Danny Shafer Returns to Folk Roots With New Album and Book

Danny Shafer is finally home.
Danny Shafer is finally home. Josh Elioseff
Danny Shafer sings and writes songs, but don't call him a singer-songwriter. While he says he understands the aforementioned descriptor, the 51-year-old musician and Lyons resident prefers to be called a folksinger.

"I play folk music," says Shafer, who started out performing in the subways of Chicago. "When I think of folksingers, I think of singing in the street and looking people in the face. It's more intimate. When I first began playing, people would say, 'Oh, you're a folksinger,' and I always related to that. I guess it's all come full circle."

Though he's fielded a few electric groups in his career, Shafer is releasing his sixth solo effort, Songbook, along with a short book of the same title about his life as a musician. The album and memoir will be given away as part of an album-release party at Oskar Blues in Lyons on February 15.

His twelve-song project, which includes the ten-essay book, is his third recording on Tolstar Productions and is produced by Robert Tarantino. The release features Shafer, who favors the sound and style of storytelling troubadours such as Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Steve Earle, in a musically pared-down iteration, with just him and his acoustic ax.

"I've played in a lot of bands," Shafer recalls. "They were mostly Americana and honky-tonk groups. I've played a lot of rowdy bar music with my bands. I played that circuit for a long time. But something was pulling me back to the idea of being a folksinger again. I always related to it. It's something I'm comfortable with. I felt drawn back to my roots of being just one person and a guitar, to see if my songs could stand on their own."

click to enlarge Shafer's new book. - COURTESY OF DANNY SHAFER
Shafer's new book.
Courtesy of Danny Shafer
Shafer, who toured the country in a van for many years while being based out of Boulder, has experienced some pain, including the loss of former bandmate and close friend Jubal Thompson, who passed away in 2016. Despite such trials, Shafer has found a bit of peace and a little rest in the form of marriage and says he is grateful for how his life has unfolded.

"I was playing about 275 shows a year for more than fifteen years," he relates. "I was running all over the place. I lived in my van with my dog [Roadie] in my own little universe. When I met my wife and her kids, I had no idea how to be in a family environment. It's been a huge learning curve to get used to other peoples' rituals, traditions and schedules. I felt like someone who had to be house-trained. I feel like that adopted shelter dog who has been given that opportunity to have a life with a family. The theme of this new record is warmth, family and home. It's about trying to take a small, sentimental moment and hold on to it."

Shafer has been married for five years and says he enjoys his home life and the small-town pace of Lyons, and he plans to convey his current mood at the intimate show at Oskar Blues. But his life experiences continue to inform his performances and songwriting.

"During college, my job was busking in the subways," Shafer recalls. "It worked out great for me because I had to take the train to go to school. So I'd take the train to school and play for an hour and a half, then go to class and then play for an hour and a half after school and go back home. I learned a lot about what catches people's ears. It taught me how to sing loud and clear so they could hear me."

He's come a long way since his days in the Windy City, and he finds himself somewhere he can finally call home.

"It was great moving to Colorado, because I needed the peace of the mountains after being in the hustle and the pressure of Chicago. I wanted to start over someplace where the pace was slower," he says. "I wanted to do the release show [in Lyons] because I want to be right at home, and I wanted to make it down-home, easy and relaxed. This is my thank-you project. I want it to feel like where my life is right now."

Danny Shafer album and book release, 8:30 p.m. February 15, Oskar Blues, Lyons, 303 Main Street, $5 (cover charge includes music download card and book).
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Nick Hutchinson writes about music for Westword and enjoys playing his guitar when not on deadline.
Contact: Nick Hutchinson