When you see someone truly enjoy what they're doing, you'll often enjoy it too. When you see a performer having fun while they're putting on a show, you'll appreciate it all the more.
When we were walking around Lawrence before the Josh Ritter concert last Friday, an older man was sitting on the corner making a rhythm using just drumsticks and a 5-gallon bucket. The rhythm was the most basic possible, usually just a 4-4 beat on the counts, but he had propped against his drum a sign saying "Support the Arts." The first time we walked by him, I internally questioned whether this simple rhythm on a made-up instrument counted as the arts, but the joy this man was emitting won me over and made me want to support "the arts." (I never did, but I wish I would have thrown in a buck for this guy trying to make a living doing something he obviously enjoyed.)
This street performer reminded me of Josh Ritter. Sure, Josh played fancy guitars and keyboards instead of buckets, and he used much more intricate beats. But they had perhaps the most important thing in common: They really enjoyed playing music for people.
I've seen a lot of performers who obviously enjoy what they do, but never have I seen someone walk on stage beaming as much as Josh was last Friday at the Liberty Hall in Lawrence. His smile was absolutely contagious, for both his bandmates and the audience.
He was stoked to play at the Liberty Hall, which he said was a major upgrade in size from the Bottleneck Club, where he usually played when he stopped in Jayhawk-ville. Maybe that's why he was so happy. But I don't think so. I think he just has a great time everywhere he plays.
I must say I was surprised to see this level of performance from him. Josh Ritter is one of the best living songwriters, and my vote for the next generation of Bob Dylan. Dylan is notoriously terrible live, and I totally excuse him for that. When you're an amazing songwriter, we can't expect you to be a great live performer too (Conor Oberst suffers from this syndrome too. While he's put on some great shows, he's hit or miss). Josh Ritter can do both though, and I find that highly impressive.
What impresses me most about Josh though, is that he probably doesn't give a crap that I'm impressed with him. He makes music because he wants to, and that's it. And I have a feeling that as long as he keeps that philosophy, he's going to keep turning out great records and playing fantastic shows.
Plus he gets bonus points because he's from Idaho. How many people come out of Idaho and become artistic icons? Probably not too many.
This was the opener, Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit. He was also excellent.
If you're not completely convinced what a great songwriter Josh Ritter is, check out what a great prose writer he is at his blog: http://www.bookofjubilations.com/. Looks like if he were neither a songwriter nor a performer, he could still be a writer.