This is day one of Year 15,” announced Steve Slade, as he opened the Yukon Arts Society’s first Arts in the Park lunchtime show of the summer last Tuesday.
Despite the patchy sunlight, the show was well-attended by everyone from prepared regulars with lunch bags, chairs and blankets to passers-by wandering through, attracted by the upbeat country-flavoured music from the featured trio, The Canucks.
A well-known fixture on the Yukon scene for decades, The Caunuks consists of Ed Isaak as lead vocalist, Ray Park on keyboards and Red Lewis on drums.
Every summer for a decade and a half, visual and performing artists and their appreciators have gathered in LePage Park at noon for a daily hour of music and art. Slade has been there every step of the way.
“Arts in the Park began when Doreen Hildebrand called me up, said she wanted to put on a visual art and music event, and wanted me to organize it,” Slade explains.
“Essentially I produce it. I make sure everything happens, coordinate the events and find the artists and everything. I get to MC and tech it too,” he adds, patting the loudspeaker beside him.
The events of Arts in the Park stretch over 12 weeks with about 58 performances each season. Last year, an estimated 14,000 people dropped in at one time or another for the shows.
This year, Slade hopes to add something new and different into the mix.
“We’re going to try for one evening show a week, for the younger people and bands to play music that wouldn’t really appeal to the lunchtime crowd,” he says.
Complex as it can be to co-ordinate so many details, this endeavour is the least of Slade’s efforts when it comes to getting Yukoners – especially youth – involved in music.
“I do music for a living,” he says, and goes on to explain his latest work.
“I go into schools and use music as an educational tool, here and pretty much across Canada these days.”
Essentially, he will go into a classroom and go over the topic or lesson with the students. Then he has them write lyrics about it and turns them into songs, which he records and copies for the students.
“We use music as a tool to deliver the curriculum topics we’re trying to learn.”
Students tend to learn better when they’ve written lyrics, Slade suggests.
His school-based project has received plenty of positive feedback, as have many of his students’ songs.
“I’ve had kids win awards nationally and territorially,” he says. “The kids’ songs get around. It’s kind of fun.”
Slade’s work in the school has been recognized and appreciated so much that he was recently awarded the Conrad Boyce Award for volunteer contributions in the performing arts. In fact, Mike Ivens was scheduled to present the award at this first Arts in the Park event, but it didn’t happen.
When asked about the missing presentation ceremony, Slade waves it away.
“I convinced him not to do it,” he says cheerfully.
“Somebody told me I got a volunteer award or something. I think they’ve got the wrong guy, because I do get paid some for what I do. There are lots of great volunteers out there that they should give the award to, instead.”
Despite his reservations, Slade’s work in music is acknowledged and respected throughout Canada, and he remains an integral part of the Yukon music scene.
This summer, he can be found at LePage Park on weekdays at lunchtime, working as sound tech, introducing the acts and generally helping keep arts and music alive and kicking for locals and tourists alike.
Artist information and schedules for this summer’s Arts in the Park can be found on the Music Yukon website www.musicyukon.com.