Singer Alex Radus to tell in Godfrey Daniels show how 'wandering' led to Lehigh Valley
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Two decades ago, Alex Radus was a nationally touring musician, singing in a duo that opened for folk legend Richie Havens and was part of New York's Anti-Folk scene that produced music stars Beck and Regina Spektor.
But these days, Radus said, he has found contentment in the Lehigh Valley's original music scene, which he said supports him and other artists like no other outside major cities.
- Alex Radus will debut his musical show "Wander and Never Wonder Why" at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 at Godfrey Daniels, 7 E. 4th St., Bethlehem
- Tickets, at $18.50 advance and $23.50 day of show, are available at www.godfreydaniels.org. Info: www.alexradus.com@alexradusmusic
- The show, in songs and spoken stories, will trace Radus' journey in the music business and the "misadventures" along the way
And in a new show of songs and spoken stories, "Wander and Never Wonder Why," Radus traces his journey and the "misadventures" along the way.
He'll debut the show at 8 p.m. Saturday at Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem — a venue he said not only helped draw him to the Valley with a family connection, but also helped persuade him to stay.
“I’ve had a nice run over here in the Lehigh Valley over the last 10 years or so with the music that I’ve been writing since then," Radus said in a recent call from his home in Riegelsville.
“But there’s a whole kind of repertoire and stories from my days when I was really on the road a lot that I think a lot of people haven’t heard yet and don’t know about.
“The American Road is a whole genre that speaks to so many people. And the concept of going behind the music and telling the stories behind the music, I think, is also a concept that resonates with a lot of people.
“I think part of it is just the kind of adventure of being on the road, or being in the air ... and seeing America kinda for the first time in some ways. Seeing how the coast or in the middle can be similar or be vastly different.
“And I thought it would be fun to bring those together and do that in a very kind of ‘bring the American Road to Godfrey Daniels' in a very local and accessible way."
An auspicious start, and a scene
One such story, Radus said, is how his duo got to open for Richie Havens, who is perhaps best known as the first act to perform at the historic Woodstock festival.
Radus, a New Jersey native, had started playing in Duende: Maria Woodford and Alex Radus, when he was just 19.
“Through some luck and some adeptness, I guess, it was one of our first gigs ... a really exciting experience," he said. "I think I was probably, you know, barely 20 at the time. And it was such an amazing way to kind of kick off this whole adventure.
Havens "was just really welcoming and so supportive of what we were doing, and I got a photo. This is how long ago it was: I had an actual printed photograph of it that I literally kept in my wallet of him and I and my bandmate. I kept it in my wallet 'til it disintegrated," Radus said with a laugh.
“And I can still remember that he, kind of word-for-word, said, ‘Keep going. We need artists like you to carry the torch.’ And that was just so profound to me at that time in my life, and it gave me a lot of get-up-and-go to get out on the road and just create art.”
Later, Radus said, his duo was part of the Anti-Folk scene at the SideWalk Cafe in New York City's East Village — a music movement that emerged in response to the remnants of the 1960s folk music and propelled such performers as Beck, The Strokes, The Moldy Peaches and former Poconos resident Nellie McKay.
"The scene in New York was really fun," Radus said. "Sort of the misfits; they had that folk sensibility, but they were a little bit too much misfits and punks for the folk clubs.
“And so they created their own anti-folk scene and said, ‘Well, if we can’t get booked in the folk clubs, we’re going to create our own scene.' And that was great for us because we were, in essence, a folk duo, but we were doing a lot more, and we were edgy enough where we felt like we didn’t always fit in.
“And we found this scene and just absolutely found a real home in New York."
Among those artists with whom Radus interacted most was Regina Spektor, the critics-favorite singer who had a gold record with her 2006 album "Begin to Hope" and had two other Top 10 albums.
Radus said he and Spektor played together frequently at Sidewalk Cafe, and even did festivals together in Boston.
"We were really on the same level at the time," he said. "We were just kinda all nobodies, living for the art. And she obviously went on to just a fantastic career and was such a sweet and accommodating person when we got to play with her, and a huge talent. ... Incredibly down-to-earth and really got along well.
"So there were just a lot of really exciting people playing in that scene all at the same time. And some of them, they really nailed it and went on to great careers.”
Misadventures — and support
Radus said "Wander and Never Wonder Why" also will go behind the scenes of life as a struggling musician.
“I mean, there were definitely some misadventures, and there were some times that were downright scary and dangerous. ... There’s a certain magic to sleeping on strangers’ couches until there isn’t," he said with a laugh.
“I mean, there were definitely some misadventures, and there were some times that were downright scary and dangerous. ... There’s a certain magic to sleeping on strangers’ couches until there isn’t."Singer Alex Radus
"But overall it was a really positive experience. I think we started making money to stay in hotels, but then our stories weren’t nearly as interesting anymore. I really kind of missed the going out and playing a show and figuring out, ‘OK, where are we crashing tonight?’ 'Cause that’s where the real stories were, and that’s where the real magic was."
Radus said kindness is by far his greatest memory from early in his music career.
“For the most part, when you’re kind of down-and-out and you need a hand, there are just so many generous people willing to help you out, and take in a stranger and treat them like family," he said. "I was just constantly blown away at the people that made a connection with our music and that was enough for them to really open their hearts and their homes to us.
“And the other thing I would say that I really loved about it is that you can be wherever you are in the country — and I would venture to say almost wherever you want to be on the globe — as soon as you get out a guitar or some musical instrument and you start playing music with people, you’re immediately a local; you’re not a tourist anymore."
He recalled being in New Orleans, "a couple of kids from New Jersey, playing on the street because we didn’t know anybody and couldn’t get a proper gig," and having people walk by them and say, "Look, some authentic New Orleans street musicians!"
“But conversely, we were," he said. "By virtue of the act that we were there, with an open guitar case on the curb, playing our music and hawking our wares ... you become a local through that process in a way that can be really magical.”
Finding a home
Radus said that when he was off the road, he found himself living in his native New Jersey, “and we really just couldn’t afford to live there," he said with a laugh.
"I like to joke that there is no musician middle class — you're either super rich and famous, or totally broke," he said. "It's an overgeneralization, of course, but there's a lot of truth to it."
Radus said he "was quite comfortable living on the fringe, but when I decided I wanted a family, I began to make other plans. I'd dropped out of college to tour, so I had to finish college first."
He said he already had a connection to the Lehigh Valley: his uncle, Doug Anderson, who had played with folk singer John Gorka and others in the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band, which formed in the 1970s at Moravian College in Bethlehem. They were an early favorite at Godfrey Daniels.
“So I had heard, growing up as a kid, about Godfreys and about my uncle playing and that was sort of baked in a little bit to our family’s story. And so when I landed in this area — and perhaps that was part of the subtle, psychological pull to this area — obviously, I sort of sought out Godfreys as soon as we landed in the area," he said, chuckling.
But he also started at Northampton Community College, then Temple University.
"I put myself through college playing music and a few other odd jobs," he said. "I developed a passion for writing and arguing both sides of a debate, and law school [also at Temple] felt like a logical next step. It also seemed like a good way to support a family."
Radus said it's not easy to find a lawyer job that "allows you time for your family, let alone your passions. And that was a struggle for a while."
But he said he found that at Lehigh University, where he's with the Office of General Counsel. Lehigh, he said, "thankfully, encourages a healthy work/life balance. And as a result, I've been able to devote more time to family and music recently, while maintaining a fascinating legal practice. I'm quite grateful for that, and my family is too."
A 'second phase'
It's been 15 years since Radus settled in the Lehigh Valley.
“I’m in a bit of Phase Two of my music career," Radus, now 43, said. "I took a little bit of a break in the middle there.
"I have a lot of new music in the works, and some big plans. I'm very excited for this second phase of my career."
Radus even recorded his most recent album, "Tributaries," with his Alex Radus Trio, released last spring, live at Godfrey Daniels.
Also, in September, he took part in a Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band reunion at Godfreys with John Gorka and another former member, Russ Rentler.
“I remember being really struck that there was a place with a really great arts scene that was really supportive of original music," he said. "I had only experienced that in major markets; only in New York or San Francisco or Chicago. I’d certainly never found one where the cost of living was one that I could afford."
Radus said that's continued to be true — "whether it’s Godfreys or Musikfest and ArtsQuest, there’s just so many different places here in the Lehigh Valley that really support the arts.
“And I think that’s just true of the people who come out to my shows — so supportive of original music. So that’s kind of how we landed here, and I decided I wanted to stay.
"The culture and the opportunities in the arts — and a lot of other opportunities — I think is really fantastic, and one of the best that I’ve, at least, personally seen in my travels around the country.”