‘Sunshine’s message reverberates almost 50 years later
Jonathan Edwards, who played Memorial Hall Nov. 2, was one of the first interviews I did when I started writing for the Enquirer again in 2016. He helped me knock off the rust by graciously answering some inane questions and guiding me back to the substance of his work. I’ll always appreciate that.
Jonathan Edwards has been a sly subversive from the start.
While people were movin’ and groovin’ to his bright, uptempo “Sunshine” in 1971, he was talking about the horrors of the Vietnam War in its lyrics. At the same time, he introduced a generation to the bohemian idyll that was “Athens County” in rural southeastern Ohio.
As he approaches his 70th birthday in the year that marks the 45th anniversary of his self-titled debut album, Edwards sounds the same: thoughtful, upbeat, slightly sardonic but appreciative for the life that music has given him and what it has meant to others.
“Whenever I’m temped to hang up my guitar pick, and not drive around the world, I think of what people come up and say to me,” says Edwards. “They will say, ‘Do you have any idea that you helped me get through Vietnam or an outrageous divorce?’
“It’s so heartwarming. I’m certainly gratified to know that it was part of people’s collection in 1971 and onward. I’m grateful to have that opportunity to have that vehicle to share.”
Although Edwards is proud of his past, he’s too inquisitive and engaged in the now to do more than acknowledge it before gunning the gas pedal toward the next venture. “Tomorrow’s Child,” which reached No. 1 on the folk music charts in 2015, features Joe Walsh, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Douglas and producer Darrell Scott. That lineup shows the peer respect he has earned over the years.
In turn, he reflects that respect back to the audience.
“I try to give an uplifting, soulful, happy outlook on life (in my performance); that’s who I am as well,” Edwards says. “It’s all about introducing the songs and where they come from, where they’ve been and where they’re going. And I plan to keep going until the wheels fall off.”
While he plays to the positive in concert, Edwards isn’t unaware of the state of the world.
“The reason to come to my show is not to listen to me rant about things,” he says. “But I think music today is far less involved with society and culture than it was when we started. It’s more of a corporate venture now.
“I don’t hear any of that kind of intense involvement that we had. If it’s there, I’m not hearing it.”
But don’t think Edwards is the neighborhood crank warning kids to get off his lawn. He understands life is much different these days.
Well, with the exception of the music business, especially as it applies to traveling troubadours like him.
“My generation has seen the rise and fall of the record industry,” he laughs. “We’ve seen the whole arc of outrageous wealth, fortune, opulence and greed turn into selling (music) out of the back of your truck.”
Sounds like fodder for shiny pop song with an underlying warning.
Watch Jonathan Edwards play “Sunshine”