About Gil’s Hootenanny

What is a Hootenanny?

Gil’s Hootenanny, Ottawa’s annual community singalong, celebrates songs of hope and protest with exuberant audience participation.  While not currently in the lexicon of many people, Gil’s Hootenanny is hell-bent on reviving the ‘hootenanny’ for folks of all ages.

Gil’s Hootenanny traces its roots back to folk legends Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie who popularized hootenanniesin the 1950s-1960s as informal folk music gatherings with the audience singing along. Joan Baez famously noted that a hootenanny is to folk singing what a jam session is to jazz.

Gil’s Hootenanny brings people together every May Day to share the stories, struggles and victories of working people and the peace, environmental and human rights movements. First presented in 2010, it has seen increasingly larger audiences singing together in their belief in the power of song to change the world. As Pete Seeger said, “A good song reminds us what we’re fighting for”.

Singing together supports our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. It can also go a long way towards building community and strengthening social bonds

Headlining this 14th annual Gil’s Hootenanny is Canadian singer-songwriter Coco Love Alcorn, winner of the 2021 Canadian Folk Music Award for Contemporary Singer of the Year. An engaging performer who forges a deep connection with her audience, Alcorn will take thehootenanny on a soulful, joyful, and playful musical journey.

This year, Gil’s Hootenanny will open with a rousing procession and a selection of new and traditional sing-along songs led by the multi-talented artist and singer-songwriter Carmel Whittle. Ottawa vocalist Ulyn Georgettewill present a moving tribute to folk singing legend and civil rights activist Odetta. 

Gil’s Hootenanny will take place at 7:00 pm on May Day, Monday, May 1, at 30 Cleary Avenue, the campus of the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa. The venue is accessible, has ample parking and is serviced by OC Transpo. Tickets will be $20; kids can attend free of charge. 

Stay tuned for further information.

Gil and 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 14th year and getting stronger. 

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. ​

One of Gil’s favourite troubadours was Pete Seeger. In 1957, Gil co-produced a Seeger concert in Ottawa, with friends Harvey Glatt and Max Sternthal, at a time when Pete was blacklisted in the US. Helen recalled that they “scraped $25 together to rent the hall, which wasn’t easy back then”. 

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 will take place at 7:00 pm on May Day, Monday, May 1, at 30 Cleary Avenue, the campus of the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa. The venue is accessible, has ample parking and is serviced by OC Transpo. 

Tickets for Gil’s Hootenanny will be $20. Kids can attend free of charge.

Stay tuned for further information about the 2023 program and ticket sales.

Feature Article in “Our Times” Magazine

The Power of Song

Gil’s Hootenanny

By Kathy Kennedy   April 10, 2019

PHOTOGRAPH: JAKE MORRISON, WITH FLARE PHOTOGRAPHY

The finale at Gil’s Hootenanny is always the highlight of a joyous evening. On May 1, 2018, the rafters of Ottawa’s Clark Hall rang with the sounds of over 300 voices singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the African-American spiritual turned labour anthem. The hootenanny brings people together to sing songs of protest and hope, belting out their belief in the power of collective singing for change. Buzzing with optimism, the audience left for home that night singing and carrying a message of inspiration to the streets and neighbourhoods of the city.

Read the rest of this article…

10th Anniversary Video

Video Produced by Shawna Laing

Gil’s Hootenanny: Voices for Change

Gil’s Hootenanny brings folks together to celebrate, share and sing about the stories, struggles and victories of working women and men. When Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) legend Gil Levine died at 85 in 2009, three words in his obituary, “plan a hootenanny”, began an Ottawa tradition that started in 2010 and continues to this day.

The 20 minute video “Voices for Change”, sponsored by Ottawa labour and employment firm Ravenlaw, documents the story of Gil’s Hootenanny and how the event has evolved from an annual May Day event into a catalyst for other contributions to Ottawa’s and Canada’s rich music scene.

Enjoy!

“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.

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 13th 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.

Continue reading…

Gil’s Legacy – Changing the World A Song at a Time

When Gil Levine died at 85 in 2009, three words in his obituary, “… plan a hootenanny”, started an Ottawa tradition that is now into its 9th year and getting stronger.

Held each year on May Day, this annual celebration of the collective power of song was inspired by Gil, who was the founding Director of Research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a great lover of folk music and supporter of folk musicians. Gil demonstrated his love of folk music in many ways, including hosting annual hootenannies at home for decades. Continue reading…

Welcome

Gil’s Hootenanny 2019
10th Anniversary

Gil Levine

Inspired by the legacy of Gil Levine, Wednesday, May 1st, 2019 will mark the 10th anniversary for Ottawa’s Gil’s Hootenanny, the annual community sing-along celebrating the stories, struggles and victories of working people.

Gil Levine spent his life working for social justice and was the founding Director of Research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). A great lover of folk music and an enthusiastic supporter of folk musicians, Gil believed in the collective power of song to bring people together to speak up and sing out for change.

Continue reading…

Gil’s Legacy | Changing the World A Song at a Time

When Gil Levine died at 85 in 2009, three words in his obituary, “… plan a hootenanny’, started an Ottawa tradition that is now into its 8th year and getting stronger.

Held each year on May Day, this annual celebration of the collective power of song was inspired by Gil, who was the founding Director of Research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a great lover of folk music and supporter of folk musicians. Gil demonstrated his love of folk music in many ways, including hosting annual hootenannies at home for decades. Continue reading…