You don’t have to look too far for a live music venue in Durango. And now, you can add Maria’s Bookshop to the list, at least this weekend when The Bookshop Band comes to play a set Sunday at the shop.
Scottish folk duo The Bookshop Band, made up of Beth Porter and Ben Please, landed Monday for a U.S. tour. They will be traveling for three weeks, performing at bookstores and libraries in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Colorado.
It’s the band’s first U.S. tour, and Porter said before landing here, they weren’t sure what to expect.
“We’ve just found it hard to imagine what it’s going to be like,” she said. “Now, we’re here and we can get really excited about it.”
Please said the tour came about because of an article written by New York Times literary critic Dwight Garner. Garner had traveled to their hometown of Wigton, Scotland, late last summer to take over running an Airbnb bookshop called The Open Book. During his stay, he met Please and Porter.
About a month later, the article came out in the Times.
“It was a really nice write-up about us, and with the tagline that if America’s bookshops can’t get these two over to America to play, then they’re all doing something wrong,’” Please said. “Immediately after that, we got an invite from the American Booksellers Association. It suddenly went from just being a pipe dream to suddenly being a reality.”
The two said that because planning the tour came so quickly, there were definite challenges to pulling it all together.
“Because that was only three months ago, getting the visas to come as a band, to come to perform in the U.S. is really, really hard, so it was quite a rush to actually get here in time,” Please said. “We also had to try to fund it somehow.”
That funding ultimately came from a few sources, including Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, an independent bookshop in Bath, United Kingdom. The Bookshop Band traces their origins to Mr. B’s, having gotten their start there in 2010. They also received helped from U.K.-based wholesaler Gardners and its U.S. counterpart, All Media Supply.
While here, The Bookshop Band will play an ever-increasing number of gigs, Please said – about 25 shows in 21 days, all in different bookshops and libraries. They will also perform for members of the American Booksellers’ Association in Albuquerque.
The band’s songs and music are inspired by a curated selection of books by Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Please said. When the bookshop has an author coming in – the store chooses really bright, kind of contemporary fiction authors, he said – Porter and Please would read the book beforehand and then write a song or two inspired by that book, to play at the shop.
“What we do when we do shows, we talk about those books a little bit, we might hold up the book and just describe very briefly how that book inspired the song,” Please said. “We draw the audience in just enough so they didn’t have to read the book beforehand, and it draws them in enough into the story so they can hopefully kind of see where we were coming from when we wrote the song.”
Their concerts are generally made up of maybe 10 or 12 of those books, Porter and Please said.
“One we’ve done really recently is ‘Our Homesick Songs’ by Emma Hooper,” Porter said. “It’s a great book, a really beautiful book about cod fishing off the coast of Canada. It’s based loosely on that, but it’s a very beautiful book.”
For a band that is based on books, bookshops and libraries hold a special place for them, Porter and Please said, adding that even as technology continues to rise, their importance cannot be diminished.
“I think that what bookshops do, like if you’re a small bookshop for example, like an independent bookshop, unlike a huge retailer or Amazon, you can’t stock every book in the world, so what you end up doing is curating books on the shelves. So when we tour around, you find that each bookshop has its own character influenced by the people running it,” Please said. “I think when you have that curation ... that’s a really important kind of guiding force.”
Along with the guiding force of curation, the infinite possibilities contained within a trip to a shop or library is undeniable, Please said.
“Obviously, people could look online, but there’s something very, I think, to be said for that feeling when you go into a bookshop: You can look at books and touch them, you can become drawn to something you never would have looked at through a search engine,” he said. “It’s the same for libraries; they provide that gateway to a literary curiosity that takes people in a direction they never thought they might go had they not gone into that space and interacted with the books.”