Show Review + Photos: Josh Ritter in Athens, GA [40 Watt]

(Disclaimer: Expect a biased review of this show. I am a Josh Ritter fan and I knew I would love the show before I ever stepped foot in the 40 watt)

When the curtain hanging at the back of the fabulous 40 Watt’s stage split and Josh Ritter emerged on Wednesday night in Athens, he wore the grin of a glutton at an all you can eat buffet. Stepping to the microphone, he surveyed the crowd, strapped on his acoustic guitar and began playing, but it took two attempts to make words. He pulled back from his first attempt because his smile had not yet diminished.

“I’m happy,” he said as he pulled away from the microphone, Cheshire Cat grin still in place. With his second attempt he was off with “Come and Find Me,” a quiet and moving song.

His joy was soon bolstered by The Royal City Band, his backing band, when they joined him for rest of the show and picked things up a bit with “Snow is Gone,” a rousing tune that is a staple for any Josh Ritter fan.

It is rare to see someone who so obviously has found their life’s calling. Ritter is one of those people. His ability to craft beautifully written and composed songs is uncanny, and the sheer joy he exhibits on stage is infectious. His music is sometimes slow and quiet, something the 40 watt probably doesn’t see a lot of, but when watching the man and his band on stage, there is no choice but to hang on every word.

“During The Curse,” a track from So Runs the World Away, his excellent 2010 release, Ritter and his handle bar mustachioed bassist, Zack Hickman, waltzed with their guitars. Later, Ritter assured the crowd that his mustache was real, but questions remain about whether or not it was the “studio mustache” referenced in the third song of the evening, Lillian, Egypt.

Ritter seemed truly honored by the opportunity to play in the legendary space where so many great bands have performed.

The Idaho native also seemed impressed with the southern women he met in Athens. His lead in to Harrisburg was a vamp about meeting a beautiful barista in a coffee shop. The song then became a medley with The Talking Heads’ classic “Once in a Lifetime.”

When the song was done, the band left the stage and Ritter requested that all the stage lights be turned off, he stepped away from the microphone and played his nine minute opus Thin Blue Flame completely unplugged, singing to an absolutely silent crowd. It was an unexpected move that became one of the more memorable moments of the night.

After the first set Ritter came back for a short three song encore that included a tune from one of the openers, Joe Pugg, and a B-Side from So Runs the World Away, Galahad.

When the lights came on at the end of the night, the grin that Ritter brought with him had been pasted onto the face of every person in the 40 Watt.

If you enjoy the singer/songwriter genre and want to hear a modern master of the craft, listen to Josh Ritter. Or better yet, go see him live.