For Ted Garber, resilience and human connection in the face of loss have marked his life—and his music—for decades.
At 39, Garber has known more than his share of pain—losing his wife, Rebecca, to brain cancer in January of last year. But the longtime DC-area musician finds joy in raising their daughter, 2-year-old Sydney, and connecting with audiences around the region. “There are people out there who are compelled to reach out to people through their craft,” Garber said. “I’ve had an exceedingly rich life … and I try to share that, not only through the songs, but also through how I engage the audience.”
Loudouners who haven’t yet had a taste of Garber’s infectious musical style can check him out April 2, when he teams up with Juliana MacDowell for a benefit show at Waterford’s Old School auditorium.
The DC-area native draws much of his inspiration, both musically and spiritually, from New Orleans, where he spent his college years. His song “The Giving Tree,” a fan favorite, is inspired by the famed Shel Silverstein book of the same name and pays homage to the spirit of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Garber was touched by the city’s resilience and ability to give back in the face of tragedy, and that sense of resilience hits home for Garber in a very personal way.
It was Garber’s musical chops—and reputation for connecting with audiences—that brought him to the attention of MacDowell, who’s built her own fan base in both Loudoun and Key West in recent years.
“He’s so dynamic,” said MacDowell, who first heard of Garber through her Fairfax-based producer. “He has such a touching story, and I really connected with him on that level.”
Garber is familiar to many Loudoun music lovers through his annual performances at the Acoustic on the Green singer-songwriter showcases held in Leesburg every summer, as well as his bar-circuit gigs around the county. But last spring, Garber followed the pull of the Loudoun songwriting scene, moving from Bethesda to Lansdowne with Sydney and his fiancée Rachel Proctor.
And he’s certain that Loudoun is the right place in the right time for both his music and his young family.
“The potential out here of people who are craving some scenery, some green space and some culture—and I have something to offer these people,” he said.
Garber grew up in Montgomery and Frederick counties in Maryland, the son of beloved country musician Thomas Hollingsworth “Holly” Garber. A full academic scholarship to Tulane University took him to New Orleans, where he excelled in his studies as an English major and also underwent a period of musical growth and inspiration. His dean at Tulane, ethno-musicologist Anthony Cummings, was a big influence. And Garber was also taken under the wings of the renowned Harrison family, leaders of the Guardians of the Flame –– a tribe of Mardi Gras Indians.
Garber said Donald Harrison Sr. and his daughter Cherice Harrison-Nelson (who has since launched a museum dedicated to Mardi Gras Indian history) played key roles in helping him heal after his father’s death in 1996.
“They helped me get back on track,” he said.
After college, Garber moved back to the area and lived in Bethesda for a decade, establishing himself firmly in the region’s music scene, where his New Orleans-style showmanship, banter and engagement with the audience helped him grow a strong following.
“The strength in my show is not just the music,” he said. “It’s the charge that I have always gotten from it. It is the joy of entertaining.”
Garber took a hiatus from songwriting during Rebecca’s illness and a period of regrouping after her death. But since his move to Loudoun—with the support of Proctor and the local songwriting community—he’s back in creative mode.
“I’m finally writing again and finding inspiration,” he said. And his daughter is a big source of that inspiration.
“My daughter has changed everything for me—watching her enjoy life in the moment,” he said.
He’s working on a new record and will showcase new songs at the show in Waterford, and more in June when he returns to Acoustic on the Green for the sixth year.
MacDowell said she was initially hesitant to approach Garber about doing the Waterford benefit, but he jumped at the chance to give back to Loudouners who have welcomed him with open arms.
“This community has embraced me and my child and I want to put down roots here,” he said.
Ted Garber and Juliana MacDowell play a benefit concert for the Waterford
Foundation Saturday, April 2, at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.) at the Waterford Old School, 40222 Fairfax St. in Waterford. Tickets are $15 at the door. For more information, go to waterfordfoundation.org.