10 Questions With Josh Ritter

Photo by Laura Wilson

And give your love freely to whoever that you please
Don’t let nobody tell you ’bout who you oughta be
And when you get damned in the popular opinion

It’s just another damn of the damns you’re not giving

It’s that time again: Josh Ritter returns to St. Louis on Friday, May 20, where he will make his debut at The Pageant. Ritter, of course, has been no stranger to St. Louis over the years. I’m sure a lot of you remember the shows at Off Broadway, Plush, and The Sheldon.

But he’s yet to perform here in support of his latest album, Sermon on the Rocks. Let’s have a listen to “Getting Ready To Get Down.”

I recently caught up with Josh over email.

Welcome back to St. Louis. Forgive me but I always think about past shows when you’re here. We’re a few more years removed now from that Off Broadway show where everyone was drenched with sweat. Do you ever think about that show? 

I think about that Off Broadway show all the time! I remember the sweat and the outrageous heat, but what I remember most is how all of us, the band and the audience got together and decided to embrace it and the moment. There really is nothing better in rock music than sweat.

So, I don’t know if you still do this, but a few times I have seen you, you performed a solo acoustic song completely in the dark. In Minneapolis, I believe you did “Thin Blue Flame.” What’s that like for you as a performer?

I like doing this on occasion because I believe that moments of collective silence are every bit as beautiful as those when everyone is singing along. For me it’s a moment full of mystery and no small amount of tight-rope walking.

Every show on this tour … all the photos I’ve seen show you wearing the same thing. I like it. Why?

I’m wearing what I think of as my “Wild Man” outfit. I started wearing it when I lived in upstate New York, and then I found myself painting great big paintings in it. When the record started coming together the Wild Man outfit reminded me, and still does, to let it all hang out and be the kind of artist I want to be.

What are the odds you could perform “Getting Ready to Get Down” and “To The Dogs or Whoever” back-to-back, without running out of breath? Ever want to try?

I’ve never thought of it, but perhaps tonight’s the night!

Will you one day sell your artwork? I know you’ve been trading with fans.

My artwork is just for fun. It quiets my mind down and helps me to appreciate time in a new way. Hours can flow by while I work. I’m not into selling them because for some reason it just doesn’t seem right. Trading art with my audience is totally gratifying. It’s so exciting to see the magical stuff people come up with. I’m continually inspired and impressed.

St. Louis-based question. Have you been up in the Arch?

I have never been to the Arch! I spend all my time at the City Museum!

Favorite thing to do when you’re in Idaho. 

Sit outside with a beer and smell the hot wind coming over the wheat fields.

Favorite part of the novel, Huckleberry Finn.

I love the moment when Huck and Jim dive beneath the steamboat to escape being smashed to pieces. I’ve heard that Twain left the novel there for a good while, and I like to think of Huck and Jim down there, holding their breaths until he picked up his pen again.

Favorite Bob Dylan song from Desire and Blood on the Tracks.

“Isis” and “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.”

And finally — I saw you perform Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” once. Did you see a show on Springsteen’s current “River” Tour?

I haven’t seen a Bruce show since the one I played with him in Ireland! That was a pretty good seat!

Josh Ritter performs at The Pageant on Friday, May 20th. Tickets can be purchased here.

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