‘A shock to the senses’

You’d expect big-time rock stars to want champagne on ice or other indulgences waiting for them in their rooms after a big concert.

When the performers are Indigenous, however, their needs might be a little more modest.

“We had to get a toaster last year and make sure that it was in the room for one of the elders,” Stacey Howse said with a laugh. “There’s just so much behind the scenes that people don’t see, and so many people that are a part of the success.”

Howse, executive director of the First Light friendship centre in St. John’s, and co-organizer Sharon Harvey unveiled the lineup Wednesday, Oct. 26, for this year’s Spirit Song Festival, happening Nov. 20-26 at various venues around town.

With five performance venues, more than 20 musical and dance acts, comedy, film, art exhibits, demonstrating artists and more, it has become the biggest celebration of Indigenous arts and culture in Atlantic Canada.

The lineup this year is a mix of local and international talent. Musical acts include Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Logan Statts, Deantha Edmunds, Alan Syliboy and the Thundermakers, Eastern Owl, Maggie Paul and Immali.

Dance performers include Notorious Cree, Native Pride Dancers, Sarah Prosper and Jeanette Kotowich.

For art lovers, there’s “Heart of the Root” at the Emera Innovation Centre, a digital exhibition of five Indigenous artists from Newfoundland and Labrador, curated by Meagan Musseau.

There’s also a new documentary about the festival itself, which will be screened during a film night at The Rooms.

“It’s going to start on Sunday and end on Saturday with an amazing dance party that’s going to be a shock to the senses,” said Harvey.

When the first festival was held in 2013, it was basically a fundraiser with local artists only. Howse said the executive director at the time would only allow it if it at least broke even, and they had to charge admission to events.

“I think we came in at, like, 13 cents that year,” she said.

Since then, they’ve garnered several sponsors and community partners, and all the events are free.

The biggest funding source for the past eight years has been Heritage Canada.

Howse said the best part of the festival is that it not only transcends cultural boundaries, but allows a broader sharing of knowledge and technique both for participants and audiences.

Workshops are a key element, she said.

“One of the most beautiful things about Spirit Song Festival is that we are building capacity within our own community,” she said. “And so even though we started out locally with local artists, we’ve expanded beyond and are now bringing in artists internationally, and we are providing opportunities for knowledge-sharing.”

Other sponsors for the festival include the Canada Council for the Arts, Coast 101.1, the Government of Canada, ArtsNL, Alt Hotel, the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre, the National Arts Centre, RBC, WaterWerks Agency, Neighbourhood Dance Works, The Rooms, Eastern Edge Gallery and Lawnya Vawnya.

Tickets are available Nov. 4.

More information is available online at spiritsongfestival.ca.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram