Josh Ritter and Me: Redeeming the Past, With Hugs

Once, years ago, I hugged someone and I’ve had regrets about it ever since.

My aversion to hugging is no secret. I generally avoid it at all costs. I’ve learned to handles myself through goodbyes with my in-laws, and will occasionally hug someone if it seems like the socially correct thing to do, but as a general rule, I do not hug.

A Hug Gone Wrong, Twice

But once, I was at a sparsely attending music festival that my friends where helping organize. There were many good folks acts on the bill, but I was there for Josh Ritter. The lack of attendance at the festival was terrible for the organizers, but it did hold some perks for the attendees. We didn’t have to fight crowds to get to the front of the stage, we never had to wait in line for food and drink, we got to meet many of the artists, and as friends of the organizers, we were able to partake in some of the back-stage beverages.

The combination of those last two is killer.

I remember the day. It was fun! But I also remember drinking too much and being distinctly aware of being just on the wrong side of out of control. At one point I had a conversation with Zach Hickman, the bassist in the Josh Ritter’s band and a musician I greatly admire. The conversation went something like this:

“I like your mustache.”
“Thanks. Me too.”

That was it. That was my moment and all I chose to say was, “I like your mustache.”

And still, it gets worse.

Later in the evening, when I was nearing the pinnacle of my drunkenness, my brother-in-law approached Josh Ritter and said, “My sister-in-law over there loves you and you would make her day if you gave her a hug.” And so Josh did. And while he did, I stood like a cement column. It was so awkward that he didn’t know what to do to end the interaction and so just hugged me again. Which would have been awesome, if I could have appreciated it.

And so, I added a goal to my 100 Things list that read: “Hug Josh Ritter … sober this time.”

It’s a goofy addition to the list and one that I always thought would be difficult to achieve. But if I managed to have The Features over for dinner, why not a sober hug?

A Chance at Redemption

Over the years I have seen Josh Ritter too many times to count. My conservative guess is 8-10 shows. No hugs. Recently, while on a trip in Argentina, I got an email from the Mercantile Library that they were hosting a new series called the Words and Music Lecture Series and the first guest would be Josh Ritter. My wi-fi was too spotty to buy tickets overseas, but I managed an email to my mom asking her to purchase memberships to the Library for Wonder Boy and I and to reserve tickets for this event. She totally saved the day and hooked us up.

And so this past Thursday, I went to the event with one task in mind. A hug.

To start, the event was great. Josh Ritter sang several songs, including a few of my favorites. He answered questions from the crowd that reiterated the importance of being creative and how all sorts of creative ventures can add fuel to the creativity you need for your main venture. He was personable and smiling the whole goddamn time and it only reiterated while I love him as an artist.

After the talk, there was a book and album signing and I scooted my way immediately over to the line. Thought only maybe 15 people back in line, I waited a bit. Josh talked to every person, answering their questions and taking whatever time was necessary. It sounds like I am gushing, and I am, but I am not the only person who made this observation. As I moved up in line, I tried to prepare myself to do better than the mustache question and way better than the inanimate object hug.

It went lovely.

Josh Ritter was the first person to be featured by the Mercantile Library for their Words and Music Series.He greeted Wonder Boy and I with hugs (check!). Then I explained to him about the last time I met him and how my goal since then was to give him a hug sober. And he smiled and said, “But I’m a little drunk. Is that okay?” It was, so he gave me a hug. (Check again!) And then I asked him the question I would have asked during Q&A if my voice could carry across a crowd: For someone who is constantly touring, how do you make time to write and create? Here is how he answered … I’m paraphrasing but it’s close:

I used to travel with my family so it was great because I did’t have to take time off from them to write. Now my daughter is in school so I can’t do that and I have to write while I am on the road more. I’m lucky because my team is great and I can trust them to set up while I get to walk around and work on songs. I have to write every day in order for it to feel like a good day.

And then he gave me another hug. ANOTHER HUG.

I think this instance totally redeemed the first one. I asked a smart question, or at least I think I did, and kept myself more composed than I have in previous celebrity interactions, and I got my hug(s). I left the Library floating and smiling from ear to ear.

That 100 List has turned out to be an inspired idea. The most ridiculous things are coming true. I need to aim higher.

Redeeming two bad hugs with several good ones, by hugging Josh Ritter at the Mercantile Library.