Way Out in Idaho

By Gary Oberbillig

My wife and I were too young to have been beatniks and too old to be considered hippies when they made an appearance on the national scene in the 1960s, but we were devout VW-driving, guitar-strumming, full-voiced singers—folkies to the core. And we fondly followed the great performers of the glory days of the hootenannies and folk festivals not all that long ago.

Through folk music, we were privileged to meet an aviary of other singing birds, and some became lifelong friends. Perhaps the most famous Idahoan among them was Rosalie Sorrels [see “Rosalie Sorrels,” IDAHO magazine, April 2004], whom I was fortunate to get to know as a teenager through her mom, Nancy Stringfellow, owner then of the largest bookstore in downtown Boise.

Already I was an avid folk music buff, and Nancy became a kind of mentor to me, often saving new folk music hardcovers for me when they came to the bookstore.

When I first met Rosalie on one of her trips up from Salt Lake City, she had just recorded her album of the songs of the Mormon pioneers, backed up on guitar by Jim Sorrels, her husband at the time. She was in the early stages of her rise to folk song eminence as she wrote, concertized, and traveled the country collecting songs, accompanied by her five kids. It was a tough road.

She racked up the miles and years in her old gas-guzzler Ford Econoline with the bald tires. She was directly in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and other rambling musicians who had paid their dues as they looked for work during the bleak 1930s.

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Gary Oberbillig

About Gary Oberbillig

Gary Oberbillig was born and raised in southern Idaho. He has been a college art teacher, photographer and writer. He says, “I’ve lived on Puget Sound for many years, but to re-establish my birthright, I go east of the mountains and take a good long whiff of sagebrush after a rain.”

One Response to Folkies

  1. Shelley Ross-Sorrels - Reply


    Wonderful story, I had never seen this. I am Rosalie’s middle daughter, Shelley Ross-Sorrels. I live in Boise and am retired now…finding the time now to study my mothers works. I am working with Cheryl Oestreicher with the Idaho Special Collections Library at BSU on archiving her work. I am also working with the Idaho State Arts Commission on making a book based upon the Peace Quilt she received from the Boise Peace Quilters on Moms’ 74th birthday. I would love to have a printed copy/version of your story, just let me know what I need to do to get this. And thank you for writing this great story!!

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