PRINCETON — Those visiting the Princeton Coffeehouse Saturday night to see Bureau County native son Jason Ringenberg perform were included in a special experience that would be hard to duplicate.
Ringenberg, raised in Sheffield, had returned home to Bureau County in celebration of his new CD, “Stand Tall,” a collection inspired by his time as an artist-in-residence at Sequoia National Park.
In an event sponsored by Blue Jay Way Records and the Princeton Coffeehouse, Ringenberg had promised two sets of music spanning his entire career. The song choices spanned a wide range, from the historical to the punk-flavored, with a few children’s songs added when needed.
What made the evening unique from other performances was a family connection that was generously shared with everyone in attendance. Even though it’s challenging to find the right way to write about it, no honest review could ignore it.
Earlier in the day, just hours before the show, the family held a memorial service for Jason’s beloved aunt, Rachel Ringenberg. A large group of relatives and close friends were in attendance, several in Ringenberg tour T-shirts, and it was also the first time at the venue for many of them.
“I’d like to welcome western Bureau County,” Princeton Coffeehouse host Bill Beneke said to the packed house before welcoming Jason to the stage.
Events following memorials can often include lighter moods where families can begin to set aside some of their grief, remember happier times, and find comfort in each other. As Ringenberg took the stage, it was apparent he was ready to help his family through this difficult time.
Wearing a cowboy hat, white snakeskin boots, black pants and an impressively shiny, silver rhinestone Western shirt, he quickly set the mood for the evening. He said his outfit might seem like an odd choice following such a somber event, but he explained it was in tribute to his aunt.
“Rachel always wore bright outfits, and being around her was like being around a big flower. So tonight, I chose my flashiest outfit in her honor,” he said to cheers.
Ringenberg’s on-stage presence was one of a man who has comfortably played before some of the biggest crowds ever. A talented storyteller, he shared memories of his adventures as a world-touring musician and, an obvious history buff, also the historical and personal stories that have inspired him and some of the songs on “Stand Tall.”
He dedicated the Civil War anthem “Battle Cry of Freedom” to the soldiers of Bureau County after explaining their, as well as Princeton’s, Civil War-era history.
Ringenberg interacted frequently with the audience. Since he was related to, or friends with, so many in attendance, the evening felt more like I’d wandered into a family gathering where they were enjoying the stories of a successful relative who had returned home with exciting tales, rather than an anonymous musical performance.
After covering Jimmie Rodgers’ sad story of Hobo Bill, it was a Farmer Jason children’s song that lifted the crowd back into a joyous atmosphere.
“I’ve learned that nothing lightens the mood after a sad song than a good ol’ Farmer Jason song,” he said as he broke into the always popular, and often requested, “Punk Rock Skunk.”
Although Ringenberg’s Emmy-winning songs as Farmer Jason were written with children in mind, they proved equally, if not more popular, with adults. Also sung to rousing receptions were “Moose on the Loose” and the encore performance of “The Tractor Goes Chug, Chug, Chug.”
Ringenberg is a versatile, personable performer who is engaging whether he’s sharing stories, singing heartfelt lyrics, or rocking out. He told of the early, financially challenged days of Jason & The Scorchers, as well as their rapid success.
He also spoke of how he had recently thought his days as a touring musician had come to a natural end before being invited to Sequoia National Park. The inspirations for “Stand Tall” were shared as he described the diverse natural beauty of the area he was so fortunate to call home for a brief period.
After the show, Ringenberg happily visited with his family, friends and fans. While he’s embarking on a new tour that will include many more enjoyable performances, it’s doubtful any will rival the personal feeling of his May 11 homecoming show at the Princeton Coffeehouse.
“I may live in Nashville, but Bureau County will always be my home, and I’ve never really left it in my heart,” Ringenberg told the crowd.