Nathan Rogers
at the Roxy Theatre,
Owen Sound, Ontario (25 November 2012)

The famed Rogers family of Hamilton, Ontario -- also closely associated by many with the East Coast of Canada -- has contributed immeasurably to the continuing story of folk music in Canada. And so Nathan Rogers -- son of Stan, nephew of Garnet -- was a safe bet to follow in these rather large footsteps.

With a couple of recordings of his own, this year was time for Nathan -- about the same age now as that reached by his famous father before his untimely death in a plane fire -- to go on the road with a show that revives the ongoing interest in Stan's timeless songs.

With J.D. Edwards (guitar), Andrew Bryan (bass) and Trevor Mills (son of Paul Mills, Stan's producer) on bass, Nathan has taken on this enormous task. Comparisons are inevitable. He's not as physically imposing, but he's certainly gifted with the Rogers voice. At times, especially in the ballads, the similarity is so striking only genetics can explain it.

The show is neatly divided into the first set of early Stan (Fogarty's Cove, Turnaround, Between the Breaks) and then, after intermission, later Stan (Northwest Passage and From Fresh Water), plus "Barrett's Privateers" from the early years.

So the first set, then, included such Nova Scotian songs as "Make & Break Harbour," "Fogarty's Cove" and "Giant," and the more personal ones such as the love song "Forty Five Years." This of course is a love song to Nathan's mother, which made for some easy references to the Greek myth of Oedipus.

I don't think Stan Rogers ever reached the heights of "Fogarty's Cove" again on an album basis, though he wrote many more great individual songs, and it is a near certainty that, had he lived, he would have provided many more unforgettable songs to his legacy. But his early casting as an East Coast singer-songwriter really stuck, as did his popularity in the Maritimes. Perhaps less well known is that his ambition was to write songs about each part of Canada.

The second set then included the "Ontario and Western Canada" songs, including "Canol Road" (great anecdote about his Dad being jailed in Jasper, Alberta, for trying to assault a heckler with a mic stand). In Owen Sound, he did the special favour of adding to his second set the classic "White Squall," which mentions the town of Wiarton, less than half-an-hour away; he also played "Lock Keeper" (his favorite to perform in public, apparently) and "Tiny Fish" -- all from the Ontario repertoire. Also, in this farming community, "Field Behind the Plow" appropriately received a rousing ovation.

In terms of crowd reception, "Mary Ellen Carter," "Barrett's Privateers" and "Northwest Passage" are Stan's three indelible signature songs and all three were crowd pleasers. In one different twist, "Northwest Passage," which was originally delivered a cappella, was rendered by Nathan with instrumental accompaniment. Then, for an encore, he reversed this by delivering "Flowers of Bermuda" solo and unaccompanied.

My only regret in terms of song choice was not hearing the "Jeannie C" -- maybe the most haunting of Stan's songs.

Nathan's a different character than his Dad, who I had the privilege of seeing live in 1978, before Nathan was born. He's far less earnest and a little goofier in his delivery, very droll actually; but he has the comparable gifts and talents. He's generous to his solid band, and seems to have a particular and longstanding connection with Mills.

To his credit, Nathan stuck around afterwards, making himself available to sign discs for fans and chat, even after the 12th consecutive day performing and traveling. There are probably lots of stories about his Dad that he hasn't heard, and some of them might be connected with Summerfolk, the Owen Sound festival Stan used to perform at. So perhaps he got to hear some new tales for the first time himself.

If you once had the chance to see Stan, as I did, you'll never forget it. But seeing Nathan perform these songs live is the next best thing: entertaining, at times eerie but always touching.

by David Cox
15 December 2012