'American Folk on Tour'
Joe Purdy digs to find his rootsBY CHRIS GAROFOLO
Union Leader Correspondent January 31. 2018 1:15PM
If you go...WHAT: Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth's 'American Folk on Tour'
WHEN: 8 p.m, Saturday
WHERE: Tuipelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry
TICKETS: $25 to $30
INFO: tupelomusichall.com; 437-5100
Folk musician Joe Purdy finds his muse in the dirt and the Appalachian hillside. His inspiration comes from memories of playing bluegrass on the front porch with his father in Arkansas.
It’s music, he said, that sounds eternal.
Purdy is reaching further back in time to find his ideal sound, the music that he holds the highest for his career aspirations. It comes in the traditions of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, of turn-of-the-century labor strikes and old cowboys singing love songs.
“The closer it gets to the mud, where it came from, the closer it gets to the mountains and into the places where it was first sung and passed down; that’s the stuff I tend to relate to the most,” he said.
“I think all my time trying to make music that sounds timeless, it could be just any time and so I haven’t really been specific and on purpose in most of my records,” he said. “I’ve tried to have the absence of a specific time period for the most of it so it translated whenever anyone heard it.”
Purdy looks like his music sounds — he sports a grizzled beard, hand-me-down flannel and an ageless, wide-brimmed Stetson. His big-hearted, thoughtful-yet-blistering voice navigates a polite, and still ofttimes restrained dialogue instead of diving into a stormy political squawking match. It is a delicate balance now, getting out a message via music to listeners without having them toss out an album or shut him off the airwaves.
“I kind of can’t get through a show these days without leaning in a little bit on the current status of the world, so I’d imagine I’ll sing a little bit about that despite my best efforts to keep my mouth shut,” he said.
“In the songs that I’ve been writing, I just try to tell the truth as it is, and I try to make sure that if I have a point of view or if I have something I want to say, that I really like (Bob) Dylan in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” he says ‘I’ll know my song well before I start singing.’”
“I try to hold that to heart because I don’t want to be talking out of turn. I don’t want to be saying things from an ignorant place; and I don’t want to just be preaching to the choir or be wagging my finger at people, I want to have a conversation,” he said.
Purdy will bring his gritty, compassionate folk ballads to New Hampshire with longtime friend Amber Rubarth. They are on a short tour performing songs from “American Folk,” an award-winning indie film following the two musicians in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Amber has been a beautiful friend of mine for a long, long time now. And on the musical side, we just always sang easy together,” Purdy said. “It’s a little bit more rare that you run across somebody that when you both start singing you just know where to go. You go to the same places naturally.”
Purdy stars as Elliott, a folk musician who meets Joni (Rubarth) after their plane is grounded in California. The two strangers find solace in their guitars in a cross-country odyssey that takes them 3,500 miles in a 1972 Chevy van back to New York City with the somber, universal hope and power of music.
The film was written and directed by David Heinz.
Both artists are heavily featured on the film’s soundtrack, which blends traditional folk songs with original tunes from Purdy. The album release coincides with the theatrical opening this month.
Purdy and Rubarth will appear at 8 p.m. Saturday at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry as part of the album and film release.
Purdy said the show, while featuring originals from himself and Rubarth’s latest albums, spotlights the effortless transition from old folk classics to new songs on the film’s soundtrack.
The goal, he said, is to get the audience in an active singalong, as many of the classic folk songs have been well-known for decades and the modern ones consist of a simple melody and a clear message.
“It’s exciting to see how hungry people are to be involved and feel a part of something,” he said. “I hate to talk about that too much because it starts to sound cheesy when it gets boiled down to a conversation, but when it’s happening honestly, it can be useful, it can be really inspiring and it can even make the roughest cynic like myself believe.”