For the Love of Josh Ritter

For a reason I’m unsure of now I was seeking a level of anonymity when I first started the blog, which made this a difficult entry to write. But then I realized it doesn’t really matter, as I’ve already shared enough for you to track me down if you wanted. Additionally, I have only written about things I love thus far, so I’m not fearing for my safety (though if I ever get around to writing about why you should not read Visit from the Goon Squad, that could change.)

So, why is the trading of personal information vital to the story of my relationship with the music of Josh Ritter. Well, for the past five years I have been living in Moscow, Idaho. Despite it’s fairly trendy college town atmosphere, it isn’t known for much. But it is known as being the hometown of modern songwriting legend Josh Ritter.

I first read about Ritter in Paste Magazine, as they have long had an affinity for him and his music. And then there was this period of time in which I was only hanging out with Irish folks – and by that time Ritter’s music had already made him huge in Ireland. In fact, he’s so well known in Ireland that when I decided to move here one of my Irish friends said, “Hey, that’s where that Josh Ritter bloke is from,” making this fact one of the first I knew about my new home.

Despite the fact that all signs pointed in the direction of this artist, and I knew that he performed the kind of well-written folk rock that I’m a sucker for, I still hadn’t really been exposed to his music. That is, until the shopping trip that was highlighted in the previous entry when Alexis played me “Girl in the War.”

Two months later I received word that Ritter would be playing a benefit concert in town for one of his former teachers, Jim LaFortune, who was battling cancer. The day of the show brought with it buckets of snow and illness, and I had decided against going. Luckily, I have persistent friends, and those persistent friends have 4wheel drive. So, on a snowy Sunday evening, Mitch, Ali and I headed to the Moscow Junior High School Fieldhouse.

The night was magic. It’s would be impossible to have that experience without coming away with two lessons 1-that community is an incredibly powerful thing, and 2-that music brings people together in the most beautiful ways. The concert had the intimacy of sitting around a campfire, and through the process I felt as if I got to know Josh Ritter as a person and as an artist.

Ritter’s talent as a songwriter is undeniable. He weaves together powerful and beautiful tales of vivid characters that at different times make you laugh, make you fall in love, or break your heart. Paste magazine recognized this skill by including him on their 100 Best Living Songwriters list.

He has mad pride for his homeland, a trait I greatly admire as unofficial ambassador for the great state of Kansas (my home). Anyone that has spent time in Idaho can see the influences of the land in what he sings about and the sounds he puts together. If it is possible to paint a landscape with song, this man knows how.

What I like most about him is that he truly radiates joy when he performs. He often reminds you of a giddy child and seems to almost get lost in the happiness at times. He is incredibly humble, and as an audience you feel his appreciation for you, which makes you feel like you have a more active role in the performance.

This was especially evident in his homecoming, as he was clearly honored to be among childhood friends and families, in the community that he loves, for such an amazing cause. Though most of the concert consisted of just him and a guitar, he also played several songs with a high school student that he said “was the guitarist he wished he was.” He also had the middle school choir sing several songs with him.

Though the evening including many wonderful, magical and touching moments, there were two main highlights for me. The first was when Ritter performed “Idaho.” At that moment I became a fan.

The second was the final song, when he sang “Kathleen.” Jim LaFortune and his wife consider it their song and got up and danced during it. I’m fairly certain there was not a dry eye in the room. I was personally trying to hide my sobs. I just found this online, and cried again…

Unfortunately, a year ago Mr. LaFortune passed away, but not before making one last trip to see Josh Ritter play in Spokane – a trip that Josh Ritter and his family helped to arrange. The blog his wife maintained suggested that even though his health was failing, he did not forget about the concert and possibly lived for it. He passed away a week later. I cried when I got the news. Because of the experience of that concert I felt like I knew Jim LaFortune, and feel honored to have been part of that moment.

So, it’s time for you to jump on board with the Josh Ritter love. Just trust me, that’s the way trends work. Paste magazine ->Ireland->Do Good-ness -> Me->World Domination.


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