“It is just an incredible honour to be working with a musical legend like Garnet Rogers,” said musician Shawna Caspi, who will be opening for the renowned Canadian folk singer when he appears at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, November 23, at 7 p.m.
Caspi is certainly not the only one to speak in superlatives when it comes to Rogers.
“Garnet Rogers has a deep baritone voice and impressive vocal range,” said Sandra Whitworth, on the board of the St. Lawrence stage. “He toured with his brother Stan until Stan’s death, then went on to establish a solo career that has spanned more than 30 years. So, no question, we are excited about this show.”
I talked to Garnet Rogers about his career, his music and his upcoming concert in Morrisburg.
Rogers sets the highest of musical standards for himself.
“Pete Seeger once said that musicians are the luckiest people in the world, ‘because they are always failing.’ Music is challenging. As a musician I am constantly learning, constantly problem solving, and that is what makes it so exciting. You create something new, something that never existed before. A song reveals itself as a puzzle, and you have to seek the solution.”
He describes the process of practicing, and writing songs as ‘solitary activities’. “What brings a song alive for me, is the audience, their responses to what I am doing. Sometimes,” he laughed, “I feel the show isn’t about me, really, it’s about them. It may sound strange, but I am actually trying to eliminate myself from the equation. I want the song, just the song, to come through.”
If the songs themselves are the focus, then Rogers draws on a vast range of emotions and experiences.
He continues to love his Maritime roots, but he nonetheless insists that his is not a traditional Maritime sound. (“I couldn’t play a fiddle even with a gun to my head,” he laughed.)
“In my songs, I explore different things, the ‘big stuff’ I guess you could say, life, death, love, how we deal with them. I find I laugh at life a little, since, as we grow older, we tend to look more closely at this ‘mortal coil.’ Humour often comes out of pain, and I try to see the laughter, even in the bleakness.” (He did not record or perform much for a couple of years, as he went through a rough time in his personal life.)
“My songs may be serious, but I am mindful that people have come to a concert to be entertained, and I make fun of myself, and share that humour with the audience.”
A strong narrative provides the basis of many of Garnet Rogers’ songs. “As a writer, I feel somewhat defeated if I can’t paint a picture that allows an audience to draw its own inferences. I want people to relate to my themes their own way.”
Rogers will be presenting a song writing workshop during his visit to Morrisburg from 2-4 p.m. on November 23. (Space is limited, so those hoping to participate should register as soon as possible with the Stage).
“I’m not a teacher exactly,” the artist explained. “I am actually interested in seeing how others solve the problems of writing. I ask workshop participants to bring their own songs. That way we can experience other people’s language, forms and approaches to writing as we work together to find the right ‘voice’ to tell our stories.”
Rogers tours with as many as a dozen guitars: and he takes most of them on stage with him at a concert.
“I always try to play my performance sets in different ways, to keep them fresh and alive. Every one of my guitars has a different, unique voice. Each guitar will speak to me, help me solve my musical problems and help me create on stage. When I go out before the audience, I pick one guitar at random, playing as I learn what the audience is ‘feeling.’ When I have that sense, I go from there, and reach for other guitars as well.”
Garnet Rogers is currently about half way through recording a new album, his first in a while. “I’m glad to be back on the road, back writing again, although I tend to find it painful to record just because what is on the tape never sounds the way I want it to. But I am lucky,” he laughed. “I can sing in tune.”
Another artist who can “sing in tune” and then some, is Shawna Caspi, who was first introduced to local audiences at an Intimate Acoustics showcase at the St. Lawrence Stage about three years ago. The classically trained young performer made a strong impression on concert goers on that occasion.
She is an accomplished finger style guitarist, an ability which allows her to create often complex, lyrical accompaniments to her songs.
“I really like to highlight small snapshots of events, to make them important in my music. My latest songs are a lot about other people, sometimes even a social commentary. This may make my music a little uncomfortable at times, but true stories don’t always have happy endings, However, I also write funny songs, almost sing-along songs,” she added laughing.
She was the recipient of a prestigious Toronto Arts Council Music Creation program grant, “the first grant I ever received. This grant gave me the time and the ability to focus directly on writing, letting me learn that writing requires steady, daily and disciplined practice.” Her new release should be out sometime in 2014.
Since she received the grant, Caspi finds her musical output has greatly increased. She has been touring extensively since early September.
“I try to establish a direct, strong relationship with listeners. I believe that audiences like a narrative in a song, and I use narrative in the banter and exchanges with my audience between songs as well.”
Her voice is big, strong and rich. She is regarded as a folk singer, but she laughs that hers is not the “traditional, sweet, wistful voice often associated with folk music. No question, music is the focus of my life.”
Tickets for the 7 p.m. November 23 concert are available at www.st-lawrencestage.com, $18 in advance, $20 at the door.
Garnet Rogers has requested audience members bring food donations for the local food bank to his concert at the Stage.