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The Muse-ic Room

March 29th - November 24th 2004

Labrador Festival of Creative Arts
Nov 16-24 2004

Shesheshui Guitar PlayersThink of an Arts Festival based in Toronto. Maybe call it the Ontario Creative Arts Festival. Drama groups from schools across the Province are brought to town to perform plays that they have written. They also have an opportunity to workshop with writers, illustrators, musicians, dancers, multi-media artists and actors. At the same time, the visiting artists go to some of the communities who have sent drama groups. You as an artist fly to Kapuskasing for a morning, then Windsor the next day for an afternoon. You are due back that night, but coastal fog and snow sock you in for two days, so you get to stay over...only it’s not Ontario, it’s Labrador, it’s The Big Land and it is a remarkable adventure.


Me and my old friends from NatuashishWe landed on Tuesday Nov 16 and got together that evening to meet each other and the festival organisers. Tim Borlase is the man. He founded the festival and has been the Artistic Director for all of its 29 years. He and his dedicated, oh so keen, friendly, and always on time group of organisers and volunteers put on the kind of event that inspires the audience, the participants and the visiting artists.
The first morning I flew to Labrador City (two hours by air) for a K-gr4 show. Here’s a good one...at the airport coming in I ran into Trevor Mills on his way out to Deer Lake, he was on tour with Terry Kelly. Smaller world. Lab City was fun the school very hospitable and I flew back that afternoon.
The next day I went to Sheshashui. This is the first community that Mike Stevens went to, and was the beginning of ArtsCanCircle. It was great to be there as a part of the Festival. I did a K-gr5 show and a guitar class in the music room with 4 players who just started in September. Thanks to their teacher Cathy Dinn, they are doing really well. I also saw the recording studio that Mike drove up to Labrador and installed this past September.
For the next six days it was songwriting workshops and concerts in schools during the day for me and drama performances and visiting artists presentations in the evening. The dramas were well written, topical, and well performed. Schools from along the coast and in the Happy Valley Goose Bay area participated. Included in those was a group from Natuashish and they remembered who I was from the visit last April. We had a fine reunion, it was great to see them. They were in a songwriting workshop with me and helped to write two songs, which a number of kids sang with me the night of my presentation.
Doreen (friend of Wade Butler) and her momSpeaking of which, the story goes on. For those of you who don’t know, I recorded a song called Newfoundland Paradise along with a fiddle tune entitled Wade Butler’s Bus Lines on the record Shirt Pay. Well I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so the evening that I did a show, I sang the song explaining that Wade Butler was a fellow who fixed a bus I was driving near Cornerbrook one time and I wrote him a fiddle tune as a thank you. After I played it, a woman came up to me (Doreen) and said “ I know Wade Butler, we went to school together, he’s from Cox’s Cove”. Yikes! It’s true, she hasn’t seen him in years but remembers him well, and the world continues to turn.
Of course when the evening’s official events are over that doesn’t mean the day is done...no my son... Each evening after the performances featured a soiree at a different home. Food piled high, pots of chowders and soup, sweets, homemade breads, scones, redberry tea it went on and on. We learned not to eat much during the day if you wanted to savour the evenings offerings.
One night the mummers showed up (they show up in disguise, play music, recite poetry and dance with great abandon throughout the house). Doreen’s 84 year old mother played the accordion with a mask on. The next night six or seven of us were officially Screeched In. In a ceremony that saw us don Sou’westers, slickers, and boots, eat hard tack, purity biscuits and smoked Caplin, recite complicated incantations, hop to it with the dance steps and kiss a codfish, we tossed back a dram of Newfoundland Screetch and received our certification.
And then there was some great singing and playing from a number of people. I met Andy Stewart and Mary Jo Slattery from New Hampshire. She sings and plays guitar, he fiddles and they play Cajun and Mexican dance music. We had some big fun playing all sorts of stuff. In Labrador/ Newfoundland someone can still start a song about the province or the area or the coast, in a roomful of people and whether they play an instrument or not, everyone will know the words and join in. I love that, it’s real culture.
Sunset near Mud Lake LabradorSo they manage to put on this festival without a home venue. It’s in a movie theatre one night, a small hall the next, maybe a big boomy gymnasium the next. They have come close over the years to getting a commitment from the Government, but not quite yet, and they really need a dedicated Arts space. They have proved over and over again (29 years) that there is a vibrant arts community that needs a home and I for one am writing the Premier.
Thanks Tim, thanks volunteers, thanks you smart funny inspirational kids. I had a wonderful time. And thanks to the artists whom I can now count as new friends, and fellow adventurers.


October 2004

Pikangikum

New harmonica players Every trip that I have taken to a northern community with ArtsCanCircle has been an adventure, and this latest one to Pikangikum two weeks ago was no exception. The school, where we have done most of our music/art work was closed for an indefinite period the day we arrived due to a leaky roof and we had to scramble around to find a space. We were generously offered a church hall and given a spot on the local radio to let the kids know when and where we would be.Over a hundred kids a day came for guitar, harmonica, visual art and instrument making sessions and we capped it all off with a noisy, muddy, traffic stopping parade to the Northern Store and back.

A number of teachers helped us out, and when we left (two days late because of weather) the word was that the school would re-open this week. Contact with the community outside of the school was much closer that it has ever been. We did three radio shows (think of the radio station as an ice-hut with a microphone and CD player), we did a concert near the vegetable section at the Northern Store (no fruit was tossed our way) and we went out at night to the bush and the youth centre (a building condemned 8 years ago but re-opened to give the kids a place to gather).
There are many problems in the community, but at the same time there are many amazing people who have dedicated themselves to making things better and we are honoured to be invited to Pikangikum to bring a little more music and art.

Manukan Travellers

A new group of friends


Spring 2004

April 22, 2004

Hey Ho
Spring is here. The morning sun has returned to the kitchen window, the ditch has revealed it’s winter’sworth of detritus, the woodpile is down to it’s last few offerings and on Sunday we tore out an old garden, planted a new one (spruced a shed right up, it does) and moved 5 Lilacs. Down in the Dirt indeed.

Eager young songwritersWhat’s been up lately? Oh, Songwriting in Schools, this year there are some tunes come out of these sessions that I have sung at gigs. It is a brain crunching, no net kind of high wire exercise to work with a class and come up with a tune, but when it happens, it is quite cool.


The Kernel and Sparky during a break in the actionThe Kernel and I gigged school shows with Grant (Sparky) Slater, keyboard mavin of choice for all discerning Children’s performers. We also did a St Paddy’s Day bar gig as a deadly duo. Yikes, things at times might go off the rails during ‘the making O’ the green’, but we did very well indeed. The patrons bought the Irish we had to offer, we gave away Plenty O’ Prizes, and they want us back next year.
Teaching...I have 18 students this year, so Monday Tuesday and Wednesday evenings are quite full. Recreational adults, future rock gods, young songwriters. The teaching thing just showed up at the door a few years ago (a local lad wanted to learn how to play the guitar, funny that), and now it is another thing that I do.


Me at the gig from Sparky's perspectiveI ran into my old friend Joe Wood last fall at the OCFF Conference in Sudbury. Joe is a singer/songwriter who, unlike many of us, always had a keen business sense. He used to record his songs and press them as 45's then send them to radio stations across the country and track the airplay that they generated. He got so good at it that he started doing for other performers and from that formed RDR Productions. Among other things they can turn your studio recording into a mastered, well designed, properly labelled, shrink wrapped package, and can have it available for sale, through your website, directly from them. Right now Kirk and I are getting a fresh batch of We are the Dinosaurs and I Don’t Want to Keep My Room Clean manufactured by RDR, and from now on will have a reliable source of those recordings available to us. Google up RDR Joe Wood etc for more info. Hey Joe, Thanks.

 

The Furry Folk Festival at Hughs Room at the end of March was very good. Salut to Tracy Harrison and Danny Bakan and all the volunteers for putting it together again. Manitoba Hal and I had an opportunity to let fly with the Dual Overhead Ukes. Seeings as it was Hal who turned me on to the Uke last year, it was great to go public with him for a gig. He is the new Artistic Director of The Troutwater Folk Festival in Ear Falls (Northwestern Ontario, a good way up there) and if I wasn’t booked already I would have happily joined him for it during the second week of August.Manitoba Hal shows Wendell his Tele-uke-ster There’s info on it on his website and the OCFF website and ...oh just Google up something close and you will get it. I suppose I should have all of these links correctly annotated, but that would take up valuable writing time, so you be the detective on this. Anyway Furry Folk Fest...lots of good songs, Wendell had his new Martin guitar (smaller body, I forget the model, pre WW2 vintage design, guitar nerds get excited). Laura Bird sang beautifully, Robert Priest, the poet sang a great song that he said he hadn’t done in awhile, and Stewart Ross, poet, read some amazing work. Tom Leighton and Trevor Mills were the accompanyists of choice and I might say were Choice Accompanyists.


March 29, 2004

Then we went to Labrador...
Labrador, Canada, North America, World, Solar System,  etc. Mike Stevens and I tried to go a year ago November and were turned back by the weather before we even left. We tried again last winter, but the community wasn’t ready for us. On March 30th we made it. Thanks to the efforts of many people through their time and donations to ArtsCanCirlcle. Natuashish is the new community that has been built to replace the town at Davis Inlet. Mike had been there three times, and of all the towns that he has travelled to, Davis was the most seriously distressed. On many levels. Water and sewage facilities were not good, solvent, alcohol and drug abuse was rampant, housing was inadequate, all of the things that have been documented in the newspapers. This was the first trip to the new community. The infrastructure was obviously going to be improved from what it had been, but what about the kids? Here’s what we saw...
Frist of all it is three plane rides from Toronto, it costs more to go to Natuashish, part of this country, booking in advance and all of that, than it does to get to most major cities and back around the world. I know there are plenty of good explanations, but what the hey...
Toronto-Halifax-Goose Bay Happy Valley. Mike Stevens, Tracy Harrison, David Anderson and me, the four of us who went to Mishkeegogamang last spring went east together this time. We stayed the first night in Goose Bay. Mike has been there 13 times and this was the second time he saw the sun shine on this gi-normous landing strip of a town, a good omen, methinks. We went out to Sheshishui, it is about 30 km away, and is the first community that Mike went to four and a half years ago. There was a protest there a couple of weeks back and some new buildings in fact were boarded up, but generally Mike thought the town looked much improved from the last time he was there. Each home has been refitted with new windows and doors and many have been re-sided and stained

The next morning we boarded a Twin Otter and flew north. It was two hours and change to Nain, which is North of Natuashish, a quick stop on a runway that juts out over the frozen sea and butts up against a formidable rock face. The plane takes off, facing the rock, and climbs like mad, it’s a good ride, Natuashish is 25min to the south along the coast. Rugged, huge, ancient, stark, magnificent, frozen land, ...all those adjectives and the vistas they conjure... a real deal 3D Canadian Geographic page turner of an issue right there out the window and under the wing of a Twin Otter. And the sun was out. When we landed it was above freezing. There were puddles under our feet and everyone was smiling about a first spring day. The snow was still piled 12 feet high at the side of the road, and we heard it had been a good winter with not a lot of snow.
David, Mike, Me, Tracy hanging out on the wharf.

A fine fellow named Pat who is the secretary at the school picked us up and gave us the cook’s tour of town and the surrounding few kms of roadway. We went up to the water plant for the full on vista, and down 5km to the wharf where supply ships dock in the summer, then it was on to the new town. There has been a lot of press about the new town, and the politics in the move, the costs, the impact on the people etc. I don’t really know about that, and it might take as long as Davis Inlet was around to determine the full impact, however, I saw solid houses, 21st century water and sewers, up to date public health facilities, Band Council Offices, a community centre that will soon be completed and a school that would be the envy of any board in the country. These things I know have made a difference to the kids in the community, we saw it over and over again for the next three days. The school is amazing. Bright, open, airy, and full of positive keen teachers. Bob Myers, the Principal made us feel welcome and right at home, from the moment we walked in. The school has a music teacher and an art teacher, so David and Tracy set up in the Art Room, while Mike and I sorted through some of the instruments that were donated and sent up last fall. Lots of guitars, a couple of ukes, a mando, whistles, recorders, music stands, strings. I got 8 or 9 guitars going. The next day Mike and I went to each classroom, played some music, talked to the kids, showed them some juggling and introduced ourselves, while Tracy and David had each class making puppets, banners and larger cardboard creatures.
The kids were remarkable. “Hey what’s your name?”., “Is that your real hair?”, “Where did you come from?”, “Show me how”

Stay tuned more to come...

 

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