There’s a lot to like about outdoor concerts at Red Butte Garden’s amphitheater. You can bring your own food and drink and relax on the grass with mostly unimpeded sight lines. Part of the pleasure of the evening concerts is watching sunsets over the Salt Lake Valley, while the mountains to the east remind you that you’re at the largest botanical garden in the Intermountain West.
But critics carp every year that the schedule caters to the older, wine-and-cheese crowd, criticism that seems unfair given that Wilco and Bon Iver have already sold out the venue this season.
The youth movement continues this week as 35-year-old Josh Ritter and his Royal City Band performs on Tuesday.
Those looking for an exhilarating, powerhouse show should consider attending Ritter’s concert. The singer-songwriter’s perpetual smile might seem a little creepy until you realize that performing is perpetual joy for him.
The Idaho native is a rock-inspired singer and songwriter who has been compared to Lucinda Williams (performing at Deer Valley on Monday), with an emphasis on narrative and details. Since his last album was released, he has written and published a book, Bright’s Passage, a result of a song he wanted to explore further.
His most recent album, "So Runs the World Away," which takes it name from a line in Shakespeare’s "Hamlet," contains some of Ritter’s most engaging stories. "The Curse" is about an Egyptian mummy who falls in love with the archaeologist who discovers him:
The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves, it’s her hair that he touches
She asks "Are you cursed?" He says "I think that I’m cured"
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bulrushes
Another song on the album is "Another New World," about a seagoing adventurer who attempts to sail to the top of the world in his beloved ship, Annabelle Lee. He gets stuck in the ice and resorts to torching the ship to keep warm while awaiting rescue:
But sometimes at night in my dreams comes the singing
of some known tropical bird
And I smile in my sleep thinking Annabelle Lee
has finally made it to another new world
Songs like that made the wait for the new album difficult.
It was a surprise when earlier this year, without much fanfare, Ritter released a five-song EP called "Bringing In the Darlings," which were nimble love songs. "I got an appetite for something simpler," Ritter said of the change. "I wanted to say more with less. It’s a different direction."
Ritter, who just finished recording his as-yet-untitled new album (due out in late 2012 or early 2013), said the album will be along the same lines as the EP, with "unassuming" songs that are decidedly not like the epics found on his last album.
Part of the reason for the change of direction was the writing process of Bright’s Passage, where he found himself editing unnecessary words and phrases that might be considered the mark of a first-time novelist. The experience was so transformative that he is now deep into writing a new novel — again, inspired by a song. "I write best in the early morning," he said. "After that, I get dumber."
Returning to Red Butte Garden will be "so much fun," he said, adding that he plans to play some of his new songs. "Whatever I feel is ready to perform, I will play," he said. "It feels great. It used to be that I had to play material as soon as I wrote it because I didn’t have enough to fill a set."
Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band with Joe Purdy
When • Tuesday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Red Butte Garden, 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $32 for Garden members, $37 for others, at redbuttegarden.org or by calling 801-585-0556
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