Concerts set to support ailing Bellingham musician TR Ritchie

Troubadour poet and songwriter TR Ritchie was recently diagnosed with a serious illness, but armed with his acoustic guitar and his songs that reflect his observations about the natural world, about how we can accept what works or doesn't work in life, and the simple pleasures we may not always appreciate, he will perform twice this month in public concerts.

Ritchie's songs are sometimes celebratory, sometimes meditative.

His first show is a mostly solo concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, for the Backstage @ the Border series at Christ Episcopal Church, 382 Boblett St., in Blaine.

At 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18, at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, friends of TR will perform some of his songs from his 40-year career, with proceeds to help defray his medical expenses.

Details are at TRRitchie.com and at TR Ritchie Benefit Concert event on Facebook.

If you can't attend but want to support his medical fund, contact his longtime friend Tracy Spring at AziZSpring@aol.com.

Question: What's your musical story?

Answer: I came late to music. There was not much music around the house when I was growing up, but right after high school I started working summers for the U.S. Forest Service, and while on a trail crew in Montana in 1966 I worked alongside a lad from New Jersey who played guitar very well.

Sitting across from him on the bunkhouse steps night after night, listening to him play and seeing it done well, it was mesmerizing. I knew that was something I was going to do. Back in college that fall I bought my first guitar. A $25 Decca.

In 1966 there was still a lot of folk music to be heard on the radio, so I was exposed to writers like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Tom Paxton, Ian and Sylvia. Then John Prine came along, who, to my ear, wrote songs the way they were supposed to be written. Strong spacious chords that don't get in the way of the narrative.

Q: What inspires your songwriting and your poetry?

A: My first inspiration is and has always been nature. Now that I'm writing more poetry I find it prevalent in most of what I do. A second driving force is just a love for the way words fit together. From an early age I had a library card and was constantly reading.

A lot of my writing is influenced by people like Steinbeck and Wendell Berry. Thoreau was influential at the time he needed to be. Walt Whitman. Carl Sandburg. Gary Snyder. Mary Oliver. I love the places their writings can take you.

Q: What are some other events in your life that have shaped who you are?

A: In high school I had a speech and drama instructor who was the first person to ever encourage me in my writing and to getting up in front of people and perform. That was the encouragement I needed. The only thing missing was an acoustic guitar ... but that was coming.

I majored in journalism in college, mostly so I could get into the photo lab and learn everything I could about photography. There was a time photography might have easily become my profession, and though I was more interested in creative writing than in journalism I did get a good grounding in the nuts and bolts of good reporting. My creative stuff I sent over to the college literary magazine.

After college I moved to Seattle to pursue music more seriously. I still gave my summers over to forest work because of the nest egg it provided during the winter.

Eventually I began making a living with music, so the summer work fell away and I became a touring musician, playing the usual circuit of coffeehouses, festivals, house concerts, galleries and art house concert series across the country. All kinds of places.

People always ask how it is playing the big festivals, and I love those big venues, but I think I'm most at home in the smaller venues where I can create a narrative for an audience, woven together by music and words.