NORTH EAST — When singer-songwriter Rupert Wates moved to the United States in 2006, he was drawn by what he calls the country’s “welcoming spirit.”
“That’s something that I’ve always valued among American people,” said Wates, who is originally from London. “It’s slightly diminished in recent years, but America has always been a place where people from all backgrounds, all nations, all nationalities and religious viewpoints could congregate. It’s a place made of immigrants across the congruence and crossroads of the whole world.”
Wates will be performing Saturday, May 18, at the North Elk Coffee House at St. Mary Anne’s Episcopal Church, located at 315 S. Main St. in North East. Doors will open at 6:45 p.m. and the show will begin at 7:30 p.m.
The suggested donation for admission to the event is $10. Proceeds from the show benefit Meeting Ground, a nonprofit organization that serves people experiencing homelessness in Cecil County.
In 2010, Wates released an album called “Joe’s Café,” featuring 15 original songs based on stories spanning over 100 years of American history and sung by various vocalists, including Wates himself.
To Wates, “Joe’s Cafe” represents the archetypal American diner that one might encounter on the road, serving as a metaphor for the American spirit and a figurative meeting place for people throughout the nation’s history to sit down and share stories with each other.
Though the stories on that album cover more than a century, Wates said one of things they have in common is America’s position as a dominant force in the world.
“I’ve always been excited by American history and I think American history over the last 150 years or 200 years really is the history of the world,” he said.
In his 13 years so far living in the U.S., Wates said he has most enjoyed traveling to the nation’s southern region.
“I find the history there is so powerful,” he said, noting that music genres like blues and jazz have their roots in the South. “The birth pangs of America that we know today are so much more present in the South. Also, the people there have been particularly kind to me. They’ve lived up to their reputation of hospitality.”
Like most of Wates’ music, the songs on “Joe’s Cafe” started as parts of the bigger story he wanted to tell.
“For me to write a song, I have to have an idea for a larger canvas in a way in that I always think in terms of complete albums,” he said. “I like to have an idea for a whole album before I write a song so I can envision where that particular song might fit in the album.”
Wates started playing guitar around the age of 16, but he didn’t think about pursuing it seriously until after he left Oxford University.
While he was in college, his father passed away and Wates actually played a piece of music he had written at his father’s funeral.
After that, he said various people commissioned him to write other pieces, which led to a career in songwriting.
“It just led on from there,” he said. “One thing led to another and I never really looked back. I just sort of fell into it really.”
Wates plays an eclectic mix of genres including acoustic, melodic art/folk, jazz, vaudeville and cabaret. But the common thread among everything he plays is his desire to tap into his audience’s emotions.
“I try to speak to people’s feelings more than anything else,” he said.
Wates’ ninth solo album, titled “The Lights of Paris,” highlights how even within the world’s darkness and dangers, there are still glimmers of hope and beauty that provide promise for a better tomorrow.
Wates moved to Paris in 2001 and lived there before coming to the U.S. The inspiration and namesake of that album were the lights that fill the Parisian skyline, serving as a symbol for “all that is good about us as people,” Wates said.
“Paris has always been a city of light,” he said. “It represents beauty and art and love and all the things that distinguish human beings from other species … It’s a city that was made by artists and people who believed that beauty is important in life, that it’s not just some luxury; it’s actually a very central quality for us all.”
Though named after the illumination he saw in Paris, Wates said the album itself is actually more about events and encounters he has seen in America.
During his time in the U.S., Wates said he has seen a lot of negativity and violence here, particularly the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and injured 17 others.
But just like the lights in the darkness that he saw in Paris, Wates sees the beauty in America’s desire to do better and be better despite its struggles as a nation.
“I think the impression I have most about America is that you still believe that a good society is possible,” he said. “I think a lot of other countries have given up on that and they’re just repeating the old forms. But America is still a place that looks to the future.”