Photos by Tim Dwenger & Ty Hyten
The Scene: There were storms swirling around the Front Range on Monday afternoon and the drive up to Boulder was plagued by rain from time to time. By the time I had parked and walked through the wet grass at Chautauqua, the doors of the old barn were open and people were milling about outside in the damp evening air.
There were a few brave folks with picnics camped outside the closed barn windows hoping for a glimpse of the show if the windows were opened before the performance, but it was not to be. The windows remained closed and though we could hear rain from time to time during the evening, the three quarters capacity crowd in the auditorium stayed dry and happy as Josh Ritter and Anais Mitchel put on a fantastic show.
Opener: Anais Mitchel. When Mitchel took the stage alone armed with only an acoustic guitar I found myself wondering if she could command the attention Josh Ritter’s fans for 45 minutes with her slight frame and high voice. However, when she began to sing, not only did she command their attention, she demanded it. Deft finger picking patterns, haunting melodies, and masterfully written lyrics were the hallmarks of her performance and I swear you could have heard a pin drop at almost any moment as the audience was transfixed on the stage. She relied heavily on material from her last two albums, Hadestown, a Folk Opera released in 2010, and Young Man In America which was released earlier this year. It was an inspiring performance and one that set the stage for her to headline bigger rooms on the Front Range in coming years.
Josh Ritter: Throughout his two hour performance, Ritter was nothing but smiles as energy poured out of him and dazzled the crowd with songs like the opener “Monster Ballads,” one of my personal favorites “Rumors,” and “Right Moves” that featured the band teasing Dire Straits “Walk of Life” as the song drew to a close . . . and that was only the first half hour.
While Ritter is undoubtedly the star of the show, his “Royal City Band” are all extremely talented musicians and they proved it as they sparred with him during instrumental sections, switched between instruments, and stepped out of the shadows to solo from time to time. The humble Ritter acknowledged them many times throughout the evening and they all looked to be having the time of their life up there on stage as they delivered emotional versions of “Girl In The War,” and the lovely piano waltz “The Curse.”
Midway through the show the Royal City Band left the stage and Ritter remained in the spotlight for a five song acoustic set that included “You Don’t Make It Easy Babe” and “The Temptation of Adam” before he stepped away from the mic, unplugged his guitar, and asked for the lights to be turned off. In the dark and silent barn Ritter’s voice rang clear and true as he sang “In The Dark” from his 2006 record Animal Years. As the song came to a close the lights came up very slowly like a sunrise and Ritter returned to the mic to introduce Anais Mitchel who joined him on “Roll On.” The solo acoustic portion of the show ended as the band returned for the end of “Snow Is Gone,” and kicked things into high gear with a rocking version of “Lantern” that found the audience singing along to the chorus as a few folks held cell phones and lighters aloft in response to the songs lyrics.
While the energy in the room was undoubtedly high, the whole crowd remained seated except for a couple who skipped through the aisles hand in hand all the way up to the stage where they were rewarded with a huge smile and laugh from Ritter. As the set wound down, the band kicked into “Harrisburg” from Ritter’s 2002 album Golden Age that featured an extended interlude that jammed on The Beatles “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” The set ended with “Kathleen” and “Change of Time” and, despite the clock pushing 11, the audience really came alive.
Ritter returned for a two song encore that began with a solo acoustic version of “Wait For Love” and ended with the crowd finally on their feet and clapping to “To The Dogs Or Whatever.” As the crowd filled the park on their way home there were ear to smiles on faces of all ages and people were already talking about the next time they would get to catch Ritter and his infectious live performance!
Stage Presence: A
Set / Light show: B