The idea for a weekly music series began simply enough for Detroit singer-songwriter Anthony Retka. He had started a new job, gone through some personal heartache and needed something to keep him motivated on Mondays, his least favorite day. Little did he know that a pandemic was about to turn his project into a lifeline of sorts.
“Songs from Seminole Street,” which started as an experiment in October 2019, is now part of Retka’s regular routine. It’s something he and his fans, new and old, anticipate and share. Retka said it is not only a chance to connect with people during the coronavirus shutdowns and related isolation, but it also provides a creative outlet for him as he misses live performances before friends, family and music lovers of all kinds.
“I just miss playing for humans, even if it’s for three people in some sports bar. That’s my favorite part of being a musician, the live performances. This is some semblance of that,” Retka said.
Retka’s posts are found on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Each one lasts between four to 12 minutes – just long enough for a little patter between Retka and his invisible audience, a reason why he selected that song to sing and then the music itself. Retka’s voice is gentle and comforting, like a mix between Paul Simon, Elliott Smith (two of his favorites), James Taylor and Michael Penn. He mostly sings originals he wrote, but he’s willing to do special requests from regular fans and some cover tunes that highlight what might be happening in the collective mind of Metro Detroit.
“Monday is often the hardest day in the week for me. I’m a night owl who has trouble getting the week started,” Retka said. “I started making the videos every Monday at 7, recording after I finished work. It feels more organic to take the energy I have from the work day and put into a song. There’s only one take. If I make a mistake or crack a note, I just post it and move on.”
Retka’s video concerts are a welcome respite from the real world, where disconnection and resentment has become the norm. In his short videos, Retka offers a small insight into his world – tennis elbow is the worst, we can all agree – some hopeful lyrics and an acoustic guitar’s worth of healing to help listeners feel like there’s still a chance for a live show somewhere in our future.
What really resonates is Retka’s song choices when he pays tribute to another artist. Those covers have ranged from “Murder in the City” to “In My Life” (Retka clearly reveres the Beatles), “Abraham, Martin and John” and “Make You Feel My Love.” Add his well-paced and played acoustic guitar, and you’ve got a remedy for anything that ails you.
Regulars at sports bars or any other live-music venue may recognize Retka from his many performances around the city. Retka has recorded four solo records, a solo EP, and singles; alongside four full-length studio albums, a live double CD, and multiple EPs and Singles with his former band, Tone & Niche. The release of “Fields & Fortresses” in 2016 brought a direct and expressive batch of songs.
Last year, Retka had planned to release a full album of songs, but due to limitations in the studio brought on by the pandemic, he was forced to complete what he could: five tracks in his tiny Seminole Street apartment. These tracks became his new EP, “Never Has, Always Will.” He followed that EP effort with a new double-single called “Embraceable You” in September, which features two of his favorite American standards. You can find his new releases and his entire library of recorded music on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp.
Having a routine also has proven helpful to Retka, who thrives on a predictable schedule. Nearly every day, Retka takes a walk from his home in Detroit’s Indian Village neighborhood to the Belle Isle bridge, using the time to think about music, check out a new podcast, catch up on voicemail or just listen to the city’s quiet.
“It keeps me grounded,” Retka said. “Routine matters. It gives us momentum. It gives us a sense of moving forward.”