When it comes to the arts—and especially music—Portland holds its own near and dear. We're happy to claim folks like the Shins, Modest Mouse and the Decemberists, and for several years folk troubadour M. Ward held a place on our roster as well. But Ward reportedly purchased a home in New Hampshire last July and, at that time, was planning to move there. Portland music fans were awfully sad upon hearing this news, and promptly began lamenting the days when Ward would pop up at shows all over town, adding his singular, virtuosic guitar and smoke-and-whiskey vocals to sets by Howe Gelb's Giant Sand, My Morning Jacket, Norfolk & Western and Bright Eyes.
Then, in a casual reply to a MySpace message from WW last month, Ward wrote the following quaint postscript: "Incidentally, I never left Portland. I still live here. I still call Portland my home. I did buy a place in New Hampshire, but I'm not moving there." So, in a preview of Ward's upcoming appearance with Norah Jones, I checked in with the songwriter to welcome him back—and ask him why he's been toying with our hearts.
In his plain, earnest way, Ward explained that the home he bought in New Hampshire is "perfect for getaways or layovers en route to New York City and old Europe," but, he continued, "most of my friends and family are out here." When asked, woundedly, why he didn't formally announce his Portlandness, the ever-humble singer said, "I'm not convinced anyone besides friends and family really care about where I live." Perhaps Ward doesn't realize how much Portland—a mid-sized cultural mecca that's still finding its place among the big dogs—values its talent. Ward said he does feel it's important for an artist to identify with a geographical area, but, he adds, "I think it's more important to identify with the universe...and I've always been more interested in the song than the singer. I joked to my publicist once that I wanted her to hire J.D. Salinger's press agent to get some tips. She didn't think that was very funny."
Ward says his favorite artists' work is "able to fit into any time and any place," but he does exhibit a little Northwest pride when talking about I Am the Resurrection, the John Fahey tribute album he co-produced last year. "I'll tell you one thing, when I was producing that, I [thought], wouldn't it be great if someday his music [became] linked to Oregon in the same way that Brian Wilson's music is linked to Southern California and Robert Johnson's is to the Delta?" Reflectively, he added, "But you never know what's gonna happen, I guess." And in the case of Ward—who's been recording with Bright Eyes, Norah Jones and My Morning Jacket as well as touring the globe—you truly don't know what the future holds, or how long we'll hold on to him. But, for now, Portland's glad to have Ward back. And to that sentiment he graciously replied, "Thanks. It's nice to be had."
Ward plays Saturday, June 30, with Norah Jones at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 8 pm. $45.25-$66.50. All ages. Read a full Q&A with Ward here.