Vance Gilbert isn’t just a top-notch singer-songwriter. The veteran folkie, who will perform Thursday evening at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University, is very good at connecting with an audience. Gilbert stole the 2007 Philadelphia Folkfest courtesy of an engaging and humorous performance.
“I love to get up there and have fun,” Gilbert said. “I remember the Philadelphia Folk Festival very well. I love playing festivals, but I love playing all shows. Performing has always been enjoyable for me.”
The charismatic Gilbert grew up in Philadelphia, which has produced a great deal of tremendous recording artists ranging from Teddy Pendergrass to the Roots.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Gilbert said. “Philadelphia is an amazing music town. You can’t help but be impacted by that. The great thing is that when I was growing up there, there was always music on. There was always something on the turntable. There was always somebody like Ray Charles playing. We always had Motown on. I loved it.”
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After graduating from college in 1979, Gilbert followed his passion and became a folk musician busking in Boston. “I did what I was compelled to do,” Gilbert said.
Fortunately, Gilbert had the talent and drive to score a record deal. He signed with Philo Records during the 1990s and released a number of underheralded albums such as 1994’s “Edgewise” and 1995’s “Fugitives,” which are full of witty, deep and at times humorous material.
“I’ve been fortunate, but I’ve worked so hard at this,” Gilbert said. “When you do what I do, you’re always working. You don’t get a break from work, but this is what I love to do.”
Gilbert does it well. He was influenced by some of the best songwriters of the latter half of the last century.
“During my college days, I was really influenced by James Taylor and Joni Mitchell,” Gilbert said. “You can’t help but be impressed by the songs they wrote and those recordings. And then there was the Beatles, who blew away so many people. I also have to say that I was also blown away by Shawn Colvin. I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves, but when I saw her in 1990, I was really impressed.”
Gilbert is not to be missed live. He’s a throwback who has the uncanny ability to read and react to his fans. “Every audience is different,” Gilbert said. “I like to have fun and live in the moment.”
Gilbert’s performance is part of the Ulrich’s “Art for Your Ears” outdoor concert series. The series continues Aug. 1 with appearances by Mark Selby and Tia Sillers.