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Sacramento folk singer Jenn Rogar plays music with a message

By Zachary Ahern, Submerge, May 29, 2013

Jenn Rogar, Photo by Sandra Delores

Photo by Sandra Delores.

It quickly became clear that Jenn Rogar is much more than just a singer performing folk music as a hobby. She is an artist actively trying to change the world and just happens to be a talented singer and songwriter who spreads her beliefs through song.

As a schoolteacher, law practitioner and mother, Rogar has a wealth of life experience to draw upon. She has also been playing music off and on since 1998, as time permits or whenever she receives waves of inspiration. As it turns out, she wasn’t even familiar with the folk music genre until she met her friend and mentor, singer Diane Patterson while attending college to become a schoolteacher. Rogar cites Patterson, a fellow political leftist, activist and socially conscious local, as a main inspiration for launching her music career.

Rogar debuted Place Called Humanity, a stripped down folk album, which on tracks such as “Tree of Life” and “Torah Song,” raises moral and societal concerns and challenges listeners to take the high road; simply by attempting to be more responsible and aware of our environment. Jenn has set forth upon releasing her sophomore album Shasta within the next couple months and plans on having an accompanying slide show of Mount Shasta while performing the title track. This album release event will likely be educational, similar to her experiences shared here. Jenn will also be performing every Thursday for the next few weeks showcasing this material at Old Ironsides.

The common theme of folk music is to tell a story. What are your favorite stories to tell when you’re on stage?
I enjoy telling stories about the planet and anti-war sentiment with weaving in more mainstream topics while attempting to have a positive impact. As a history major and teacher, I have a background of caring about several issues such as the Navajo Indians and the environment. Some songs are simply born spontaneously.

What can we do to change the world? Where does it start?
Stop listening to the mainstream media. Seek out free speech radio news. You have to educate yourself and learn how things really work. There’s so much going on while everyone’s texting, playing games and watching reality shows. There are so many distractions and people are getting numb. But you can’t do it all. You have to find a niche that you care about, whether it’s the death penalty or birth control or trees.

When did you begin having these realizations as an activist and what has influenced you?
A Ph.D. graduate student, whom I was dating while in college at UC Davis, first influenced me. With experiences I had and being open minded, I became more aware. It was a gradual process. I was very influenced by the Redwood Summer, the Earth First kids who were activists who took residence in the Redwood trees in Humboldt, Calif. Like Utah Phillips said, “You pick things up out of the river.” River would represent history to me. I’m trying to spread the word through songs. I’m still trying to figure out how to reduce my carbon footprint.

How have you made a difference as a teacher, lawyer and songwriter?
I start by telling the truth. I taught in the classroom for several years and was good at imparting knowledge but was not good at disciplining the kids. There was a story written about me by a right-wing organization that has claimed I have participated in ZEP [Zinn Education Project] warfare, essentially claiming Howard Zinn instructs teachers to infect children’s minds. So I simply taught a chapter out of Zinn’s book about Christopher Columbus. Any kid will tell you they know what he [Columbus] did to the indigenous people. The history books will tell you he was a hero, but the story is now on the Web. Any time you go outside of the box, you run risks, but if not, what are you going to do? Just lie down and die?

I also have a law degree from Lincoln Law School. Since then I have been able to see things with a better vantage point. I’ve been taught contracts, real property, criminal law, so now I can see the bigger picture of what’s going on. It’s shown me we need to focus on one area and then find the niche of where they belong. As a songwriter, I feel sharper. Songs just come out now. If I think too hard, it won’t happen. It’s important to have a concept and then refine what I’ve done. To just go out there and sing about nothing can be bland or boring.

What is your main focus or niche for activism right now?
I’ve done rallies against the death penalty, against domestic violence and anti-war rallies, but my current focus is the war on dealing with the environment. But more specifically, we need to breathe the trees by limiting fossil fuels and saving the rainforests. I learned the other day that we share half our DNA with trees, so I feel a strong connection to trees. Utah Phillips once said, “There are too many people doing good things to afford me the luxury of being pessimistic.” If you think about it, there are so many good people out there. We have the power of the purse. We can make the choices for ourselves what to support. All people are good people if we get the truth. Some people are just misinformed.

Besides the causes you’re supporting by performing at rallies and fundraisers? What do you enjoy about these events?
Community happens at these events. That’s something that the current generation is starved for. Positive energy gets going and everyone feeds off of one another. You go to a café today and see everyone on a laptop and no one’s talking.

Can you explain the significance of your song “Dove Spring Girl?”
Dove Spring is the area near Flagstaff, Ariz., where the Navajo people live. All the relatives lived near each other and were forcibly relocated due to the politics that began in the ‘50s. The families lived there with no running water and weren’t able to grow crops or live a healthy or traditional way of life; they were forced to live a more modern way of life in the subdivisions, eating pizza and playing video games. So the song centers upon a girl, Janie, I met and the hopes of her to have a better life.

How does your upcoming album Shasta differ from Place Called Humanity?
Shasta is a bit of a departure from the first album. After performing off and on for several years as a solo artist, Mike Farrell and I started performing together and then recruited Eric Everett on the drums. Mike contributed a lot of music on the album minus the drums, produced the album and even learned to play the organ in the studio. Eric cleverly added drums to Shasta and then to several other tracks, even though I hadn’t intended drums to be on the new album at all. The songs are all over the map. There are folk songs and blues songs on the album. I started researching Mount Shasta on the Internet about its spiritual qualities. I visited Mount Shasta with my daughter and had an overwhelming feeling of joy permeating through my body, which I attributed to the secrets of the mountain. Mount Shasta is a true spiritual vortex. We need to reconnect with nature. And it’s not just about politics, but it’s about telling a story.

What’s the most memorable thing to ever happen to you while performing?
A lady came up to me and said, “I love your heart, soul and spirit. I’m totally a right wing enthusiast and don’t believe what you say, but you’ve got soul.” I didn’t quite reach her, but I did. We get caught up in performing and will get nerves, but the best thing to say to you is “this is not about me.” I’m just trying to make people feel happy for the moment. I didn’t expect to be doing this. But that’s life. It takes you along on this journey and you have to be ready to take the day head on.

For more about Jenn Rogar, check her out at Reverbnation.com/jennrogar.

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