The hermit emerges
Brian Rogers returns to musical collaborations with a sense of community
Local singer-songwriter Brian Rogers was at Starbucks last year when he got the seemingly casual text: “Do you want to play the Bernie Sanders rally tomorrow?”
The message came from friend and local musician Joe Kye, who’d been growing in popularity with his amazing violin skills. Kye was invited to play Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Sacramento rally and wanted Rogers to join him on percussion. Rogers’ answer was an immediate yes.
As excited as Rogers was, he had no idea the Sacramento rally would have such an enormous turnout. The duo played on the main stage right before actor Danny Glover introduced Sanders.
“It was like Woodstock,” Rogers says. “It wasn’t even political. It was spiritual.”
Had Rogers gotten the text a few years earlier, he might have declined. But in late 2015, he’d gotten back from a transformational trip to Peñas Blancas, Nicaragua, with nonprofit Nicaraguan United States of American Musicians that brought school supplies to kids who desperately needed them—and music. Rogers was part of the band (called NUSAM, same as the group’s acronym) that played with and recorded many local musicians over the two-week period.
But just a few years earlier, in 2012, the multi-instrumentalist could have gone to Jamaica and Haiti with the same organization. He declined because he was in the middle of recording his debut solo album, Single. The tracks show off Rogers’ mind-boggling musical diversity. They jump around between Michael Franti-esque feel-good reggae-pop, heartfelt, somber singer-songwriter ballads and funky get-on-your-feet dance tunes.
The album wasn’t the only reason he declined the service trip. He’d withdrawn a bit from playing with others after his band Izabella broke up in 2010.
“There were too many cooks,” Rogers says. The six-piece jam band played with a funky flair and toured the states relentlessly, but lasted only three years.
After Izabella dissolved, Rogers switched gears and focused exclusively on working solo. But gradually, a passionate musician inspired him to actively seek out other collaborators: Joe Kye, who was new to town in 2014 and playing with everyone who would let him.
“This guy is excited,” Rogers says. “He just quit being a teacher. That open mind space he had really resonated with where I was coming from. It was almost like being born again. We connected.”
In 2015, NUSAM founder Joe Baker called Rogers again, determined to get him to join one of his projects, this time in Nicaragua. Rogers was in a completely different head space and ready to just say yes. Now, he’s proud of the work that they did to help the residents of Peñas Blancas, but more importantly, the experience confirmed for Rogers just how he wanted to live his life.
Rogers’ former six-piece band Izabella will be playing a reunion set at the upcoming Another Family Affair.
“I think I took away an attitude of community—as cheesy as that sounds, it really does mean a lot to me because I tend to be an isolationist,” Rogers says. “We were just with each other every moment, really paying attention. That changed me. I want more of this. The best thing that can happen, even for one second, you can jam with someone or write a lyric that changes the course for all of us.”