‘The County Song’ evokes culture, memories of Aroostook County region
FALMOUTH, Maine — Steve Romanoff is not from Aroostook County, but since writing a song specifically about the Crown of Maine, he has forged a deep connection with the culture, history and the people who have embraced the song as their own.
Romanoff is one half of the Portland, Maine-based folk duo Schooner Fare along with his brother, Chuck Romanoff. He and his wife, Anne Jepson, who now live in Falmouth, wrote “The County Song,” a tribute to the landscape, cultural traditions and people of Aroostook County, in 1993 at the suggestion of Jack McCormack, who at the time was the executive director of Cary Medical Center in Caribou.
The song later was sold as a cassette single and lyrics from the song were used on T-shirts and sweatshirts sold at Cary Medical Center’s gift shop. Proceeds from the cassettes, clothing and a concert that Schooner Fare performed at the Caribou Performing Arts Center went toward the hospital’s Health Vision Fund.
While Romanoff is from the greater Portland area, Jepson is from New Sweden. During the time that they wrote the song, the couple made many trips to Aroostook County to visit Jepson’s family. Romanoff felt inspired by the work ethic and spirit that he witnessed among many people as well as by the open fields and spaces that set northern Maine apart from the rest of the state.
“It became clear to me that the people in Aroostook County work hard but also take care of their neighbors,” Romanoff said. “My wife has family and friends who told us stories of working the potato harvests when they were kids, so that’s what inspired the lyrics: ‘In the warm September breeze / I worked the long rich rows upon my knees.”
Romanoff said he wrote the majority of the song while County native Jepson lended her expertise during the editing process. He chose to write from the perspective of someone who is from Aroostook County but no longer lives in the region, who during the chorus meets a stranger who also happens to be from northern Maine.
The chorus to “The County Song” goes: “Did you say you’re from The County, where the sparklin’ rivers shine / Did I hear you say you’re from The County / Then you must know this friend of mine / Where your eyes can see forever, through the skies so big and blue / Did you say you’re from The County / Hey, I’m from The County too.”
“I wanted to capture how it feels to be from a region that’s an important place in your heart and to run into someone who happens to be from your neck of the woods,” Romanoff said.
Romanoff has been a member of Schooner Fare since 1975 when he, his brother Chuck, and fellow musician Tom Rowe left a folk-rock band that they had been part of called Devonsquare in favor of playing more traditional folk music. Though Schooner Fare lost Rowe to cancer in 2004, Steve and Chuck Romanoff have continued to play many shows per year, mostly in Maine.
Although Romanoff and Jepson have not travelled to Aroostook County as often as they used to in recent years since the passing of her parents, the couple still keeps in touch with Jepson’s many nieces and nephews who live in the region. He said that “The County Song” has become popular with audience members from numerous areas of the state and country because of its happy, upbeat lyrics that are easy to sing along to.
But the song has taken on a special meaning for those who are from Aroostook County, especially if they meet others from the area at Schooner Fare concerts.
“Before we play the song I’ll ask the audience, ‘Is anybody here from Aroostook County?’ People will raise their hands and then I’ll say, ‘We don’t call it ‘Aroostook County,’ do we? We call it ‘The County,’” Romanoff said. “People will shout out what area of Aroostook they’re from and look across the crowd to see who the others are. Sometimes they’ll say hello to each other after the show.”
Over the years, Romanoff stated, he has gotten nothing but positive responses to the song from Aroostook County natives and hopes that it continues to inspire and bring joy to people for generations to come.
“That’s what stories and songs do. They give us a way to keep history alive,” Romanoff said. “To be someone who is not from Aroostook County but still be able to write a song that people love whether they live in Aroostook or 100 miles away is really humbling.”