Category Archives: 2019

An Outstanding 10th Anniversary Gil’s Hootenanny

A capacity audience sang from start to finish at arguably the best organized and best attended 10th Anniversary Gil’s Hootenanny held May 1st, 2019 at the RA Centre. As people arrived, the Hootenanny Choir (a.k.a. Just Voices Activist Choir) was singing in the foyer. This set the stage for participation in a wide variety of “songs of protest, songs of hope”. While some of the songs were new, most were quite old and had survived many iterations through the “folk process” over decades or even hundreds of years. This review will include some of that musicology. The organizers of Gil’s Hootenanny deserve praise for the breadth and depth of song selection at this anniversary event.

In the hall, while they were finding their seats, a video of past Hoots played on the big screen over the stage with concert clips and interviews of past participants. The choir and video were both very welcoming touches.

Parade of performers

The real Hootenanny began with a parade of performers marching down both aisles to the stage singing Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, a civil rights song adapted from a spiritual first recorded by the Dixie Jubilee Singers in 1924. Resurrected by the Reverend Ralph Abernathy during the summer of 1962 when mass arrests and demonstrations erupted for the second time, he taught it one night to a mass meeting at Mount Zion Baptist Church.

Singing Bread and Roses

The ensemble continued singing Bread and Roses from the floor in front of the stage (no amplification). A political slogan as well as a poem and song, Bread and Roses originated from a speech given by Helen Todd; a line in that speech about “bread for all, and roses too” inspired the poem Bread and Roses by James Oppenheim. The poem, as on this night, is usually sung to the tune written by Mimi Farina in the mid 1970s.

The Hootenanny Band

Next came a series of Woody Guthrie songs; songs we knew deep in our marrow. The Hootenanny Band (a.k.a. Elizabeth Riley Band) led Union Maid and Deportee. Then Tamara Levine (daughter of Gil) and Steve Richer, both with wireless mics, strolled the aisles singing Lonesome Valley, an old gospel made famous by the Carter Family and Woody. They joined the band for Woody’s You Gotta Go Down and Join the Union.

Steve Richer with Pete Seeger on the screen

Steve Richer gave a heart felt tribute to the work and profound influence of Pete Seeger whose 100th birthday would be two days later. Steve lead us through We Shall Overcome inviting the audience to suggest verses. There are dozens to choose from! This is a true “folk process” song. The slave song I’ll Be Alright Someday morphed into We Will Overcome, a spiritual published in 1901. In 1942 Louise Shropshire composed the gospel hymn My Jesus Wills influenced by that earlier spiritual and with marked resemblance to the protest anthem to follow. We Will Overcome emerged as a labour song at the strike against the American Tobacco Company in Charleston S.C. in 1945. The tobacco workers then took it to the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee where the director Zilphia Horton began teaching it in workshops. A Highlander teacher, Septima Clark, changed “will” to “shall” transforming this song of hope into a call to action. Zilphia taught it to Pete in New York in 1947 who added a magical rhythm of triplet quarter notes to the moving version we all know.

Thus ended the first half. Many of us could have gone home then filled with song and truly inspired. But there was so much more to come.

We Shall Overcome
Mark Evenchick and Clarissa Fortin

Clarissa Fortin and Mark Evenchick opened the second half with Stephen Foster’s Hard Time Come Again No More. Published in 1854 and first recorded in 1901, Hard Time has been recorded by over 40 well known artists including Dolly Parton, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Johnny Cash, Mavis Staples, Bruce Springsteen, and Jennifer Warnes.

Tamara Levine gave a tribute to her late mother Helen who along with her husband Gil is a big part of the inspiration for this event.

Then Maria Dunn, from Edmonton Alberta, and Maria Hawkins, Ottawa’s “Blues Lady”, took the stage. The Two Marias took turns pulling the audience into a range of original and traditional songs all with sing-along-able qualities. Highlights were Maria Dunn teaching us a Celtic chorus for a Scottish women’s work song and Maria Hawkins teaching us sign language to go along with a children’s song.

Maria Dunn

Maria Dunn is a gifted song writer with obvious Celtic influences and a knack for simplicity and directness. “Simple” is one of the hardest things to pull off in song writing. She treated us to a series of “stories in song” where each had a chorus we could easily learn. For instance the lyrical Take It Easy On Me from her second album repeats that one simple title line four times. Harmony flowed from the audience.

Accomplished on both guitar and accordion she was a thoroughly engaging songstress and song leader. When the Grandmothers Meet sure tested our Gaelic.

Maria Dunn teaching us ” When the Grandmothers Meet “
Maria Hawkins

Maria Hawkins brought her legendary energy, warmth and inspirational voice to the stage…and off the stage too with a wireless mic. Her songs ranged from gospel to children’s songs. We were “pulled in” to the magic and sang along. And now I know more ASL signs courtesy of her children’s version of Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd. And I had no idea the Beatles’ Let It Be could be so funkadelic as a sing-along song. If there was ever a woman who could fill the whole room with song and movement better than Maria Hawkins, I ain’t met her yet.

Maria Hawkins teaching us the sign for Freedom.

The two song finale, with every performer on stage, started with God Bless Everyone, a song by Maria Dunn with a very singable chorus inspired by Tiny Tim’s grace in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

God Bless us everyone
With the riches of the soul
And may hopelessness ne’er be the demon
Darkening our door

Maria Hawkins completed the evening with Wade in the Water, the traditional spiritual which she adapted to modern times (thank you folk process) by changing the last line:

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water, there’s truth and justice in the water.

The finale

Everyone I talked to felt this was an extraordinary evening of song, participation, hope and protest. I could not agree more.

For more pictures, see Jake Morrison’s photo series on his website.

Steve Richer to Pay Tribute to Pete Seeger at Gil’s Hootenanny 2019

As 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Pete’s birth, the Gil’s Hootenanny program will include a special presentation of his legacy by Steve Richer, folk singer and banjo-playing Professor Emeritus at Carleton University.

Pete Seeger was one of Gil and Helen Levine’s favourite troubadours.

Gil and Helen’s connection to Pete was particularly strong. In 1957, Gil co-produced a Pete Seeger concert in Ottawa – with friends Harvey Glatt and Max Sternthal – at a time when Pete was blacklisted in the US. Helen recalled “it was a challenge back then for each of them to scrape $25 together to rent the hall”.

Gil’s Hootenanny organizers are thrilled that Richer will be part of this year’s “sing-along”. For the past several years, Richer has been teaching sold out courses on the history of protest music, featuring songs of the civil rights, labour and peace movements. A folk/protest singer since he was eighteen, and a noted researcher of protest music, Richer is presenting musical tributes to Seeger’s life and times in Canada, the United States and Mexico throughout 2019.

Steve Richer

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.

“The Marias” To Headline Gil’s Hootenanny’s 10th Anniversary Line-up

Maria Dunn and Maria Hawkins will be the 2019 headliners for the 10th Annual Gil’s Hootenanny, Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30pm at the RA Centre (Clark Hall), 2451 Riverside Drive. Affectionately dubbed “the Marias” by Hootenanny organizers, Dunn and Hawkins will share the stage, alternating songs in a musical conversation that will be intimate & fun with the added element of audience participation – a tradition for this annual sing-along event.

Poster design by Kate Morgan

Inspired by the legacy of Gil Levine (1924-2009), the founding Director of Research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Gil’s Hootenannywas first presented in 2010. Gil and his wife Helen, who died in October 2018, hosted hootenannies at their home for decades.

Passionate about preserving the spirit of folk music, twice Juno-nominated Maria Dunnis often compared to Woody Guthrie for her keen social awareness and her melodic, unvarnished songs about the lives of working men and women. Her stint as a volunteer DJ in community radio encouraged Dunn to listen widely to master songwriters, singers and instrumentalists of folk and roots music. Becoming an avid fan of live music, Dunn began writing her own music in the mid-90s, drawing deeply on the folk tradition of storytelling through song to honour the resilience and grace of “ordinary” people, past and present.

Ottawa’s Blues Lady Maria Hawkins is a much-beloved performer in Ottawa, and is well known as the co-creator of “Blues in the Schools”, which garnered the W.C. Handy Blues Award. Hawkins has also earned a United Way Community Builder Award for her work with local charities, the NAC Award for Artistic Excellence, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for 25 years of inspiration to Canadian youth. Hawkins’ music is influenced by a deep respect for indigenous peoples and passion for peace and justice, and is informed by many facets of her background, including her black, Mi’kmaq and Acadian ancestry.

Pete Seeger was among Gil and Helen’s favourite troubadours. As 2019 marks the 100th Anniversary of his birth, the Hootenanny will celebrate Pete with a special presentation of his legacy by Steve Richer, folk singer and banjo-playing Professor Emeritus at Carleton University. The Hootenanny Band will open the evening with a selection of new and traditional sing-along music. The Band comprises members of the Elizabeth Riley Band – Carmel Whittle, Jen Gilbert & Patricia Reynolds – with Debbie Rubin and Mark Evenchick.

Helen and Gil’s vision of a better world included bringing people together to celebrate, share and sing about the stories, struggles and victories of working women and men. Gil’s Hootenanny continues that legacy.

Tickets ($10, kids free) are now available online and can be purchased (cash only) at Octopus Books, 116 Third Avenue. For additional information visit Facebook.

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.

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 troubadors 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.

Through its song-writing contests and workshops, Gil’s Hootenanny has made a significant contribution to Canada’s hope and protest songbook. Tony Turner’s 2015 contest-winning song, “Harperman”, went viral in Canada and beyond. Mark Evenchick’s 2016 winning song “Believe Again” and 2017’s winner “Rise Above” by Christine Graves have become staples of their impressive repertoires.

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.

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.

Stay tuned for further information.