Peter Mulvey celebrates 25 years of music at Yellow Cab
By Gary Spencer
Photo: Indie-folk musician Peter Mulvey celebrates 25 years of songwriting Saturday, April 22 at Yellow Cab Tavern; photo: Elisabeth Witt
Indie-folk music is one of those subgenres of music that seems to spawn both artists who get hot for a minute and quickly evaporate, and those who last for decades, tour endlessly, cultivate a loyal following, and continue to create compelling work. One such indie-folk artist is Peter Mulvey, who celebrates 25 years of music, along with a bevy of remarkable achievements on Saturday, April 22 at Yellow Cab Tavern.
Mulvey is no stranger to the city of Dayton. He’s played in the Gem City on a number of occasions since starting out, and he feels a strong connection to our town, based on his own Midwestern roots.
“I’m from inner-city Milwaukee, which is a post-industrial town a lot like Dayton,” Mulvey says. “It was good, it was rough, it was lower-middle class. I had great teachers, great neighbors. A lot of poverty, a lot of wealth. Bikes and alleys and rivers and old factories and enclaves of different ethnicities.”
Like many people in the Gem City, Mulvey’s Midwestern childhood drew him not just to music, but toward creativity and self-expression. Inspired by musical heroes Greg Brown, Tom Waits, Emmylou Harris, and Los Lobos, he began learning to play guitar at age 7 and has never looked back.
“This was what I was always going to do,” Mulvey explains. “I had stories in me that needed to get out, and the guitar found me.”
Mulvey’s musical career aspirations ramped up in the early 1990s when he attended Marquette University, subsequently propelling him on an unlikely journey to Dublin, where he busked on the streets for change, and later to Boston, where he performed in subway stations. Going from such humble beginnings to the success he’s enjoyed since has given Mulvey unique personal insight into his musical evolution over the past 25 years.
“Early on I was, perhaps, too eclectic to make sense to many people,” Mulvey says. “But I stuck with it, and so my wide shallowness eventually deepened, to the point where I feel like I’ve got a grip now. Audiences seem to understand me better, so hopefully it’s all popping into focus just in time for me to become old and gray. As for the human thing. I think that without music I’d have dried up and blown away a long time ago.”
Mulvey’s musical journey eventually flashed on the radar of iconic folk songstress Ani DiFranco, who has become a visible advocate for Mulvey’s ability to touch people with his music. His first release on her renowned Righteous Babe imprint, Are You Listening?, was released last month and is a collection of reflective, insightful, and stirring songs he’s become famous for over the years, complete with his trademark percussive strumming guitar style.
“Ani and I bonded over some touring in 2015, at shows I opened for her,” Mulvey explains. “Then on June 17, 2015 we were on the road when the Charleston Nine were murdered. I wrote a song a couple days later called ‘Take Down Your Flag,’ and she championed that song, found it a wide audience, including hundreds of people who contributed their own verses. After that it was a no-brainer to ask her to produce my new record. She is a great leader, a great collaborator, a deep soul, and a true scrapper. This record is probably among my most vulnerable and honest.”
While his back catalog is as strong as any of his indie-rock contemporaries, Mulvey’s bread and butter has been his nonstop schedule of touring in the U.S. and beyond. He estimates that he’s traveled over a million miles touring in his career, and according to Mulvey, it’s what he does when he’s on the road that keep things simple yet interesting.
“I bring a folding bicycle with me,” Mulvey explains. “I meditate and make sure when I land to buy enough apples to eat one each day of the tour. Plus there is a good museum in nearly every town. And I have friends. The guys in Shrug are great guys. Spend a couple hours with them at breakfast and you’re golden.”
Speaking of Shrug, Mulvey will reunite with the band and his many friends in Dayton this Saturday. He’s looking forward to yet another night of moving people with his music in the Gem City.
“I’ve played in Dayton perhaps 20 times over the past 20 years,” Mulvey says. “I’ve had a long and fortunate collaboration with Shrug, a tremendous band with a deep catalogue and an indispensable connection to the Dayton music community. It’ll be my privilege to have them back me. Expect laughter, tears, rocking, joking, seriousness, and exuberance. But not a lot of moshing.”
Peter Mulvey plays Saturday, April 22 at Yellow Cab Tavern, 700 E. Fourth St. in downtown Dayton. Shrug is also on the bill. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit PeterMulvey.com or YellowCabTavern.com.