Around the world, May Day has always celebrated the stories, struggles and victories of working people. But in Ottawa, the celebration has an exuberant musical touch.
Gil’s Hootenanny, in a spirit reminiscent of the 1960s, gathers people together in solidarity to listen and sing along to new and traditional songs of hope and protest.
This year’s version, on Tuesday, May 1, will be the ninth edition of the annual event. First presented in 2010, the May Day community sing-along has seen increasingly larger audiences each year. With the 2018 event headlining singer-songwriter Eve Goldberg, organizers are expecting a large turnout.
Gil’s Hootenanny is the enduring legacy of Gil Levine, who spent his life working for social justice. The founding director of research at the Canadian Union of Public Employees, he was featured in the Ottawa Jewish Archives photography exhibit, “Face to Face.” A great lover of folk music and an enthusiastic supporter of folk musicians, Levine believed in the collective power of song to bring people together to sing out for change.
When he died at 85 in 2009, three words in his obituary — “plan a hootenanny” — started an Ottawa tradition. Gil’s Hootenanny has evolved into a fun, energetic event that celebrates not only the power of song to change the world, but also the contribution of one man to make the world a better place.
Gil was a huge fan of Eve Goldberg. Anyone lucky enough to see her perform is captivated not only by her talent and charisma but also by the depth of her musical background and influences. Growing up in the Boston area in a family committed to social justice, Goldberg has vivid memories of her parents’ involvement in the civil rights, labour and peace movements. As her multi-instrumentalist, activist mom was taking her to see folk legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, as well as Pete Seeger, Goldberg’s sister was introducing her to emerging singer-songwriters like Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Carole King and Joni Mitchell. With echoes of her brother’s favourites, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger in the air, she also fell in love with Motown, soul music, jazz, bluegrass, old-time and country music.
Goldberg, who relocated to Toronto in 1981, has worked with such peace and social justice groups as the Toronto Disarmament Network and the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice. She is also president of Local 1000 of the American Federation of Musicians, the local of touring folk and acoustic musicians all over North America.
Referring to Gil’s Hootenanny 2018, Goldberg says, “It seems especially important right now to be talking and singing about racism, indigenous issues, women’s rights, peace and human rights.
“If I can help create a feeling of belonging and possibility, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
Gil’s Hootenanny 2018 will take place on Tuesday, May 1, at 7:30 p.m. in the Clarke Room at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Dr. Staffed by UNIFOR members, the RA Centre is accessible, has ample parking and is well serviced by OC Transpo. Tickets are $10 at gilshootenanny.ca and at Octopus Books (116 Third Ave.) and Metro Music (695 Bank St.). Kids are free. For more information on Eve Goldberg, go to www.evegoldberg.com