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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
We Shall Not Be Moved
See you all next year. Same day. Same time. Same place.