Tom Rush has brought his distinctive and timeless folk music to The Center for the Arts in Natick so many times that he relies on the TCAN personnel introducing him on stage to share the exact number with the audience. This time around, on Oct.7, it will be a milestone #25, per TCAN Executive Director David Lavalley.
I spoke this week with the Rockport, Maine-based guitar player and singer-songwriter, who made his mark in the 1960s with seminal album “The Circle Game,” which featured covers of songs by a number of little-known songwriters of the time, including James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell.
Now in his early eighties, busier-than-ever Rush is on the verge of releasing an album (“I think it’s my best so far”) that features all new songs, some of which he’ll debut for the TCAN audience alongside old favorites from across the decade, “because of course that’s why people come to shows,” Rush says. The new album includes a song written for his now-24-year-old daughter when she was a baby, and another song being dusted off after 50 years.
He’ll be accompanied at TCAN by Matt Nokoa, a singer-songwriter, keyboardist and guitar player who Rush calls “a monster talent” and who he says will inevitably steal the show. They met about a decade ago as Rush was preparing to perform at Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Nokoa actually produced Rush’s forthcoming album.
Rush says he enjoys visiting TCAN because the venue treats its patrons well, the sound system is excellent, and “everybody goes home happy.”
When I acknowledged having to cram over the past couple of weeks to come up to speed on Rush and his music, he quipped that “cultural deprivation can strike anywhere.” Rush added that there are still 8 billion people in the world not subscribed to his weekly Rockport Sundays videos of songs and stories from his kitchen table in Maine.
Rush was born in New Hampshire and grew up there, though jokes (I think) that he’s now in a witness protection program that has seen him move multiple times over the past two decades.
TCAN is one of many venues played by Rush, who acknowledges airline travel these days is getting to him. He’ll be glad to hit Natick after playing relatively nearby in Rhode Island. During the pandemic, his private shows at people’s yards proved popular among those looking to be entertained but doing so outside and not too close to others.
As a kid, Rush’s parents forced him to take piano lessons, which he hated, even “reducing my piano teacher to tears on several occasions.” He played keyboard for 12 years and hasn’t touched one since. An older cousin, whose talents included being able to jump in a pool with a lit cigarette and blow smoke bubbles from underwater, impressed Rush with just about anything he did—that included playing ukelele. “That was the first time I realized music could be fun,” Rush says
Rush shifted from uke to guitar in his early teens, and really fell in love with it as ’50s rock n’roll emerged. But at about the age of 16, it was hearing singer-guitarist Josh White play that set Rush on the path to folk music. “I’d never heard songs like that, I’d never heard a guitar played like that,” he says.
Rush has dabbled with electric guitar, but he plays the guitar “too hard,” which he says works for him on acoustic but not on electric. “They’re very different instruments,” he says.
Speaking of which, if you see Rush perform live you’ll notice he switches acoustic guitars frequently. He’ll have these open tuned to allow him to make a chord without using his left hand, and jump right into the next song rather than buying time to tune the guitar by sharing “lame stories.”
“In the best of worlds, I’d like to have a separate guitar for each tuning,” he says.
Of course the stories he tells are an essential part of his shows, with some fans requesting certain ones be retold.
When I asked Rush to name the last show he’d been to that wasn’t his own, he was stymied for a bit, eventually pulling out a Judi Collins show from about a year ago. Rush plays so frequently that when he has a night off, he generally wants it to be away from the stage.
The performer kept his guitar skills sharp during the pandemic by playing those private shows and launching Rockport Sundays, but he’s very glad to be back playing in venues like TCAN. “The couple of hours on stage is the treat that keeps me going,” he says.
Flannel Jam in Marshfield (Oct. 8) and Nantucket (Oct. 9)
You can squeeze in 1 (or 2) last outdoor concerts this year by hitting Flannel Jam, which takes place in Marshfield and Nantucket (there’s a waiting list for tix for this event).
Brought to you by the folks who put on the great summertime Levitate Music & Arts festival, Flannel Jam features performers such as Old Crow Medicine Show, plus a bunch of food, drink, artisan and craft vendors.
Flannel Jam is also the official release party of Levitate’s 2023 fall line, including flannels, sweaters, fleece, jackets and more built with recycled, organic and eco-friendly materials.
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- Levitate Music & Arts festival
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Invite us to cover your concert or festival: firstname.lastname@example.org