For folk-rock star Matt Nathanson, celebrating the Fourth of July brings back memories of his childhood in Lexington, Mass., when he and his friends would fire off bottle rockets and other celebratory noise makers.
But although he’s been a touring musician for 20 years, he’s never played a show on Independence Day.
That changes this year, when he headlines the July 4 celebration at L.L. Bean in Freeport. The free concert is part of three days’ worth of activities for the iconic Maine retailer and serves as the kickoff of the annual L.L. Bean Summer Concert Series.
But as of last week, Nathanson still wasn’t sure what he’ll do differently for his first-ever Fourth of July concert.
He may have to resort to those childhood exploits.
“I don’t know — do you think they’ll let me fire off bottle rockets?” said Nathanson, 40. “We’ll definitely think of something to make it special.”
Fourth of July has become a symbol of summer relaxation and fun — and, in Maine, the traditional start of the summer tourist season. In keeping with those themes, Nathanson doesn’t have to change much about his breezy, soulful music to fit right in.
Although he’s sometimes categorized as folk, Nathanson considers himself a “troubadour.” He uses his acoustic guitar to write songs that often have the thump of rock and the riffs of jazz — along with a mix of other influences — plus lyrics that tell a story about life and love.
Put them all together, and you have the perfect ingredients for a summer mood.
His latest single, “Mission Bells,” is infectious and breezy, with a combination of bouncy guitar strumming and the “ting” of a bell keeping the beat. But the lyrics are thoughtful, and at times a little somber:
“I’m the end of a Hitchcock movie/ A little dark and a lot confusing/ I’m the last of the worst pretenders/ So lost, so lost in love.”
Although Nathanson grew up outside of Boston, he had lots of relatives in Maine, and learned to play guitar from an uncle who lived in Biddeford.
“So I started by playing songs he liked, stuff from Creedence (Clearwater Revival), but the music I liked at the time was Def Leppard and Van Halen,” said Nathanson. “I wanted to be in a rock band.
“But then I got really interested in the folk movement, and I just felt like playing shows with my acoustic guitar was the best way to really connect with an audience.”
As a teen growing up in the 1980s, Nathanson became a fan of the various folk-inspired artists playing around Boston at that time, including Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman. He was also a fan of U2, because he felt the Irish band “bridged the gap” between a rock sound and impactful lyrics.
Nathanson moved to California to attend college, and has lived mostly in the San Francisco area ever since. He began recording almost right away, and built up a fervent fanbase over the course of a decade. He began having hits on Billboard’s adult pop and adult contemporary charts around 2007.
His 2008 song, “Come On Get Higher,” went to No. 3 on the adult contemporary chart. In 2011, his songs “Faster” and “Run” (featuring Sugarland) both made it into the top 20 on the adult pop chart.
Even though “Mission Bells” has been available online since spring, the album it’s on, “Last of the Great Pretenders,” is due out July 16.
Like all L.L. Bean free concerts, Nathanson’s show will be held in the retailer’s open-air Discovery Park (look for the big Bean boot). The town of Freeport’s fireworks will begin after the show, around 9:15 p.m.
Earlier on July 4, at 10 a.m., Freeport will hold its annual July 4 parade down Main Street, right in front of L.L. Bean.
On July 5, Discovery Park will host a series of free children’s shows from noon to 5 p.m., including the music-comedy duo Audiobody, Yo-Yo People, and Justin Roberts & The Not Ready for Naptime Players.
L.L. Bean’s Fourth of July activities conclude on July 6 at Discovery Park with a concert featuring Maine musical acts Amy Allen, Endless Interstate and The Pete Kilpatrick Band.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: