For Gary Bailie, light and art are strongly connected. The lead organizer of the Blue Feather Music Festival, happening this Friday and Saturday at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse, has been doing stage lighting for almost half of his life. He’s worked at “all the festivals,” Dawson City, Elsa, Frostbite.
“I see it as an art form and it’s something I pursue,” he said.
Despite the long hours – light technicians are the first to come to a show and the last to leave, he said – he believes that art can help save lives.
That’s the inspiration behind the theme of this year’s festival, “Keeper of the flame.”
“Keeper of the flame essentially is keeping your creative fire burning, right, and basically keeping your spirit alive,” said Bailie. The artwork for this year’s event shows an eagle with wings outspread, protecting the heart. In the middle of the heart is a blue feather.
“And the blue feather is actually a symbol of hope,” he said.
For youth especially, art can help protect hope, he says.
It has for him.
Bailie is a member of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. Over the past few months, he’s heard of a handful of young people from different First Nations who have committed suicide, he said.
The stories aren’t uncommon – suicide rates among aboriginal youth are high across the country, especially in northern communities, he said.
“Everybody knows somebody, but nobody ever wants to talk about it,” he said.
Bailie understands the hesitation. The questions raised when a young person dies are particularly troubling.
“I always asked myself the question, ‘What’s wrong with our world that young people don’t want to be here?’” he said.
But, at least for him, keeping silent isn’t an option. While now in its twelfth year, the Blue Feather Music Festival was never intended to be a festival. It began as a one-time event, a celebration of life for Jolie Angelina McNabb, his former common-law partner and mother of his daughter. McNabb committed suicide while in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.
After her death, Bailie took her body back to Saskatchewan where she was born. McNabb was Cree, a member of the Peepeekisis First Nation. An elder gave her the name Blue Feather Eagle Woman.
“When I started speaking about it, it was hard for me. But every time I spoke about it, I got stronger and it came out a little better. I just knew that it has to be addressed. Nothing in this world ever changes unless people tackle it.”
Despite the festival’s origins, it is an event focused on life, says Bailie. There’s a traditional meal before each show. Each night begins with dancing. The Inland Children Dancers take the stage Friday night and the DakhkÃ¡ KhwÃ¡an Dancers perform on Saturday.
Sierra Noble, a Metis singer-songwriter and fiddle player from Winnipeg, will headline Friday night. George Leach, an actor and guitarist from the Sta’atl’imx Nation in British Columbia, will headline Saturday evening.
Shun Dun from Pelly Crossing will join Jerry Alfred on Friday night. Whitehorse’s Common Knowledge also hits the stage that evening.
On Saturday, Burwash Landing’s Diyet will perform as will Whitehorse band Say No More. That evening also includes a reunion from the Whitehorse band, The Project.
Bailie has watched several performers develop while playing the festival, he said. And working with youth has always been a part of the event. This year will be no exception.
Whitehorse’s Madison Dixon takes the stage for a second year in a row Friday evening. The thirteen-year-old will perform by herself and with her band, Solid Fuel. Her dad, uncle and cousin have all played the festival, she said.
Being part of the festival has taught her a lot about stage presence and performing, said the Grade 9 student from Vanier Catholic Secondary School. “I love it. I love the big stage and all the people,” she said.
Friday night will also include a tribute to Joy Allison, who died this summer. Friday would have been her 21st birthday. Sierra Noble will play Warrior’s Lament for Allison, a piece Noble performed at Vimy Ridge.
“We sort of look at our youth, they’re like our soldiers. We’re like their captains and their generals, and it’s our responsibility to teach them and protect them and lead them,” said Bailie.
If Dixon’s enthusiasm is any indication, the festival is doing that well.
Dixon, who has been taking guitar lessons since she was four, hopes to one day play music full-time. “That’s all I ever want to do,” she said.
Tickets for the festival can be purchased at Arts Underground and the Yukon Arts Centre. Weekend passes are $50. Adult tickets are $30. Tickets for students and elders are $20. Children tickets are $10. Doors open at 6 p.m. The meal begins at 6:30 and the show starts at 7:30.
Contact Meagan Gillmore at