Back Porch Festival presents Josh Ritter with very special guest Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.
“Josh Ritter? Hell, he was born dead center of the whole country, who else is gonna tell us what it’s really like.” That’s Jason Isbell, who knows a little something about songwriting, on why Josh Ritter’s songs are so important right now.
What must it feel like, to do what Josh Ritter can? To be able to see the world clear as it is, to be able to hold in your mind the various ways it might roll, spin or cant, to draw these versions for us in a few, perfectly chosen words, set to melodies as instantly memorable as they are fresh? I imagine it must feel like a calling and a burden, and must bring about in Ritter a sense of gratitude and obligation—To hear those voices, those couplets, those musical lines and to know that there are so many of us waiting for him bring them to us, like a basket of just ripened tangerines on an arid summer day, exactly what we need at the exact moment we most need it.
There is a hint for us in the title of Josh’s new album, Fever Breaks. And listening to it, I can sense the fever that took hold of Josh as he was writing, the insistent, all encompassing waves of emotion and heat, the chills and shakes that blew through him and finally broke just before it would have killed him. This urgency shows itself in the songs he wrote, in the playing and singing that elevates the recordings into incantations of hope in desperate times, into that one ray of light sneaking its way through the one needle sized hole in the ground above the collapsed mine shaft we are all stuck in: the United States of America in 2019. “In between nothing but the thin air and the unknown,” Ritter sings in On The Water, describing not only the fragile state of a relationship, but also the state of the US as he apprehends it at this particular moment in history. But one of Josh’s many gifts is that, even as he documents the meanness, the songs themselves lift t us out of it, into a place of reverie.
As I listen, I find myself singing along, laughing, entered into a shared place of joy. This is secular church music, because it unifies us, bonds us, brings us together in a search for love, peace, understanding and an escape from the earthly cruelty all around us. When I asked Isbell, who produced Fever Breaks, what it was about Josh Ritter’s music that made him want to collaborate with Josh, he spoke of Ritter’s perfectionism, of Ritter’s willingness to do the work required to turn an instant of inspiration into a great song. And then he got quiet for a long moment. “Look,” he said. “This American experiment is getting to the point where we need to call for help. We’re not under water yet, but we are stuck on the rocks. Josh’s music is a perfect document of these times.” —Brian Koppelman, co-creator, showrunner Billions, co-writer, Rounders
RAMBLIN’ JACK ELLIOTT
There are no degrees of separation between Jack and the real thing. He is the guy who ran away from his Brooklyn home at fourteen to join the rodeo and learned his guitar from a cowboy. In 1950, he met Woody Guthrie, moved in with the Guthrie family and traveled with Woody to California and Florida, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters. Jack became so enthralled with the life and composer of This Land Is Your Land, The Dust Bowl Ballads, and a wealth of children’s songs that he completely absorbed the inflections and mannerisms, leading Guthrie to remark, “Jack sounds more like me than I do.” In 1954, along with folksinging pals Frank Robinson and Guy Carawan, Jack journeyed south through Appalachia, Nashville and to New Orleans to hear authentic American country music. He later made this the basis for his talking song, 912 Greens.
In 1955 Jack married and traveled to Europe, bringing his genuine American folk, cowboy and blues repertoire and his guitar virtuosity, inspiring a new generation of budding British rockers, from Mick Jagger to Eric Clapton. When he returned to America in 1961, he met another young folksinger, Bob Dylan at Woody Guthrie’s bedside, and mentored Bob.
Jack has continued as an inspiration for every roots-inspired performer since. Along the way he learned the blues first-hand from Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, the Reverend Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie Mcghee and Sonny Terry, Jesse Fuller and Champion Jack Dupree. He has recorded forty albums; wrote one of the first trucking songs, Cup of Coffee, recorded by Johnny Cash; championed the works of new singer-songwriters, from Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson to Tim Hardin; became a founding member of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue; and continued the life of the traveling troubadour influencing Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, Tom Russell The Grateful Dead and countless others.
In 1995, Ramblin’ Jack received his first of four Grammy nominations and the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album, for South Coast (Red House Records). In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Jack the National Medal of the Arts, proclaiming, “In giving new life to our most valuable musical traditions, Ramblin’ Jack has himself become an American treasure.” In 2000, Jack’s daughter, filmmaker, Aiyana Elliott produced and directed The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack, her take on Jack’s life and their fragile relationship, winning a Special Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival.
Through it all — though agents, managers, wives and recording companies have tried — Jack resisted being molded into a commercial commodity. He played his shows without a written set list or including any songs that did not ring with his gut feeling of what mattered to him. Ramblin’ Jack’s life of travels, performances and recordings is a testament to the America of lore, a giant land of struggle, hard luck and sometimes even of good fortune. Ramblin’ Jack takes us to places that spur us on to the romance and passion of life in the tunes and voices of real people. At seventy-seven, Ramblin’ Jack is still on the road, still seeking those people, places, songs and stories that are hand-crafted, wreaking of wood and canvas, cowhide and forged metal. You’ll find him in the sleek lines of a long haul semi-truck, in the rigging of an old sailing ship, in the smell of a fine leather saddle.
Show Date/ Time:
Friday, February 28, 2020 at 7:00 pm
Doors at 6:30 pm
$29.99-39.99 plus applicable fees
Where/ How Tickets Can be Purchased:
Academy of Music Box Office Open Tuesday- Friday 3:00PM-6:00PM
Call: 413-584-9032 ext.105 (Service fees will apply with purchase)
Online Tickets Click on Show Desired: