Green River Star -

Storyteller, musician to perform at center

 


Residents will have the chance to learn about the west through music and stories through storyteller and Wyoming Humanities Council member Bill Rossiter.

On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., Rossiter will be at the Golden Hour Senior Center to perform “The Magic Carpet Made of Steel,” songs and lies by Rossiter.

Rossiter, a 2015 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Service to the Humanities in Montana, chaired the humanities division and taught literature and folklore for 25 years at Flathead Valley Community College and the University of Montana, retiring in 1999.

He travels around Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado singing songs of the railroad, heroes and outlaws, the Irish immigration, the frontier, the Civil War, cowboys and sodbusters, mines and miners, the Great Depression, and other eras of American history.

Before going on the road as a soloist, he played with a 1950s Milwaukee Dixieland band, “The Beer City Six;” he then traveled the South with a Denver bluegrass band, “Bear Creek Canyon,” which was beamed up to the mother ship during a lunar eclipse. His band, “The Fine Arts Dionysian Jug Stompers” was run out of Denver for refusing to play “Feelings.”

He still plays with the “Grin and Bear It String Clan,” the “Rocky Mountain Rhythm Kings” Dixieland band, and “Jack o’ Shamrocks,” groups which have thus far survived his presence.

His upcoming performance is centers around how in some respects, the railroads created the West.

The songs that people made up about the railroads tell us a lot about people’s attitudes about the railroad—from the young girl who sings, “Mama, dear mama, I’ll write you if I can, but if you ever see your daughter again, I’ll be with a railroad man” to the grumpy wagoner who is afraid the railroads will kill his business, and what’s worse, bring with it a bunch of Irishmen.

Some of the best songs, of course, are about train wrecks—KC Jones, who died jamming on the brakes, or the engineer on Old 97 who died with his hand on the throttle.

And there’s social commentary, too. When KC Jones got to heaven, the Angels’ Local 32 kicked him out because he was playing the harp without a union card.

More currently, Rossiter sings about the grizzly bears who feast on the fermented grain spills along the tracks near Glacier Park and join a support group to sober up.

In our cynical age, it may be difficult to understand the mystique and romance that developed around the trains.

But he railroads brought America together, formed a nation out of a collection of states and territories, and compressed the months-long wagon trek from coast to coast into a few days on the train.

Each track section planted a town, a seed of civilization in what was considered at the time the “Great American Desert.”

Songs and stories help us recapture the wonder the railroads once inspired.

Using these tunes and yarns, attendees will explore what the railroad meant to the West and to Americans in general, in the distant and not-so-distant past.

Songs are accompanied by banjo, guitar and Autoharp.

 

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