By A.R. Cabral
As the sun set on The Hall CP’s backyard sound stage, the friendly group gathered there greeted one another with hugs and smiles as if it were a family reunion. The stage was set to rock — guitars, amplifiers, keyboards, a full drum set. And when a long-haired man took the stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, the show began.
The crowd hushed and settled in to celebrate a new album — and the man who created it.
“Eric is someone who is responsible for growing the music scene in this area,” said Anissa Sunday, a fellow musician who was there that night. “The best performance I’ve seen at The Hall [CP].”
Local musician Eric Maring released his sixth studio album on June 15. With the album, Maring reflects on many facets of life in these challenging times.
“The Year of Seeing Clearly” contains 11 tracks with music that ranges from robust, guitar-driven melodies to traditional Irish tunes. Maring considers this album to be one of his most focused and one of his best.
“When I try to describe it to people, [I say that] this is the most connected of my albums. It’s the most connected. There are songs that reference this pandemic era directly,” he said.
A graduate of Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School, Maring got his start in music early, performing in high school talent shows before honing his musical talents in college. He said his musical influences include Bob Dylan, the Indigo Girls and Scott Joplin.
Maring has performed solo and with other area musicians for years. He is a member of a local group, Paint Branch Creek, which specializes in original acoustic music.
“Eric has music coming out of his pores,” said Patrick Lynch, a Paint Branch Creek band member. “ [He has] an ability to bring his community along with him and enjoy his passion for music the same way.”
Maring taught music at the University of Maryland’s Center for Young Children for 15 years, prior to the pandemic. When the center closed, due to pandemic restrictions, Maring and his two sons, Leo (17) and Julian (12) began livestreaming concerts on YouTube. Their virtual concerts served as inspiration for Maring’s new album.
“That sort of gave me a platform to begin writing and stuff,” Maring said. “These livestreams were like, ‘Here I made this song, it’s half done,’ and then people would respond to it. Come January, February this year, we were like, ‘We need to make an album out of this.’”
Maring often references current events through his music, and certainly in the tracks on “The Year of Seeing Clearly.” In “Medal of Freedom,” he recalls his reaction to seeing Rush Limbaugh receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And in “Saddest Days of Our Lives,” Maring reflects on the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man murdered while jogging in a residential neighborhood in South Georgia.
“Eric puts his whole heart into his music,” said Eric Olson, who frequently writes lyrics for Paint Branch Creek. “[He] has tremendous enthusiasm and takes great joy in working with other musicians and with children. Music is at the center of him, and [he uses it as] a vehicle toward building community.”
Olson helped convince Maring to include “Barbed Wire, Rt. 134” on the album. The song is a tribute to all who lost their lives during the pandemic.
Maring noted that there is a theme running through the album. His personal history and family life are foundational to all the songs. He references his Irish heritage in “O’Sullivan’s March,” and in “Son of it All,” the album’s first track, Maring honors his grandfather, who served World War II. The coronavirus pandemic prompted him to think of his great-grandparents, who died during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
Maring’s wife, Lis, did the artwork for the liner notes, and his sons helped produce the album.
Leo Maring, a rising senior at DeMatha Catholic High School, is enthusiastic about the album. He played violin, viola and saxophone on it. Julian Maring played organ on “Medal of Freedom” and “Son of it All,” and added vocals and accordion to several tracks.
Maring values his sons’ contributions enormously. “Their offerings were amazing,” he said. “So to have their voices and their playing, and they are playing on a level that is worthy of playing on an album — as a musical parent, I am proud of that.”
When he is not making music, Maring trains for 50-mile races, listening to audiobooks as his feet pound the pavement. He is an avid traveler and has a special appreciation for India, where he lived for two brief stretches. In 2017, he taught there for four months, as a Fulbright Fellow.
Maring sees making music as his life’s purpose and thinks of his musical ability as a gift to be shared.
“The more you give, the more it gives back to you,” he said. “This album was a great blessing. That’s the mystery of music. A year from now, there is going to be something, and it’s going to be awesome, but I don’t know what it is.”