Between his day jobs and his family life, Andy Byron had almost left songwriting behind after the mid-'80s. It wasn't until his oldest daughter's bat mitzvah that he got the chance to pick up his pen again.
"Typically, the kids will give a speech when they're done reading their Torah portion that they learned," Byron said, "and then the parents come up and give a speech about how wonderful and brilliant their child is."
Byron didn't want to make a speech, he recalled, so his ex-wife, Nancy, said, "Well, why don't you just write her a song?"
Byron loved the idea and followed her advice. He also wrote songs for his other two daughters' bat mitzvahs. Then in 2006, his old musician friend Bill Roser invited him to make a demo at a mutual friend's recording studio near Grand Junction, Colo.
"And that started the whole process," Byron said. "We just went down to demo those three songs at an old music buddy's house in Colorado for a long weekend, and it turned into a whole CD project."
That CD, Somewhere Or Nowhere (2007), helped lead him back to performing. Over the past few years, the Boise-based musician has opened for such country stars as Randy Travis and George Jones. Byron became a promoter as well, launching his Americana Music Series in 2013 at the Riverside Hotel Sapphire Room. Performers who have played the series include Karla Bonoff, whose songs have been covered by Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and Wynonna Judd; and bluegrass musician Peter Rowan, who has played with Bill Monroe and Jerry Garcia, among many others.
Byron released his own second album, The Journey (2015), on May 8. Produced in Nashville, Tenn., by Rick Chudacoff—whose credits include albums by Smokey Robinson and Steve Goodman—the record features impeccably crafted country tunes and clever, mature lyrics. The Journey drew praise from The Kingston Trio's Bob Shane, who called "Don't You Let It Rain," the album's opening track, "one of my all-time favorite songs."
According to Byron, a variety of factors prevented him from making another album for so long.
"I was working," he said. "And I went through a divorce. And the economy changed. You name it—from 2008 on, all kinds of hell broke loose. So I just had not had the opportunity to sit down and put the finances together."
Byron credited his ability to make The Journey to his fans, who donated more than $20,000 to a Kickstarter campaign for the album. Looking back, the time gap between albums doesn't seem so big to Byron.
"It took me 52 years to get the first one out," he said. "So I figure if it only took another seven years to get the second one out, I'm way ahead of the game."
In a way, Byron's joke hints at one of The Journey's biggest pleasures. Taken as a whole, the album exudes the warmth and calm of someone who has learned from hard experience what matters most in his life. The title song (co-written by Byron and Bill Roser) tells the story of a rodeo rider who comes to regret his footloose ways as he gets older. "What Is It About You" and "And to Think I Don't Drink Anymore" celebrate long-term relationships that endure and evolve. Even songs like "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" and "What Are You Thinking Right Now," which depict couples on the verge of breaking up, radiate tenderness and affection.
The album's final track, a cover of "California Bloodlines" by The Kingston Trio's John Stewart, holds special significance for Byron.
"It was a song I'd played for years and years, and I've loved that song forever," he said. "It tied back to where I grew up, too."
Byron's musical career began in California in the 1970s. While living in L.A., he would perform and watch artists like Stewart, Gordon Lightfoot and Carole King at The Troubadour. He moved to Boulder, Colo., in 1973 to attend college but didn't stay there for long: He moved down to Austin, Tex., after growing enamored of the work of songwriter Michael Martin Murphey.
Murphey, whom Byron met and befriended in 2005, provided the impetus for the Americana Music Series. It started with Byron booking two nights for Murphey at the Sapphire Room, both of which sold out.
"He and I were sitting at 10 Barrel the next day after it was all over having lunch," Byron said. "And he said, 'You need to start a music series at that venue.'"
Upcoming Americana Music Series shows include a tribute to John Denver featuring Chris Collins and Boulder Canyon on Sunday, June 28 and up-and-coming bluegrass group The Barefoot Movement on Monday, Aug 6. As for his own music, Byron hopes to get some licensing deals or sell his songs to other country artists. He probably won't tour, but he's fine with that.
As he sings on the new album, "The pleasure of the journey just ain't like being there."
Andy Byron's Americana Music Series: americanamusicseries.net