Dar Williams returns to the road for a concert and lecture series

Williams sings, writes and talks about what she found in a thousand towns.

Last year turned out to be a busy one for Dar Williams, and 2018 looks to be a repeat performance. She reunited with fellow singer-songwriters Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky to re-form alt-folkie supergroup Cry Cry Cry after nearly two decades. September saw the Mount Kisco, New York, native and progressive activist publish her book, What I Found in a Thousand Towns, which will be the subject of lectures she’s giving in tandem with her concert appearances.

Williams has spent a good part of the past two decades on the road, where she’s had a catbird seat to observe how people live and interact in the places where she’s played all over the country. This small-town dynamic has always fascinated Williams, and as a visiting professor at her alma mater Wesleyan University, she began researching societal commonalities that she kept seeing crop up, a process that led to her new book.

“I watched towns come into some kind of local prosperity over the last 20 years, and I got interested in what towns were doing that helped them either find their center or souls, or helped them function in a resilient way,” Williams explains. “It turns out there are all these words for what I was looking for, like high trust versus low trust, and something called social capital, which is a bank account of good will as opposed to a financial bank account. There is also something I call positive proximity, which is the sense that living close to other people is actually a force of good.”

[pullquote-1] Put more simply, Williams says that “being around a lot of people allows you to do more things and have more fun. Towns with high positive proximity will have things like a downtown with a lot of independent stores and restaurants. It’ll be long, so people can walk up and down and around, and it’ll have a nice train station and things like that. These things of course, generate positive proximity too. That sense that somebody cares about your well-being in town generates a sense that you want to be a part of it.”

And then there’s Cry Cry Cry, the collaboration that’s been on the back burner for decades. Originally formed back in 1998, the trio released a single self-titled album of mostly covers steeped in harmonies that evolved out of sound checks that Shindell and Williams had been doing while touring together as solo artists in the mid-’90s. As such, the album Cry Cry Cry, with its interpretations of songs by the likes of R.E.M., Greg Brown, Robert Earl Keen and Ron Sexsmith, earned the group a fervent following that’s been clamoring for a reunion. That notion has also been on the minds of the three musicians involved.

“We all were thinking about it for a long time on our own” says Williams. “Then Lucy wrote and said we had an offer to play at [the Clearwater Folk] festival if we wanted to reunite. We were all hiding these songs in our back pockets that we had saved for a possible reunion, so it was a very instant yes.”

The trio also played a handful of shows last year and has a spring tour on the horizon. Williams says a new album is a possibility, too.

“What we want to do is try a couple of songs [live onstage] and see how they do. We’d like to work on a couple of songs, because you can’t really see how they are until they’re living out in the audience a bit,” she explains. “If it hits the wall and falls, people will understand. But it might hit the wall and turn into fireworks. It’s going to be kind of special, because it’s going to have the intimacy of trying new things.”

In the meantime, Williams has her own shows to play, in tandem with the talks she’ll be doing along the way.

“I’m really excited to get into towns and talk about the book and then turn it over and find out what’s going on in peoples’ towns that they are excited about,” she says, “as opposed to what’s wrong, because everybody knows what’s wrong.”

Then, after all of that, there’s still another solo album to complete by year’s end. “The book kind of took a lot of focus and energy. But once the book was done, the melodies started to trickle back in pretty quickly. I’m thinking that I’ll actually have something sooner rather than later.”