Acclaimed singer-songwriter Eric Andersen is many things; he’s a vital, engaged peer to such icons as Judy Collins, The Dead, and Mary Chapin-Carpenter — all members of an extensive list of artists who’ve covered his songs; he’s a living link not only to the early days of the Greenwich Village folk scene, but to a bygone Woodstock era, circa early 80s, when he lived and worked here, darkening doorways and lighting up clubs with Danko, Sebastian, Helm, Metheny, Gadd, Hudson, the Traum brothers, and others. Chances are very good Andersen, a renowned raconteur, will discuss those halcyon days and much more when he performs at 8 p.m. Friday, January 17 at the Guild’s Kleinert-James Center for the Arts, 34 Tinker Street on at 8 PM. He’ll be celebrating two big milestones: a new three-CD set Woodstock Under the Stars, featuring some of the aforementioned luminaries, and the imminent release of The Songpoet, an eight-years-in-the-making documentary about Andersen’s extraordinary life. (The film debuts at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on January 23.)
After a dizzyingly peripatetic existence (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Woodstock, Oslo), Andersen has settled in the Netherlands. But when his troubadour ways brought him back to Woodstock in 2019, he was understandably amazed at all the change. Although old local friends like Happy Traum and actor Brad Douriff took in his Colony set, he says his old haunt has been “completely taken over” by new everything: people, businesses, vibe. But he’s circumspect about it, and grateful that the “arts community soul” of Woodstock is intact.
“Woodstock is not like crossing a musical river,” he says. “It’s like tapping into a musical fountain. It’s still a very special place.”
Andersen notes modern-day Woodstock is not quite so loosey-goosey with regard to, say, credit for struggling musicians. “In the 80s, everybody had tabs,” he says of the legendary/infamous bar and food credits accrued by local musicians (who shall here remain nameless) at establishments like the Bear Café, the Joyous Lake, and Tinker St Café. After relating a story of how songwriter Bobby “See Ya Later, Alligator” Charles asked for a cup of tea at the Bear and was given a bill for $3800, Andersen proudly asserts: “I am the only one who paid my tab.”
For Andersen, Woodstock represents not just one of the many places he made seminal music and forged lasting friendships (and left no debts), but the pivot point at which he began devoting more energy to writing prose, something he does quite a lot these days. “I wrote for the Woodstock Times,” he says of the essays and reviews he churned out for “pocket change.” “They were edited to be a bit more…dry.” Inspired, he went on to pen short fiction, and has published travel writing as well as an essay on the Beats for the Rolling Stone Book of the Beats. His memoir is in-progress. One imagines it to be both cultural journey and autobiography.
The Songpoet, according to Andersen, has a similar feel. It spans his 50-year trajectory and features footage of Andersen with such travelling buddies at Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash. “It’s got some interesting slants,” Andersen says. “And it’s a mirror of the times.”
Andersen, a performer’s performer, is looking forward very much to the Kleinert gig, at which he’ll be joined by percussionist Jagoda, multi-instrumentalist Eric Lee, and guitarist and acclaimed producer Steve Addabbo (Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Jeff Buckley). This Woodstock date, like the current tour, new triple album, and the documentary, all comprise both homecoming and business-as-usual for Andersen. Various obstacles may have hindered his progress along the way — lost master tapes, bad record deals, lackluster commercial response — but not only has Andersen never stopped making music and taking it to stages, he’s not even slowed down. It is what he does.
In The Songpoet, esteemed journalist Anthony DeCurtis says, “Eric is a true believer in art in a way that is increasingly rare these days.” No doubt fellow true believers will come partake of his work at the Kleinert, and share in the ongoing unfolding of one of the greats.++
Eric Andersen will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, January 17 at the Kleinert James Center for the Arts, 34 Tinker Street, Woodstock. Tickets are $23 for General Admission; $20 for Byrdcliffe members. $75 VIP tickets are available, including front row seats and a meet-and greet with the artist.