Gary Bailie has taken a personal tragedy and turned it into the fuel that powers him to produce the popular Blue Feather Music Festival.
Now in its 15th year the annual music event was never meant to be the large-scale music festival it has become.
It initially began as a celebration of life for Bailie’s common law partner Jolie Angelina McNabb.
At the age of 25 McNabb committed suicide, no longer able to deal with the pain of being sexually abused as a child and her subsequent addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Soon after her death Bailie began working on an event for his late partner, something that would honour her and through it give opportunity to youth.
Thus, the Blue Feather Festival was born.
“Blue Feather Eagle Woman was the traditional name given to her when she was put to rest by the Cree Elders in Saskatchewan,” explains Bailie. “Her dream was to help youth because of everything she suffered in her young life. She said no kid, no matter your nationality, should have to suffer.”
Fifteen years later, the Blue Feather Music Festival is showing no signs of slowing down.
“The festival has done wonders for me,” said Bailie. “By getting out there and doing something positive with my life it helped me to recover from my loss, losing a person that was very dear to me.”
Bailie’s eyes light up with pride as he speaks about how far the festival has come since its humble beginnings and what a success it has been when it comes to empowering youth.
“I have an apprentice that started with the festival when she was just 11 years old; now she is running the show,” explains Bailie.
That apprentice, Janelle Cousins, is just one of the hundreds of youth that have been impacted by the festival.
“We wanted to use music and the arts as our creative healing tools,” said Bailie. “For our young people it gets them involved and is a creative outlet for them and music is a way for them to express how they feel.”
“We don’t only want a better world for our children we want to kind of create better children for our world. This is a way to give them the tools to do that.”
The youth are the foundation of the event. They are the stage managers, the lighting designers, the audio and video technicians and even the cooks.
“We mentor them, we walk alongside them, we don’t micro-manage them, we just make sure we are replenishing the stock because these skills are things that can be used anywhere in the world,” says Bailie. “We respect them and their ideas and that’s very empowering when they see their ideas being used.”
As the festival has grown so has the level of performers.
Bailie says he has been able to lure big name acts north because they support what the festival is about.
“They like the theme of it and the fact that we are dealing with youth,” said Bailie.
This year the Blue Feather line-up features Canadian female rocker Sass Jordan, Blues guitarist Jimmy D. Lane and headliner Stevie Silas, who has worked with the likes of Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart and even had a cameo and did the guitar score for the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Bailie says the festival wouldn’t be able to do what it does without the volunteers and the extensive support from the community, as evident by the many logos adorning the festival poster.
“We have a great team and an amazing group of really skilled people that throw their talents on the table and we all work together just to make this happen year after year,” said Bailie. “I’m a born and raised Whitehorse guy and there is nothing more inspiring than knowing the community appreciates what we are doing.”
That community support, be it volunteering or sponsorship, allows the festival to remain affordable.
“We are just happy to be able to put this on in our community and give people a chance to see some great music.”
The lineup of acts that will grace the Yukon Arts Centre stage on November 6 and 7 include local musicians The Midnight Sons Band and Selina Heyligers-Hare.
“Selina is just one of those girls that lives to play music and how great is that.”
In addition to the two nights of music at the Arts Centre a third day of music has been added this year, with the Rockberry Jam for youth taking place at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre Sunday afternoon.
And this year, as it has every year, the festival is operating under a theme.
For the 15th anniversary that theme is soul shine.
Bailie says it means to love the skin you are in and realize that everyone has a gift and for Bailie the the festival is just that.
“It has become a big part of my life,” smiles Bailie. “Sometimes out of tragedies are born great things and this is one of those stories.”