Peter Mayer brings his contemporary folk style to Evanston

<p>Peter Mayer</p>

Peter Mayer

Singer-songwriter Peter Mayer may not be a household name, but most recognize the name of Grammy winner Janis Ian (“At Seventeen”), and this is what she had to say about him:

“I’m a huge Peter Mayer fan, but only when I don’t feel like killing him for being so good. I love Peter’s work, though it irritates me that he plays so much better than I do. If I rocked half as hard as Peter does, I’d own the world by now.”

Mayer is performing in six states over the next couple months, entertaining at art galleries, coffeehouses, churches and small performing arts centers. He’ll be in concert April 5 at the Lake Street Church in Evanston. Two church members, Marcia Heeter and Elizabeth Olson are co-producing the concert , and net proceeds will benefit Lake Street Church.

“My venues range (in seating) from 50 to several hundred, occasionally 300, is the ballpark for me. I do enjoy the intimacy of a 100 to 200-person room, I do appreciate that format,” said Mayer, speaking by phone from his home in Minneapolis. “My music tends toward spiritual, but is more comfortable in progressive churches, because the music is not Christian per se.”

Mayer’s music is exceptional contemporary folk. He is a superb vocalist and advanced guitarist, with songwriting known for its soulful and spiritual messages, a musical search for meaning and understanding. He has released nine albums. While touring, Mayer typically performs on a RainSong carbon fiber guitar.

“I was self taught when I started playing in high school, then took up classical in college,” he said. “I studied music theory, and I’m glad for every day of theory I studied, as it has helped me to grasp music. For years afterward, I took lessons from various people, to learn this and that on the guitar. Any acumen that I can possess on my instrument really helps me as a songwriter, and adds interest to any given show. As a solo guy, it helps carry the show along.”

Mayer grew up listening to Top 40.

“I love jazz standards, have always loved them,” said Mayer, “but I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, and couldn’t afford to buy many records, so the radio was my best friend and my school in songwriting. Anybody on the radio back then who got in my consciousness — of course the acoustic singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and Simon & Garfunkel — were very influential, and the countless others in the Top 40 rotation. My understanding of a song is largely influenced from those days.”

Mayer incorporates storytelling and some audience sing-alongs at his concerts.

“Stories about the songs, songs of one’s own life — I’ll draw from that in a way that’s appealing to the audience,” he explained. “When you do a show, you have the opportunity to do this, to get the audience’s attention, and people love to sing together. Singing together is now a very rare thing, especially for those who don’t attend church. I have learned (how to do) the storytelling and audience (interaction) along the way. I’m 50 now, but I’m always learning.”

Before becoming a professional independent artist, Mayer had considered becoming a priest, studying theology and music in college, followed by two years in seminary. But he subsequently took a job as a church music director and then began performing and recording his music, taking him down a different path.

Ideas and spirituality still engross him, he explains.

“I’m interested in the relationship between religion and spiritual ways of thinking, and from science, what we learned from science in the last 300 years, and how we integrate that into our hearts in a deeper, more spiritual way. That is really one of my great interests as a writer and as a person.”

He continued: “We tend toward rituals and tend to ritualize and mythologize, and if we marry that with empirical truths, and try to draw from what we know already — well, what can we say that we know? It’s a beautiful thing to be part of this unfolding universe and I find it deeply inspiring, and worthy of spiritual expression. We are all inter-connected. All life on Earth comes from the same life that was here a thousand million years ago — it’s a beautiful truth.”

Peter Mayer Lake Street Church, 607 Lake St., Evanston 7:30 p.m. Sat., April 5 $20 advance , $25 door; net proceeds benefit Lake Street Church (847) 864-2181 or petermayer.net

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