Blue Skies - Christmas 2003
Twas the season. I open for Santa a lot during this hectic time. One memorable event happened when Kirk and I went to Ottawa (I’ve been there 5 times since the Ottawa Folk Festvial in August, I’ve never seen the nation’s capital so often) and did a big corporate Ho Ho for Alcatel. ‘There was kids everywhere, I tell ya, wall to wall.’ Why even some Blue Skies folks who work for Alcatel were right there in the thick of it. It’s like that this time of year, from small family events to big shin digs, good fun, and I like playing for happy people and excited kids.
It also sets us up for our own feeding and fun frenzy that happens once the tree goes up. We are rich with friends and traditions around here.
Here’s some really big news, Santa brought me a 100' hank of
Sampson #12 spot cord, four different hondas and the Will Rogers Rope
It’s Oskar Graf Fest time folks. In celebration of 30 years of instrument building (dulcimers, lutes, bases, and over 300 guitars) Arthur McGregor of the Ottawa Folklore Centre put together a week of workshops, displays and a concert, all featuring instruments built by Oskar. There were over a dozen instruments from then to now at the Folklore Centre, Oskar came in and did a hands on building seminar, and Anne Sharpe hosted a house concert. The show featured a number of his instruments played in a variety of styles. Some of the audience even brought their prized Graf guitars along for a fine jammaroo we had after the formal proceedings.
I was the singer/songwriter, Alan Marsden was the ‘Classical’ guy, Roddy Elias was the classical jazz and 10 string crossover fellow and Rob Uffen jazzed things up with the brand new Archtop, Oskar’s first that was built this year. Ulrick Hubener played bass on his exclusive Graf electric upright. Man it was a fun night. I found myself swimming in the deep end more than once, and saw some stupendous playing. I was in the ‘It’s right there on both sides of me’,row. Oskar spoke about wood and sound and building, and mostly sat with a smile as his instruments worked at doing what he builds them for. He has produced a 30th anniversary CD of some of his instruments at play. Go to www.grafguitars.com for info on where to send for one. It is highly, biasly, subjectively, he’s my pal but don’t let that influence you one way or another, great music and you may one day want to invest in a hand made musical instrument of uncommon quality so have a listen to what they can sound like, recommended.
Congratulations to Oskar. There are nearly 400 of his beautiful instruments out there, the music they make helps to make the world a better place.
November 9, 2003
Mike Stevens, our fearless founding father was unable to join us, so, for the first time an Arts Can Circle trip went north without him. Anyway, it’s time to start spreading around this work he started and the three of us can spread with the best of them. Tracy Harrison, David Anderson and I went to Pikangikum in Northwestern Ontario. Ontario, yes, but you can’t get there from here.
It is a regular flight to Winnipeg, a twin engine flight on Bearskin Airlines ( every seat is an aisle seat, every seat is a window seat) to Red Lake, (Norseman, float plane capital of the world), and a single engine hop to Pik on Wasaya Airways. The lakes were just freezing up and they had some amazing patterns on them as the ice was forming (no sense wasting a good aisle/window seat).
We were picked up by Gerald, the Vice Principal of Eenchokay Birchstick School at the airfield. He took us first to the Hotel. On these trips, Mike has made it clear that accommodations might not be up to Guide Michelin standards. Not so in this case. The hotel in Pik gets the big recommendation from me, and that includes the restaurant...open daily from 9:00am to 8:00pm, fine fare, served with a smile. We next paid our respects to the band council then went to school.
The school is much bigger than the one we were at in the spring in Mishkeegogamang. This time there were over 700 students K-gr12, and we had one less person with us, so the job of making art with all of the kids was formidable.
Mick Staruck is the Principal and he and his staff were very welcoming and helpful. We got a tour, access to art supplies and were given a portable for the 3 days. I also had the use of another portable for part of the time. David and Tracy and I were working with a grade 12 class 2 hrs after we landed.
We saw every class from Gr 5 to gr12 in two days, and had them making puppets, banners, giant flowers and murals. One group made a cardboard Skidoo that got a slick pink paint job. Those who weren’t interested in visual art, I took aside and spent time teaching how to juggle. I also played guitar and uke and passed the instruments around. The school has a music teacher this year, which is terrific, and Tom is teaching 30 classes of 6-8 students a week, most of the instruments that they are using have been donated to Arts Can Circle.
I helped out Tracy and David when things got busy. Organised chaos reigned, the artwork was getting done at a furious pace, the kids were excited, hacky sacks and juggling clubs were flying around the room, every so often David would get out his accordion or somebody would grab the uke and take it for a test drive. Puppet heads on sticks started sprouting all around the classroom. Music is what I do, so I’m always amazed when visual artists like Tracy can get a whole classroom making credible 3D characters in minutes, or David can wrangle a group of too cool guys to enthusiastically make a skidoo out of cardboard boxes, paint it pink, then line up to ‘drive’ it in the parade.
Wednesday at noon we had the big parade. Everyone who made something grabbed it at the portable, we lined them up as best we could (critical mass, momentum, the weather and lunch all play a part in getting things underway), David fired up the accordion, I started juggling and off we went around the entire school, skidding and sliding on the snow, making a heck of a racket, waving at teachers and the school guy with the video camera and anyone else who happened by this moving mosh pit.
The skidoo managed to make it most of the way before self destructing, a large number of the banners and puppets remained intact, a few paper and masking tape heads rolled in the snow as the passing juggernaut left its inevitable wake and for the most part I think, the kids had a beauty time.
That afternoon, David went off to the wood shop where he and the shop teacher Peter, put together a 2X4 marimba (that’s a marimba made out of 2X4's). Peter has done an amazing job of turning a condemned building into a shop and classroom and coffee house and TV studio for his cooking show (that’s right, a cooking show) and a store from which the students will soon be selling quality used clothing. It’s a small business/life skills/open kitchen/build it/bake it/ learn how to make it wonderland that Peter has pulled together. Oh ya, you soon will be able to dial up the Pikangikum Taxi company that the students will be running thanks to the donated car that will be arriving any time.
I spent the afternoon playing music in each of the gr1- gr4 classrooms. We all laughed like crazy.
At 5:00 we put on a little concert for the community in the gym. You never know who or how many will show up for these events, but a good number of kids came back and some parents as well. David and Peter proudly rolled in the new 12 note marimba that we enthusiastically hammered away on (with real hammers in the key of Am/C) and jammed with the uke. It sounded like South America meets North America on the way to Hawaii via Northwestern Ontario. Peter says he plans to build more.
Four days flies by, we are in essence, there and gone. The teachers and staff at the school are there every day. It is a tremendous privilege to be invited into the school and the community. I would like to try getting more information about ArtsCan Circle to the individual teachers and to the band councils, and the little local radio stations and maybe even the kid’s hanging out in the bush before we arrive. I think it is important that all levels of the community know we are not government, or school board bureaucracy or big business or big religion. We are artists, we come to play, this is our idea, that’s it. We don’t presume to have answers, but I’ve seen what we do make a positive difference A teacher remarked to me that it is always good to see her students laugh.
Nov 4, 2003
The conference was bigger than Utopia. It is a festival of sorts now. I think there are 8 million people that southern Ontario events and promoters can draw upon as audience. At least 2 million of them are folk singers and a large contingent of them were in Sudbury. This isn’t bad, but it indicates we need more festivals. The province could use more that the 25 or so member festivals currently in the OCFF, and that is what the organisation is about... promoting and passing on the info to help member festivals, and create new member festivals by mentoring those who are keen to start one up.
I was pleased to see that sessions geared to festival and community arts development were well attended. Over the past couple of years I dare say the conference tended to look like the Ontario Council of Folk Singers Who Stick Stuff to the Halls Walls and Sing for Future Considerations whilst filling up the laundry baskets of the Ontario Council of Artistic Directors and Associates. Guilty as I have been on one or two of those counts, I still think the focus of the organisation is about Festival development, and after a couple of years of amazing individual membership growth, let’s grow some more festival members.
Way to go Erin Benjamin and the Sudbury bunch that put on the conference. Sudbury has always known and shown how to lay it down.
We also managed an Arts Can Circle meeting, hosted by the inimitable Estelle Klein. I have been, shall we say in the lingo of one of my current amusements, lassoed into joining the Board of directors. Tracy and David and Mike (see Mish, in the first archived page) and I are off to Pikangikum in NW Ontario next week, and in my capacity as a participant in these trips, I am happy to contribute some board time towards the efforts of this good organisation and the fine people who have been involved in making this thing that Mike has started keep on going.
We have to fly to Winnipeg, back to Red Lake in Ontario and then to Pik. It’s the second trip for us...The Duke and his Retinue of Martists (that would be Musical Artists or maybe Art-ics seeing as that’s what the weather is going to be like), will be engaged in a community once again and we look forward to the challenge.
We get back Friday Nov 14, and I am due to open for Santa when he shows up for breakfast at the Georgian Mall in Barrie on Saturday morning and attend a Blue Skies non meeting in the afternoon. Shake, rattle and roll.
What happened up to OCTOBER sportsfans?
OK Lots happened, ask away sometime, the apple barn dance, the Ottawa Folk Festival, the Grand Day in Udora, the new deck clad in locally milled and cut white cedar, more trips to the nation’s Capital, I got a beauty new Uke book ‘Happy Time Ukulele’. So ask me sometime. Right now I have to pack for a combined first board meeting of Arts Can Circle and the OCFF conference in beautiful downtown Sudbury.
OCFF Oct 17
The annual Conference of the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals is happening in Sudbury. Way back 16 years ago the OCFF and it’s six member festivals would get together a few times a year in places like Sudbury and Owen Sound and Guelph and we would talk about festivals and how to make them better. In the fall we met in a place called Utopia and talked about festivals with others from towns that wanted to put on a music event, and we passed around info, and talked up Festivals and cooked food and played music and made pals and sat and played by the fire and slept in the bunkhouse and had us a pretty good time. I think we helped to make festivals better. This year we are going to Sudbury, 4 hotels are sold out, 25 or more festival members and hundreds of individual members will be in attendance, there is going to be non stop action from Thursday to Sunday evening, we have banquets and booths and awards and showcasing up the wazoo and were going to talk about all sorts of stuff including making festivals even better. When the talking and the the meeting and the boothing is taking a rest, I am going to look for a room a some likely characters and play music and sit by the TV and pretend it’s the fire, and squint hard and we’ll all be in Utopia.
Blue Skies 2003
This is the 27th edition that Patricia and I have been lucky enough to be a part of. Woody was 3 weeks old at his first, the girls were six months. It’s a huge memory leap to remember LBBS (Life before Blue Skies).
It is the most action packed, intense, curiously simultaneous at the same time relaxing, re-charging, humanly interactive 30 year old ongoing sociological experiment in a goat’s pasture petrie dish 10 day working vacation that this family has yet to stumble upon. Others have commented in a similar fashion after just 3 or 4 days of residency.
What happened? Large chamelionic tree frogs hanging on the trees, Murray’s twisted wood campsite, the swing jazz workshop I heard whilst tending to business in the back of the truck, Hank announcing the “Finest Parade...Ever”, meeting and playing music with Juan from Equador, amazing morning views over the swamp, spectacular thunderstorms, a sound crew that wouldn’t quit, and when they had to shut down, working like maniacs to get it going again, the Brothers Cosmoline and Christine Graves taking the stage with no PA, plenty of panache and the rewards of a crowd who are there for the music, Oskar’s vision of a 30th anniversary Suite realised, Roddy Ellias bringing his Suite to life, the look on the players and the choir as they pulled it off, what they pulled off...the Suite, Bob Davidson’s tarp job on the new choir space, Jason Wegner’s presence of mind in solving a parking dilemma, the word on Juan’s healing ceremony in the Tipi, green green grass all around after two years of dedicated greens keeping, The Kate Weekes singing ‘Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’, Martin Hoenig’s new curtain pully, the glitch and solving the problem, dragonflies buzzing by the hundreds in the sun... there are many more. I find myself zoning out now and then as unthought of events drop down onto the screens during a daydream, such dithering can lead to un-accounted for time...Like what the hey happened between then and now, seeing as it is October there bub...
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