John Lamb, Published May 22 2012
Josh Harty’s new album has him touring the world
Since recording the disc, the Madison, Wis.,-based singer/guitarist has been a road warrior, playing dates out east, down South and over in England, Scotland, Ireland and Holland.
The touring life has been so busy, it has kept him from playing Fargo, his adopted hometown for about a decade before moving to Wisconsin. Harty plays his first local show in nearly a year at ecce art + yoga Friday night.
But he won’t have much time to rest.
In June he heads back on the road with a series of short trips leading up to six weeks in the Atlanta area. After that, he’s off to Europe for two months. Upon returning to the States he continues the nomadic life with a series of six-to-eight-week residencies in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Albuquerque, N.M., Santa Fe, N.M., Portland, Ore., Seattle and Vancouver, Wash., for about a year.
The informal residencies, in which he will immerse himself in a region’s scene, playing up to six shows a week at a variety of venues, are his way of, “trying to invent a different mode of touring.
“The cost of touring is getting so high, just paying for gas alone,” Harty explains. “It’s getting tough taking these long trips. Going out and roaming nine states is becoming not feasible. At least until gas prices go down.”
Gas, hotels, meals all add up, even for a one-man show. Harty prefers to play a string of shows closer to each other, rather than facing long drives. He says the lack of gigs along Interstate 94 is one of the reasons that he has played so few local shows.
“It’s getting a lot more expensive getting back that way, so I’ve been going out east a lot more,” he says, explaining markets are closer together that way.
The touring life doesn’t just supply steady work, it opens his eyes to different cultures, even within the U.S.
A recent trip through the South included a show at a moonshine distillery. Luckily his song “Whiskey & Morphine,” the opening track on the new album, went over well with the ’shiners.
“Nowhere” is another step forward for the singer/songwriter. He started off playing folk tunes with singer Sarah Morreau, then rocked out with the group Mr. Vanderbilt. He shifted into blues jams with the Garden Party and then started playing solo before moving to Madison nine years ago.
While he still occasionally plays with a band in Madison, he credits play-ing more solo shows with helping his songwriting.“I started paying more attention to what I’m writing lyrically rather than just trying to find a groove,” he explains. “I could be going into a room where somebody’s listening and feeling really uncomfortable having them hear such senseless lyrics.”
Harty’s sometimes touring and musical partner, fellow singer/guitarist Brooks West, says “Nowhere” shows Harty going in the right direction.
“I like it. I think it’s a big departure from some of the other stuff he’s done. It’s a lot more spare and focused on the songs and has a certain kind of calm solitude to it that the other ones don’t have,” West says, adding that he’s glad his friend recorded West’s own tune, “6th Avenue.”
West opens Friday’s show and will join Harty for a couple of songs later in the set.
“It wouldn’t be a Fargo show without Brooks,” Harty says.
Fargo and Harty’s hometown, Kindred, N.D., and all of the state are still a big part of his music, even if not mentioned specifically in lyrics, he says.
“That’s where I grew up. That’s what created me. That’s where I learned to do what I’m doing so that’s always at the center of what comes out,” he explains.
While North Dakota is thousands of miles away from Europe, crowds there are drawn to Harty’s songs, which is why he released “Nowhere” last fall, months before it came out stateside.
“Americana music is re-ally popular over there and there is an incredible audience,” he says, adding that his music sells as well overseas as it does in the U.S.
“They just have a wonderful appreciation for it and I don’t know why. I think it was much to my benefit to be from North Dakota because it’s still one of the last frontiers. North Dakota still has a mystique about it,” he says.
While people who travel to all 50 states usually leave North Dakota for last, Louisiana and Hawaii are the only ones Harty hasn’t played. Asked which one would be the last, he says Hawaii.
“Get done, take a little holiday,” Harty says with a laugh.
He’s deserved a vacation.
If you go
What: Josh Harty
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: ecce art + yoga 216 Broadway, Fargo
Info: Tickets are $8. (701) 298-3223
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533