Dar Williams Ebru Yildiz photo

Most folks know today’s artist as a singer/songwriter with 14 albums under her belt but Dar Williams is also an educator, urban-planning expert and an author, so when I learned that she would be making her venue debut at Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney on the 28th of this month I wanted to reconnect with her. It had been two-and-a-half years since our last conversation, when she was coming back to the Waterville Opera House, so I was curious to know if there was anything new that she wanted to talk about. Her publicist was kind enough to set up a phoner and soon I was calling her at home in the Manhattan area of New York, and after a warm greeting I began by stating …

Q: Thank God for Spotify because I was able to listen to your latest album before doing this interview, I mean, “I’ll Meet You Here” is your latest, right?
Williams: Uh, huh.

Q: Oh, good. Are you working on anything new as a follow-up?
Williams: I would say, “Yes,” but I also have been finishing up a book called “How to Write a Song The Matters” which is based on my Writing a Song That Matters retreats that I lead, and that’s taking a lot of energy (laughter) and I’m okay about that, it took a lot to write it and it was great. But it turns out, and I learned this from writing my other book “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” that I don’t write songs when I’m writing a book, so I have to figure out sort of how to get back to songwriting, and I have been.

Q: And I get the feeling like there’s another ‘but’ coming into the picture.
Williams: Yup, I’ve also discovered that, as we get older, we get more complicated and therefore writing songs can be more complicated because choosing the perfect angle takes a minute; and I’m actually happy for that but it’s been harder to finish songs.

Q: I can resonate to that, for sure, because the older I get the harder it is to focus, but when you do, the clarity seems easier to maintain.
Williams: Yeah, and we can do a real good job on ourselves about the problems with aging but there are gifts, as well.

Q: Like?
Williams: (Chuckle) I feel wiser than I was, I have lots of reference points when I’m deciding what to do of what I’ve already done, and it’s a good way to be especially as a touring artist, to know how to get around the world and get around different personalities (laugh), and different challenges to my self-esteem.

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Q: Now, on to your upcoming show in Sidney. I’ve never been to this venue but I’ve talked with people who have and they speak very well about the Snow Pond Center for the Arts.
Williams: Yeah, I’ve never been there neither.

Q: Do you have a band with you or is this a solo gig?
Williams: It’s a solo show, yeah.

Q: Earlier you mentioned that you couldn’t write a book and songs at the same time, is the book finished?
Williams: yeah, it come out on Sept. 6, I will have it in hand when I get up to Snow Pond.

Q: Oh, cool, I’ll definitely pass that along! Now with 14 albums out now you’ve got a lot of material to draw upon, how do you pick what you’ll do in an evening? Is it just off the cuff or do you take suggestions from the audience?
Williams: (Laugh) You know, I can do off the cuff but sometimes I can’t really feel where I am and so I tell myself I’m going to have to make a set list, but I’ll change it if I need to. Now, with this new album I’ll be doing songs from that and I’ll do two or three of the songs that people are expecting, maybe one or two dark-horse selections, you know B-sides, and then I have a rotation of things people ask for a lot but not all the time. So does that answer the question? (Chuckle)

Q: (Laugh) Why yes, yes it does.
Williams: Great!

Q: Now, just out of curiosity, because you’ve never been to this venue before, is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Williams: No, I don’t think so. I think that I’m probably a lot like what they’ve seen with singer/songwriters, I mean, in terms of what they would expect? One thing I would say is that I do enjoy playing at new venues every year, and I actually think that it is the sign of something very positive that’s happening in our country, because it takes a certain amount of social trust, or what I call positive proximity in the book that I wrote, to find one another to really pull something like this off, whether it’s a renovation or a new building, it’s a real achievement and it only gets better; because once people find each other for these projects, they know where to find each other for the next thing they want to do. These theaters are magic engines for communities.

Q: Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you think we should? This is your forum, after all.
Williams: (Laughter) No, I think this is great. I’m excited to come up, and it’s a busy fall because I’m going to be doing concerts, book signings and modular songwriting workshops, but I don’t think I’m doing anything in Maine. At some point, I hope to come up there and do an afternoon songwriting workshop somewhere; but all of this makes me really happy (pause) and I’m always excited about going to a new place. How about that?!

Q: It was great, we’ve got to talk more often.
Williams: (Laughter) Well, I’m writing songs as fast as I can!

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.