Ready to Rumble? Keep calm and decolonize

photo of Bruce Mason

by Bruce Mason

Indigenous/Aboriginal /First Nations/Inuit art is one of the most exciting creative forces in Canada and on our endangered Earth. At once a Renaissance Revival and a ‘resistance,’ it’s rising, Phoenix-like, from the still-smouldering ashes of what can only be described as genocide.

Pick a genre – music, visual arts, live theatre, literature, fashion – and you’ll find unique offerings, including the raising of Jim Hart’s Reconciliation Pole at UBC, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s art, Brian Jungen’s life-size dinosaur skeletons, crafted from white plastic lawn chairs, the plays of Tomson Highway, the multidisciplinary Red Sky, A Tribe Called Red, guitar virtuoso Don Ross and some proud, defiant and powerfully feminist voices, including Tanya Tagaq and resurgent Buffy Sainte-Marie (Power in the Blood).

“I continue to keep my nose on the joy trail and if something is missing, I try to create it,” Sainte-Marie told Common Ground magazine in an April 2015 cover story. “It’s pretty much the moneychangers taking over the temple, nothing new, but now everybody can see it. And this is a genuine grassroots response to the realities we all face today – most extremely in the front lines of Indian country – the destruction of the environment and ongoing horror of missing and murdered Indigenous women.”

Link Wray
Link Wray in Rumble: The Indians who Rocked the World

The summer-long CBC Radio series, Reclaimed, provided a platform to put listeners in touch with the explosive pulse of contemporary Indigenous music, including traditional songs, acoustic sounds, incendiary political hip-hop, R&B and the dance floor-filling beats of electric powwow. Now, in the dog days of a fizzling sesquicentennial – 150 years since Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick confederated – we have blown through a cool half-billion in federal tax dollars to celebrate. First Nations, however, rained on our year-long parade and rightfully so. One highlight: Kent Monkman’s super-imposed nude, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, lounging in the foreground of the 1864 Charlottetown constitutional meetings. “She’s trying to get a seat at the table or she could be a hired entertainer,” the artist explained.

An extraordinary new Canadian documentary, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, uncovers untold stories and missing history. The Sundance-award-winning film takes its title from a 1958 Link Wray recording. The only instrumental ever banned by radio, Rumble unleashed power chords in three growling, fuzzy blasts that inspired a generation to pick up an electric guitar; it still resonates, undiminished by time.

In the film, some three dozen marquee celebrities cite major influences in jazz, blues, rock, folk and heavy metal, including “Father of the Delta Blues” Charley Patton (Choctaw/African-American), “Queen of Swing” Mildred Bailey (Couer d’Alene), Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee/African-American), Wray (Shawnee), Sainte-Marie (Cree) and many more.

Front and centre is The Band’s Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), who says, “From childhood, I was told, ‘Be proud of being Indian; but be careful who you tell.’” Today, he vows, “You wouldn’t let me talk about it before. Well, now I’m going to talk real loud.”

One signpost in reclaiming cultural territory is the Grammy-nominated Native North America (Vol. 1), featured in Common Ground (January, 2015). More than a decade in the making, the package of 34 tracks with 120 pages of liner notes was curated by Kevin Howes, who continues to compile unheard, undocumented and unavailable Indigenous music.

Howes now says, “During our current era of reconciliation, music is an extra-special connector, teacher, and healer. It saves, unifies and informs us, like nothing else. The time is most certainly now to celebrate life and to show people that we will not stand for ignorance, intolerance, oppression and hatred.”

Arctic-focused Aakuluk Music, newly formed to promote contemporary Inuktitut music, globally, is just one example. One artist on the fledgling label, Riit, reports, “Every time I perform for non-Inuit crowds, it feels like I take a step forward into decolonization. Going from a generation shamed for speaking to a generation making music in Inuktitut, I’m pretty damn proud and thankful!”

We have more than enough scientific evidence about anthropogenic climate change and now need more stories from front lines, especially the Arctic. Ditto the appalling, ongoing unjust conditions, truthful history and real-life First Nations’ perspectives.

This is painful stuff, folks. But as Buffy Sainte-Marie advises, “Keep calm and decolonize.” All that is required is what the Common Ground community does best: to listen respectfully and supportively. We are truly blessed and the payoff, including visionary art and leadership, is inestimable and far too-long overdue.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.

Bob Bossin vs “Kinder Morgan”

Bob Bossin

by Bruce Mason

What history will refer to as “Kinder Morgan,” it will also record and judge as one of the most significant stories during Canada’s 150 years. The highly volatile issue will help define us and our role in the contemporary world, specifically highlighting if we are part of the problem or the solution.

But to fully understand it, one must experience Bob Bossin’s explosively effective 10-minute viral video, curiously entitled, Only one bear in a hundred bites, but they don’t come in order. (

The 100,000 or so folks and groups who have experienced it and shared it on Facebook – 12,000 on YouTube – keenly advised others to do the same, including the Green Party, Council of Canadians, former BC cabinet minister Rafe Mair, the Dogwood Initiative and myriad like-minded others.

Bob’s compilation of seemingly endless, terrifying tank farm explosions and accompanying text gives voice to the widespread fear and horror on the west coast about the explosion possibilities. Green leader Elizabeth May has characterized it as “totally stupid.” It being the construction of a 1,150-kilometre pipeline from Edmonton to BC’s Lower Mainland (western Canada’s most densely populated area) to carry toxic diluted bitumen (300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day) through more than 100 First Nations mostly pristine territories. It will increase the traffic of massive tankers, seven-fold, smack dab in the Port of Vancouver (second busiest in the nation) and into the international treasure of the Salish Sea, for the sake of generating 50 permanent jobs, despite plummeting oil prices, and the fact that a spill can’t be cleaned. All of which seriously jeopardizes the global initiative to reduce the carbon emissions that are killing life on the planet (See

May played a role in Only one bear in a hundred bites, but they don’t come in order. Bossin was asked to write a song for an Earth Day celebration in April. Instead, the “Old Folksinger,”created the video. It received a standing ovation from an audience, including May, who wanted to see it again and again. And so it was posted.

Bossin strives to show Canadians who support the foolhardy and reckless pipe dream why people in BC vow to fight to the death to stop it. But there’s not much reaction from Alberta to Ottawa where selfie-PM Justin Trudeau defies science by petulantly insisting that “Kinder Morgan” is “safe”, rejecting common sense and economics by claiming it’s in “Canada’s best interests.”

The late great dean of folksingers, Pete Seeger, once observed, “Not many people can write songs that are funny, informative and inspiring at the same time. Bossin does.” Pity Pete never lived to see the video. He was a big fan of Bossin’s Show Us the Length and he performed the hilarious, pro-feminist composition. He was also well aware of Bob’s anthemic Sulphur Passage, which helped save the Clayoquot wilderness and brought down the BC NDP government of Mike Harcourt. Bossin, co-founder of the legendary Stringband, pioneered crowd-funding and independent artist-controlled recordings with Canadian themes.

It’s entirely appropriate and just that he be part of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival’s 40th anniversary (July 13-16). He’s played there dozens of times in his 50 years of writing and performing. Folks who attend “The greatest show on Earth” (Rolling Stone) will enjoy some 60+ musical acts from 20 countries on seven beachfront stages. And we all have that video to share.


See Bob Bossin at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, July 13-16.

Playing for Change

One world, one voice, one day

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason


Playing for Change Day


• Without fail, the Playing For Change website makes me feel good. Most often it gives me goose bumps, but it’s always (in all ways) a joyful, uplifting experience. There’s no better time to feel this yourself than on September 24 when a global community gathers and unites – through the power of music to affect positive change – on stages, street corners, in schools, yoga studios, cafes and living rooms. More than 300 events in 50 countries are listed at

I’m not alone in praising Playing for Change (PFC). After taping a segment of his Words of Wonder, combined with Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up, Keith Richards said, “That’s the way music was meant to be.” Jackson Browne produced a PFC arrangement of Guantanamera, featuring more than 75 Cuban musicians in Havana, Barcelona and Tokyo, describing it as “one of the most rewarding and inspiring musical experiences of my life.” And Sara Bareilles reports that singing with the PFC Band “elevates the world with music and inspires me to be a better human.”

Warning! The videos at can be addictive. It’s some of the best feel-good music ever with unprecedented collaborations between previously anonymous street musicians, the classically trained and big names such as Bono, Keb’ Mo’, Jimmy Buffett, David Crosby, members of Los Lobos and the Grateful Dead and even John Lennon on tape, with Yoko Ono’s blessing, launching a Power to the People campaign. Music IS the power.

Mark Johnson is the creator of the global PFC phenomena and the driving force behind what is now a worldwide, multimedia, online music project and foundation. He says, “It is easy to connect to the world through music. Religion, politics, a lot of those things, they seem to divide everybody.” When Bill Moyers asked if he was being naïve, Johnson responded, “To me, naive is thinking that there’s any other choice. The only choice we have is to come together. And to inspire each other because that’s the way we’ll create a better world now and for kids tomorrow.”

His own inspiration for a big idea – to connect the world through unfiltered music – was birthed on a New York subway platform when the Grammy-winning producer/engineer/filmmaker watched two monks singing in a language he didn’t understand. “There were about 200 people who didn’t get on the train… people with tears in their eyes and jaws dropping, people who would normally run by each other.”

Some time later, on his way to work at a Santa Monica studio, an “epiphany” inspired Johnson to record street blues musician Roger Ridley singing Stand by Me. He played the result through headphones for Grandpa Elliott, who has “been putting love out there for 60 years” from the streets of New Orleans. Subsequently, utilizing innovative mobile technology and travelling the world, Johnson videotaped more than 100 musicians – mostly outdoors in parks, plazas, promenades, in doorways, on cobblestone streets and hillside pueblos. Each captured performance of the same song created a new mix in which the artists performed together – although hundreds or thousands of miles apart – in a seamless, mesmerizing collaboration and viral global jam.

Johnson has since produced two award-winning documentaries, A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians (2004) and Peace Through Music (2008), and much more music. He notes that PFC videos now have more than 300 million views from 195 countries.

Among myriad locations, Johnson shares that the South African township of Gugeletu was “the saddest place, with so much despair, until women and children joined in singing Celebration.” It was, he says, “one of the most powerful things I had ever seen, from sad to happy, when all that had changed was music.” That barren backyard became the site for a first PFC school. A Playing for Change band was formed to tour the world and help raise funds for what is now 12 school programs – in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand, and growing exponentially.

Each project also helps meet essential needs, including food, clean water, medicine, clothes, books, school supplies, solar energy, computers, and other technology. Johnson says, “It’s never ending, more songs to record, more musicians to connect, always more schools to build.”

As you explore the videos on the PFC site, you may notice two with a regional connection. Music Is My Ammunition opens on a Vancouver beach with three musicians – two from the Congo, one from Italy – before moving on to Jamaica, Hollywood, Cuba, Tokyo and Italy. Don’t Worry was recorded live at the Commodore Ballroom.

Playing for Change Day is held on the Saturday closest to International Peace Day. Everything you need to know to stage an event is also on the PFC website. Email with any plans and projects. And tune into Common Ground. Happy Playing for Change Day!

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Playing for Change Day in Vancouver

September 24:
Project Blue Hands Society & Friends ( invites you to celebrate Playing For Change Day in Vancouver. Music, art & outreach for the people, Victory Square Park, 200 W. Hastings St., 11AM-4PM. To get involved, email or call (778) 233-5874.

Those Nashville Blues – Victor Anthony salutes Canada

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

portrait of Victor Anthony• The world is awash in opinions on immigration – to say nothing of millions of tragically desperate refugees – and heated debate about citizenship, much of it spilling over from the “Excited States.” One contribution most worthy of attention and repeat listening hails from the deep, musically iconic cradle and melting pot far south of the 48th parallel: Victor Anthony’s new release, Those Nashville Blues.

On August 12, 2014, the judge who swore Victor in as a Canadian citizen, along with his wife Joelle, a prolific, published writer – and 91 other candidates – stressed their responsibility to share their native culture with new neighbours and fellow citizens originally from “somewhere else.” Taking the judge at his word, Victor has compiled a collection of songs he learned first-hand from masters who “lived down the road.” And make no mistake; when you search for evidence of “American exceptionalism,” the blues are a gift for the ages.

Those Nashville Blues is a warm welcome, unadorned, authentic, timeless and although all pre-WWII, new and fresh to Canadian music fans. There’s nothing flash or gaudy – no need for phoney enhancement or technological trickery. As Victor says, “Ragged but right… and I hope it falls easy on your ears.”

If you’re wondering “Victor who?” he recorded three albums under his birth surname Mecyssne in the 90’s and was very favourably reviewed by the likes of Rolling Stone and Sing Out! magazines.

His band, Victor Mecyssne and the Ragtops, included what he describes as “high-falutin, big-cheese musicians, at the top of the food chain,” such as Grammy winners bassist Jeff “Stick” Davis (Amazing Rhythm Aces, best known for the mega-hit, Third Rate Romance) and saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Dave Matthews Band). For years, Victor also played myriad acting and production roles with the celebrated Cumberland County Players.

However, in his characteristic inimitable fashion, Victor fled the scene – taking his wife’s surname “Anthony” – and headed North. He threw away his cigarettes and threw himself into the community of Gabriola Island.

“Joelle and I were suffering from a deficiency that’s been dubbed ‘Vitamin T’ for ‘Tribe’; we longed for community and found it here, including the unique Gabriola Commons and musicians to play with, including some on the album like Lloyd Artzen who has been playing New Orleans jazz for 70 years,” he recalls.

Those Nashville Blues
“I was fearful of guns people were packin’ and buying at places like Wal-Mart and had one stuck in my face. A large part of our decision was health care. An only child, I had to sell my house to pay for treatment for my mother, even though she retired on a government plan after heading up the office of a US Senator. There were too many problems that wouldn’t be solved in my lifetime. And when George W. Bush was re-elected, fair and square, why, that broke the camel’s back.

“We saw pictures in guide books for the Gulf Islands and the Big Island [Vancouver] and honeymooned here, searching locations, amazed at some things that Canadians take for granted: women comfortably walking the streets of Victoria late at night, something you don’t see in many cities that size, RCMP who weren’t armed to the teeth, polite, honest, friendly people who are part of the landscape that makes me proud and happy every day.”

Victor’s music is steeped in real life experience that money can’t buy and nobody can fake. His deceased father was “head fret of a whole shooting match,” president of a company, that, among other things, pressed records and distributed them, supplied jukeboxes far and wide with the latest ‘45s and was first in line with car stereos and independent labels like Bragg records. The young man’s summer job comprised working, living and breathing music and the biz. Piano and sax lessons filled in time until the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan when, like almost everyone else, he took up guitar.

Right from the get-go, Those Nashville Blues is real and really eclectic, which resonates through all 12 tracks. As a college student, Victor found the address and favoured whisky of Furry Lewis and spent an afternoon sippin’ and listenin’ to blues played from a daybed – Furry’s wooden leg propped in the corner – in the same room Mick and Keith visited to ask Furry to open for the Rolling Stones on tour. Victor revisits the source in his version of Dry Land Blues, the opening cut of a stellar collection.

“It took two years of hard work – to the day – to get into Canada,” he reports. “And because we couldn’t bear to reside in a place where we couldn’t vote, another three years to become citizens. We’re grateful.”

Another piece has been added to Canada’s multicultural mosaic, emanating from an appreciative, motivated, highly skilled and talented recent immigrant. Juno award-winning artists, Valdy, Gary Fjellgaard and David Gogo have all recently recorded some of Anthony’s original compositions. Little wonder so many of us in this country are shouting “More!” For additional information, visit and while there don’t miss his photography or the link to Joelle’s work.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.

Catching up

Congratulations to Kevin “Sipreano” Howes and Light in the Attic Records, nominated for a Grammy (Best Historical Album) for Native North America (Vol. 1). Featured in Common Ground (January 2015).

Leon Bibb tribute: The following information was unavailable at press time last month: A celebration of Leon Bibb’s life will be staged at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage, 2pm, January 10, 2016. Doors open at 1:30pm.

Leon Bibb – from Kentucky to Kitsilano

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

Leon Bibb in 1976
Leon Bibb in 1976

• The long-standing love affair between Leon Bibb and Vancouver ended when the legendary performer passed away in late October in a Kitsilano care home at the age of 93.

He first arrived in his adopted city in 1968 as the opening act for the then wildly popular comedian Bill Cosby. From the window of a luxury Bayshore hotel room, Bibb became enchanted with Vancouver’s working harbour and snow-capped mountains, vowing, “I have to live here.”

It was an unlikely move for a prominent figure in the continent-wide folk music revival. Bibb was also a Broadway and TV star – having appeared in Sidney Poitier movies and recorded albums for major labels – and a stirring performer at landmark demonstrations, including the March on Washington in 1963 and the protests in Selma, Alabama, two years later.

Harry Belafonte, a friend from Harlem back in the ‘50s, has noted, “Of all of us, he was probably the most talented. We were all envious of his beautiful baritone voice. He was really committed to the cause of civil rights and was hugely inspiring.”

Bibb abandoned New York for what was still a rough, blue-collar city. His first Vancouver performance featured blues and work songs, anti-war ballads and Malcolm X poems. Tickets were just 50 cents, but the UBC ballroom was half empty. He became a suspect in a robbery – solely because there were so few blacks locally – then fought for and received an apology.

Belefonte, Bibb, Baez in Montgomery
Belafonte, Bibb and Baez in Montgomery, Alabama|
photo by Matt Herron

Years later in 2011, back at UBC to accept an honorary doctorate, he described his birthplace, Louisville, Kentucky. “Segregated and racist, ringed by the white world and ‘coloured’ signs on toilets and fountains. I never had a conversation with a white person until I went to New York at 19.”

At four years of age, he sang solos in church and was featured in the glee club at Louisville Municipal College for Negroes. He left home to study and perform music and in 1946, while working at a New York automat, Leon landed a role in the original Annie Get Your Gun, singing Moonshine Lullaby with Ethel Merman 1,247 times!

But too few acting roles for black actors motivated Bibb to sing folk in the ‘50s. He performed in the coffeehouse craze, at the first Newport Festival in ‘59 and signed to Vanguard for several albums, including “Leon Bibb Sings Folk Songs.” His good looks, charm and stirring versatility – soulful ballads, chain-gang chants, spirituals and gospel songs as well as Broadway show tunes – made him a frequent TV guest. He made eight appearances on Ed Sullivan and had regular spots on the Tonight Show, Merv Griffin and Hootenanny, broadening his audience. In 1967, he received a Tony nomination for the Black song-and-poetry revue A Hand Is on the Gate. The next year he attracted attention and notoriety as the love interest in an interracial staging of Carnival.

Dropped from TV for supporting blacklisted artists Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, in 1968 he created and hosted the talk show Someone New, where he introduced unknowns such as teenaged cellist Yo-Yo Ma and budding songwriter Barry Manilow. He also acquired performing rights to Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. An unprecedented seven-month run at Vancouver’s Arts Club established live theatre on the west coast.

Bibb also performed with the VSO and became a Canadian icon. His history of blues, ranging from a Harlem nightclub to a New Orleans whorehouse, was adapted as The Candyman and sequel on the CBC, nationally. And his gospel cantata about the underground railway, One More Stop on the Freedom Train, wowed Ontario and Vancouver at Expo 86. Bibb said, “The city offered a lifestyle that could never have happened in New York or L.A. and I liked it.” Grateful citizens bestowed honours on the highly visible, beloved figure, such as the Order of British Columbia and BC’s Entertainment Hall of Fame.

With son Eric – a Grammy-nominated acoustic blues singer-songwriter – he recorded A Family Affair (2002) and Praising Peace: A Tribute to Paul Robeson (2006).

Leon once told me he was most proud of his anti-racism and anti-bullying work, including a 1990’s cross-country tour of theatre and song entitled “A Step Ahead.” Deeply affected as an African American in Western Canada, at a time when knowledge about black history was so limited, he created and financed the program at hundreds of schools.

In what was to be his final public performance – February 2014, in Victoria’s Government House – he was ushered in by a piper and introduced by the Lieutenant Governor to sing in celebration of Black History Month.

Leon Bibb is survived by his partner Christine Anton, his two daughters Dorie and Amy, son Eric, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.

EVENT: A Celebration of Leon Bibb’s life will be staged at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage at 2PM January 10, 2016. Doors open at 1:30PM.

World’s best songbook

New edition continues to empower

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

Rise Again front cover_300dpi• As you read this, folks everywhere are singing their way through thumb-worn copies of Rise up Singing. First published in 1988 by Sing Out!, this songbook for group sing-alongs has circulated the planet – including China and Russia – without the benefit of commercial publicity or promotion. Now, millions of fans can’t wait to put their hands, voices and instruments to work and play on the Rise Again Songbook, the sequel to the best-selling “bible” of songbooks. Over 200 musicians, including Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Judy Collins, James Taylor and Bruce Springsteen donated the use of their songs for the book. One month after its initial publication, Rise Again, with 1,200 additional songs, is in its second printing.

Through word of mouth, Rise up Singing found its way into hundreds of thousands of living rooms, basements, schools, churches, gathering places and gig bags, including a box the late NDP leader Jack Layton carried around with him – particularly during campaigns – for sing-alongs.

From the Beatles to Broadway, from ballads to Bob, from Blues to British Invasion, including gospel, good time, Surf, protest and Earthcare music and jazz and swing, the two compact, spiral-bound collections contain lyrics and chords to several thousand popular songs.

The Rise songbooks enable singers to follow the same verses, in the same order, with chord cues for accompanists and harmony singers, indexed by artists and subjects for easy access. Their universal acceptance and success not only prove songbook power in our era of Smart-phones and tablets, but they also utilize technology, referencing artist websites and YouTube versions for melodies and more information.

Both Rise up Singing and Rise Again are the works of a Massachusetts-based Quaker couple, Peter Blood and Annie Patterson, who state, unequivocally and unapologetically, “The goal of our songbooks, music work and website is to encourage group singing in a wide variety of settings…to empower people’s lives, build community, strengthen people’s hope and resilience and help create a just and peaceful world.”

In 1979, they informally published Winds of the People, an “underground book” containing not-fully-licensed and public domain songs. It immediately sold 30,000 copies. Encouraged by high demand, they spent years – in the pre-Internet age – painstakingly transcribing albums and even more painfully pursuing permission to publish the lyrics.

“We wanted songs that lent themselves to singing in groups, that were not too obscure, had an emphasis on empowering and positive messages,” they recalled. They never anticipated the reception awaiting Rise up Singing, let alone the loud cries for an encore.

“The best, most exhilarating and glorious singing history…more than a lovely songbook…a play-work-fight-freedom hymnal,” opined the late, iconic Studs Terkel. “Worth devouring by all those who love to sing. A true treasure!” added Joan Baez. “Going to make a qualitative difference in music in America,” Pete Seeger, joined in, shortly before his death. (See Common Ground’s front cover tribute, March, 2014.)

Blood had edited Seeger’s autobiography, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir, and Seeger was instrumental in the song selection and publication of both songbooks. In fact, he claimed the introduction he wrote in Rise Up Singing was the best, most widely read composition he ever wrote and he included it in the popular film-bio, Power of Song. However, it is his preface to Rise Again that really resonates in Seeger’s remarkable legacy and best endorses the songbooks:

“Why is singing good for the planet? Nobody can put it in words. But if there is a human race here in a hundred years, my guess is that one of the main reasons will be we found ways we can sing together – different religions, different languages. The act of singing together makes us realize we’re human beings – we can’t put it in words. And to a certain extent all the arts are important that way – the dancing arts, the cooking arts, the humour arts.

“But the older I get, the more I’m convinced that, if there’s a human race here, singing will be one of the main reasons why. Singing together, not solo singing. Singing together. Families can sing together and strangers can sing together. People who think they hate each other can sing together. And perhaps if we find the right songs, people so filled with hate they carry a gun with them – we can reach them too. Who knows?”

Rise Again (pub. Hal Leonard) also has much more Canadian content, extending beyond Lightfoot and Buffy Sainte-Marie, as well as about 50 songs on subjects from Laura Secord to Louis Riel and contemporary, semi-obscure compositions of James Keelaghan, Ron Hynes and others. For more information, search Rise up Songbook.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.


Music Notes

Mark Hellman with guitar
photo by Peter Pokorny

Pete Seeger remembered

November 4-14
Firehall Arts Centre

To fully experience the life and music of Pete Seeger, don’t miss Mark Hellman’s (pictured) highly recommended, powerful one-man performance, The Incompleat Folksinger. For ticket info, visit

Pope Francis’ Pop-Rock Album

And if you still don’t believe in the power of music, check out “rock star” Pope Francis’ prog-rock debut album Wake Up! (November 27 release). A review and sample audio track of Wake Up! Go! Go! Forward!, are featured in the September issue of Rolling Stone. Google: Pope Francis’ Pop-Rock Album.

Taking back the country – with song

Bill Henderson plays on…

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

Photo by May Henderson.
Photo by May Henderson.

• Bill Henderson has placed his fingers on Canada’s pulse, felt the heartbeat and found its voice. With his song, Take Back This Land, which he co-wrote with his wife May, he has struck a deep, but somewhat dormant, nerve and a chord that runs coast to coast.

As we ramp up to one of the longest, costliest, most complicated and significant elections in our country’s history, the song has gone viral. It is also being cited as the “2015 election anthem,” “earworm” and “rallying cry to vote.” Listen at

Speaking with Common Ground about the song’s inspiration and evolution, he explained, “I feel like Canada wrote it and it belongs to the country… I kept hearing people say, ‘We’ve got to take back this country.’ It’s in the air, everywhere. Canadians want their democracy back, freedom of speech, learning to work together, our positive role in the world – the heart and soul of this country that’s been dismantled in a decade of radical conservatism.

“The melody began to emerge and fall into place over a few months. May also understood what the song was trying to be and kept it from becoming too aggressive. I didn’t want to write yet another angry song and point fingers, but instead wanted to wake people up, to remember what this country was and can be again, something to sing with pride, be comfortable with, no matter who they may be voting for. And that’s the key message: vote! It’s our opportunity to ‘take back this county’ We can do it.”

He also shared with Common Ground some thoughts expressed by a couple of well-known fellow Salt Spring Island residents. Veteran singer-songwriter Valdy said, “Bad governments are elected by people who don’t vote.” And his MP, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, noted, “Democracy is too important to be left to the politicians.”

Henderson is front-man and principal songwriter for the band Chilliwack, who were according to Rolling Stone, “at their best, the finest Canadian rock band…” The group created some of the most enduring songs of the 70s and early 80s and released 11 albums – four went platinum – and 19 Canadian singles. See He has also earned music awards, too numerous to list here.

“Over the years I’ve learned how to find and write hooks and a catchy hit song and I wanted to use my chops to help further a worthwhile cause, raising awareness that we have to re-learn how to work together, especially in the House of Commons,” Henderson notes.

The day after Stephen Harper dropped the election writ, Henderson responded by “leaking” a live, acoustic version of the song on YouTube. “I hope it goes far and wide and buskers and rock stars play the song and toddlers and grandparents sing it and dance it,” he wrote, encouraging everyone to “Sing it out!!!”

He then got Chilliwack together with legendary producer Bob Rock in Bryan Adam’s studio and enlisted his daughters and granddaughter – Saffron, Camille and Ruby – to sing backup, producing the version viewed by thousands. The band performed it live for 100,000+ fired-up people at a Vancouver Fireworks show and now includes it in tours across the country. “I don’t say much to introduce it and then watch as the audience looks around reluctantly before deciding the song is something they can really get into and get behind, before joining in. It’s working.”

When he was appointed as Member of the Order of Canada – our highest civilian honour – earlier this year, Henderson said it was “overwhelming.” And the response from people who helped him earn the prestigious award made him “laugh and cry.” It also made him pause and reflect on our country’s long-standing, but endangered, values and what it really means to be Canadian. The O.C. was awarded, not only for his outstanding musical achievement, but also for his dedication to community and service to the nation, recognition of his contribution to songwriting as well as his work advocating copyright. Henderson has served as president of the Songwriters Association of Canada (SOCAN) and director of the Canadian Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS).

“I’ve spent many hours travelling back and forth to Ottawa, meeting with cabinet ministers, MPs and civil servants and representatives of the music industry. I came to the conclusion that authorship – like so many other things – is a human right,” Henderson says.

By definition, Take Back This Land is grassroots, being broadcast by social media. Henderson has also produced a fully mastered audio version available for streaming and download at He is teaching the song to the likes of the Raging Grannies and buskers and working with a dance/synth/hip-hop producer on a remix and a country artist on yet another version. Musicians from across Canada are recording their versions of the song to share, to be edited into a cross-country compilation.

All in all, Take Back This Land and myriad other songs in many music genres are providing healthy colour and creativity to the election. Complete lyrics and chords are posted at


Harper faces the music

Steven Harper has been very good to Canadian music and songwriting. It wasn’t deliberate although the PM is well aware and uses the power of music to manipulate very effectively. During the culture war he sparked during the 2008 election, he rationalized the $45-million in funding cuts to the arts by saying, “Ordinary people don’t care about funding the arts.” He is wrong and the proof is in the pudding; an inestimable number of citizens are currently sharing a whole lot of homemade, anti-Harper compositions on social media. And they keep pouring in.

One song that has made a big splash in corporate media, with waves that continue to ripple across Canada, is Harperman, written by Environment Canada scientist Tony Turner, who is also a well-known Ottawa folksinger. A public servant for 19 years, Turner was placed on leave – 30 days away from retirement – pending an ethics investigation for the song. As a result, Harperman trended on Twitter and is attracting tens of thousands of plays on YouTube, with more versions being posted and a sing-along planned for a massive anti-Harper rally on Parliament Hill on September 17. The chorus ends with “Harperman, it’s time for you to go.” See

The Winnipeg chapter of the Council of Canadians listed the top five anti-Harper compositions, stating, “Famous for butchering Beatles tunes and destroying Canada, Stephen Harper has also inspired many others to make music. From prorogations to omnibus bills, this Prime Minister’s list of wrongdoings has been a vast pit of inspiration for creative Canadians. As Harper’s popularity drops, his critics are ramping up the revolt leading to the next federal election.” And that’s just the tip of one rare iceberg that’s growing as fast as most are melting. (See Click on Blog and type in Stephen Harper Protest Songs in the search bar.)

On the B-side is the PM’s own music complete with video. (Go to Click on the search icon on the top right. Type in Rock Covers Stephen Harper Has Ruined.)

The PM garnered significant positive coverage by covering With a Little Help From My Friends alongside famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and serenading his caucus and corporate media reporters, including his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu. Carleton University lecturer John Higney explored our PM’s use of music in his paper, Mixing Pop and Politics: Stephen Harper’s Musical Amateurism as Personal Branding. Central to the appeal is what Higney calls a “feigned amateurism,” obscuring the years of practice and patience for a public performance. “What you want to do is show you can demonstrate your knowledge – but don’t overdo it. It speaks to the idea of humility.” Higney explains how Harper short-circuits cynicism with emotion; there’s nothing like a well-timed sing-along to manipulate voters when their guards are down. “There’s something spectacular about it because politicians are often seen as somewhat stolid,” Higney adds. “Music is a powerful emotional shorthand that gives him [Harper] the opportunity to present a kind of interior life, something of a spectacle, like a cat standing on its hind legs.”

That aptly describes the ever-controlling Harper. Everything is strategy. But unwittingly, like Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Jones” or John Lennon’s “Nowhere Man,” Steve doesn’t really get it while ‘ordinary people’ delight in the inspired, healthy, anti-Harper musical legacy.

Slow Music & the Summer of Transformation

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

the big tent and crowd
The big tent at Atmosphere Gathering

• Hope you’ve had one or two transformative musical moments during this far-from-finished summer. One such moment occurred under the canopy of trees at stage 3 at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival when hundreds of highly appreciative fans soaked up the sight and sounds of Rising Appalachia (as in throw an apple at ‘cha) and lined up afterwards in droves for autographed CDs and a few words.

“We’re trying to take the glitz and glam out of the music industry and bring performance back to its roots…where musicians influence the cultural shift as troubadours, activists and catalysts of justice and aren’t just part of fast-paced entertainment,” the group’s soulful sisters Leah and Chloe Smith told me back-stage.

Their Slow Music movement – inspired by the Slow Food movement – encourages musicians to try ‘non-industry methods,’ linking to communities, staying with friends, pursuing alternative venues, supporting local businesses and non-profits, exploring transportation alternatives – including train, bike, low-impact vehicles, boats, horses – focusing on regional touring and encouraging audiences to take in “more than just the catharsis of the music.”

The sisters are genuinely excited about performing August 14th at a Vancouver Folk Music Festival concert at the Fox Cabaret, and at the Atmosphere Gathering in Cumberland August 14 – 16. The event features a 1,000-person circus tent imported from Europe, a one-of-of-a-kind in Western Canada, partially funded through Project Intent, a localized community crowdfunding platform in the Comox Valley.

A revitalized, re-imagined song from their repertoire, Cumberland Gap, helps connects dots. Appalachia is the cradle of American music and the site of many uprisings. The narrow pass through the Cumberland Mountains at the junction of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee shares its namesake with the Vancouver Island community and Cumberland in the UK where the song, among countless versions and various genres, was a #1 hit for Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle group in 1957.

Originally named Union after its coal company and BC’s entry into Canada, Cumberland, BC, contained the second largest Chinatown in Western North America. Many old company houses and structures are still intact. Like much of the world, it has risen from the ashes of coal, in uprisings and in celebrations such as its premier electronic and live dance music festival – an “exciting, multi-sensory extravaganza.” (

Another festival that embodies the transformational is the Blessed Coast Ceremonial Celebration in Squamish, BC (August 21 -24). It also features three days of live fundraising music, mixed in with organic food, yoga, workshops and emergent and evolving culture – traditional, indigenous and post-modern inventiveness. (

A shift in global consciousness? As David Suzuki notes in “Science Matters” in this issue, “Although we may not recognize its significance without the benefit of hindsight, we appear to be in the early stages of something huge.”

On tour last month, Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes, Young, fame) in his only Canadian appearance (Vancouver Island Music Fest, Comox Valley) said, “If everyone who’s told me they were at Woodstock had been actually there, the audience would have totalled many more millions.”

If you missed the “Summer of Love,” for whatever reason, take part in the “Summer of Transformation,” as diverse as the palpable change now taking place, complete with a live, festival soundtrack.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.


photo courtesy Atmosphere Gathering

Sounds of hope and active community

Leah and Chloe Smith from Rising Appalachia

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

Leah and Chloe Smith from Rising Appalachia
Leah and Chloe Smith from Rising Appalachia. Look for them at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and at Atmosphere Gathering in Cumberland, BC.

• One of the most interesting, promising quotes I’ve been unable to shake this year is from Leah and Chloe Smith, two 20-something sisters who front Rising Appalachia. “We are building community and tackling social injustice through melody – making the stage reach out with octopus arms to gather a great family.”

Blending and brandishing the power of pure harmony in an eclectic mix of hip hop, soul, world-infused folk and more, they’re sharing the message of the urgent need for massive change. Their mission, as they note, is “to help the environment, change the ‘mal-distribution’ of wealth and to simply make the world better.”

Rising Appalachia has toured Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, the Indian subcontinent and the US while fiercely maintaining their autonomy and independence; they create, self-manage, record, produce and direct their own work.

Rising Appalachia touches down at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 17-19) and at Atmosphere Gathering in Cumberland in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island (August 14-16). See

It isn’t likely Rising Appalachia will want to leave Cumberland, the epitome of their kind of place, given the folks who have chosen gather there. It’s a funky, growing village of assorted good ol’ boys, creative entrepreneurs, herbalists, mountain bikers and young families. Like many of the village’s residents, Rising Appalachia was raised on local folk, rock and timeless lullabies, nurtured and inspired by travel and ideas – now blossoming and bearing fruit – in the international community.

Also in the lineup – handpicked to create an “exciting, multi-sensory extravaganza” –are Nahko and Medicine for the People, David Starfire, the Fort Knox Five, Kaminanda, Plantrae and Humans, alongside an impressive roster of last year’s favourites.

“The lineup reflects our commitment to nurturing local talent alongside the presentation of world-class acts,” says Vig Schulman of Cumberland Village Works, which is putting on the event with Little Island Productions. “We’ll be creating an incredibly unique and vibrant energy.” Other diverse, family-friendly attractions include local organic food, yoga, workshops, camping and a nearby glacier-fed lake.

Sound good? Well, yet another festival that caught our attention is the aptly named Blessed Coast Ceremonial Celebration in Squamish, BC (August 21 -24). This event features three days of live music, again mixed with local organic food, yoga, workshops and camping. Organizers say the event is “born from a seed of intention to nurture the emergent culture of our evolving community ecosystem [and to] showcase local art, teachings, talent, food and goods to deepen our relationship to the land, working with indigenous elders and wisdom-keepers to co-create a ceremonial space for human evolution.”

Also offered is a full schedule of yoga and workshops with a local focus, an optional locally-sourced, organic meal plan, an Open-Source Marketplace and a team of facilitators to lead children through an optional co-creative journey over the length of the festival. Visit

Our Earth and her inhabitants are at a tipping point and a turning point. We invite you to witness, celebrate and participate in the events showcased in this article. We’ll have more next month.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our

The ultimate musical summer

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

It’s here. Let’s get started; is your link to the 2015 Ultimate Summer Festival Guide. This amazing, free resource connects you to 348 music and arts festivals and events all over BC, with lots in Alberta and Washington and some in Manitoba, Yukon and NWT. You’ll find street fests, art walks, concerts in parks, multi-venue five-day camp-outs, stages in barns, backyards and outdoor amphitheatres. Offerings include un-crowded to jam-packed and slick to impromptu.

It’s searchable by date, festival name or region. You will find, for example – right here, right now – the next festival nearest you. And for musicians, as well as music fans, there are venues you can select and conduct your very own tour. The site also points you to a location where you can pick up a take-anywhere, flippable, functional hard-copy of the seventh edition, with a map in the middle.

The 2015 Ultimate Summer Festival Guide is a labour of love and work in progress from the folks at BC Musician magazine, self described as “a bunch of music lovers who also love the smell of ink on paper…” and who “play and work in the digital world and really appreciate the opportunity to sit back, unplug, kick back and get away from the screen from time to time.” Thinking there might be others out there like them, they ask the silly question, “Are you one?”

Leanne Nash is the publisher, Sarah Fahey the “editor/everything else.” Finishing her third year at the helm of the ambitious undertaking, Fahey says, “We are building the big picture; there is ebb and flow, a life and a death to the number of festivals each year. A number either die out or more likely morph into another creative project and each year brand new pups arrive. This guide encompasses new to seasoned 30 and 40-year-strong festivals.” Fahey notes some new trends and additions, including the growing number of multi-themed festivals, film and long-board festivals, record fairs and food fests, particularly for garlic and especially at harvest time.

Look for bees on the cover. And who doesn’t love to see bees, humming their endangered way through all the bad news these days, never mind all the nectar on the inside pages? Take a tip from the honeybee, which can fly at a speed of 15 mph, and stay close to home.

Cover artwork by Milan Basic was inspired by a mural the artist created at ArtsWells 2014, which doubled as a sound buffer and amplified the acoustics on the outdoor stage at the end of the elementary school field. The Artswells Festival of All Things Art: Expect the Unexpected! in Wells, BC and nearby Barkerville (July 31-August 3) features 300 artists and performers on a dozen stages, music alongside visual art, theatre film, literary and interdisciplinary events-, lots of workshops and kid’s activities. (See the lineup at

The 1930s mining town and 1860s Gold Rush community are the actual festival sites and events are hosted in historic buildings as well as on the streets. Wells (Pop. 200-250) grows 10-fold for the four days.

“It started 10 years ago with a few people on lawn chairs,” recalls founder Julie Fowler, executive director of Island Mountain Arts, the year-round organization responsible for the event, reputed to be BC’s largest and best new indie arts festival.

“We strive for diversity and feature emerging talent; it took a few years for the ticket audience to outnumber the artists. Nearby natural attractions and the residents themselves are part of the experience,” she adds, noting that many people, including artists, return to ArtsWells every year.

Over two decades, the Vancouver Island MusicFest (July 10-12) has grown into a major component of the culture and economy of the Comox Valley. Close proximity to an airport helps make appearances of the likes of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Buddy Guy, Steeleye Span and Graham Nash, possible. But it is more than 1,000 keen volunteers that keep folks coming back; there are crews responsible for ambiance and performer massages as well as increasingly important Green initiatives, healthy food and Kid’s Zones.

The major role of festivals in building communities was recognized last month in BC’s largest city when UBC conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws – honoris causa – on Gary Cristall, co-founder of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 17-19) and artistic director for its first 17 years.

Stepping into the big Birkenstocks of the good doctor, since 2008, Linda Tanaka has put her stamp on one of the best festivals in the world by programming some of the world’s best music, performed in constant orbit on myriad stages. In an interview with the VFMF artistic director, she put her finger on the pulse of festivals in our region, with just one word: “discovery.”

“After travelling to places such as Spain and Australia and talking to organizers, audiences and musicians for a year, I’m excited as we put final touches to workshops, to emphasize diversity and encourage spontaneity,” she reported.

One of the best features of the 2015 festival season is the rise of websites to provide pre-event background, right down to video. It’s highly entertaining and informative to wander and discover what’s in store at Jericho this year. While online, consider taking out a subscription to BC Musician magazine. “Your support would be huge for us. Really, really huge,” magazine contributors say. Same for festivals.

Discover more music – keep it alive and live.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.