The Blue Feather Music Festival, now in its 13th year, is an opportunity for music lovers – of all ages – to enjoy the sounds of contemporary Aboriginal music and dance.
The festival, which takes place on Nov. 9 and 10 at the Yukon Arts Centre, is also an opportunity for Aboriginal youth to find their voice and channel their creativity in a positive direction: in front of a large, appreciative audience.
In the process, stars are made.
“Les Walker always wanted to play at Blue Feather; we just had him playing in our foyer during the feast and the auction and we told him, ‘Get yourself a band together and write some original songs and you’ll be playing the main stage,'” says festival producer Gary Bailie.
Walker went on to play the festival with his band, Common Knowledge, which eventually recorded a CD.
“Right after the festival,” Bailie continues, “they all flew down to the Aboriginal Music Awards ceremony where they won Best New Aboriginal Group. We’re very proud of them and they’re back again.”
For Bailie, it’s the encouragement and promotion of music and arts and his community that drives him year after year. This year, the theme for the festival is Keepers of the Spirit.
“It’s about keeping your creative fire burning,” says Bailie. “Each and every one of us has an individual responsibility to find out what it is we love to do and just go and do it and do the best we can at it.”
This year’s line up includes traditional dance as well as a wide range of music, featuring appearances from the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers, Diyet, Juno award-winner Jerry Alfred and his band, Shun Dun, a reunion performance from the legendary Whitehorse band the Project and headliners George Leach and Sierra Noble.
“Sierra Noble is quite well-known throughout the world, actually,” says Bailie. “She started out as a fiddle player and she evolved; she plays guitar and she sings. She actually sang for the first time on our Blue Feather stage about five years ago, and since then, her whole career has taken off.
“George Leach has just finished recording his new CD, called Surrender. He’ll be promoting that. And he puts on a really high energy show with his band.”
In addition to seasoned musicians, the festival will also feature the raw talent of emerging musicians. The desire to encourage and support young people to develop their potential through music and the arts is what drives the festival.
“We’re starting with the Inland Children Dancers and then Madison Dixon, who’s an up-and-coming sensation. She played the festival last year and she was fabulous.
“We have a new talent we’re trying to showcase here. Her name is Thalia Bayley. She’s a guitar player and a singer.” Bayley will be performing with the local rock band, Say No More.
The festival also offers youth an opportunity to try their hand at the technical aspects of putting on an audio-visual production.
“We mentor youth in all areas of production as well,” says Bailie. “Our stage crew, lighting, audio, all the food preparation and presentation, we have our Blue Feather people who are leading the way, but we have young people working with us in all aspects of production.”
This year, the Friday night performance will include a special tribute to the youth lost to suicide.
“We’ve had a few young people take their lives, it’s a difficult thing to deal with,” says Bailie. “There’s a gal whose twenty-first birthday would have been November ninth, her name is Joy Allison. We’re going to pay a little tribute to her and acknowledge people who aren’t with us anymore.
“We really want to speak to our youth and tell them how much we love them and how much we need them, and encourage them not to give up because of a bad experience or a relationship or whatever, just to see life as a gift and find a way to get through things like this.
“We’ve been trying to use music and the arts to externalize how they feel, to be creative. If they’re angry if they’re sad they can write a song, externalize it rather then let it stay locked up inside.”
At the heart of the festival, it’s a celebration of life and every year it begins with a feast of traditional foods.
“Breaking bread with people is a really good thing,” says Bailie. “Food is something that brings people together. It’s an event that you can bring your whole family to. It’s a substance-free event, therefore the door is wide open to have kids and we really like to see families come together for these things.”
The festival is very much a community event, receiving support from the Yukon Government as well as Yukon businesses and organizations, which Bailie appreciates. “It really shows ‘We believe in what you’re doing and we really want to help.’ And that’s a source of inspiration for me, to be proud to be part of a community that support these kinds of events and others.”