SHERIDAN — In a mash-up of blues, rock and roll, country and folk, a visiting musician will take the audience on a ride through the American West in his upcoming show at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center.
The WYO will present the long-awaited Sheridan premiere of Marc Berger and RIDE at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24. Opening the WYO’s 32nd Season, RIDE, is a concert unlike any other, presenting original cinematic songs capturing the vastness and romance of the American West. Based on Marc’s adventures into the West while reading “The Big It,” by A.B. Guthrie, this collection of Western songs is set in the cultural tradition of like-minded American artists like John Ford, Guthrie and Frederick Remington, celebrating the West’s exotic landscape and timeless appeal.
Berger has performed at Austin’s SXSW Music Festival and The Kerrville and Falcon Ridge Folk Festivals and has opened shows for Bob Dylan and other national acts. His song, “The Last One,” was a staple of Richie Havens’ concerts for more than 20 years.
“I’m a New Yorker, I’m an easterner,” Berger said in an interview with The Sheridan Press. “I grew up in Philadelphia and New York and made a trip West with a friend of mine when I was 21. We decided to have a summer adventure and got in the car to drive across America to see the American West.
“We really didn’t know what we were doing. We had never slept in a tent, our frame of reference to the scale of things was the Eastern states … We were not prepared for the shock, the size of things and the distance between things,” he said. “We were everywhere, drove down to the Grand Canyon and back up, treated the West like a Milton Bradley game. It didn’t matter how far we drove, it was all just so ridiculously exciting.”
He was not prepared for just how life changing the trip would be, and when he returned east to finish his law degree, he spent the next five summers driving back out West from Manhattan.
“I don’t want to spoil everything I will say in the show,” he said, laughing before adding that the show will combine elements from his concept album RIDE, and his new work, Folk Music.
According to the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, RIDE is “the breathtaking grandeur of the high desert and plateaus suspended between the pioneer days and ten minutes ago…this is country folk music wrought by a working philosopher who’s missed nothing, kept a lot inside for a time, and captured the land.”
If he had grown up out West, Berger said he likely never would have made the album.
“It was the shock of it, coming west at a young age, that I couldn’t have experienced if it had been normal to me. It was that shock that created this art,” he said, adding that a “blast of newness” filtered through his work.
“The album is varied in what the songs talk about, but they all attempt to place you in that space,” Berger said.
One song is about a rancher looking at the current West, feeling a sense of loss for the way it used to be. Another is about a guy who buys a van, drives across the country and winds up meeting a girl at a little outpost — who knows where, Berger said — and she seduces him and steals his van.
“Art and music are things people have been doing for thousands of years. It’s part of the human experience, for people to gather together and be exposed to art,” Berger said. “I always gravitated toward artists, and I think that what artists contribute to society is almost immeasurable. They suspend time, and communicate directly to people. They take them out of their own existence for a moment, exalt them and elevate them.”
His band includes a bass player and drummer who “are two of the best in the Denver area,” and a guitar player from New York who is a Grammy winning producer, he said. Berger does not use the term “Americana” for his art but rather calls his music American Roots.
“Basically, I write country, blues, rock and roll and folk music. I write those four kinds of songs and the hybrids they make when you mash them together. Those are the roots of American music. The show will be a tour, a hybrid, of those styles of music,” he said.
In his upcoming concept album, Berger moved away from the West to focus on Folk Music — also the title of his next album.
“Folk music is a term that is extremely elastic and nebulous that means a lot of things to a lot of different people. This album is very boundary stretching,” he said, citing inspiration in the beginning of Walt Whitman’s 1855 work Leaves of Grass.
“There is a prose preface before the first word of the first poem where (Whitman) announces who and what the American poet is. … This is a thrilling thing to read, because for the first time, he is describing what an American artist is,” Berger said. “There is a quote in there: ‘It is the attitude of the greatest poet to horrify despots and cheer up slaves.’ For my purposes with this album, if it does that, it is folk music.”
Masks are strongly encouraged when attending events at the WYO Theater and tickets are on sale now at wyotheater.com.