Josh Ritter, an Idaho native (Moscow) who has made it relatively big, plays shows in Boise fairly frequently. I have seen announcements for his shows several times and never acted on them – until now. His latest release, 2017’s terrific Gathering, convinced me to pony up and finally see our homegrown talent. Thankfully we heard six songs from that album, although my favorite tracks “Cry Softly” and “Oh Lord Pt. 3” were omitted.
Josh has built himself a respectable national following, to be sure, but here at home he is very well known and appreciated. In fact, I asked each of the several friends and acquaintances I encountered over the course of the evening how many times they had seen Josh perform, and I would put the average at around six. These people were serious about him, and after last night, I think I am as well.
We showed up near the tail end of Nicki’s performance, and only caught two songs. However, in those short few minutes I can definitely say that she captivated the near-capacity crowd. Performing solo and armed with only an acoustic guitar, her soaring and beautiful voice allowed her to more than hold her own – she commanded the room.
From the start, it was clear that this was going to be a love-fest. And not just your typical situation with a crowd completely in love with the artist – by all accounts, this adoration flowed both ways. I was informed beforehand that Josh is a “happy” performer, and that was an understatement. This guy was smiling, hopping around while strumming his acoustic guitar, and profusely thanking the large crowd between nearly every song. Josh seemed as pleased to be there as the rest of us were, and I think it was genuine.
Just like every rose has its thorns, (nearly) every successful talent has a strong backing band. Josh is no exception: his backing crew, dubbed the Royal City Band, proved to be a worthy supplement to his vocals and acoustic guitar playing. I especially enjoyed the balding and wild-haired electric guitar player, who soared during the several opportunities he was given to shred and provide some face melting to the festivities.
The show basically consisted of three iterations: Josh and his full band, all plugged in; Josh solo on guitar; and Josh with band, in an unplugged and drum-less bluegrass sing-a-long style. Each provided its own unique wonderfulness. The first seven songs, including a mesmerizing rendition of “Dreams”, featured the band in all of its glory. I pick that song out in particular as it is one from last year’s Gathering that slowly grew on me, and seeing it live confirmed what I already knew: this is a great song. The simple but powerful chorus says “the dreams’a keep comin’, but the dream done gone”.
After the band left Josh alone on the stage, he performed a quartet of his older songs: “Cumberland”, “The Temptation of Adam”, “Snow is Gone”, and “Monster Ballads”. During this time, he absolutely owned the room and had his listeners hanging on every word. The band came back and treated us to six more songs before the encore break, including the closers “Homecoming” and “Getting Ready to Get Down”. When the first notes of the former song started playing, the crowd went bonkers, and there was no doubt that this was an actual homecoming for him.
After a short encore break, the entire ensemble returned for breakup song “Hopeful” and the classic “Roll On”, followed by the highlight of the evening: Josh asking for the house lights to all be turned off before performing a solo version of “Idaho”. Yes, this homecoming lovefest was a little over the top, and perhaps a bit contrived. But it felt so genuine, and was so damn good, that nobody in attendance minded a bit.
Spotify setlist link:
Feels Like Lightning
Train Go By
The Temptation of Adam*
Snow Is Gone*
When Will I Be Changed
Getting Ready to Get Down