The personal is political
Sacramento singer-songwriter Jenn Rogar’s folk songs encompass homelessness, global politics and affairs of the heart
By Rachel Leibrock, Sac. News & Review, Jan. 16, 2014
The first time Jenn Rogar delved into activism, it struck the singer-songwriter as kind of strange.
It was the early 2000s, and Rogar, outraged by the government’s post-September 11 actions in Iraq, grabbed her guitar to join a protest.
“I got out there and sang and marched—I’d never marched before,” she says now. “I felt kind of funny, like I was doing something wrong, but then it was also a liberating feeling.”
Certainly, it fit the path Rogar had already forged both creatively and intellectually.
“I’m a big Joan Baez fan,” she says of the ’60s-era activist folk singer. “I majored in history and dated a guy who was a Communist. I’m definitely left and I’m definitely a Democrat.”
In the years since that first experience, Rogar’s protested and marched for numerous causes, including women’s rights, domestic-violence awareness and homelessness. She got involved with the latter cause after a friend introduced her to Food Not Bombs, a collective that serves free vegan and vegetarian meals to those in need. Rogar volunteered with the group and also marched with Safe Ground Sacramento, a nonprofit that works to protect homeless residents. Rogar will perform as part of the fourth Safe Ground benefit on Saturday, January 17.
The singer-songwriter’s involvement with the cause grew, in earnest, in May 2013.
“I’d see the homeless day after day and decided [I needed] to do something,” she explains.
And so, with the help of some friends, Rogar organized a benefit at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar, with proceeds benefiting both Safe Ground and the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee.
Rogar’s also kept busy offstage, attending city council meetings to protest local government’s treatment of the homeless.
“They’re really not very responsible,” she says of the council. “Yes, there are people who don’t want to work and who abuse the system, but there are also people out there who are mentally ill.”
The Auburn native’s take on folk music, which recalls the likes of Holly Near, Woody Guthrie and, yes, Joan Baez, is a natural fit for her activist sensibility. Not all her songs, however, take on political causes. Some are deeply personal. On “The River,” for example, the title track from her 2013 album by the same name, Rogar addresses a friend’s drug addiction.
“[When] I started writing, it became my personal therapy,” says Rogar, who first picked up a guitar in the ’90s.
At one point, however, she traded in the guitar for textbooks, studying at Lincoln Law School. Eventually she returned to music, and when she did, Rogar, who currently teaches high school, found new inspiration in the coffeehouse scene when she befriended guitarist Mike Farrell.
Rogar, who says she’d long been a fan of Farrell, says she was “smitten” with his talent. The two, who were even roommates for a while, started playing together and, joined by a handful of musicians, recorded The River.
The experience, she says, proved rewarding.
“I became a better musician,” she says.
These days, Rogar plays with a full band comprising Steve McLane (guitar), Ken Rabiroff (bass), Darin Bradford (drums) and Kristine David (backup vocals). In the coming months, she says, the band is expanding its sound to encompass jazz and country.
“I just want to entertain,” she says.
To that end, Rogar adds that she plans to somewhat “depoliticize,” by shifting her focus away from activism and back to her music—at least in part.
“I’m learning that [I need] to focus on just one [cause]: homelessness,” she says. “Otherwise, I can’t get my music done.”
It’s both a move toward personal balance and one aimed at furthering her various causes.
“If I go further musically and lighten up on the politics for a while, then I’ll have more money and influence to focus on helping others.”