Josh Ritter’s fanbase is large and dedicated. His free, outdoor show at Hartwood acres drew a crowd to the remote amphitheater, despite the biblical deluge that happened about two hours prior. The unfortunate casualty of the weather was the opening band, local favorite Ferdinand The Bull, whose set was cancelled. Yet as the day wore on and the grass dried up, Josh’s faithful fans threw down towels and picnics to hear some of his lyrical folk music.
Ritter has ensured that the same handful of songs is played before he takes the stage at many of his shows supporting his most recent album, Sermon On The Rocks. At this show, the track the audience heard before he came onstage was “Here Comes Your Man” by Pixies. While this might be perceived as conceited coming from another artist, Ritter’s thousand-watt smile as he took the stage melted any doubts the audience may have had about the sincerity of the show they were about to see.
Ritter opened the show with the slower tune "Monster Ballads," which had the audience timidly humming along to its gentle refrain. The band then took the intensity up a notch with a new album deep cut, "Young Moses." As the upbeat drums kicked in, scores of audience members hopped up form their picnic blankets and danced their way to the front of the stage where a sizable gathering remained for the rest of the set.
Onstage, Ritter was joined by his tremendously talented Royal City Band, featuring an electric guitarist, keyboardist, drummer and bassist and longtime collaborator Zachariah Hickman, sporting a superlatively-groomed mustache. Ritter seemed genuinely grateful to his band throughout the show, who have accompanied him for the entirety of this tour starting in October. Ritter’s frequent accolades to his accompanists simply served to underscore his sincerity as a performer.
The sheer depth of Ritter’s eight-album catalog must create tremendous backstage angst given the impossibility of pleasing each fan with his setlist in an hour and a half show. Despite leaving out some fan favorites, notably "the Temptation of Adam" and "the Curse," Ritter managed to curate a new album-centric setlist that pulled evenly from his diverse back catalog. A fan favorite from his 2002 album The Golden Age of Radio, “Me & Jiggs,” was played early in the set as well as a song from every intervening album including a solo version of “Snow is Gone” from 2003’s Hello Starling and deep cut “Rumors” from 2007’s The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter.
Ritter ended his set with two of his recent singles, “Getting Ready to Get Down” played into “Homecoming,” which featured a well-received audience sing-along refrain. Unlike many of Ritter’s recent shows, he chose to do a solo version of “Girl In The War,” followed by a full band version of “Lillian, Egypt,” both lesser known songs, as an encore. After the music came back on, the audience trudged through the mud, back to their cars, forgetting the unfortunate weather that they had to contend with to get to the show and reflecting on the sincerity and musicianship of Ritter’s wholesome performance.