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On the road with Norman Baker

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Norman Baker, an eclectic musician from Seattle, appreciates his time on the road touring because of the unique space for human connection it provides. PHOTO COURTESY OF NORMAN BAKER

A folk artist reflects on his travels

By Michael Somerby EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

BOZEMAN – In a country nearly 3,000 miles wide, 1,500 miles long and home to population with a voracious appetite for music, traveling by road isn’t just commonplace for musicians in the U.S.—it’s a rite of passage. Seattle-native Norman Baker is in the midst of such a voyage, and he’s relishing it.

“This is the longest solo tour I’ve ever done, with 32 shows, in seven states, over 5.5 weeks,” said Baker, who performed at The Rialto’s Burn Box venue in Bozeman on May 18, entrancing the crowd with master acoustic guitar work and vocals to match. “Commuting and long tours aren’t for everyone, but I love it. It’s a chance to see the country and connect with people over my art.”

Baker was baptized in music from a young age, playing trumpet and trombone in a school band, drums and bass in a jazz band, forming a rap group with friends, learning guitar licks from his father and bluegrass structure and sound from his mother, who plays the fiddle and mandolin. He soaked up musical influence like a sponge, taking scale lessons from his uncle and power chord riffs from a heavy metal-obsessed friend. And soon, he was writing music.

“I’d write anything from grungy power chord songs, to sensitive teenage boy songs,” Baker said.

Baker jokes his focus on music truly solidified when he became outsized on the football field.

“I played football, basketball and baseball,” Baker said. “I was the quarterback in middle school, and I was a stud. But then everyone started getting really big, and I was no longer a stud.”

Now the musician plays mostly with a band he serves as frontman for, Norman Baker & The Backroads, but also plays solo, straddling the Americana, country, rock ‘n’ roll, folk and bluegrass genres in both ventures.

Flipping between a solo act and being a member of a band, his team, comes with unique challenges and approaches to performance. There are pros and cons to both, Baker says.

“I like being up there by myself, to have the freedom to improvise a bit more, to lengthen out the songs, and when you’re with a full band you’ve got to stick with the program,” Baker said. “But there’s nothing like the feeling of playing with other people and making something together.”

Baker feels the connections he forges on the road make all the long hauls and lonely moments meaningful.

“I was just thinking about this last night, hauling a bunch of gear into the hotel, how much work you put in every night and how much of a struggle it is,” Baker said. “Some days are rough and long, and I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Then I play the show, and all the people I meet and connect with after the show, saying super nice things about the songs, makes it all worthwhile.”

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