‘Songs of Love and Struggle’

World-traveling musician lands in Port Townsend

Posted 7/17/19

Almost always on the move, sharing stages with a multitude of musicians across many state lines, Casey Neill tries to hang on to all the influences he has accumulated. He brings it all from acoustic to electric and back when he makes a solo tour like the one bringing him to Port Townsend as part of Northwind Arts Center’s folk shows: Northwind Songs.

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‘Songs of Love and Struggle’

World-traveling musician lands in Port Townsend

Posted

Almost always on the move, sharing stages with a multitude of musicians across many state lines, Casey Neill tries to hang on to all the influences he has accumulated. He brings it all from acoustic to electric and back when he makes a solo tour like the one bringing him to Port Townsend as part of Northwind Arts Center’s folk shows: Northwind Songs.

Series organizer Matt Miner said Neill follows in the footsteps of performers like Bruce Springsteen and the late Pete Seeger and Utah Phillips who he said sing simultaneously from their heads and their hearts.

“Casey’s words are as informative as his melodies are entertaining,” said Miner of the folk roots of the selected artists. “They don’t have big major-label contracts or play massive arenas. They tour the country by economy class, rental car and stay with friends rather than in hotels, playing bars and living rooms, making their living show-by-show and by selling CDs out of the trunk of their cars.”

Indeed, Neill just finished a few weeks out on the road opening for Mexican-American rocker Alejandro Escovedo. “We started here in Portland and had a couple of shows in British Columbia, Idaho, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Madison, Wisconsin,” he said. “That was really gratifying. It was really great crowds and beautiful stages.”

Now, Neill will perform his solo show at 7 p.m., July 19 at Northwind Arts Center, 701 Water St. in Port Townsend. Tickets are available at the door or online at Brown Paper Tickets.

The performance is the latest in the ongoing Northwind Songs series, a slew of monthly concerts featuring touring performers from around the country and the world.

Miner said he wanted to bring Neill to Port Townsend because of the musician’s love for music and commitment to truth and justice.

“And that’s a view supported by his peers, like members of R.E.M. and The Decemberists, who eagerly join him on tour and in the studio.”

But just like their big-name peers, they can hold an audience in their hands and mesmerize them with enchanting melodies and thought-provoking lyrics, Miner said.

“And, because they are accustomed to more intimate venues, they can connect more directly and personally with their audiences, who leave the shows feeling they have not just discovered a new talent, but made a new friend.”

Neill said he relishes such intimate performances.

“You can present the songs in a way that you really get the emotion behind them,” he said. “You strip it down to its raw form.”

Being alone in the limelight, or in a duo, allows Neill extra time to tell the stories behind the songs, he said.

“Generally, for a listening audience I find that people really respond well to that.”

Soloing allows Neill to peer into the soul of the songs, he said.

“I do have a lot of songs that are story songs that I don’t perform with a band that much because they are better for that setting. It is nice to get to some of that material too.”

That said, Neill still enjoys being in a bar and rocking a crowd, he said.

Neill started his music career in Portland, Oregon during his 20s in the mid- to late-1990s.

“I started out as an acoustic musician, but I was playing a lot in the punk scene,” he said. “... and then I took a left turn and got really interested in Irish music.”

That Irish influence began to creep into all of Neill’s work, he said.

“I spent a couple of records with a trio that was mandolin, fiddle or flute and harmony vocals. It was still original songs, but with a little bluegrass harmonies and a lot of Celtic instrumentation.”

Then, Neill said he took another left turn.

“I was working with a producer named Johnny Cunningham, an extraordinarily accomplished Scottish fiddler,” Neill said. “One of the best in the world. His musical sense was boundless. He had done Broadway shows and played in all kinds of rock bands.”

Cunningham, who died in New York City in 2003, convinced Neill to get back to his rock ‘n’ roll roots for the album he was working on, Neill said.

“I spent years living in New York City working with him and that is when I started touring with a more electric band in addition to the more songwriting-based shows I was doing.”

The punk, Irish and rock ‘n’ roll roots Neill laid down have all blended together to create his sound, he said.

“I like mixing all those things together, which is what I do now is keep a toe in all of those worlds.”

Neill’s most recent album, recorded with his band, Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, is the result of that genre-blending.

“There are more keyboards and guitars who do this sort of interlocking thing and it is definitely a modern record,” he said. “I don’t know if you would call it indie rock. I don’t know what that even means anymore. That is sort of the realm it is in.”

Whatever its category, Neill feels his music has settled into a place of its own, he said.

“I know what I do and I keep elements of all those places I have been along the way and now I am not trying to get away from any of them. I do not assert myself in one direction or another. It is kind of what my music is and who I am. There will be elements of all of those things at the show in Port Townsend.”

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