Author Archives: Hollis Morgan

The 2019 Hootenanny Band

Creating the Feeling of Togetherness

A beloved element of Gil’s Hootenanny is the entrance march. The performers promenade into the hall singing, playing and encouraging the audience to join in the music. For the Hootenanny Band, leading the entrance march is a natural extension of their identity. Equity, social activism and social justice are central to their song writing and performance style, and they are all singer-songwriters, multi-instrumentalists and vocalists who captivate and inspire audiences with their energy

Three members of the Hootenanny Band are musicians from the Elizabeth Riley Band:

  • Jen Gilbert, acoustic guitar, vocals: Jen grew up in the Ottawa Valley in a music-loving family. While Jen’s original music is heavily influenced by the chord progressions and traditions of old-time country music, she loves and plays all styles of music. Outside of her music-life as a member of the Elizabeth Riley Band, Jen is a mom, an educator, and a songwriter.
  • Patricia Reynolds, electric guitar, vocals: Patricia has been playing and singing since her childhood on Manitoulin Island. Her musical influences range from classic country and bluegrass to rockabilly to traditional and contemporary folk music. She enjoys playing and jamming – with Elizabeth Riley Band, Local Colour, Just Voices choir, and musical friends.
  • Carmel Whittle, stand up snare, percussion, harmonica, guitar, vocals: Carmel is an Irish and Mik’maq visual artist, musician, song writer & activist who hails from Newfoundland. Currently a filmaker, community outreach and Indigenous Liaison at Gallery 101, she is also a community organizer and co-ordinator for the Indigenous Artists’ Coalition ‘No Borders Art Festival’. She loves to experiment with sound and create instruments from found objects to create songs of loss tragedy and love.

Jen, Patricia and Carmel will be joined by musical friends Debbie Rubin and Mark Evenchick for the 2019 Hootenanny Band.

  • Debbie Rubin is a vocalist and banjo player who has been a key Gil’s Hootenanny organizer for many years. She is part of the group Local Colour and also the Ottawa Simcha Band, Sing n’jam and Keep on Singing. A retired teacher from Algonquin College, Debbie is also a visual artist.
  • Mark Evenchick was the winner of the 2016 Hootenanny songwriting contest. His love of music started when he was 13 and learned three chords on his sister’s guitar. Those few chords led Mark on a decades-long musical voyage that includes performing, songwriting & recording.

The 2019 Gil’s Hootenanny will take place on May 1st at 7:30 pm at the RA centre (Clark Hall), 2451 Riverside Drive. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo. Tickets are available online and can be purchased (cash only) at Octopus Books, 16 Third Avenue. Tickets are $10; kids free.

Maria Hawkins: Blues Lady Returns to Gil’s Hootenanny

Maria Hawkins with Arthur McGregor warming up for the inaugural Gil’s Hootenanny outside the Elmdale Tavern on Sommerset Street.

Ten years after her first performance at 2010’s Gil’s Hootenanny, Maria Hawkins is returning as a headliner for the 10th Anniversary event. Long considered Ottawa’s Blues Lady, Maria has been a well known and much-beloved performer in Ottawa for decades, and is recognized for her dynamic and confident stage presence. Maria Dunn and Maria Hawkins, affectionately dubbed “the Marias” by Hootenanny organizers, are the headliners for this annual May Day sing-along event.

What Maria’s legion of fans might not realize is that her music is informed by the intersection of many facets of her background, including her Mi’kmaq and Acadian roots. Maria can also trace her family back to “released slaves from Sir John Hawkins”. Given her ancestry, it’s no wonder that Maria’s music is informed by a deep respect for indigenous peoples and a passion for peace and justice. Her repertoire at Gil’s Hootenanny will include a song of “thanks to first nations who helped bring slaves to Canada through the underground railway”.

Maria is well known as the co-creator of “Blues in the Schools”, bringing music to classrooms across the nation’s capital. This program garnered Maria the W.C. Handy Award for bringing together 200 students from 28 schools to play in the largest blues band ever, with help from local musicians. According to Maria, “It was some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done”.

Maria with Chris White on stage at the inaugural Gil’s Hootenanny

Less well known is Maria’s work with dozens of local charities, which earned her a United Way Community Builder Award. Maria has won numerous other awards, including the NAC Award for Artistic Excellence. Maria is particularly proud of her Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for 25 years of inspiration to Canadian youth.

Gil’s Hootenanny is delighted that Maria will once again be bringing her voice and her message of hope, gratitude and strength to Gil’s Hootenanny.

The 2019 Gil’s Hootenanny will take place on Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30pm in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo. Tickets ($10, kids free) are available online and (cash only) at Octopus Books, 16 Third Avenue. 

Maria Dunn: An Important and Vital Songwriter

A true preserver of the spirit of folk music, one of Gil’s Hootenanny 2019 featured artists, twice Juno-nominated Maria Dunn (www.mariadunn.com), is often compared to Woody Guthrie for her keen social awareness and her unvarnished songs about the lives of working men and women. Maria Dunn and Maria Hawkins, affectionately dubbed “the Marias” by Hootenanny organizers, are the headliners for the 10th Anniversary of this annual May Day sing-along event.

Photo by David Williamson

Thirteen years as a volunteer DJ in community radio (1987-2000) encouraged Maria to listen widely to the master songwriters, singers and instrumentalists of folk and roots music. Discovering their recordings and becoming an avid fan and supporter of live music in her community, she absorbed the important messages of compassion and human struggle that have always been central to the writings of folk artists from Buffy Ste. Marie to Hazel Dickens, from Bill Broonzy to Dick Gaughan.

By the time she began writing her own music in the mid-90s, Maria was learning to draw deeply on the folk tradition of storytelling through song to honour the resilience and grace of “ordinary” people, past and present.

In keeping with Pete Seeger’s words (1994), “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known”, her latest recording, Gathering,highlights stories of love—not songs of romantic love, but songs of family, community, humanity and the love that fires our actions to make the world a better place. The songs range from historical and narrative to personal and immediate, inspired by social justice stories both global and local.

The 2019 Gil’s Hootenanny will take place on Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30pm in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo. Tickets ($10, kids free) are available online and (cash only) at Octopus Books, 16 Third Avenue. 

Gathering

Bread and Roses

Celebrating Helen Levine at Gil’s Hootenanny

Bread and Roses” is a feature of the Gil’s Hootenanny repertoire. For 2019’s Hootenanny, this historic song will take on a special significance, as it was a favourite of Helen Levine, who died at 95 on October 24, 2018. Helen and Gil Levine, for whom the Hootenanny is named, hosted hootenannies in their home for decades.

2016 bread and roses
2016 bread and roses. Photo by Jake Morrison

Helen’s daughter, Tamara Levine, explained that her mother understood the power of collective singing within social and political movements. Coming out of the successful 1912 textile strike by immigrant women workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the message in “Bread and Roses” resonated with Helen, a long time feminist with a wide interest in social justice. “Bread and Roses”, an anthem of both the women’s and the labour movements, demands not only fair wages for women (bread), but also dignity, respect, education and culture (roses).

Tamara attributes her mother’s love of “Bread and Roses” to the “simple yet strong image of the bread for survival and roses for beauty” that illustrates Helen’s belief in ‘the personal is political’. The song also speaks to her commitment to the advancement of equality for women in all aspects of society.

The 2019 Hootenanny will take place on Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30pm in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo.

Tickets are $10; kids are free.

Helen and Gil on Helen’s bench at Dow’s Lake, circa 2005

Gil & Helen Levines’ Legacy

Changing the World Through the Power of Song

When Gil Levine died at 85 in 2009, three words in his obituary, “… plan a hootenanny”, were the beginning of Gil’s Hootenanny, an Ottawa tradition now into its milestone 10th year and getting stronger.

Helen and Gil Levine

Held each year on May Day, this annual celebration of the collective power of song to change the world was inspired by Gil, the founding Director of Research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), a great lover of folk music and a staunch supporter of folk musicians. Helen Levine, who died at 95 in October 2018, also considered herself an “old folkie”. Helen and Gil showed their love of folk music in many ways, including hosting annual hootenannies and May Day celebrations at their home for decades.

Among Gil’s favourite troubadours were Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs, and Gil’s Hootenanny always celebrates these musical legends with a song or two. Helen and Gil had a particularly strong connection to Pete. In 1957, Gil co-produced a Seeger concert in Ottawa – with friends Harvey Glatt and Max Sternthal – at a time when he was blacklisted in the US. Helen recalled that they “scraped $25 together to rent the hall, which wasn’t easy back then”. As 2019 marks the 100th Anniversary of Pete Seeger’s birth, the Hootenanny will pay homage to him with a special presentation by Steve Richer, folk singer and banjo-playing Professor Emeritus at Carleton University.

Helen and Gil’s vision of a better world included bringing people together to celebrate and share the stories, struggles and victories of working women and men. It is thus fitting that Gil’s Hootenanny has evolved into a fun, energetic sing-along event that celebrates the power of song to change the world.

Gil’s Hootenanny always takes place on May 1st. This year on Friday, May 1st at 7:30pm in Clark Hall at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has loads of parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo.

Tickets are $10; kids are free.

Stay tuned for further information.

2018 Hootenanny Was Fantastic!

A sold out audience sang and clapped their way through a rollicking 2018 Gil’s Hootenanny at the Clarke Room of the RA Centre on May 1st. Everyone, audience, performers and volunteers had a great time. Here are some highlights:

A Light of A Much Brighter Kind Finale

Solidarity We Bleed

Right Here Finale

Odetta Trilogy

We Shall Not Be Moved

See you all next year. Same day. Same time. Same place.

 

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“Gil’s at Grassroots”

“Gil’s at Grassroots”:
A Celebration of Original Sing-Along Songs
April 28th at 4pm

Building on the long tradition of working together to create melodies and lyrics for protest songs, Gil’s Hootenanny is hosting a free afternoon session at the Ottawa Grassroots Festival on April 28th that will feature recent, collaboratively-created, original “Songs of Protest, Songs of Hope”. Continue reading

Songwriting Workshop Inspiring Lyrics and Rousing Melodies

Over two dozen novice and experienced songwriters gathered at the Black Irish Pub on Sunday, April 8th to participate in the first of two Gil’s Hootenanny-sponsored workshops designed to create sing-along songs that share and celebrate the stories, struggles and victories of working people.

Led by singer-songwriter-teacher Jamie Anderson, the songwriters were organized into four groups and Continue reading