Singer-songwriter Russ Rosen of Vancouver has played music everywhere from African stadiums to Canadian East Coast pubs and from Olympic stages to Parisian cafés.
Over the last 27 years, he has played in nations as far-flung as Greece, France, Rwanda, southeast Asia, Israel and Germany, and in every corner of Canada. Rosen describes himself as someone who plays “music with mission, whether it is to bring hope to the survivors of the Rwandan genocide or to inspire a crowd of young people or to sing peace over the warring landscape of the Middle East or to erupt celebration on the streets of his own city for hundreds of thousands of onlookers.”
Rosen’s musical mission will bring him to Ladysmith this Sunday night (July 13) to perform in the Concerts in the Park series at Transfer Beach.
Rosen performs original music, sometimes mixing in some Canadiana or folk covers. He says he sings a lot of songs about Canadian history, and he describes his music as Canadiana/folk/rock/gospel, which is still kind of bluesy and a bit funky. He can draw an audience to a compelling story of history or faith one minute and stir a crowd in to a partying frenzy the next. His vocal performance has been compared to Dave Matthews or Bruce Springsteen.
Rosen says he hopes that when he puts his voice out there in the world, he hopes it helps people and brings some reflection and hope.
“It feels like the story I’m trying to tell is very helpful,” he said.
Rosen started taking piano lessons when he was four, but he got kicked out when he was seven because he wouldn’t practise. He then started taking drum lessons when he was 10 and loved it. Rosen played in bands as he was growing up, and he was even in a band with Michael J. Fox when he was younger.
“We rocked the Grade 7 talent show,” he laughed.
Rosen used to be involved in a youth mentorship program connected to Keats Camp that had a lot of music to it, and he says that was a big move into making music full-time.
“Our music has always been that thing that has been community-minded,” he said. “The goal hasn’t been to become rock-star famous, but ‘how do we connect with people.’ We’ve ended up finding that our groove has been mostly doing community celebrations.”
The Russ Rosen Band has played music around the world.
One of the places they have performed is Rwanda. Rosen had been travelling across Canada in a mobile theatre, putting Gospel stories and music together, and, as Rosen says, “taking them out of the church and into the street.”
Rosen ended up writing songs in French and in English for the March For Jesus, in which churches sing songs in the street together. People in Rwanda found out what Rosen was doing and asked him to do something similar in their country to help with reconciliation efforts. Seven years after the 1994 genocide, Rosen and 40 Canadians travelled to Rwanda to sing songs with the Hutus and Tutsis.
“We went there to cry with them and sing songs with them,” said Rosen. “The point was to grieve with those who needed to grieve. That was a very powerful experience for us. It was kind of rooted in the church world, that’s how it came about, but it was far bigger than that.”
Rosen says that being able to impact people through experiences like this make all the hard work of trying to make a living as a musician worth it.
“As a musician who’s just sort of a working musician, you get days when I just can’t do it anymore and you think it’s too hard,” he said. “Then you have these moments, like Canada Day when you have 100,000 people dancing and singing with you, and you disappear — you have served a greater purpose of creating opportunities for people to dance and celebrate. All of a sudden, you’ve done something where you’ve created an environment that lifts people’s spirits to a much higher place. I get quite charged up by those experiences.”
Along with lead vocals, Rosen plays acoustic and electric guitars and harmonica. He often performs with Brett Ziegler, who plays more than 30 instruments, drummer Chad Bjorgan and bassist Jonathan Perkins.
The Russ Rosen Band performs Sunday, July 13 from 6-8 p.m. at the Transfer Beach Amphitheatre in Ladysmith, weather permitting.
Admission is by donation, and the money raised helps the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association provide programs free of charge to families in the Ladysmith area.
For more information about the series, visit www.transferbeach.ca.