Shelley Ross and her four siblings had some unique babysitters growing up. When their mother, folk singer Rosalie Sorrels, moved from Idaho to New York in the 1960s, the children went along. They stayed at the home of Lena Spencer, owner of the famous folk music venue Caffe Lena, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
"Dave Van Ronk was there a lot," Ross remembered. "And Arlo Guthrie. And Bob Dylan. Joan Baez was a regular."
The children followed Sorrels as she traveled across the country. "Usually, she left us with somebody that had a stable household. I wouldn't say that they were stable people," Ross said with a laugh.
Many years have passed, but Ross still admires her mother.
"I'd think, 'I know a little bit about her; she's my mom,'" she said. "But then she'd tell me a story about something she'd read or somewhere she'd been, and it's like, 'I didn't even know that.'"
Sorrels, who turned 80 this year, will soon share some of her songs and stories with Idahoans two more times. The folk singer will play the Magic Valley Arts Council gallery in Twin Falls on Thursday, Dec. 12, and the Sapphire Room at Boise's Riverside Hotel on Saturday, Dec. 14. Sorrels will perform both shows--which are billed as "An Imaginary Christmas in Idaho"--with author Gino Sky; local musician John Pisano, aka Johnny Shoes; and Duncan Phillips, the son of folk singer Utah Phillips.
According to Ross, the Magic Valley Arts Council approached Sorrels a month ago about playing a show. After Sorrels had agreed, Gino Sky called her about repeating a show that they'd put on in 1999, also titled "An Imaginary Christmas in Idaho." The Idaho Songwriters Association then worked to schedule the Sapphire Room concert.
Pisano--who accompanied Sorrels when she traveled around the state compiling songs, stories and recipes for her 1991 book Way Out in Idaho--relishes the chance to play with her again. Sorrels gives such powerful performances, he said, "because she creates this atmosphere and this context so when you hear a song, you're not just hearing the song; you're getting the whole background, the backstory."
Other Sorrels-related projects are in the works. Ross said that Rocci Johnson--longtime house band leader at Humpin' Hannah's--wants to make an album of original Sorrels songs performed by Idaho musicians. But don't expect any more concerts.
"I really hate to say this," Ross said, "but I don't know that she'll perform again."