- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Ask for Garnet Rogers in the hour or so before a performance and you won’t find him hunkered down in the dressing room. Instead, the Canadian singer-songwriter is most likely to be in the front of the house, hanging out with the crowd.

“I want to do more than just breeze through,” says Mr. Rogers, who will be performing at Jammin’ Java in Vienna tonight. “I want to find out how people are doing.”

The interactive approach has served Mr. Rogers well ever since he was 8. That’s when he picked out Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” on a ukulele, and began “interacting” with the different types of music that came through the family radio: Leadbelly, the Carter family, and the classical music his mother loved.

These days the strapping, 6-foot-4, 48-year-old Mr. Rogers is more likely to be cradling a guitar than a uke, and he’s taken up other instruments as well — the violin, for example, and the flute.

While still a teenager, he began touring with his brother Stan. Mr. Rogers continued as a solo act after his brother’s death in a 1983 plane accident, developing his own distinctive style and sound.

The Rogers style is introspective, with songs about ordinary people struggling to find different layers of meaning through a world of obfuscation.

“I think my songs are simpler now, about celebrating little things like friendships, or concepts like enduring love and fidelity,” he says.

Meanwhile, his powerful yet supple baritone makes him a relative rarity among singer-songwriters. This is one songwriter whose voice is as good as his songs.

• • •

Over at the 9:30 Club on Monday, English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg combines the personal and political in a move reminiscent of music icon Woody Guthrie. He’ll be performing as part of the Tell Us the Truth Tour.

“Music gives you an opportunity to put your ideas forward,” says Mr. Bragg of the tour, which counts MTV’s “Rock the Vote” among its sponsors. “It’s a solvent of cultural bias.”

Mr. Bragg is nothing if not political, taking issue with European racism as well as the American media’s take on the war, which he feels is narrow and one-sided. But he credits American music with giving him the urge to speak out.

“I think I got my politics from listening to Motown chart busters,” he says. “I still remember hearing Marvin Gaye sing ‘Abraham, Martin and John.’ Music could have you up and dancing one minute and thinking about politics the next.”

Getting people to think about politics a lot more is something that is very important to Mr. Bragg.

“Arm yourself with facts,” he says. “Voter participation in a country that hopes to export democracy should be the highest priority.”

• • •

Finally, Chelsea Mann brings something of the spiritual to her performance at the Hard Rock Cafe on Monday, when the Songwriters’ Association of Washington (SAW) presents a showcase of the first- and second-place winners in its annual Mid-Atlantic Song Contest. Chelsea, 16, won second place in the Gospel/Contemporary Christian/Inspirational category, one of 10 categories represented.

“She’s our youngest winner right now in recent memory,” says SAW president Jean Bayou of Chelsea, who took second-place honors for “Faith,” a song she wrote about an orphan boy who comes to realize he is not alone.

“I always include some sort of religious reference in my songs,” says Chelsea. “I’m pretty religious myself, and the message I see most in ‘Faith’ is to remind people that if they’re feeling lost there is hope.”

The SAW judges who reviewed Chelsea’s demo CD didn’t realize she was still a high school junior, since all judging is done without names, photographs, or any other biographical information. That was fine with Chelsea, who had already placed as the youngest finalist ever in a competition back in her native Atlanta.

“I love performing,” she says. “It’s one thing that makes me happy. And there are so many possibilities with God in the picture.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide