By Scott Roos
Pics by Scott and Deanna Roos
Joel Rohs… Man? Myth? Legend? All of the above? None of the above? In the grand scheme of things does it even matter? To those that know him best, it does matter. To those that have worked with him or attended an event he’s put on or played in a band with him, it deeply matters. You see, the truth is, Rohs is forging his own path in the industry via the unlikely urban sprawl of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He’s a visionary; the kind of guy that tirelessly works behind the scenes to make things happen and seldom gets the credit he so richly deserves. He’s basically a guy that sees a musical need and then takes it upon himself to make sure that need is met. The creation of Chester Fest Couch + Music Festival is just one example.
"Prince Albert needed a musical festival. I've said this how many times? We live in a city of forty thousand and a lot more people in the surrounding area but we didn’t have a music festival? What the hell was that about?” quips Rohs via a telephone conversation with NSMZ.
The 2021 edition of Chester Fest has come and gone and there’s enough distance away from it now for Rohs to be appropriately reflective. An individual who keeps his emotions in check, Rohs knows that there’s a lot of work to be done still. The harvest for music in Prince Albert is bountiful but building a culture around the festival is going to take time. He can’t rest on his laurels but he is content… To a degree.
“The best thing I heard this year from festival goers was 'I wasn't sure about some of these bands but I've been to Chester Fest events before and I know they're always gonna be a good time'. We love to hear that. That's awesome," said Rohs.
Chester Fest is a labour of love and if that was all that Rohs accomplished this past year it would be amazing in and of itself but he also produced Kayleigh Skomorowski and Wade Fehr’s most recent records. Both Skomorowski and Fehr appreciated the personal touch that Roh’s provides when working with artists. He clearly gets to know the music of the artists he works with and it shows in the finished products.
"When it came to production, I came in with the tunes and we did the scratch tracks. We talked about feel and the ideas we had for the arrangements of the tunes. I pulled up some reference tracks and there's some stuff that he would pull out of it so there wasn't a whole lot of give and take there. We were both pretty aligned on that and Joel knows my music pretty well,” explained Skomorowski in an NSMZ interview from earlier this past year.
Skomorowski’s Stay Wild record was emotional and reflective. It had a sentimentality to it but it didn’t overreach either. It stayed in its lane. Much of this likely had to do with Roh’s working through each tune methodically to create the right intimacy in the overall vibe. It’s sonic palette is appealing and worthy of the accolades it has received so far.
Fehr’s record Of Ghosts and Graveyards, on the other hand, was a rootsy, bluesy affair. Rohs and Fehr had worked together before and that clearly worked to their advantage.
"After working with Joel on my last record I had no desire to look for someone else. He is such a pleasure to work with; a great musician, recording engineer and an even better human being. This time going into the studio we now had a history together and the process of doing a song was even smoother," Fehr explained in a conversation with NSMZ back in October.
Rohs also selflessly worked to build up the burgeoning career of bluegrass/rockabilly artist Jake Vaadeland this past summer via a lengthy set of touring dates and sitting in the production chair for a debut ep. Vaadeland is a talented songwriter but was able to flourish under the guidance of Rohs. Rohs acted as Vaadeland’s guitar player which gave the group a plugged-in “early Johnny Cash” sort of vibe. He also acted as Vaadeland’s booking agent through July and August and managed to score a few dozen gigs around the province.
“It was a summer of shows. We had a couple weeks where there’s not been a day off doing shows. It’s pretty ideal because I’ll have a show and then a couple days off and then another show thanks to Joel doing all my booking,” Vaadeland said in a brief conversation after his Chester Fest set.
Rohs in the past few years has clearly been helping to selflessly build or perhaps rebuild the music scene in Prince Albert and the surrounding area. He’s organized a festival, worked as a sideman, booked tours and sat in the production chair. He’s an unsung hero in many ways but still found the time to work on his own recording project. This will be explored in the next installment of our reflections on Rohs.