After more than a decade on the road, the singer/songwriter has cultivated a loyal following. But after each album release, he's uncertain if fans will embrace the new music. He doesn't assume the crowd will shout his lyrics back to him during songs.
When his seventh album, "The Beast in its Tracks," was released in March, he was overwhelmed by the warm reception. Almost three months later, the feeling hasn't faded. And the reception hasn't cooled.
Ritter's Washington, D.C., concerts earlier this month sold out as did his May 21 concert at York's Capitol Theatre. "It's amazing," Ritter said during a phone interview at a recent tour stop in Minnesota. "Making (the album) was great, as it always is. I wrote it out of coming out of a lot of pain. I didn't know ... people would embrace it like they have."
His divorce and the complicated feelings it created spurred a whirlwind of songwriting that resulted in the new albums. But most of what he wrote didn't make the cut. He didn't want to give power to all the negative thoughts in his head before he found absolution.
"Over 18 months, it went from dark and angry and desperate and sad," Ritter said. "It became lighter and generous."
He added that "The Beast in its Tracks" isn't as much about the divorce as what followed.
Even though his own marriage failed, Ritter said that he gained a deep respect for the bond of matrimony. It's something he feels that everyone should be allowed to experience. So, he said he's for marriage equality.
"I don't know what it was about divorce that gave me a window into that," he added.
Ritter expressed his gay rights views earlier this month at Messiah College concert. According to a Huffington Post report, the singer vowed he would never have played there had he known the college requires students to sign a "Community Covenant" promising to, among other things, "avoid such sinful practices as homosexual behavior."
College officials were surprised by his comments, citing that he performed there in 2009 without incident.
On his Facebook page, Ritter responded: "I spoke honestly about my personal views - that we should all have the right to love - and to marry freely, no matter what our sexual orientation. ... I'm donating the fee I received from Messiah College ... to The Trevor Project (thetrevorproject.org), the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth."
Although Ritter has presented philosophical questions in his songs, fans might not know that he follows politics. He said he learned last month that his York show falls on the night of the primary in Pennsylvania.
"I am very, very involved," Ritter said about the democratic process. "It's interesting - like being into sports - for the personalities and brawls. And with my daughter being born and with other things changing in life, I get into stuff that's really important to me."
Despite changes in Ritter's life, his love of music has remained constant.
He grew up on Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. But also loved late '80s pop music, including Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. Ritter still gets wistful about childhood days when he listened to just about anything that came on the radio.
"You don't know what's cool and what isn't," he said. "I'm trying to get back to that place."
After years of touring with a backing band, Ritter and the players decided on the name The Royal City Band in 2010. They'll play with Ritter in York Tuesday. Boston-based group You Won't will open the show.
Later this summer, Ritter will cross the pond for a stint of shows in Europe. He landed a spot July 27 on Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball Weekender festival in Ireland. After that, he'll play a small club in Amsterdam.
"They can be larger or smaller," he said of venues and crowds. "On the good nights, it should always feel the same."
- ERIN McCRACKEN,
About the show
Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band will perform 8 p.m. May 21 at the Capitol Theatre, 50 N. George St., York. Online ticket sales are closed. A limited number of tickets will be for sale at the box office May 21. They cost $24. For details, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org.
Josh Ritter: www.joshritter.com
Read more celebrity interviews: www.yorkblog.com/flipside/celebrity-interviews
Read more about Ritter's comments at Messiah College: flipsidepa.com