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Josh Ritter vs. the Volcano

By in Culture

Arts Writer

Josh Ritter performed at Louis’ a couple of years ago and at the time I had never heard of him.

I did not attend his show but I have heard repeatedly from a number of friends who attended that he was amazing. Since they raved about him and his beautifully lyrical songs, I took an interest in his music. While studying abroad in the Czech Republic I looked into the possibility of seeing him in concert as he is rarely anywhere near Saskatoon.

The only opportunity I would have had to see him during the course of my stay was to go to Ireland. I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and see an artist I had hoped to see in concert and take in a city and a country that normally wouldn’t be on the radar of someone staying in the Czech Republic.

I was able to book a cheap trip — and I mean $80 round trip cheap — to Dublin for a couple days. Try getting a price like that for a round trip to Calgary, or anywhere from Saskatoon for that matter.

Ritter performed at the brand new Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin. This new 2,100-seat performing arts centre only opened in March of this year and is located on the River Liffey that runs through Dublin. The theatre is part of an urban renewal project in the Grand Canal Dock area of Dublin. I was told by one of the ushers at the theatre that it was an area that “used to be a bit dodgy.”

A surprising mix of people filled the Grand Canal Theatre for the concert. It was a range in age that I am not used to seeing at the concerts I usually attend. Perhaps Ritter’s music has a wider appeal than I expected and his folksy sound has transcended generations.
This concert came only four days after the Irish release of his newest album So Runs the World Away and was still a week ahead of the world release. I felt fortunate enough to have a bit of a sneak preview of his latest work.

A “sneak preview” might have been a bit of an understatement as Ritter played So Runs the World Away in its entirety. Although I was expecting a hefty amount of new material at the show I was by no means expecting the whole thing. This obviously meant that there was only a sprinkling of older songs throughout the show.

Playing this many new songs only days after the release of the album did have an effect on the crowd and the atmosphere of the show. Although there was no lack of enthusiasm from the Irish crowd, the unfamiliarity of the songs was obvious.

This was particularly evident when compared to the atmosphere that the concert hall took on when Ritter played songs from previous albums. It was an astonishing difference. For songs from So Runs the World Away the crowd sat patiently, listened attentively and absorbed Ritter’s latest tunes. It was older songs such as “Snow is Gone” that brought the crowd to their feet.

Ritter humoured the crowd with stories about his childhood, the writer’s block he endured while trying to write this album and of the Icelandic volcano, whose ash covered Europe and nearly forced the cancellation of his Irish tour. Thankfully that did not happen and he later dedicated a song to the volcano Eyjafjallajökull.

Ritter was full of energy throughout the show and always had a grin from ear to ear. Here was a man who was clearly enjoying himself, someone who was glad to be performing. Throughout the concert he bounced around the stage or stomped wildly to the tune and even fooled around with his band during songs.

Absent from the set list were many of the classics Ritter has become know for. Shouts of “Kathleen” could be heard throughout the encore, but they fell on deaf ears. The classics that were on the set list that night included “Harrisburg,” “Right Moves” and “Monster Ballads.” Although I enjoyed the classics that I got to hear, I was a little disappointed not to hear more of the songs that I had come to know him for.

Towards the end of the show Ritter gave an emotional thank you to the Irish people, thanking them for adopting him after he said he had spent a third of his life there.

Perhaps his popularity is growing enough that Louis’ wouldn’t be a large enough venue for him. Nevertheless I still hope to see him back in Saskatoon some day.


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