When Wayne Rostad visited people around the Ottawa Valley for his television show, “On The Road Again,” it seemed that he was bigger than life. The 20-year run of that show, from 1987 to 2007, only added to his fame as a country music songwriter and performer.
It was clear that Rostad hasn’t lost his easy, down-home personality when he visited The Review last week. His tall frame isn’t intimidating, his open smile and friendly demeanour are obviously a big part of why so many people opened their homes and their hearts to him – telling their stories to him week after week for 20 years.
He’s got “Ottawa Valley” written all over him, but his reflective take on music and life is never far behind the ready jokes and laughter.
Rostad refers shyly to “affairs of the heart” when he talks about his newfound connection to Vankleek Hill.
Yes, it is romance which brings Rostad to Vankleek Hill so frequently these days.
Rostad had been on a musical sabbatical for about two-and-a-half years, living at his oceanfront home in the Maritimes.
But then something happened.
“I didn’t realize that the songbird had stopped singing,” says the veteran singer-songwriter, who is a member of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame. With a 47-year career behind him, Rostad had thought this stepping back from music was just the way it was.
“But these affairs of the heart pluck strings you didn’t know existed,” Rostad said, smiling.
“I started to write again and wanted to sing, too. I refurbished a couple of my guitars and so, after two-and-a-half years, the songbird came back,” Rostad related.
Now, he is looking around and accepting some of the offers coming in.
One such request originated in Vankleek Hill –for Rostad to give a benefit concert in aid of Arbor Gallery – something which Rostad says he accepted without hesitation.
The arts and cultural activities are at the heart of a community, Rostad says, adding he could not turn down the invitation from someone who is possibly Arbor Gallery Cultural Centre’s strongest advocate – Reenie Marx.
Rostad has performed here on several occasions and was often in this “neck of the woods” as part of his television story-telling days.
“This is not my first rodeo here”, Rostad says in a jocular way.
It’s not uncommon for Rostad to be recognized by fans, but sometimes, the fact that he no longer sports a moustache throws people off.
“Television is an amazing thing. People have pretty sharp memories, and television really imprints on the mind. I found that as I travel around the country, people still come up to me and recognize me,” says Rostad, claiming that it is a testimonial to the show.
Rostad started writing songs at the age of 16. His first song was one of unrequited love. And music stayed on his mind as he began working in radio. Then, as one of the youngest news anchors in Canada, working in Kingston, his musical outlet was singing in a coffee club on weekends.
“I would get out of my three-piece suit, comb my hair down over my ears, put on a jumpsuit and go down to the coffee club,” recalls Rostad.
Finally, music won out.
In the early 70s, Rostad realized that he wanted to be a songwriter and a performer.
“I wanted to write about people in my own back yard, something which Country Report had given me an insight into . . . there are great songs right in our own back yard.”
Listen to the full interview below:
Local story-telling on television
There was a new-ness to telling stories on television back then because it had not really been done before.
But Rostad says a turning point came when a producer asked Rostad to write a snippet of a song to be part of that story-telling, suggesting that they could use it to book-end the show.
“And sure enough, it was a wonderful way to tell a story. And it made the unsung hero a sung-about hero. People really gravitated to it and if anything, it gave me a whole pot of material.”
Any time the show went on-site to do a story, Rostad wrote a song to go with it.
“When we went from Country Report regionally to On the Road Again nationally, we continued that theme.”
Through it all, Rostad says the magic of his work is always the “communion with people.”
“Whether I am emceeing an event, or whether I am singing a song, seeing the reaction on their face to some of the comedy that I do . . . anything that is a communion between me and the people is the joy.”
Rostad lives for the audience banter, laughter and cat-calls.
“So that is my joy. My joy is at the end of the night, that we have almost had a kitchen ceilidh. A lot of laughs and a lot of loving exchanges and so whether I did that on television talking to a camera pointed at me, my job was to go through the lens, and through the lens into the other side, to the viewer watching.”
And then, there is the singing. Singing is total joy for him, says Rostad.
What can people expect at the November 25 concert?
(Here comes the Ottawa Valley.)
“Total chaos. Let’s do-er,’ Rostad jokes in a big voice.
But, turning serious, he says this performance in Vankleek Hill will be emotional.
“I am so looking forward to the concert. I know there will be a bunch of people that I will remember.
Rostad has a few more things to say about performing. He is a solo act, all the way.
He likes to have the freedom to go where he wants to go with an audience.
“Go where the spirit takes you. That has been my joy as a performer. I learned how to play a rhythmic, semi chicken-pickin’ kind of lead to accompany myself. We just go. I don’t walk out onstage with any set notion in my mind. Once I get out there, I go by the vibrations and the energy that comes off the audience. I really read them. I feel the emotion.”
We ended the interview with some advice for up-and-coming performers.
Rostad took a moment to recall his father buying him his first guitar and telling him to respect it and that it would bring him nothing but good.
“In my day, you had to go through the regular rank and file and find someone who believed in you, and then they had to find someone who would invest dollars in you. Today, you can post something online and it goes viral, and it’s a hit and companies come looking for you, but one thing that has never changed; don’t expect anything to come to you. You’re going to have to stick to it and only those who stick to it come out the other end.
“If you believe in something enough, you’ll chase it and if you chase it and retain your integrity without stepping on anyone on the way up, then you don’t have to worry about coming down and meeting the people you stepped on.
“You want to have a career filled with giving and honesty and integrity and stick to it; if you do it long enough if it’s in the genes and it’s out there, it will come.”
You might run into Wayne Rostad anywhere on Vankleek Hill’s Main Street.
But why wait? You can hear Wayne Rostad perform at the Arbor Gallery Cultural Centre benefit concert on Saturday, November 25 at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute. Advance tickets will be on sale soon. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert will start at 7 p.m.