By Kathy Kennedy
After a two-year COVID hiatus, Gil’s Hootenanny returns for its 13th annual May Day sing-along with an outstanding lineup of music featuring Canadian singer-songwriter extraordinaire James Keelaghan.
A celebrated artist with 11 albums and numerous awards to his credit, Keelaghan’s distinctive voice and engaging on-stage persona have delighted audiences all over the world. “Hillcrest Mine,” “Jenny Bryce” and “Kiri’s Piano” are just a few of his songs that bring together beautiful melodies and touching lyrics inspired by people and events from Canada’s history and highlight issues of social justice. Keelaghan has been active in the fight for fair pay for musicians and does numerous fundraisers for worthy causes across the country.
Keelaghan recently hosted a February “Month of Sundays” series of streamed concerts from his home in Perth. Scheduled to perform at the Mariposa Folk Festival in July, Keelaghan is also the artistic director of the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival in Owen Sound, which has given him a “passion for programming.”
Programming a meaningful yet joyous event is also an obsession for the Gil’s Hootenanny team. This year, Gil’s Hootenanny is delighted to be shining a spotlight on Mi’kmaq singer-songwriter Willie Dunn and his legacy with a tribute from musician David Finkle, a friend of Dunn who hails from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Long an icon of Canada’s folk music scene, Dunn (1941-2013) was a multi-talented artist and activist, a visionary who could “sing through time.” Dunn gave voice to Charlie Wenjack’s story in a hauntingly beautiful song written 50 years before Gord Downey’s “Secret Path.” His song, “I Pity the Country,” about colonialism and anti-Indigenous racism has become an Indigenous anthem, while “Son of the Sun” celebrates Dunn’s heritage interwoven with a plaintive cry for peace. Dunn was the first Indigenous filmmaker to direct an NFB film, The Ballad of Crowfoot, one of Canada’s first music videos.
Gil’s Hootenanny is held each year as a celebration of the collective power of song to change the world. The event was inspired by Gil Levine (1924-2009), the first director of research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), a great lover of folk music and a staunch supporter of folk musicians. Gil and his wife Helen expressed their commitment to folk music in many ways, including hosting hootenannies and May Day celebrations at their home for decades. In tribute to her parents, Tamara Levine, a member of the Gil’s Hootenanny board, will lead a sing-along of one of Gil’s favourite songs.
In partnership with the Spirit of Rasputin’s Arts Society, Gil’s Hootenanny has evolved from an annual one-day event to a catalyst and contributor to Ottawa’s rich folk music scene. Gil’s Hootenanny has sponsored song writing workshops, brings songs of hope and protest to high school students as part of their history curriculum and organizes sing-along hootenannies at the Ottawa Grassroots Festival. Gil’s Hootenanny also co-sponsors Big Sing Ottawa, a singalong workshop featuring community choir leader Evemarie Brunelle of Allez Chante! in Montreal.
Gil’s Hootenanny is proud of its connection to working people and the labour movement. In 2022, it is honoured to have the support of national and regional organizations including CUPE, PSAC/NCR, PIPSC and Ravenlaw. Sponsorship keeps the ticket prices low, ensures the artists are paid decently and allows Gil’s Hootenanny to collect and create an archive of AV and print materials.
During the pandemic, organizers kept the spirit of Gil’s Hootenanny alive through a “virtual” hootenanny involving more than 300 participants in 2020 and a “sing-along” video, Singing Together Apart, which was released on May Day 2021. In 2022, Gil’s Hootenanny looks forward to once again bringing people together to sing songs of protest and hope, belting out their belief in the power of collective singing for change. Vaccinations and masking are encouraged, and the hall will be occupied to less than capacity.
The 2022 Hootenanny will take place on Sunday, May 1 at 2 p.m. in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive. The RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo. Tickets ($10, kids free) are now available online and can be purchased (cash only) at Octopus Books, 116 Third Avenue. For additional information and tickets, visit www.gilshootenanny.ca and Facebook.
Kathy Kennedy is active in promoting and protecting the wellbeing of Ottawa’s downtown neighbourhoods and is on the organizing committee for Gil’s Hootenanny.