Stillwater-based singer-songwriter-guitarist Peter Mayer is a local artist in every sense of the word. His latest self-produced album, Third Street, features a lovely wintertime shot of downtown Stillwater, and the title song is about walking down Third Street on his way to his future wife’s house.
A solo performer who accompanies himself on acoustic guitar, Mayer has performed in 48 states including a concert at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., sold out the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, performed at the Pantages and State theaters in Minneapolis, and appeared on Minnesota Public Radio and several nationally syndicated radio shows. He’s also received artist’s fellowships from both the McKnight and Bush foundations.
Mayer, who grew up in Maplewood, Minn., started playing guitar and writing songs while a student at Kellogg High School in Little Canada. The 1970s were something of a golden era for singer-songwriters, and “everything that was on the radio at that time got into my head,” he says. “James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel.”
Mayer majored in theology with a concentration in music at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, and after college combined those interests in a part-time job as a music director at St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in Highland Park from 1987 to 1995. The job allowed Mayer plenty of time to work on his music: He wrote and recorded two CDs of his songs, and developed his art as a solo performer at coffeehouses and a few bars. Performing at colleges provided “a pretty good paycheck for a guy like me”—a musician still developing his writing and performing skills.
Later, Mayer tapped into a network of folk music venues around the country, “an interesting mix” of nature centers, churches, “progressive spiritual centers” and private house concerts organized by fans, he says. As a writer he’s always been interested in “nature and our relationship with nature, and finding ways to connect to the larger world around us in a spiritual way,” he says. “That’s been an abiding interest of mine for a number of years, and that found its way into my writing.
“In a lot of the places I play, audiences are interested in spirituality, cosmology, ecology—but I don’t sing constantly about those things,” he continues, “because, as a performer, you’re asking for two hours of someone’s time. So I mix it up with lighter, more personal things.” A few song titles from Mayer’s latest album give an indication of his eclectic subject matter: “Hawk and Whale,” “Dr. Seuss,” “Winds of October,” “Hot Pickles” and “Human You,” to name a few.
Doug Donley, pastor of University Baptist Church in Minneapolis, is a Mayer fan. “Peter has performed at our church twice for a series that we have called the Roots Cellar. He is a phenomenal songwriter, singer and guitarist,” Donley says. “We love the way that he weaves care for the Earth into his music. His music is timeless and continues to be relevant.”
Mayer has spent most of his performing career as a solo act, although once in a while he will gather a group of musicians for a special joint show. “But, now that I’m older and have a couple of kids, what it takes financially to rent a room and pay musicians adds to the stress of planning for shows,” he says. “Now when I travel, it’s just me; I feel comfortable in that format.”
He’s grateful for his wife Beth Harrison’s help as his booking agent for the past 20-plus years.
Mayer and Harrison and their two daughters—5-year-old Luci and 9-year-old Ceci—lived in Stillwater for eight years in a house built decades ago by Harrison’s great-grandfather. Mayer says he loves learning about the “deep history” of the area and being close to the woods and water, which inspires his songwriting. “Just a couple of days ago, the kids and I were wandering around on the Boom Site on the river, which is a magical place. I love being able to see the layers of history with my kids.”
Peter Mayer in Concert 7:30 p.m.
Trinity Lutheran Church, 115 Fourth St. N., Stillwater
Find more information at the website here.