I’m not sure how many people outside of my generation have any idea what a hootenanny is, but way back near the dawn of time, young people which at the time was us used to gather with musical friends and not so musical friends to sing. We would do this in the oddest places, on the steps of churches in Rome, in small city parks, in school gyms, in people’s back yards. Fortunately, this public menace to good taste died a natural death as our generation moved on to raise children and forget about our own childhood.
The hootenanny leaders were frequently terrifically talented (which for the non musical like me meant they could chord a tune and keep reasonable time) and sometimes not. Hootenanny tunes leant towards social justice and anything Bob Dylan or Joan Baez sang. They could be really corny and sound like cats wailing but mostly they were just fun.
On May I at the NAC’s Fourth stage in memory of the labour leader Gil Levine we held a hootenanny. Gil was a big hearted labour leader with a killer smile and a gravelly voice that you couldn’t just resist when he asked you to do anything. Like me, he couldn’t sing worth talking about, but he loved to sing all the same and so someone had the brilliant idea to celebrate his passing with a hootenanny – with some really, talented musical leaders. Stephen Richer, Pierre Fournier, Lynn Myles, Eve Goldberg and others, tunes from South Africa, Yorkshire, Canada, Quebec.
I forgot my grandfather days and was reminded that songs of social justice are always about hope and courage and these sentiments have no age limit. They soar on the wings of peppermint and the lives of people like Gil. Happy May Day, Gil!