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Artist of the Month - January 2004

T.R. Ritchie Recharges the Artist
in Moab’s Winter Rock Theater

by Carrie Switzer

 

“A Classic folk troubadour.” - Michael Parrish/DIRTY LINEN

Moab-based songwriter and folk artist T.R. Ritchie says his favorite songs are those that “arrive,” with something unexpected, as he is writing. He calls it a “true direction,” and he says he tries to live his life the same way.

“The first part of our lives we think ourselves through,” he said over a cup of coffee at Arches Book Company, his favorite watering hole. “The second part you can give yourself over to whimsy.”

Moab is T.R. Ritchie’s home base, the place T.R. says he feels the buzz, the hum, and an aliveness that carries him through the rest of the year on tour in 60 to 80 shows across the United States. He came here with his wife and fellow recording artist Cozy Sheridan in the mid-1990s. This time of year he’s booking gigs, writing and relaxing.

T.R. was 20 years old before he picked up a guitar, and would play regionally in the Seattle area for 20 more years before being recognized as one of the finest contemporary songwriters and folk artists in the country. Professionally, it was a songwriting festival in Kerrville, Texas in 1990 that catapulted his career. He became one with a folk world that he says is very close.

“You have to wear so many hats as a songwriter,” T.R. said. “I’m my own booking agent, publicist and graphic artist. We maintain our own mailing lists. This year I started a web page. The internet has been a boon to the folk world because we have access to gig information and grant information. In that sense you can live anywhere because the money is out there on the road.”

T.R. said he had to learn how to build a web page – out of necessity. “When you’re short on resources you have to learn stuff,” he said. He put it together, learned about it in the process, and then rebuilt the page. T.R. said recording is like that. “The process has taught you how to do it,” he said.

“It’s easy to be consumed by the business part of it, even though that part is easy to do. It’s nuts and bolts kind of stuff. But it’s time consuming.”

First T.R. finds the gig, gets a date and builds his year around it. Unique to T.R.’s process is that he builds “House Concerts” into his touring. He offers a concert in someone’s home, an intimate setting, less expensive for rural folk to put on a show, and fun when combined with a community event, potluck or jam session. T.R. is big on community.

“A nice aspect of music is that it can be value added to any community event,” he said. “Ice cream socials, the Art Walk; music adds another dimension but it doesn’t have to be about me, or about the music.”

When T.R. talks about music he begins with the guitar and ends with a proclamation that animals don’t think about who they are, they just are. It makes perfect sense in the context of our conversation.

“The best songs have a sort of magnetic field,” he said, that pulls you back to it no matter what you’re doing. It’s a true direction. You can wander around without getting lost, until you arrive.

“You become a lens. The songs come from somewhere mysterious, but it can’t come without you being there. All of you comes into it; your favorite authors, language and images.”

T.R. said he likes boots, trees and empty space. These are reflected in his music. He writes about the quality of light in October.

“I like a spare kind of writing. Then I can build on the space around it and focus on what I shine the light on.
“I like to sound effortless. Sometimes you have to throw away cleverly crafted lines; I can overwrite. Most of what happens with music happens in the listeners head, so you have to leave room for that.”

T.R. said he likes to finish his songs with an intellectual and emotional burst.

“You can’t just say, ‘feel good now.’ You have to allow that to happen.”

Most of T.R.’s gigs are in the west, and though he grew up in Kansas, he prefers the country west of the Rockies. He calls his migration to Moab an accident, as most of the “great” things in life are.

“It doesn’t matter where you live, but it does matter where you come home to. When you find that place where you buzz, hum with aliveness, you owe it to yourself to spend time there.

“The other night I went Contra dancing for the first time and thought the real regrets people have are about not giving themselves over to something whimsical. I say give yourself to it, as soon as you can. There’s no big scorekeeper and nobody really cares what you do.”

This is where the animals come in.

“I think they are the gods,” T.R. said. “They just are who they are. They don’t think about making their mark in the world. You don’t need to make a mark in the world. There are enough marks already.”

This from someone who was instrumental in helping with Moab’s first Folk Festival last fall, which T.R. emceed and hopes to do so again next year. He said the festival, which surpassed organizers’ expectations in attendance, was as good as any he has attended or performed.

T.R.’s music is available on three CDs, “Changing of the Guard,” “Homeground,” and “My Father’s Wildest Dream.” Information about house parties, photos and music clips are available on line, www.trritchie.com.

 
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