Utah-loving singer Marc Berger will make his Beehive State debut
Sionger and songwriter Mac Berger will perform from 2:30-4 p.m. at the Park City Kimball Arts Festival’s Food Truck Stage at the top of Main Street. Later that evening, he will perform a house concert at 7 p.m., with Andy Bailey, the banjoist, guitarist and vocalist for local bluegrass band Honky Blue Tonky. For directions and parking instructions, RSVP to Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information, visit www.marcbergermusic.com.
Although singer-songwriter and guitarist Marc Berger will make his Utah performance debut in the heart of the Wasatch this week, he has a deep love for the Beehive State’s southern deserts.
He loves the area so much he recorded and released “Ride,” an album which was inspired by his life-long affection for red-rock country.
“I lived in New York City and I made my first trip out West when I was 21 with a friend of mine,” Berger said. “We decided to get in the car, chase girls and see America, and while we were only in each area for a short period of time, I was not prepared for the effect that trip would have on me.”
For each summer following that initial trip, Berger would choose one destination in the West and drive there by himself.
“I became an aggressive mountain climber and a crazy backcountry dude,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been to the most remotest places in the Utah desert.”
Berger, who is performing at the Park City Kimball Arts Festival on Saturday afternoon and at an intimate house show later that evening, has made an impact with his love letter to the state’s iconic landscapes.
“Ride” has garnered positive reviews from media outlets like the Boston Globe and from the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange. The album can also be heard at Starbucks locations worldwide, having been licensed by the coffee juggernaut.
“I would have never made that album if I had grown up in the West, because (“Ride”) was (inspired by) the shock of having that much space and being confronted by scenes that you never thought existed or visualized on this planet,” he said. “I loved that the attention was so off of me when I got out there. So the recognition has been fantastic.”
Berger’s first Saturday performance, which was programmed by Brian Richard and Mountain Townb Music, is set to run from 2:30-4 p.m. at the arts festival’s Food Truck Stage at the top of Main Street. The house concert will start at 7 p.m., when he will team up with Andy Bailey, the banjoist, guitarist and vocalist for local bluegrass band Honky Blue Tonky. That concert will start with a potluck dinner at 5 p.m. For directions and parking instructions, RSVP to Bailey at email@example.com. Donations will be accepted at the house show, which will feature stripped-down versions of songs from “Ride.”
Berger worked on “Ride” for years with co-producer Mike Ricciardi, the drummer for Joey Molland’s Badfinger, a band with a history reaching back to the British Invasion.
“When we started working on the album, we weren’t sound engineers,” Berger said. “While I could write and perform the songs, we didn’t know how to use the compressors to give an audio allusion of the West. Which was a challenge, because I wanted the music to come at listeners like a movie.”
The two built their own studio and learned along the way what they could do with the sound.
“We got obsessed with the music and we didn’t care what people thought,” he said. “Once we came out the rabbit hole (receiving the response we have was) very gratifying for me.”
Berger began writing music relatively late in his life, compared to other songwriters.
“I have a law degreem and I totally thought I was going to be a lawyer,” he said. “But I started writing songs while I was in law school, and I didn’t know why.”
Those early songs, Berger said, were “horrific,” but by the time he graduated from Clark University, he had a stack of songs that he thought were “pretty good.”
“I figured I’d see some music publishers and who would tell me the songs weren’t bad, but that I’d be better off staying in law,” he said.
To Berger’s astonishment, he landed a publishing deal, and had a chance encounter with Richie Havens, a folk and soul singer known for his opening set at the original Woodstock.
Havens, until his death in 2013, played Berger’s song “The Last One” during live performances.
“That’s what sent my life down this path,” Berger said. “I can’t say I ever had a system for songwriting, but once I got rolling, it became receptive to the things from the universe that would enter my mind.”
As a songwriter, Berger said he wanted to make sure every lyric and line contributed something to the song, and, taking that one step further, when Berger would write a full song, he wanted to write something that he’s never written before.
“It needs to be something that I can add to my repertoire,” he said.
While Berger listened to rock mainstays Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Band, he said it was an undergraduate course in classical music appreciation that opened his eyes to interpreting music.
“I was not interested in classical music at the time, but I devoured the rep and got into the great classical composers,” he said. “I found what we should consider singularly great, and not just faddish and in the moment.”
While he was honing his songwriting skills, Berger said he never thought about becoming a singer and performing artist.
The reason was simple: He didn’t think he could sing.
“It took a while to wrap my head around me becoming a performing artist, and that took years of me standing in front of rock ‘n’ roll electric-guitar bands playing clubs in Lower Manhattan, screaming my brains out,” he said.
Berger is currently working on a new album with an anti-authoritarian bent called “Folk Music,” which is being produced by Eric Ambel, who has worked with Nils Lofgren, Steve Earle and Mojo Nixon.
“The album is a genre-bending look at what constitutes and qualifies as folk music, and the idea of that comes from Walt Whitman,” Berger said, citing the American poet’s assertion that artists should “cheer up slaves and horrify despots” in one of his works. “The album’s concept comes from the idea that if folk music doesn’t shake things up and challenge authority, then it isn’t folk music. And it doesn’t matter if the music is played by a punk band or someone with an acoustic guitar.”
The album will feature Tony Garnier, Dylan’s bandleader and bassist, and Dan Rieser, a drummer who has played with Norah Jones and Rosanne Cash.
In the meantime, Berger is focusing on this weekend’s concerts.
“I want to thank Brian Richards of Mountain Town Music for bringing me into the Utah market,” Berger said. “He has been a total pleasure to work with.”
The songwriter also wanted to thank Andy Bailey for hosting the house concert.“These two performances will be the first time I’ll ever set foot in your town, and I’m looking forward to them,” Berger said.
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