Graham Nash says that after years of playing concerts in giant arenas or at festivals, he likes doing shows where he can look the folks in the front row straight in the eye.
“I much rather play an intimate place, a place where I can see everybody,” said Nash, 75. “I feel lucky to be playing, to be finding new places to play.”
Nash, a two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has found a new place to play in the tiny town of Union, near Camden. He’ll perform Thursday night outdoors at the Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery. He’ll be on a stage looking out at people in lawn chairs or on blankets, spread out on the fields of a family-owned farm and winery. The outdoor concerts there usually hold up to about 1,200 people.
Nash was in Maine twice last year, connecting with people. In October, he played Portland’s State Theatre, a 1929 venue that holds about 1,800. Earlier in the year, in April, he sat at a table for several hours signing copies of his latest album at the Bull Moose music store in Scarborough. He was there on Record Store Day, a national holiday of sorts for music fans.
“I went there because record stores are so important; they are what allows me to get a song from my head into your hands,” said Nash. “Plus, I love record stores, I love to browse.”
Nash first gained fame in the mid-1960s as a founder of the British rock band The Hollies. With Nash helping to write songs and singing harmonies or leads on most, The Hollies had several Top 10 hits, including “Bus Stop” and “Carrie Anne.” In the late 1960s, Nash joined members of two other hit-making bands – David Crosby of The Byrds and Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield – to form Crosby, Stills and Nash. That group had a profound influence on the folk-rock movement of the period, with songs like “Teach Your Children,” “Our House” and “Ohio.” Neil Young was later a member of the band for a time as well. Both The Hollies and Crosby, Stills and Nash are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But Nash is not a musician who wants to live in the past or just play 40-year-old hits. He’s had some personal change in his life in the last few years, including a divorce after 38 years of marriage. His girlfriend, photographer Amy Grantham, accompanied him to the Bull Moose signing last year.
His 2016 recording “This Path Tonight” was his first solo album of new music in 14 years. The songs are largely reflective. Some have steady rock beats, some have soft acoustic guitar backing and feature Nash’s high, clear voice. “Myself at Last” features a harmonica solo that hearkens back to ’60s folk rock.
Watch the 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Concert with Graham Nash
“I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery, and I discovered I have weaknesses, and strengths, and I’m trying to do the best I can,” said Nash. “That’s what I’ve written about.”
Nash is a passionate photographer and collector of photos. When in Maine, he often visits his longtime friend Betsy Evans Hunt, who runs the photo archive of the late photographer Todd Webb, in Portland. They met nearly 40 years ago when Hunt worked in a gallery in San Francisco, and Nash was a customer.
“He’s exactly the person he appears to be, very genuine, very interested in other people,” said Hunt. “He has a great passion for art and photography.”
Nash says he also has a great passion for “the way we live.” In the ’60s and ’70s, his groups were known for songs that made statements about what was going on in the world, as with “Ohio,” which told of the shooting deaths of college protesters by National Guard troops at Kent State University.
While recording “This Path Tonight,” he wrote and recorded a song called “Watch Out for the Wind,” about the death of an 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown, who was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. The 2014 incident sparked protests around the country. Nash also performs at benefits for causes he believes in, including environmental ones.
He said he worries about the lack of civility today, the divisiveness in politics and the fact that racial tensions are still high.
“I’m worried about what’s happening in the world now, the future of our planet and our children,” said Nash. “I’m just glad I have the time to try and do something about it.”
WHERE: Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery, 175 Barrett Hill Road, Union
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
HOW MUCH: $56
WHAT ELSE: Savage Oakes has been hosting one or two outdoor concerts with national acts for the past couple of years, as a way to attract people to the winery, sell wine and develop the business as a location for events and concerts. On Aug. 13, Lyle Lovett and his Large Band will perform. Tickets are $70. On Sept. 1, the Marcus King Band, an up-and-coming blues rock outfit from South Carolina, will perform. Tickets are $15.