While I’m eagerly awaiting the delivery of my copy of Garnet’s book, here is a report from the Local Xpress on Garnet’s upcoming appearance at the Canso Stan Rogers Folk Festival this Canada Day weekend:
The length of the journey to Canso, home of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, is no deterrent to the hardy hundreds who’ve packed the event every July long weekend for the past two decades.
But that winding Guysborough road is just a fraction of the journey that the festival’s namesake made with his brother and bandmate Garnet Rogers prior to Stan’s death in 1983. Many of those miles are chronicled in Garnet’s new book Night Drive: Travels With My Brother, which he’s launched in time for Stanfest’s 20th anniversary. The book stretches from their parents’ roots in Canso and Pictou County to the brothers’ final conversation at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. In between lies a rough and tumble tale of a furtive search for folk music glory, where it took more than talent to get ahead, and dreams seemed to get dashed on a daily basis.
“Somebody made the comment that parents should buy the book and give it to any of their kids who decide they want to become a musician or a folksinger […] It really is kind of a cautionary tale.”
Decades later, much of it has been romanticized, and writing Night Drive was an opportunity for Garnet to strip away the rose-coloured glasses, and also tell his side of the story.
“I got invited to this thing recently where the City of Hamilton is honouring Stan with a lifetime achievement award, making him a citizen of the city or something like that, sponsored by the Hamilton Spectator […] On the face of it, God bless them, but I felt like a bystander. There was no mention of the fact that I was there, or as far as Stan was concerned, 50 per cent of the equation.
“Stan handed over 49 per cent of his publishing to me, half ownership of the songs, that should mean something in terms of how he at least perceived my contribution, but the average person doesn’t know any of that. So part of writing this was simply to say I was there. I don’t want someone coming up to me and giving me some blather about how seeing Stan changed their life and they’ll never forget that concert, but they don’t remember that I was there, because I bloody was.
“So a lot of it was setting the record straight, but more importantly I wanted it to be funny.”
And much of the book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, as Rogers describes how he and his brother were performing the musical equivalent of “scrawling your name on a cave wall” while playing for distracted pit miners at a disco in Labrador City. Or in a pressure cooker of a bar in Jasper, Alta., where the audience was split down the middle between railway and oil rig workers who hated each other, which eventually erupted in a melee that nearly saw Stan charged with assault with a deadly weapon, in this case a mike stand.
“There was something in that ‘three young guys in a van together’ thing […] Whether the gig was good, bad or indifferent, you could always find something to laugh about. Like the opening chapter about the non-existent gig in Baltimore and that young woman sitting on the couch with no underwear, every damn detail of that story is absolutely true, not even remotely exaggerated.
“It was just as squalid as it sounds, and you come out of something like that, the worst disaster ever, but you’re laughing and laughing, and a few hours later you realize you’re miles from home and completely broke. But in the meantime you’ve got three young guys who are just dying with laughter because of the insanity of the situation.”