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Back to basics

Folk Music Society: Folk and blues musician Chris Smither is on tour with his latest album, with a stop in Peterborough planned

The Peterborough Folk Music Society is starting off its annual concert series this weekend with Chris Smither, a staple of the American folk and blues scene since the 1970s.

Smither has been playing music since high school in the 1950s in New Orleans, and throughout his long career he has worked with such musical greats as Bonnie Raitt, Dave Alvin, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Tom Russell. At age 69, Smither is still touring worldwide, performing in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe and Australia.

Smither will be stopping at the Peterborough Players as part of his latest tour across America and into Canada. This is not the first time Smither has played in Peterborough, he said in an interview Monday, but it has been several years since he’s been in town.

Smither will be performing material from his most recent album, “Hundred Dollar Valentine,” which was released in 2012. Despite his long musical career, during which he has steadily produced his own songs, his 2012 album was the first in which Smither was the wrote the lyrics and music for all the songs.

“I’ve always written music, so I could have done it a long time ago,” said Smither. “But I like doing covers. And I always like it when other musicians do covers. It gives you more insight into the artist, and who they draw influence from, and how they approach other work can be very telling.” He laughed, adding, “I’ve noticed younger performers don’t like to do that at all. They’d like to think they don’t have other influences. I guess I got past that hang-up a long time ago.”

Along with his new material, Smither will be pulling out a few fan favorites as well, he said, such as “No Love Today,” “I Feel the Same” and “Leave the Light On.” Some of those songs are his favorites, as well, he said.

“They’re really good songs,” said Smither. “They’re fun to play and they say something, and people like them. I have some songs people like that I’m not crazy about, but songs I like that the people like, you can’t miss.”

Most of his songs aren’t particularly autobiographical, said Smither. “As I look at the titles of the songs, I realize that most of them are just observations. They’re not particularly relevant with anything in particular with me. At least two or three [from “Hundred Dollar Valentine”] are explorations of a theme I’ve pursued for years. The essential idea is that the universe only has the meaning that you put into it. That’s a constant theme in my songwriting.”

Smither recently got the chance to revisit that theme through his older works in a review of his lifetime of work for an upcoming retrospective album he plans to release in July. The album includes songs that stretch back to music he was writing while in his 20s, said Smither. Sometimes, that resulted in him having to relearn how to play his own music, he said with a laugh, since it hasn’t been part of his repertoire in so long.

“One of the things that impressed me the most is that I’m much better now,” said Smither with a laugh. “I’m better with words, I’m a better guitar player. I’ve simplified in some ways, which happens to artists in every field I’ve found. But apart from that, most of the things I like about my own work were there from the beginning, and that impressed me. There are times I perhaps wouldn’t have said a phrase that way today, but the basic idea would still hold true. I was relieved, because I thought I would be a little embarrassed looking at the stuff I wrote when I thought I knew everything. But I wasn’t.”

And not only did Smither get to revisit his old music, but he got to do it on his old stomping grounds, he said. He spent three weeks recording in New Orleans, his former hometown. And it was the longest stretch he’s spent in the city since leaving it in his early 20s to pursue a music career in the Boston folk music scene.

Smither will perform at the Peterborough Players on Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 on the day of the concert and are available for purchase online at pfmsconcerts.org.

What’s coming for Folk Music Society

Smither’s performance is just the beginning of the 2014 Peterborough Folk Music Society season. The season continues in February with Red Molly on Feb. 22. The Americana trio consists of Laurie MacAllister on bass and banjo, Abbie Gardner on dobro and banjo and Molly Venter on guitar, with all three singing. The trio has spent the last year opening multiple shows for folk music legend Willie Nelson. Marc Douglas Berardo, a folk artist from Rhode Island, will open for Red Molly. Tickets are $20 in advance or $23 the day of the show.

On March 8, Grammy-Award winner Peter Yarrow, the “Peter” of Peter, Paul and Mary, will be on the Players stage, along with special guests Mustard’s Retreat. Yarrow is the songwriter behind such memorable works as “Puff, The Magic Dragon,” “Day Is Done,” “The Great Mandala” and “Light One Candle.” Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 on the day of the show.

The Folk Music Society will be hosting another folk music giant on April 25, when Tom Rush comes to town. Rush was one of the shaping influences of the folk revival in the ’60s and ’70s, and the folk renaissance of the ’80s and ’90s. He introduced the world to artists such as Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor in his early recordings, and through his current club in Cambridge, Mass., has brought artists such as Nanci Griffith and Shawn Colvin to a larger audience. Tickets for general admission are $45, with 20 tickets being sold for a special reception for $100.

For more information, a full list of events or to purchase tickets, visit pfmsconcerts.org.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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