Peter Rowan: A True Songster

Peter Rowan on Sunday May 24th played the Columbia Community Center located in Cincinnati, Ohio and more specifically in the east end. There were about one hundred people seated and standing, drinking and laughing, and ultimately enjoying a truly amazing evening in such an intimate setting.  The CCC is a renovated church that Elias Leisring (of Eli’s BBQ) has put a lot of work into to turn this into a venue. They sat and listened intently. Catching the inflections in Peter’s voice or the inflections in movements, and his still quite amazing guitar playing the hundred or so folks that came to partake in the evening smiled and cheered after each song. 

I went into the evening expecting just him and his acoustic guitar, but what I got instead was something not entirely different, but different nonetheless and not in a bad way.  Peter brought along a full band (drums, upright bass, and fiddle) and he played electric guitar which was something new for me as I had not heard him on the electric guitar. It opened him up to do something a little more rockin’ where a lot of his influence lies within. With a career spanning over five decades at this point he can play however he would like and he did.

Peter Rowan was born on the 4th of July in 1942 and comes from a musical family, and learned to play guitar from his uncle. He was born in Wayland, Massachusetts and spent his teenage years frequenting the sights and stylings of the Hillbilly Ranch, which is a legendary country music club in Boston. He started his first band, The Cupids in high school. Music was becoming a staple and fixture of his life and with college looming he decided to give it all up and pursue a life in music. Luckily for us he did that, and stuck with it throughout all of these many years. Counting that high school band that would have been roughly 1956 where it all started and in 1963 he catches a break by playing rhythm guitar for bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. As the 60’s turned into the 70’s Peter was involved in sorts of different projects and bands. From Earth Opera, Sea Train, Muleskinner, The Rowans, and Old & In The Way in which this band saw extremely talented players as David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements, and John Kahn, and lastly New Riders of the Purple Sage, and to a Sunday in May where he played with three wonderfully talented gentlemen as well. Where it seemed as if the culmination of all of what had come before was playing in a renovated church on a Sunday.

They played for two hours and could have told stories till the sun came up. The caliber of talent on this stage was refreshing. The quality of the songwriting and the sheer entertainment were all equally refreshing and inspiring to see. There was a warmth to the show, and while yes it was warm inside of this church, the warmth I mean was not a temperature. It was more of the warmth of somewhat being invited to a practice, or a rehearsal, or a jam session. They rocked it at times, and made it a little bluegrassy as well. At 70 years young Peter still has “it.” Still has the rockin and rollin he grew up with, and the Elvisness in his hips. The twang in a voice that still sounds twenty years old, and his showmanship is still there, not sure if that ever goes away.  To see a man who has pretty much gone all around the world in a church in Cincinnati was quite a joy. He had played Darkstar Jubilee the evening before, and in this intimate setting Mr. Rowan jammed and smiled all night long. It was nice to see him as well, at the end, sit a table and talk to whom ever had stuck around for an autograph or just to say thank you. Peter Rowan has created his own legend, and maybe it wasn’t created at all I’d like to think it’s been there all along it just received a little nurturing along the way. If you have never heard him take a moment to do so, and if you dig it then take a day or two and see where he will be playing next. Peter Rowan a songster and a showman.