Americana singer-songwriter Josh Ritter is coming to Montana to perform at Red Ants Pants Festival at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 26.
But first, he has to sweep the deck at his home in the Catskills where a nest of young sparrows are fluttering about, testing their wings. Is there a song in there, Josh?
“It never goes off. I feel like I should be writing all of the time,” Ritter said in a recent phone interview.
A phone message to himself with the new lyric or idea is often how he keeps track of his fertile imagination. In between songwriting, Ritter has been getting into drawing and painting and published a novel in 2012, “Bright’s Passage.” Some of his artwork is featured on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/joshrittermusic and the novel is available on Amazon.
Ritter has had a good run this year, starting with a show at Carnegie Hall featuring several artists singing Paul Simon songs. Then in April, his single “Change of Time” off his “So Runs the World Away” album was featured on NBC’s “The Blacklist,” and this summer he’s playing a string of outdoor shows and festivals across North America.
“I love festivals. There is a real communal feeling there and they usually put them in a nice-looking place,” Ritter said.
In Montana, he will be performing in a mowed cow pasture, albeit a scenic one. Ritter said he’ll feel right at home.
Ritter was born in Moscow, Idaho, a college town where his folks both teach veterinary science at the University of Idaho. They never faulted Ritter for taking a different path.
“They understand that the crucial thing, whether it is science or art, is that whatever a person’s obsession is, it’s worth following.”
Ritter has performed several times in Bozeman and always looked to Montana as a beautiful spot halfway through the long drive between Minneapolis and Seattle.
“We’d leave Minneapolis after a show, drive all night and we’d always get to Bozeman in time for breakfast,” Ritter said.
In fact, Ritter said he’s working on a song “that’s got a lot of Montana in it.”
“That’s the sort of stuff that just has to seep in, get into your blood,” Ritter said.
Of all the songs he’s written for his seven studio albums, Ritter said his all-time favorite is “The Temptation of Adam,” which starts with a line that he likes so much he printed on his T-shirts: “If this was the Cold War we could keep each other warm.”
“There are times that I got really close to the mark of what feels significant. There are some songs that are your traveling companions and there are some that I just love that I wrote. ‘Temptation of Adam’ is that.”
As we closed our conversation, Ritter enthusiastically ended with, “I’ll see you at the show.”
After a half-hour chat with Ritter, he makes you feel so much part of his inner circle that I put down my journalist’s guard for an instant and was caught up in a friendly moment with a buddy so I said, “Yeah, I’ll look for you there.” Realizing my faux pas, I threw in, “You’ll be the guy on the stage.” And there was a giggle, then a laugh, and Ritter and I were still laughing when I quietly hung up the phone.