Leading Festival 2006, Idaho Public Television salutes one of the state's personal gems by presenting Rosalie Sorrels: Way Out In Idaho. The program features footage of her September 17, 2005, concert in Hailey, interspersed with interview footage from friends, associates and Sorrels herself.
Sorrels, now in her 70s, has been a professional musician for nearly 40 years, despite never having had formal singing lessons. Incorporating a little of all the styles from the folk idiom in her repertoire, Sorrels sees herself as more than just a folk singer.
"I think a troubadour would be a better description," Sorrels says in one of the show's interviews, "because I use music from all kinds of disciplines, and I'm not always the same."
When she first started her professional career, Sorrels not only traveled the country and performed whenever and wherever possible, she also raised her five children. Other difficulties she has weathered include a brain aneurism, which left her semi-comatose for eight days, and being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988. Undaunted, she performed bald after losing her hair from chemotherapy treatment and says that despite all the troubles she has struggled through, she will continue. "I want very much to help people," she stresses, and of her songs and stories, points out, "I try very hard to find the way to tell these stories so they relate to everyone."
Other interviews included in the program are with such noted friends and associates as Pete Seeger, the folk singer and political activist known as a leader of the protest music movement. Seeger has been a close friend of Sorrels for many years and sings the song My Father's Mansion with her. Nanci Griffith, a Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter hailed by Rolling Stone as "The Queen of Folkabilly," shares some humorous stories about traveling on the road with Sorrels, and Jean Ritchie discusses her role as an associate and friend in Sorrel's life and career. Ritchie, a fellow musician noted for her skill on the hammer dulcimer, was instrumental in getting Sorrels invited to the 1966 Newport Folk Festival, which turned out to be Sorrel's first trip east.
Boise resident Rocci Johnson is featured in the program as well. Johnson, who co-owns Hannah's Bar with her husband, is the lead singer of the Rocci Johnson Band and organizer of The Divas of Boise, an all-female troupe who accompanied Sorrels during the Hailey concert. In her interview, Johnson speaks of what an honor it was to accompany Sorrels, and also why she found it appropriate for the Divas. "She wants society, our nation, our culture and indeed the world to be a better place," Johnson explains. "That's what the Divas are all about, and she started on the path decades before any of us were even in the picture." Other interviews include Utah Phillips, the folk singer, storyteller and poet who recorded 1996's The Long Memory with Sorrels, and Terry Garthwaite, the internationally known singer, songwriter, composer, producer and teacher who performed with Sorrels on the road and also recorded Live at the Great American Music Hall with her.
Through the coverage of the "Rosalie Sorrels and Friends" concert from Hailey's renovated Liberty Theatre and the numerous anecdotes and memories of many of her friends and collaborators, Rosalie Sorrels: Way Out in Idaho is a warm and loving tribute to an Idaho original. More than just a document of her career, the show stresses her talent and perseverance, but also demonstrates perhaps her two most important assets: her unique personality and her triumphant strength of character.
Rosalie Sorrels: Way Out in Idaho airs Wednesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. on IPTV, Channel 4. For more information on IPTV or to view the full Festival 2006 schedule, visit www.idahoptv.org.