Tuesday, May 11, 2010

hello black bird, hello starling

The sunlight awoke the morning overcast to the type of day where old men's bones ache at the hint of rain in the sky. As I drove to work, my thoughts drifted in a way that one looks back upon a fond memory...only this instance occurred only hours ago. Last night, I was fortunate enough to witness one of the best live shows I have seen. The artist's name was Josh Ritter.

I walked into Ram's Head Live, admittedly not the biggest fan of his music. Not because I didn't appreciate his sound, but because I simply wasn't familiar. I purposefully went in unaware almost as if it were a blind date; I wanted to be surprised by the evening. The main lights dimmed as the audience muddled their small talk in anticipation of being moved. Up on the stage, there were several oversized Edison light bulbs that slyly began to radiate a subtle firery orange glow. The light was just enough to make out the silhouette of Josh coming on to play.

I was vaguely familiar with a few of the songs that Josh played throughout the evening. However, it didn't matter. What really struck me was his passion. Josh smiled his way through a bevy of songs, playing with the enthusiasm of a child that just discovered the beautiful sound of a well-played guitar. And he never stopped during the show. On those times when the lights would come up, it was easily noticeable that the crowd was smiling as well. One of the marks of any great artist is the ability to inspire. Did he inspire me to rush home and start practicing the guitar (one of my secret passions)? Maybe. But there is no doubt that his music and his performance did inspire me to search out doing something that I love. The frantic pace of which he plays and loves playing would be able to be seen by a blind man.

By the end of the evening, the crowd was encouraging one another to sing along, even calling for everyone to sing his words louder than he could sing them. Josh stepped out in front of his mic to sing with the crowd, not above them. He was joined by his opening act (his wife's band) and the rest of his band left their instruments to sing out the evening, which only reiterated the feeling of togetherness that the concert held.

After the show was over, Robert, Beth, and I waited outside of his tour bus, outside of the venue for the slight chance that we would be able to snag a passing signature. However, as Josh was walking with his wife to grab a bite to eat, he noticed us standing outside holding posters, some of which we had taken off of the walls inside. He came out to speak with us, greeting each of us with a hug. Not the kind of hug that you garner a stranger, rather the type of lingering intimate hug that you beget only to a family member or friend. We only had a bail bond ball point pen, to which Josh went back inside to find a sharpie. He stayed outside with us and talked about our jobs, where we were from, how the concert sounded, and anything else that came up. Josh graciously hung out with us for longer than he possibly had to and thanked us numerous times for coming out. He had to have been one of the nicest people I have ever met.

I can't exactly recall all of the specific songs that he played over the course of the show. But, I ended up picking up his CD, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, and I was able to instantly recall many of the songs that he played.

Two of my favorites so far are:

To the Dogs or Whoever


The Temptation of Adam

This song really blew me away as he somehow writes a song about love, while incorporating the Cold War and nuclear weapons. His lyrical prowess is clear, especially when you read that his major influences are Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Jefferson. Not exactly light reading nor easy subject matter. His most recent album, So Runs the World Away, is named after a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet. The entire line states: "Why, let the stricken deer go weep, The hart ungalled play; For some must watch, while some must sleep: So runs the world away." I am truly looking forward to reading his first novel, Bright's Passage, when it comes out this summer. Josh has stated, "Besides my songs, Bright's Passage is the first written work I have ever wanted anyone to see."

It's always exciting to find a new artist that you feel a connection with, especially one as talented as I witnessed last night. I suppose the best way to tell whether an artist is worth your time is how you would respond upon hearing that he or she is coming to your town to play a show. If I were to discover that Josh Ritter was playing a show in my city, I would buy a ticket immediately. I can only hope that he decides to come back and play for us again very soon.


  1. I was at that show too. I've been a fan since '02 and he just keeps getting better, though Animal Years is still probably my favorite. My husband, son and I met him on the Small Town tour a while back and he was so gracious, honest and genuinely interested in meeting us. He's a great guy and an amazing song writer. We see him every time he comes to Philly (and NY). Great post.

  2. Andrew - It's Chuck B. Glad to see you're contributing to the blogosphere. I had a similar experience a few years back at an Iron and Wine show in Providence, RI (well, I didn't get to meet Sam Beam after the fact but everything else you described in terms of atmosphere is parallel). Definitely check him/them out if ever they come through.


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