On the evening of Wednesday, September 2, 2015, the weather in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was perfect: a bit more than seasonably warm and barely a cloud in the sky. Perfect for catching an outdoor concert in Portsmouth’s Prescott Park, the picturesque waterfront venue that is the annual summer home of the 41-year-old Prescott Park Arts Festival.
The headlining act that Wednesday on the Festival’s River House Restaurant Concert Series was Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band. The singer/guitarist/songwriter and his longtime back-up band were debuting songs (as in playing them live and in-public for the first time anywhere) from their recently-recorded (January 5-17, 2015, in New Orleans, LA) and soon-to-be-released (October 16, 2015) new album called Sermon On The Rocks.
I attended the concert that evening because I’d heard of Josh Ritter and because I love the Prescott Park Arts Festival. Since I didn’t know his music, every song that Josh and the outstanding Royal City Band played that night was brand new to me. But when their nearly two hour-long, thoroughly engaging and infectiously exuberant performance came to an end, I had become a most enthusiastic member of the Josh Ritter Fan Club.
Many bits and pieces of Josh Ritter’s songs danced through my head as I drove home after the show. By midnight, sitting at my desk, I’d downloaded a lengthy Josh Ritter playlist from iTunes. But one of the songs that had impressed me the most, “Homecoming,” he’d announced as being from the new album. So it wasn’t until October 17 that I was able to slip my new copy of the Sermon On The Rocks CD into my CD player, turn up the volume and immerse myself in this superb song again… and again… and again.
I don’t remember when Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band played “Homecoming” in their set that night. I do know that right from the opening number, every song was excellent and I was soon beginning to think that I might have discovered a new favorite artist. But when Josh Ritter sang the first lines of the last verse of “Homecoming” – “The air is getting colder now, the nights are getting crisp, I first tasted the universe on a night like this” – all doubt vanished.
It was one of those rare and magical nights of music.
Everything was perfect: the weather, the place, the musicians and the songs.
To me, on a night like that, it really does feel like I’ve tasted the universe.