Concert Review: Whetherman, music for the soul

By: Dan Kasun

Artwork for This Land by Whetherman. (Photo courtesy of: Spotify)

Artwork for This Land by Whetherman. (Photo courtesy of: Spotify)

Nicholas Williams, or Whetherman as he has been known for the last 10-plus years, looks (and sounds) as if he might have been born with a guitar and harmonica strapped to himself. He looks at home on stage, a traveling troubadour, weaving poetically folky and introspective songs of hope, loss, yearning and admiration.

Whetherman finds inspiration in the everyday life of just being a human, from the low struggles to the joys of existence. Song ideas may come from places and people, movies and books, experiences and…murder (more on that later)!?

Performing at Natalie’s Coal Fire Pizza in Worthington, Whetherman demonstrated how his songwriting skills and subjects have evolved over time, and the diversity of the setlist proved he’s also just as comfortable taking on a Guthrie/Seeger political voice with “This Land,” as he is tackling Peter, Paul, and Mary, Led Zeppelin and Ryan Adams songs.  

After the conclusion of this current tour, the Whetherman name will be retired for good. In the future, he will play and produce under simply Nicholas Williams. Touring heavily over the years across the country, self-producing and self-managing his own career and trying to make that emotional connection with every listener, Nick said he had “lost his way…I was not being true to the music or myself.”   

He needed to take a break and get back to the core of being a musician and making music for himself. The new songs played at Natalie’s on this night indeed showed a new direction in songwriting alongside a new host of influences.  

Whetherman has always been adept at weaving a landscape, taking the listener on a storytelling journey through the places he has visited, the people he has met and tying it all together with personal reflection and contemplation. The quietness in his songs lent itself well to the venue, admittedly one of his favorite places to play, as the audience was engaged and attentive from start to finish. Some of the newest songs had a clear cheerful side to them, still with a folky-infused truthful taste, but using humor to deliver the message, subtle or not.   

Speaking with Nick, it was no surprise to learn John Prine was a clear influence on the new music. On the other side of joviality, the middle of the set featured a murder ballad with a twist. Most traditional ballads are narrated from the point of view of the murderer, or from the point of view of the victim. In what seemed to be a love triangle gone very, very bad, the narrator here is the victim, shot dead at the finalization of the story.

Whichever artistic direction Nicholas Williams wants to take himself and the listener in the future, it’s undoubtable that the same pensive, reflective and heartfelt persona of Whetherman will still find a connection and relatable meaning to anyone listening.  

In other words, music for the soul.