Protest music fuels festival

MacIsaac honoured to help open CMHR

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After years of anticipation, the grand opening weekend for Canada's newest national museum is finally upon us.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/09/2014 (3064 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After years of anticipation, the grand opening weekend for Canada’s newest national museum is finally upon us.

RightsFest, a two-day festival celebrating the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, runs Saturday and Sunday. The event will be anchored by a free outdoor concert, dubbed The Canadian Concert for Human Rights, on Saturday night.

Curated in partnership with Winnipeg Folk Festival artistic director Chris Frayer, the concert will feature such Canadian music luminaries as folk singer/songwriters Bruce Cockburn and Buffy Sainte-Marie, First Nations electronic act A Tribe Called Red, Quebecoise pop chanteuse Marie-Pierre Arthur, hip-hop artist Shad and East Coast fiddler Ashley MacIsaac. The event will be televised live on Rogers stations Omni and City and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

More than 25 daytime performances by local and national acts — representing the breadth of Canada’s music scene in terms of both background and genre — and activities at multiple outdoor locations around The Forks are scheduled over the weekend.

For MacIsaac, participating in the event is an honour.

“Over the past years, all sort of things have been said about the museum and I was aware of the controversies around cost and location,” says the multiple Juno winner, who is also no stranger to controversy, over the phone. “As with anything of this scale, there’s always controversy. I thought about it and said, ‘Yes, I’d like to be a part of this.’ I’m just as honoured to play this event as I was to perform at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It’s a Canadian honour to be asked to play this show. And it’s an amazing group of musicians to be a part of.”

Indeed, the calibre of musical talent to see on the mainstage and the daytime stages is impressive. And every artist performing is passionate about human rights.

“I think they asked me (to perform) because I’m gay,” MacIsaac says with a laugh. “I’ve been fairly vocal about gay marriage and other gay rights issues. I came out at a very young age, when it was less accepted to be out. I’ve always felt that I had a platform as a musician, and I definitely give my two cents about things.”

To be sure, MacIsaac, 39, is not the type to “shut up and sing.” As Winnipeg recently saw with Neil Young’s Honour the Treaties tour, which raised money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal fight against the expansion of the Athabasca oilsands, many people have many opinions about whether or not artists should use their microphones for political reasons. As far as MacIsaac is concerned, there’s no debate.

“Anyone who has a platform — be it a musician or an influential businessperson in a small town — whenever the opportunity comes to say what you have to say, and you feel what you have to say is important, you should say it.”

From Woody Guthrie’s protest songs that rose out of the Dust Bowl to the early-’90s riot grrrl movement, music as long been a conduit for activism and social change. Music is a powerful, galvanizing force. A concert for human rights, to MacIsaac’s mind, is a no-brainer.

“Music, sculpting, painting, writing — it’s one of the easiest ways to express freedom,” he says. “And you see that everywhere in the world. There’s always a need for art. I believe there are more beneficial outcomes from art than not. There’s always a need for art.”

Of course, RightsFest isn’t just a music festival. Chandra Erlendson, manager of public programs and programming operations, also notes that Winnipeg’s top arts organizations — including the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Manitoba Opera and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra — have created human-rights themed programming for RightsFest. On Sunday night, the RWB — backed by the WSO — will perform an excerpt of its world première Going Home Star — Truth and Reconciliation, which opens Oct. 1. Manitoba Opera, meanwhile, will perform Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco.

“It’s a beautiful program to celebrate the connection between art and human rights,” Erlendson says.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

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Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.

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