A Remembrance Day Message from Gil’s Hootenanny

“Down by the Riverside” is an African-American spiritual and anti-war song that pre-dates the American Civil War. The sentiments in the song’s chorus originate with a Biblical verse from the Book of Isaiah: “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

This Remembrance Day, join the Gil’s Hootenanny Band in singing “Down By the Riverside” at St. Peter’s High School in Orleans, Ontario as we pause to recognize the courage and sacrifice of those who served in Canada and abroad in working for peace.

Labour Day 2021

September 6th marks Labour Day in Canada – a holiday to celebrate the importance of unions and workers’ rights.

This year, Canadians have a deep understanding of the value and importance of the work of front line workers in services such as health care, retail and transportation who help keep us, our families and our communities safe and secure.

Join Gil’s Hootenanny in celebrating Labour Day 2021 by singing along with Steve Richer and Tamara Levine as they perform Woody Guthrie’s “You Gotta Go Down And Join The Union”, an adaptation of the traditional gospel song, “Lonesome Valley”.

Happy Labour Day!

Ten Songs That Made a Difference

With permission of author Stephen Richer and The Society for the Preservation of Wild Culture. Source: Ten Songs That Made a Difference | The Journal of Wild Culture

What kinds of songs inspire people to change their minds about something, then go about changing the world? What makes a particular song an anthem? Having thought about these questions since he learned the banjo as a teenager in the 1950s, sociologist Stephen Richer provides some answers — with illustrations of how a few powerful songs made personal and collective change hard to resist.

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In Memory of Bob Nesbitt

Gil’s Hootenanny joins with Ottawa’s folk community in commemorating the legacy of Bob Nesbit, long-time folk music aficionados and volunteer, and founder of the Ottawa Grassroots Festival. Bob was an active member of the Gil’s Hootenanny team for several years, and he enthusiastically supported the Hootenanny’s ongoing participation at the Grassroots Festival.

Here is a link to the Ottawa Citizen obituary for Bob who died peacefully at home on February 27th.

Bob Nesbitt
Bob Nesbitt

Feature Article in “Our Times” Magazine

The Power of Song

Gil’s Hootenanny

By Kathy Kennedy   April 10, 2019


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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.