When Jolie Angelina McNabb was buried 16 years ago, Kwanlin Dün elders gave her the name, Blue Feather Eagle Woman. The Bluefeather Music Festival started in 2010 as a tribute concert to Jolie, who committed suicide.
She had a dream, that she wanted to do something for youth, something to give them hope so they wouldn’t end up in the same place she did.
Jolie was a Plains Cree from Saskatchewan, from the Peepeekisis First Nation. She was abused as a child. She later married Gary Bailie, who lived in the Yukon. He went around to concerts and festivals and did lighting, he said he was inspired by the natural lighting of the territory.
Gary kept Jolie’s dream alive in a realm in which he’s familiar, music festivals. He said her dream to help kids was a seed, and it’s grown into the festival as it is now, which he says is unlike any other festival in the Yukon because it’s substance free.
Gary also uses the festival to mentor kids. One girl, Janelle Cousins, started helping with lighting as a volunteer when she was 11. Now she’s 19 and she’s, “basically running the show,” says Gary.
Another kids, Michael Hamm, started as a stage manager when he was 12. Now he’s running the monitor.
“It’s hard to reach the kids,” says Gary.
Jolie’s story is representative of what a lot of people go through, says Gary. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, all our young people are committing suicide. Just walking into the river and getting swept away.”
He’s not saying the festival will stop it, but by giving young people something to focus on, to be passionate and creative about, he is, “putting an injection of hope into our society.”
The festival is run by volunteers, and older people mentor youth, but it’s still a professional festival; artists who tour all over the world play in it. This year, Buffy Sainte-Marie is returning to perform and do a speaking engagement. That will be on Saturday afternoon, and the proceeds of it will go toward creating a bursary for aspiring artists. “Our festival grows in little pieces,” says Gary.
Along with Sainte-Marie, outside performers include Sass Jordan, Digging Roots, and Killer Dwarfs. Artists from the Yukon include Soda Pony, Average Joe, Crankshaft and Common Knowledge. On Sunday there’s a youth event called Rockberry Jam, where the recording artists get together to jam.
This year the theme of the festival is Wonder World, it was inspired by Gary’s granddaughter, Essence Bailie. “Seeing the world through the eyes of a child opens the world to creativity,” says Gary. “Along the way people lose their sense of wonder.”
Essence was born around the same time that Gary’s mother passed away, and to him, she is the continuation of life. He compares this to the Blue Feather Music Festival. “Dreams never die, man,” he says. “The end of one thing is the beginning of the other.”
When Jolie died, Gary wanted justice for her. He knew he wouldn’t find it in the legal system, so he did something creative. “It’s not just for her, it’s for all the young people.”
The hope is, as the festival moves forward, suicides will end. “Hopefully. We have to hope.”
For festival information go to: www.bluefeathermusic.ca.