Morgan Cross / News contributor
It’s been eight years since Garnet Rogers last played in Greater Victoria. Since then, the acclaimed Ontario-based folk artist has recorded the album Summer’s End and written a memoir documenting his years touring beside his late brother, Stan Rogers. Planning for his upcoming tour, which stretches across western Canada before dipping into the United States, Rogers wanted to perform one last time for some of the B.C. communities he’s grown close to over the years.
“I’ve been in a dead run for the last month or two putting my life back in order [for the tour],” said Rogers in late August, just one week before his tour began. “For all intents and purposes, it’s my farewell tour for the west.”
Now in his 60s, Rogers said that life on the road has become daunting. He has toured each year since 1972, when, at the young age of 17, he and his brother set out together.
“I like these places, I like these people. I still love the work, it’s just the travel,” he said. “I’m narrowing my focus and drawing my radius back a bit.” This will allow Rogers to remain closer to home in Ontario, where he and his wife live on a farm with horses and a bird sanctuary.
During most performances in his upcoming tour, Rogers, known for his anecdotal storytelling, will set aside a few moments to read from his book, Night Drive: Travels With My Brother, published in 2016. The Oak Bay audience will also likely get the chance to hear some tracks from his album released in 2014; though Rogers promises that his performances go unscripted, and often, he will try his hand on-stage at songs he hasn’t performed in years.
“It really concentrates you,” he said, “and I think the audience hears you paying extra special attention to the music … I don’t go out and do the same show every night.”
As for Night Drive, Rogers said he misses writing the book. During the process, he would often bring his laptop on stage and read through bits and pieces to his audience, who got a listen at what the finished memoir would sound like.
”[Night Drive is] a huge, vulgar memoir,” said Rogers. “It’s basically about the ten years on the road with my brother Stan and I. Just, basically, police chases and bad drugs and fights with biker gangs, all in the service of folk music…We were two terrified young men out in the world and reacting very badly to the stuff that was coming at us.”
The motivation for writing the book came first from friends, who listened to Rogers share “apocalyptically terrible” stories about his and Stan’s travels. Rogers began toying with the idea of writing it down 15 years ago, before getting down to business after reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing.
“I made a cup of coffee and I was sitting in my chair with my laptop and that’s what I did for eight months. Initially, I’d work until three or four in the afternoon, and eventually it just completely took me over,” said Rogers. “I’d wake up at two in the morning and think, ‘Oh, I know how to fix that sentence.’”
Through the memoir, his goal was to show “how crazy and funny and rude it was, and how miraculous it was that we were actually able to do what we did.”
Since then, Rogers has completed several book tours in addition to regular performances. He looks forward to returning to Greater Victoria, remembering that one of his trips to the region sparked a realization in him that changed his career forever. During this trip approximately ten years ago, Rogers was forced to navigate mountain passes between Interior B.C. and Vancouver in a snowstorm, recovering from several dangerous slips before missing his ferry to an evening concert in Victoria.
Upon arriving to the concert, Rogers said, “I was soaking wet…I nearly died twice, I hadn’t had anything to eat. I was thinking, ‘What in the world possessed me to do this?’”
He said, “Then I realized: This is my reward. This is why I do this…I get to go out and sit on the stage and play guitar, and then I’ll get to meet these people. And that [realization] completely changed my whole way of thinking about what I did for a living.”
This September should present less snowy travels for Rogers as he travels to Vancouver Island. Though he hasn’t written new music since 2014, he said, “I think 80 per cent of everything I’ve ever written has been behind the wheel.”
A trip to Victoria may give the folk artist a chance at quiet hours, and the possibility of new songs to come.
Tickets for the Sept. 22 event are sold out.