March 29th - November 24th 2004
Labrador Festival of Creative Arts
Nov 16-24 2004
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
April 22, 2004
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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...
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
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.
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
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...