Dear Switchback fans,
We were in Stillwater, Minnesota last week, and as usual we chose to do some outreach programs. We were at a retirement home called The Greeley. It was an unbelievably warm day, and the residents were brought outside for a concert on the patio. The director brought out straw hats for them to wear as we set up our sound system and commenced playing. It was a great deal of fun as always, with the twists and turns that one encounters when doing outreach programs. As our “Sycamore View” song goes, every resident has some “damn claim to fame” and more often than not, it really is a bona fide claim to fame or notable accomplishment. (I feel one of the great tragedies of modern living is that our elderly and their life experiences are not appreciated, recorded, or used for knowledge by the younger generations, but that is for another article.)
He was sitting in a wheelchair and watching us play with an intensity that made me guess that he must be a musician. We continued on and about halfway through our concert he left, wheeling back through the door and into the residence. Usually when that happens during a senior outreach, it means one of three things: a) the person is bored with our program; b) the person has to go to the bathroom; c) both. In this case, I thought that he must need to get to the bathroom, for he was clearly enjoying himself. Sure enough, out he came about two songs later with a manila envelope in his hand. He clutched it throughout the rest of the show, and when we were finished with the program, he came up to us.
“My name is Eric Sjoberd and I am a Laplander! My people came from the far north.”
“Ok,” I said, “well, you live in the right state then.”
“I do,” he smiled. “Did you know that Sjoberd is Lapp for Sea-Mountain?”
“No,” I replied, “but that is a pretty cool name.”
“I was in music,” he said.
Brian and I naturally are curious when someone says they “were in music.” That can mean a lot of things, from playing in a high school band to sharing the stage with Dizzy Gillespie. Eric carefully opened the manila envelope and pulled out a photo. It was a scene from the late 50’s of a tour bus. Hanging out of its windows and around it were various musicians, all dressed in suits of the folk era and clutching musical instruments.
“This was my group,” he said. “The Jubilaires.”
We studied the photo of the band. Here was clearly a traveling outfit which reminded me of the New Christy Minstrels-type of bands that were popular before rock and roll started taking off. It was a magical time, when folk music was king and before some other Minnesotan with the last name of Zimmerman traveled down Route 61 and literally changed the world as we knew it.
Eric pointed to people in the photograph. “Here is my wife. She played the banjo. And here is my son, he played guitar.”
Turned out that Eric and his wife lived up in the Iron Range part of Minnesota. His wife’s musical interests were something that he embraced. Together they formed a traveling folk band. Gathering other musicians around them, they formed the Jubilaires. (In research on the internet, I found the Jubalaires, which was a gospel group from the 1940’s-1950’s, but I couldn’t find any mention of Eric’s group.)
“We would plan a tour of about 28 shows and see how far we could get from the Twin Cities,” said Eric. “And we kept it going for 42 years.”
Sadly, the Sjoberds' son died of an aneurysm, and at his passing they decided to end the band.
“How old are you now?” I asked.
“96 years old,” he replied.
“Ah, another proof of music keeping you young!” I said.
He happily fist-pumped the air, holding onto his picture.
Brian and I thanked him for being a journeyman. And for taking the risk of doing what he loved. Amazingly, the fact that he, his wife, and son were able to share those 42 years bringing joy to countless others was something that stuck with me.
Too often, it seems that we are preoccupied with equating fame with success. The idea that one can be a success but not famous (or rich for that matter) is not as exciting. We were raised on the notion that to be someone in this world, we had to be something. That is why social media has become such a huge hit. We all can be something, even if it just means that it is something going out into the ether.
The journeyman (and woman) flies in the face of this notion. Their idea is that this world is just a playground for the imagination. And whoever touches the most souls during the journey wins. What wasn’t in Eric’s photo were the countless souls that were touched. Souls that most likely had no idea of the personal cost of losing his son so suddenly. Or that he is now confined to a wheelchair at a nursing home in Minnesota.
But Eric does. And that is the point.
American Roots & Celtic Soul