Header image: Watercolor by Pat Norton
We had an intern from Lake State working with us this summer. A senior this year, Jessica Hirt’s first assignment was to work with Simon Couvier preparing the music segment of the Sault Summer Arts Festival. Simon is a dynamo. Nobody knows just how hard she works, how much she does, or how much expertise is required to persuade busy entertainers to volunteer and to provide the backup that they certainly deserve. Working with Simon over two months gave Jessica the insight needed to give us all a taste of what was required. Her article on Simon appeared in this newsletter in September.
Also working with Simon at the festival was Annis George, in his third year as a festival volunteer. Annis bills himself as a one-man-band, but he’s more than that. He was there all day, filling in whenever needed, whether it was on stage performing or behind the scenes running the public address system. Jessica worked with Annis George at the festival and it seemed only logical to ask her to interview him further so we could profile him here.
The photographs accompanying this article are by another long time volunteer, the late Paul D. Freedman, who walked the festival grounds from morning to night over a period of years, taking photographs and leaving us with a treasury that we will be dipping into for many years.
by Jessica Hirt
When I first heard of Annis George, I was curious to meet him. He was listed as a one-man band for the entertainment portion of the Sault Summer Arts Festival in August of 2008. Watching a one-man band is fascinating. Annis George calmly starts with the guitar, swiftly adds the cornet, and often plinks out melody or harmony on the keyboard. He travels with his gear, and it is impressive to watch his ability to control so many various elements of presentation at the same time. You don’t leave disappointed. George demonstrates the intricacies of playing in a one-man band, and he pulls music from a wide variety of genres. He plays music from Elvis to Louis Armstrong and reveals that music is an extension of who he is.
The presence and influence of art on George’s life began at a very early age. George’s parents owned a restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, and although his mother sold it after the death of his father, George remembers that restaurant and that time in his life with fondness, stating that artistic ability isn’t limited to art, music, or words: “Making pancakes can be artistic.” Cooking, however, is not the way he prefers to express himself. His career began in elementary school, where he learned to play the cornet. Around that same time, George also took private guitar lessons; when his teacher asked what he wanted to learn, he simply stated: “Elvis.” His impersonations didn’t stop there. In seventh grade, he won the talent show for his impressions of famous people, such as President Nixon, Elvis, and Jimmy Stewart; however, he is quick to state that there were only two people in the show, including himself. This ability to imitate others continues, and is demonstrated by the way he shapes his music today.
In high school, George continued with his music and expanded his understanding of theory, composition, and multiple instruments. He was active in both marching and jazz band; in marching band he traveled to Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby. The band played in the parade, as well as in half-time shows. He was fortunate enough to see such icons as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. As a member of the jazz band, it was his job to arrange music for all the instruments and parts. George took popular music and adapted it to jazz band. Breaking apart music and reassembling it required a comprehensive understanding of how instruments work, their limits, and of music theory.
George was also involved in several bands and held multiple jobs as a musician after high school. He played in the Superior Qualite Band, with a friend who now lives in Traverse City, MI. It was for this band that he learned to play the piano. They required a piano player, and when asked if he knew how to play, he lied and said yes. Immediately afterwards he went home and worked to eventually become an accomplished pianist. For some people, obtaining the necessary skills takes years, but George said with a simple shrug of his shoulders, “They’re all basically the same.” His modest demeanor about his talent is another of his attributes. Annis played with another band, called the George Mathison Band, at the Red Bird (now called The Bird). He played piano for two or three years before moving on to the Harbor House. It was here that Jim Mansfield “gave [him] a chance;” George has been playing there off and on for the past ten years, mostly as a one-man band.
George’s life became a mixture of music, traveling, and trying to bring together music and a career. He went down to Florida and played in local restaurants and American Legions. He lived with his sister in Kentucky for a time and played at a Moose Lodge. He also lived in South Carolina, working as a radio engineer, writing his own album, and continuing to play a variety of private clubs, casinos, and American Legions. While working at a radio station, George was constantly surrounded by music, but didn’t enjoy it as much as playing. He was “the guy you didn’t hear” and felt that he was on the wrong side of the microphone. He could have worked at a recording studio, but that didn’t seem to interest him either; he thought it was “too boring.” When answering the question of what he would change about his music career, he jokingly said “I’d have become a lawyer.”
George continues to play and to develop his own musical style and currently lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where he continues his musical endeavors. You can hear George play every two weeks at the American Legion and annually at the Sault Summer Arts Festival. By running his own one-man band, George remains his own boss and can decide what kind of music he wants to play. It represents a type of freedom and offers him the opportunity to do what he likes to do: play music for others. It may be better to spend your life enjoying what you do than worrying about what could have been or what you should have done. Besides, as George says, “It’s better to be a big star in your hometown than to be a loser in a big city full of losers.”
Last updated: November 1, 2008
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