The relatively small room was filling up quickly as myself and two friends arrived for the Stan Rogers Tribute show at the Godfrey Daniels Listening Room on Saturday night. Patrons mingled with one another, members of the band drifting among them. As fate would have it the second annual tribute show fell on the 150th birthday of Canada, home of the folk sensation Stan Rogers. At eight o’clock Dave Fry took to the stage alongside Rick Weaver (WDIY DJ and member of the band Pipers Request), Roland Kushner (the sole Canadian in the group and once part of Stan Rogers band), and Mary Faith Rhoads (one of the premier performers at the opening of Godfrey Daniels). Over the course of about two and a half hours the four performed 21 Stan Rogers covers with visible passion and dedication, introducing and ending with stories emphasizing their personal connections to the music and Rogers himself. Along with the musicians, several members of the crowd had seen Rogers perform at Godfrey Daniels before his death in 1983.
Members of the group took turns taking the lead on songs while the others played their instruments or joined in on the chorus. Canadian native Roland Kushner led first, beginning the song by asking, “are you ready to sing?” before jumping into “Kumbaya my lord” with a laugh and then quickly moving into Stan Rogers folk love song “45 Years.” The catchy song and lyrics describe an ageless love that could easily describe a current love.
Rick Weaver followed up the love song with a story about a mortally wounded medieval knight (think King Arthurs Court in Canada) who seeks out the “Witch of Westmoreland” who gives the song its title. Originally performed by Rogers, Weaver generously gave credit to songwriter Archie Fisher in his introduction to the song. Today, the songwriter is frequently left out in favor of the performer. The insistence of Weaver and the others to acknowledge the poets who provide meaning and language to the voice demonstrates a commitment and value given to all parts of the creative performance. In contrast to the contemporary nature of the first song, the sorrowful and yet somehow playful tune tells an epic story from the past. Although not necessarily a song for dancing, it was nearly impossible not to tap along to the beat. A ball capped man chewing gum in the front row bobbed his head in all directions, moved to motion by the beat. Beside me, my friend from Korea taps her foot, enthralled by the American folk experience.
The set remained in the dark ages as David Fry moved into the lead with “Giant.” “This is one of my daughter’s favorite songs,” he said, “Because it has druids in it!” For those of you like me, who have no idea what a druid is, Google tells me that it is “a priest, magician, or soothsayer in the ancient Celtic religion.” The tune was vaguely reminiscent of a personal favorite, “Giants” by Rasputina, not only because of the reference to giants but the heavy and spooky folk sound and the sheer pleasure emanating from the performer. At one point in the song, Roland began using a rain maker, slowly flipping the instrument so that the sound of rain mixed smoothly with the other instruments.
When Mary Faith Rhoads finally took center stage, her love of the music and joy in singing was evident in every word. “Song of the Candle” tells the story of a writer, or as Roland joked, “an introspective young naval gazer” who searches for inspiration. Talking to me after the performance, Rhoads insisted that she only sings the songs that truly speak to her. The candle song speaks to all those who have ever needed to write and yet found themselves struggling to find words for the page. It tells of the perseverance necessary to pursue the artist’s dream, a feeling captured in the following lines:
I took up my pen tonight. I couldn’t seem to write.
It’s like I got religion and then I lost the light
An old woman once told me she’d always felt that way
She said “Taken from the mold when it can still run
A candle might not keep you from the cold
But buy another candle, son, it’s not too much to pay
For one more try.” And I had to smile.
Artists know better than most the importance of pushing forward with passion, giving oneself over and over again in the hope of finding the right sound, the right color, or the right word. Even for those like Stan Rogers, or the performers on stage celebrating him face struggles. Although they make the music seem easy through the graceful way they play and sing, each one of them has put in a great deal of time and dedication in order to share their love with others.