Dedication, Hope and a Hug for Mother Earth

With all it’s going through, the world needs a hug.

That’s one of the messages underlying this year’s Blue Feather Music Festival, which takes place November 5 and 6 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

“We just figured the world needs a big bear hug, and it’s up to us to take care of our planet and all the people on it,” says festival producer Gary Bailie.

“And why not? It’s the only planet we have.”

To mark the festival’s tenth anniversary, the organizers adopted the theme, Decade of Dedication.

As Bailie explains, it’s meant to recognize not only years of work and dedication by both performers and volunteers who make the festival tick, but also the dedication that lies behind any successful life.

“It’s just focusing on something and standing by it, no matter what, in all kinds of weather. You stick with it, you stay on your path and in the end you bear the fruits of your labour.”

The festival grew out of a celebration of life for Jolie Angelina McNabb, Bailie’s former partner and mother of one of his two daughters, who died in September 1999.

“She was just one of many people who slipped through the cracks but were somebody’s children, somebody’s sisters and brothers. And they deserve to be acknowledged.”

At McNabb’s funeral, the Cree elders on her Saskatchewan reserve told Bailie the ancestors who came to help her cross over would know her by the name Blue Feather Eagle Woman.

“The one thing that I’d seen make a difference in her life was her artwork and her creativity. It was very healing.”

That awareness, and McNabb’s desire to help other young people experiencing the kind of abuse she had suffered, led Bailie to create the festival that bears her name.

“We’re celebrating music and the arts while honouring the creative spirit in all people from all walks of life,” Bailie explains. “Because really, you know, music and the arts reflect the magnificence and beauty of all cultures, people around the world.”

The festival has grown significantly since its beginning a decade ago.

“The first couple were just winging it. A wing, a prayer and a guitar string, as I like to say.”

Despite its ongoing success, Bailie and the festival society’s directors continue to view it in the spirit of that original celebration of life. That’s why it involves a feast as well as performances.

“Food has always been a big part of our festival, breaking bread with people. It’s nice to share, especially from the First Nations culture.”

While the Kwanlin Dun First Nation is the biggest supporter of the event, Bailie stresses that it’s meant for everyone.

“We feel good that we’re providing something to the whole community of Whitehorse,” he says.

“We hear so many stories of bad things and I say look, let’s dwell on success a little bit, and celebrate other people who have made good efforts and who have succeeded.

“Let’s talk about that, and encourage that, and maybe inspire our young people to succeed, to do well in their life, to enjoy their stay here on the planet Earth.”

Bailie’s voice fills with pride when he outlines this year’s roster of performers (see Page 20). Some are new to the Blue Feather stage, others have been there from the start.

Many, he explains, have overcome difficult personal challenges through dedication to their art.

As the conversation winds down, Bailie returns to festival’s other message for 2010, the environmental one.

“The Blue Feather has come to be a symbol of hope. In any of our artwork, the eagle always has the feather gripped tightly in his claw, or in his beak, or it’s right in the heart because hope is in the heart, right?” he asks rhetorically.

“This year it’s infused into the planet Earth. We’re saying there’s hope for the world if we can just take care of it and embrace it and work together.”

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