music royalty."
As a result, Johnathon left Laredo and his radio station job and moved to Mousie, Ky.
"It's just a little curve in the road in Appalachia," he says.
"I went up and down the hollers, knocking on cabin doors, seeking songs. Folks would pull out their guitars and banjos. We had hundreds of front-porch hootenannies. When I was ready to start playing, I really went at it."
The people he encountered encouraged Johnathon.
"They were just as loving and kind and generous, offering coffee and lunch," he says "They said, 'Sure, I'll teach you the songs my grandpappy taught me.' I learned dozens of versions of 'Shady Grove' and verses I'd never heard before.
"It was just beautiful," Johnathon says. "It was just a romantic, rustic, misunderstood part of America and I loved it. It was spectacular, the most romantic thing you can do when you're young, and that was my college."
In addition to learning music, Johnathon learned about people.
"I learned common sense, a respect for their culture, about the passion that tradition puts into people's hearts," he says. "I want to reflect that in my music."
Inspired, Johnathon began writing music right away. "I come out with a brand new album every two years or so," he says. "Writing, especially in the world around us, is a calming reflection of the high-speed chaos that is the world right now.
"All those elements of music, of being a full-time artist for so many years, of being a writer and musician, all of it together targets one single element, and that's the audience. The whole reason people work so hard to be an artist is so they can reach the audience.
"It is such a privilege to stand in front of everybody for one or two hours and they're giving you their life and attention," Johnathon says. "It is a magnificent opportunity that they offer you as an artist."
But thinking you deserve accolades is a sure way to lose a sense of the gift artists are afforded, Johnathon says.
"Who gives a plumber a standing ovation?" he says. "But what a plumber does is more practical in someone's life. Who gives a mayor a standing ovation? The life of an artist is such a gift and a privilege and you can't take any facet of that for granted. For me, every moment is a thrill."
In addition to writing music, Johnathon has written a play about the last two days Henry David Thoreau spent at Walden Pond, and started a live audience radio broadcast, "Wood Songs." He also composed a symphony based on Woody Guthrie that premiered in Germany.
"Right now, I want to do a movie," he says. "I just completed a script, 'Caney Creek: The Legend of Alice Lloyd.'
"It's an unbelievably true story hidden under the tapestry of American history and I want to tell that story," Johnathon says. "I want to bring a huge motion picture story about the heart of the Appalachian people to the silver screen."
The story is about a journalist from Boston who traveled to Appalachia in 1916 and started a small mountain school. In 1955, when Lloyd was faced with bankruptcy, she went to California to appear on the NBC broadcast of Ralph Edwards' "This Is Your Life" to save the school.
Johnathon says he loves his life as an artist.
"Nobody tells me I need to get up early and get my butt to work," he says. "I love art.
"But you can't sit around and wait for things to come to you. There's only so much young in the bank.
"We play for a living - no, we work for a living," Johnathon says. "I'm not punching a time clock, but I can do anything if I work hard enough. That's what I love about it."
In Savannah, Johnathon will play his Martin guitar and long-necked banjo and tell stories.
"I want moms and dads to bring their children," he says. "We are living among the first generation in human history that receives its art and music primarily as a two-dimensional format. We don't see real, living performances any more.
"Music has become a digital, flat thing," Johnathon says. "You get an email with an MP3, but you've never seen the band."
That's why kids today need to see live performances, he says. "We have this massive, multi-billion dollar global communications network we all have access to," he says. "It has rendered this generation into the most isolated, loneliest generation ever.
"We don't talk, we text," he says. "Years ago, people sat on their front porches. Now they go into housing developments and they're not even building porches. To me, bringing kids to a concert is part of introducing them to the community."
IF YOU GO
What: First Friday for Folk Music with Michael Johnathon and host Chris Desa
When: 7:30 p.m. June 7
Where: Stewart Hall, First Presbyterian Church, 520 Washington Ave.
Cost: Suggested minimum donation of $5