Folk music veteran Eric Andersen never gives up on a dream
Robert Frost’s ambiguous classic poem, “The Road Not Taken,” challenges readers to contemplate life choices: Ultimately, whether to go with the mainstream, or go it alone.
Folksinger-songwriter Eric Andersen’s choice came many years ago and in retrospect he didn’t go it alone, but he most certainly went his own way.
Andersen is in concert, 7 p.m. April 11, Godfrey Daniels, Bethlehem.
On tour accompanying Anderson is Scarlet Rivera, violin, harmonies, and Cheryl Prashker, drums, percussion. Rivera came to international acclaim on the “Desire” album by Bob Dylan, with whom she toured.
Andersen’s tour, which began March 29 in Montclair, N.J., includes concerts in Woodstock, Toronto, Oklahoma City and concludes April 28 in Dallas. In addition to vocals, Andersen plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica and piano-keyboards in concert.
“Eric Andersen is one of our finest singers and songwriters, in the most literal sense of that tradition … the most elegant of singers,” wrote David Fricke in Rolling Stone magazine. “A singer and songwriter of the first rank,” stated The New York Times.
Forgoing a likely comfortable middle-class life, he opted as a college undergraduate to pursue the life of a folksong-writer and musician. After making that choice more than 55 years ago, he continues to find it inspiring.
“It’s not like you retire when you do this,” says Andersen in a phone interview. “When I am performing with the band, I get off as much on the music as the audience does. I let the band play.”
When you speak with Andersen, you discover a man at peace with himself and his choices. He has spent most of his life in motion, constantly evolving and usually welcoming change.
Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Buffalo, the 76-year-old Andersen first saw the possibility of a music career in the gyrating hips of Elvis Presley in “King Creole” (1958). In the movie, Presley portrays Danny Fisher, a man determined to make his own way in life.
Andersen eventually made his own way in life, too, heading to Boston in the early 1960s during the folk revival there, before later arriving in Greenwich Village.
“New York was dirty. It had guys dressed like FBI agents then,” Andersen recalls.
More than anything, Andersen says he wanted to write songs. He had something inside him to express and wanted to share it with others.
“I really got into it because I wanted to write: to make the invisible visible,” he says. “It’s like magic.”
Andersen has produced a lot of magic during his career, which commercially met its apex with the release of 1972’s “Blue River’ album. His follow-up, “Stages,” was a potent document, featuring Joan Baez and members of The Band.
Then fate happened, or maybe something a little less nebulous. Officially, the record company “lost” the master tapes. Andersen says it has more to do with business, allegedly involving Clive Davis, than fate.
Regardless, you don’t sense much regret on Andersen’s part. Sure, there is disappointment. But Andersen said he took it in stride. He did so because the strides he takes are his own.
“I try not to get too attached to any one thing,” he says. “There are worse things in life that can happen.”
Back in 1967, there was a man very interested in managing Andersen’s burgeoning career. His name was Brian Epstein, and he had a few other clients, mostly British Invasion acts, including The Beatles.
A few days before a scheduled meeting with Epstein, Andersen was backstage at a concert when word came that Epstein had died.
But those are the downsides. What about the memorable moments?
Andersen’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash (“A sweet guy,” Andersen recalls), Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Linda Ronstadt, The Grateful Dead, Rick Nelson, Gillian Welch, Pete Seeger, Fairport Convention, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. His past collaborators include Lou Reed and Baez.
He has recorded more than 30 albums of original music and was a member of Danko-Fjeld-Andersen. Since the late 1990s, he has resumed his solo career.
In concert Andersen performs songs that span his albums, including “Never Give Up on a Dream,” “My Land is a Good Land,” “Ghosts Upon the Road,” “Blue River,” “Thirsty Boots,” “Violets of Dawn” and “Close the Door Lightly When You Go,” as well as new material.
The 2018 two-CD compilation, “The Essential Eric Andersen,” features 42 tracks that cover 50 years of his recorded history. “The Songpoet,” a documentary about his life, is to be released soon.
“I hope that my audience will go on a little trip and go into a little trance during the show,” he says when asked what he hopes the Godfrey Daniels’ audience will experience during his performance.
“You just have no idea what they’re going to take out of it, or for that matter what is going to happen.”
Tickets: Godfrey Daniels box office, 7 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem; godfreydaniels.org; 610-867-2390