Me and Jiggs staring at the ceiling the stars above the radar range. — Josh Ritter
I first heard of Josh Ritter through Daytrotter in 2010. Like a lot of people, I’m a sucker for the stream of simple melodies and words of ‘Moon River’ and his rendition was gentle, a breeze that wouldn’t trouble stir a spider web.
If novelists could carry a tune, they would be just like Josh Ritter. He’s no bellower of stomping folk, but it’s a pleasant timbre, one that you hope the guy who brought the guitar to the party has but usually never does. His songs take you through plains and mountains, inside the salons of the wild west, past campfires and on coastal walks in the sunset. In the space of five minutes, he then populates the songs by breathing life into characters.
Nobody I knew had any idea who Ritter was. I turned a couple of friends on to a few of my favourite cuts but back in a time when easily kept playlists didn’t exist, I’m not sure they ever listened to Ritter more than once. There are only so many guy/girl-with-a-guitar acts one can follow and be really invested in. Add this to the fact that Ritter would probably never tour Australia, where I was living at that time. This meant that listening to Ritter was a solitary experience. I imagine it’s like watching test cricket in the States. You’re excited and all that, but you’re the only one clapping in miles.
Then came this past weekend. I found myself at Montreal’s Folk Festival On The Canal. Ritter headlined the Friday evening of the festival. The sun set as he played songs from his discography of nine full-length albums. People cheered when he started with the chords to ‘Girl In The War.’ Families sat on picnic blankets in the grass.A dog by the left hand side of the stage attracted outstretched hands from kids whose demeanour showed they didn’t have pets of their own. A young boy in a yarmulke sat leaning against his mother’s back as Ritter sang about Stagger Lee. Right in front of the stage, girls twirled, somersaulted, and educated Ritter about dandelion fluff in between songs. At the merchandise tent, the volunteer told me that there was only one CD left of his 2017 album Gathering.
For whatever reason, I was there by the canal and so was Ritter and so were other people that knew his work and I’ll probably never see Ritter live again but this is the way the story of me and Josh will go.