He’s a big-city kid from the East Coast, but Marc Berger’s heart has long resided in the American West. The singer/songwriter, who grew up in Philadelphia and New York, discovered the West’s wide-open spaces as a 21-year-old college student. “Just before I was about to start law school [at Rutgers University], I had this friend,” Berger recalls. “He was a Christian Arab from Israel, and we were a couple of wild guys. We decided to get in a car and see America.”
What they found stunned them — and changed Berger’s life for good. “I had no idea what I was in for,” he says. The majestic mountains, dramatic deserts and colorful canyons of the western U.S. made a lasting impression on the young man. “I came back from that first trip transformed. For the next five years, I spent every summer out there.”
Berger stayed in school, graduated and passed the bar (in both New York and New Jersey), but the beauty and grandeur he encountered on his travels found their way into songs he wrote throughout law school. Assuming he’d probably be an attorney, but wanting to take one shot at music while he could, he started shopping his songs around. “I thought I’d get it out of my system,” Berger says.
To his surprise, he landed a contract with a music publisher. Shortly thereafter, a “chance encounter” with Woodstock icon Richie Havens led to Berger’s song “The Last One” becoming a staple at Havens’ concerts. These two events started him on what has become a lifelong career in music as a singer and songwriter. He left law behind and never looked back.
When he’s not on the road, Berger lives and works in Ithaca, New York, but his love affair with the West continues unabated. It inspired a full-length album, 2011’s Ride, full of folk- and country-kissed songs that evoke the magic and mystery of Colorado, Arizona, Utah and points farther from the Atlantic. Well-received among the folk and roots community (and licensed by Starbucks for in-store airplay) the album takes listeners “on a dusty tour of the Great American Frontier.” He’ll play these songs and share stories about their inspiration at a solo acoustic concert at the Oxnard Library on Feb. 16.
“Library concert” seems like an oxymoron — to Berger as much as anyone — but Ride’s Americana flavor and Berger’s evocative storytelling have landed him an audience beyond the usual honky-tonk. “The program has caught on with libraries,” he explains. “I could probably make a career out of playing libraries. And the people who come to these concerts are attentive and interested.” Berger will be bringing his one-man show to libraries across the U.S. through September, with a stop at the Durango Songwriters Expo, which takes place in Ventura on Feb. 16-18.
“The stories have to do with my travels in the West, and the drives across the U.S.,” Berger says of his upcoming Oxnard performance. “This is a unique program for sure.”
Marc Berger performs on Thursday, Feb. 16, 1 p.m. at the Oxnard Public Library, 251 S. A St., Oxnard. For more information call 385-7500 or go to https://www.oxnard.org/library/.