Photo by Lou Tingle 

Photo by Lou Tingle 

Joel Curtis grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan. The soundtrack of his childhood featured church hymns, the Prairie Home Companion, folk legends like John Prine and Nanci Griffith, and his dad picking Beatles songs in the next room while Joel fell asleep. Around 15 years old, Joel first heard Bob Dylan's “Don't Think Twice, It's Alright” and fell under a lifelong spell. He was inspired to pick up an old guitar his uncle had abandoned and teach himself how to play.

In the rare hours he was not playing the guitar, Joel was devouring books, especially quintessentially American novelists like Kerouac and Steinbeck, as well as the great “wisdom literature” of the West. Before too long, he was penning his own material and regaling his church and local coffeehouses with original tunes sung in a fledgling baritone. In his mid-20s, Joel took a long hiatus from writing and performing songs to take a degree in physics. He spent one semester at the University of Arizona in Tucson (where he joined his first Zen meditation group) before finishing up his studies at Michigan State University.

Shaking off the rust, Joel started writing songs again soon after finishing school and dedicated himself to sharing them with the world. After living and playing in Grand Rapids, Michigan for about a year, he fell for a girl from Kentucky (who inspired at least one of his songs) and moved south to be with her and peddle his tunes in the Big Little City of Louisville – which he still calls “Looey-vill.”