Gil’s Hootenanny: Songs of Protest, Songs of Hope

Review by Serena Williamson
May 1st, 2011

“Workers of the world unite” rang through the packed hall as folk music lovers, many wearing orange or red to reflect their political perspective, gathered to celebrate May Day, a time when working people everywhere get together to speak up and sing out. Red diaper babies now in their fifties and sixties, socialists in their twenties and people who may be neither communist nor socialist but just enjoy a good sing-along, filled the Hall in Ottawa to have a good time.

Gil’s Hootenanny is organized by the Spirit of Rasputin’s Arts Society and is sponsored by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). It is inspired by the memory of Gil Levine (1924-2009), the founding Director of Research at the CUPE national office. Gil was a long-time trade unionist and a great lover of folk music. Creating the power of song together and celebrating May Day were part of Gil’s vision of a better world.

More than a dozen local artists gathered to perform sing-along songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bill Withers, Merle Travis, and Billy Bragg. Songbooks were provided and music and fun filled the air. Artists’ egos were left at the door, since the goal was hootenanny rather than performance, yet all performers did a fabulous job. One musician in particular, stood out.

Lyndell Montgomery’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows was astonishing. Accompanying herself on the violin by playing various tracks, recording them, then singing along with her own recording, was brilliant. As the tension in the song built, so did the complexity of her musicality. And the woman did it all sitting on a corner of the stage, never even standing up! We were blown away. Throughout the evening artists kept requesting her to come up and accompany them on either violin or electric bass. She wielded both as if they were part of her own body, and in unique original styles; for example, at times she played her violin as if it were a guitar.

Another artist that stood out was Jeremy Owen. A recent arrival in Ottawa, Jeremy burst on the music scene with a vengeance. His version of The Internationale revved everyone up, preparing us for Chris White, a key player in the Ottawa folk music scene and a primary organizer of this event, to close the show by leading us all in rousing chorus of Solidarity Forever. We had a blast!

If you were there, leave a comment with your thoughts.

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One thought on “Gil’s Hootenanny: Songs of Protest, Songs of Hope

  1. Jeremy should be playing union halls from coast to coast. I haven’t seen an audience respond to a performer like that in years. What an amazing night!!

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