Monday, June 24, 2013

Good Hope Island and Garnet Rogers

     I'd be willing to bet that none of my readers except a few who are Island attendees recognize either of the two names in my title for this post. Let me tell you a story about an unknown treasure that my husband and I have access to, only by knowing the significant person involved with both of these names.

     First: Good Hope island. For years, I lived just up the Milwaukee River from this place and I knew nothing about it. And after we moved north of Milwaukee, daily I exited I 43 to drive west to my clinic to work. I bounced across the wide divided 4 lane highway bridge that is Good Hope Road as it crosses the wide Milwaukee River. In the middle of this bridge, there is a small gravel driveway that takes you down on to the south end of an island in the Milwaukee River. On the north end of this island is a typical suburban ranch house, but on the south end are three small cottages and another small building. These cottages were old and probably never intended as year round residences.

     A former colleague of mine, Peter T. who works the Walk In Clinics was intrigued by this location. He had a dream for these cottages and he purchased that southern half of the island. Gradually he has renovated two of the cottages. He now lives most of the time in the southern most one. He raised the whole building up and poured a concrete basement underneath it. He also replaced and restored much of the rustic woodwork in those two buildings. He has become a nature lover and posts photos of the many wild animals and birds that have appeared on Good Hope Island (otters, mink, fox, of course, deer, many different bird species, including just now newly hatched Eastern bluebirds.) He also has some interesting native flora which he cultivates. He photographs the ice flows, the floods, and all manner of natural occurrences on the Island. When visiting down on the island, it is almost impossible to believe that a busy thoroughfare is just up the incline. Whatever sounds of the traffic that are not filtered out by the trees are blocked out by the bubbling sound of current in the Milwaukee River, giving an truly isolated feel to this magic place.

     Another of Peter's loves is music. He plays a mean banjo himself. When he first started spending time on the island, he began inviting some of his musician friends. Other neighbors, friends, and fellow workers in the medical field began to join these gatherings. Inevitably a blue grass jam session developed around a campfire adjacent to the south cottage. These events became regular summer happenings. The music and the atmosphere were magical.

     Then Peter started contacting local musicians and other more widely spread friends of these musicians. Finally he just contacted musicians that he enjoyed who played banjo in various styles, or who were members of bluegrass bands, or who played or wrote American folk music. He began running a summer concert series held in the south cottage. It seems that many of these musicians were very willing to perform for one night in the island atmosphere for the donations of the attendees which Peter encouraged. These musicians often had a free night or could easily arrange one as they swung through the Midwest on a musical tour. For the last 5 summers or more, there have been concerts in the south cottage every couple weeks. Usually invitations were by "word of mouth" or actually "word of Facebook." It was known among regular attendees that the concert was preceded by a potluck. People brought food, beverages, wine,  beer, and even native plants to fill up Peter's new garden spaces around his cottage home.

     Last Saturday night, my husband and I were again invited via Facebook to the first concert of the 2013 concert series, to be held for the first time in the newly renovated north cottage. We had no idea who was performing and didn't care. We had always enjoyed these evenings in the past and usually could make contact with someone we knew either from my clinic or neighbors we had met previously. We immediately contacted Peter and told him we would like to join the group for this concert.

     Now about the second name in the title -- the performer: Garnet Rogers. We were totally blown away. Garnet lives in Ontario, and has a cottage in Nova Scotia.. He started song writing and playing and singing music when he was a kid. He toured with his brother Stan Rogers, also a talented song writer and Jim Morrisey. Both are now gone. Garnet had to get over the loss of his brother, Stan, and his good friend, Jim Morrisey, and has lived through his own fights with the demons that many talented people live through. Lately he has been touring by himself. Some reviewers claim he is Canada's most talented folk performer. His songs are beautiful. His baritone voice and the words of his songs combine to touch your heart. And in between songs he entertains with a repartee that is heartfelt, humorous and revealing about his personality. With such a small audience (about 35 people) in a small room, audience interaction is at its best. His songs are about being on the road, performing, relationships, and also about his other love, raising thoroughbred sports horses. Two of his and his wife's horses road with the American Olympic Team. He is also writing a book mostly about being on the road with his brother Stan Rogers. He read a funny piece from the book about the cottage in Nova Scotia and his parents there. In total, the performance was amazing. This is his third or fourth time to the Island and Peter asked him to return next year. Some audience members still recalled the potlucks and brought desserts, so at the end of the performance we had some sweets.

     I have entered some links here in case you would like to hear Garnet with some of the songs that we heard. He is all over Youtube. There are even some recordings of him performing at Good Hope Island during his previous events there. He has made 14 CDs.

     This one was performed at Good Hope Island on one of his previous concerts there. It's called The Lost Ones and he says it is the first song he ever wrote. It was published on a CD in 1990.

Lyrics of The Lost Ones

The Lost Ones

The shadows beneath the trees do grow,
The sun's embers die away.
The hush of night falls o'er these hills
At the turning of the day.
Twas on nights like this we'd gather here,
Brief crowded hours to fill
In kinship and good harmony,
In my dreams, I can see us still:

By candlelight, by whiskey's glow,
Each shining upturned face
Would raise a voice, would raise a glass
In those wild and tumultuous days,
When we neither cared, nor lacked for time,
When all the world was wild and new.
Nights heady as a glass of wine,
And our mornings filled anew.

So it was, those wild and scattered years,
We reckoned not the cost,
But those whose light burned truest and bright
Would be numbered amongst the lost.
And on chance-met street, or crowded bar
We few, now left behind, would raise
Not a glass, but a rueful brow
At the passing of our kind.

So now I stand beneath these garden walls,
The moon above me wheels.
The stars are cast through the field of night,
And the wind like a drunkard reels
Through the empty gate, the silent house,
The windows dark and blind
But what slips like sand through desperate hand
Is treasured yet within the mind.

For those lost ones still before me stand
All present as of old,
In the tangled skein of passing years
They shine like threads of gold.

So here's a health to those no longer near,
And a glass to those departed
Who yet shine on through our darkening years
The brave and gentle-hearted.

     This one is called The Field Behind the Plow and includes one of the stories Garnet told on his Island performance.

     A woman sat next to me whom I did not recognize. I asked her how she knew Peter, because in the past most people are connected in some way to Peter because the personal invites usually fill up the space. She said she didn't know Peter at all. But like Peter's story, she had been on a long drive somewhere and had heard Garnet Rogers' Night Drive and had fallen in love with it, had sought it out and played it again and again. She found Garnet's travel itinerary on his website and noted that he was in Milwaukee that night, last Saturday night at a venue of which she had never heard: Good Hope Island. She called the number given thinking that it must be the local booking office. The phone number was Peter's. She reached him directly Saturday morning and told him her story. It was so similar to his own story of hearing Night Drive on the radio and falling in love with the song, that he immediately invited her to that evening's concert. This is an example of the kind of encounter that occurs stimulated by Peter's magical home and his small intimate concert series. Here are two links to that song: Night Train.

     Garnet did not perform Night Drive because he used only his collection of 7 or 8 acoustic guitars all tuned differently for Saturday's performance.  The haunting echoes and reverberations of Night Drive require electronics. But here are two YouTube renditions by Garnet so you can experience the song that so effectively draws people to Garnet Rogers' music. The first one is done in a small intimate setting much like Good Hope Island. The second is full tilt up on a big stage with all the lighting and electronics in action and Garnet fully suited up. Which one do you like better?

Lyrics of Night Drive:

Night Drive

Yellowhead highway
How bright the stars
How dark the night
How long have I been sleeping?
Sleep overtook me on my westward flight
Held me in its keeping
I had a dream; it seemed so real
Its passing left me shaking
I saw you're here behind the wheel
On this very road I'm taking

Hurtling westward through the prairie night
Under the spell of motion
Your eyes were clear and bright in the dashboard light
Dreaming of the western ocean
The dusty towns left far behind
Mountains drawing ever nearer
Your face was then as it was tonight
Ever young
Ever clearer

I know this road
And its every curve
Where the hills commence their climbing
We rested here
If my memory serves
The northern lights were shining
You lit a smoke
We shared some wine
We watched the sky in wonder
Your laughter echoes after all this time
In that high and wild blue yonder

I don't know why I write these lines
It's not like I could send you the letter
It's that I love you more after all this time
It's that I wish I'd shown you better
Years have slipped
Beneath my wheels
Dwindling in my rear view mirror
As time has passed
Your life has seemed less real
But these night drives bring you nearer

So tonight I'll wish upon these stars
As they rise upward to guide me
That I'll see you here just as you are
Now, as then, beside me
Scares me how the years have flown
Like the leaves drift in September
They've lost sight of you as your legacy's grown
But this road and I
We remember

    Other Garnet Rogers songs on YouTube to listen to, or from which you would benefit by looking at the lyrics. It's a Gift; Soul Kiss, Small Victory, and Summer Lightning.  Fortunately, Garnet allows these to stay on YouTube. You can go to his website and order any of his CDS, if you like his music.