Josh Ritter is a real southern gentleman*.
I've seen him play live twice, he ambles on stage with his guitar, grins broadly at the audience, and greets us with an amiable "Howdy!". He's quite tall, with a fine head of dark chestnut curly hair.
Unfortunately, he doesn't yet have the budget to bring a full band with him to Ireland, but he has enough of a following here to earn him a headlining position in the small, intimate Café Stage at Witnness 2002. Anyway, he manages to carry the full-band numbers on his own through sheer enthusiasm.
The first time I saw him play was on a tiny stage in Tower Records on Wexford Street. He was there promoting his album, Golden Age Of Radio, and I think he was kinda surprised at the size of the crowd he attracted. He spent nearly as much time tuning his guitar and chatting to the audience as he did playing, but it was a great experience. Apparently he broke several string playing at a Bruce Springsteen tribute night in some pub in Dublin, hence his guitar wasn't staying in tune properly. He also told us about another in-store gig he did in Killkenny; he played to an audience of one girl, who stayed to watch his set, and then bought a Linkin Park cd.
Afterwards, my then girlfriend sent me over to try and get Josh to sign her copy of Golden Age Of Radio. She was a bit shy, but came over when she saw I was chatting to Josh. He seemed to be genuinely thrilled to be talking to fans, especially when I gave out to him for not playing Harrisburg; he apologised, explaining that he didn't dare try it, given the state his guitar was in. I guess he could've been happy that people liked the other songs on his album, besides Me & Jiggs, his big indie radio hit.
Next time we met him, it was a lovely sunny day. Sunday 14th July, 2002, at Fairyhouse race course, County Meath. The Witnness festival. We had just seen a pretty young lady named Nina Hynes play her set in one of the tents. She did a cover version of The Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog, which was kinda sexy. Myself and Deirdre strolled away from the tent, wondering idly what Josh was doing.
"Maybe he's taking drugs with Oasis!"
"Or maybe he's gettin' it on with Nina Hynes!"
"Or maybe he's taking drugs with Oasis while getting it on with Nina Hynes!"
"Oh, no, look! He's just over there."
And he was, just strolling around, like us, enjoying the sun and checking out the festival. So we went over to say hello. He was friendly, but whether or not he remembered us from the previous friday, we couldn't tell. He enthused about Nina Hynes, and the three of us chatted for a while about who we were looking forward to seeing. Of course, we told him we were looking forward to his set, and he confided in us that he was really psyched to be playing such a large festival. So we went our seperate ways.
Around ten hours later, Josh arrived onstage; perched on the side of the stage was none other than Nina Hynes, looking very happy. Josh just couldn't keep the smile off his face. They sang a duet later on, and they were joined by a coupla members of The Frames for a few traditional Irish numbers, but I missed most of Josh's set because I needed to go see Idlewild. As myself and Deirdre set off home in completely the wrong direction, we could hear Black Velvet Band playing out of the Café tent. It sounded good as our shoes slowly filled with oozing mud.
* - note that, although Moscow, Idaho, may not be some people's idea of southern, I like to think that being a southern gentleman is more a state of mind than a matter of geography. When I say southern gentleman, I'm thinking of the definition that Michael Stipe gave when standing as a character witness in Peter Buck's air-rage trial.