Review: Be Your Own Light

… There’s no doubt about it
there’s no doubt about it
there’s no doubt about it
you’ve got to be your own light …

The 2017 edition of Edmonton’s Winter Roots Roundup concluded with an encore featuring Linda McRae‘s “Be Your Own Light” at the Northern Lights Folk Club. Joining McRae on the stage for the encore and throughout the night offering their own voices, stories and songs were Dana Wylie (also the host of the evening) and Shawna Caspi. Caspi also played a short set the previous night at the New Moon Folk Club, before Catherine MacLellan (accompanied by Tim Leacock) took the stage for two sets of her own.

The conviction of McRae’s final song epitomized the whole weekend of women and song, and reminded me of how women, in particular, had to shine their own light. As Wylie pointed out women are often erased from historical stories. For an example Wylie used our lack of collective remembrance about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (an active member of the I.W.W. and a founding member of the ACLU) after Caspi had sung Joe Hill’s “The Rebel Girl” which was written inspired by Flynn. Flynn fought for women’s rights, in an incredibly vocal way. How could such a significant figure disappear from our consciousness?

The Folkways catalogue includes more than protest songs, and so did the evening at the Northern Lights Folk Club, which began with Wylie’s own “Hallelujah Leonard Cohen Hallelujah”. While not from the Folkways catalogue McRae’s song “Singing River” could easily have been. Through the song McRae told the story of Te-lah-ney a Yuchi woman who spent 5 years walking from Oklahoma back to her birthplace in Alabama (to hear the songs of the Tennessee River) following the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Wylie dipped into the Canadiana portion of the Folkways collection leading us in an a capella version of “A Poor Lone Girl in Saskatchewan” originally sung by Anne Halderman; and by the song’s conclusion had us, much to our delight, shouting out the ending rhymes of Yellowknife and Bering Strait.

Aligning more with the protest and labour songs in the Folkways catalogue, Caspi’s “Not So Silent” brought forth the voices of crowds at both the Northern Lights and New Moon Folk Clubs. While MacLellan mixed her own songs like “The Long Way Home” and “The Raven’s Sun” with covers of her father’s work such as “Snowbird”, to tell us tales of homesickness, heartsickness and love. The genuineness of MacLellan’s songs shone through and like in McRae’s song MacLellan was definitely being her own light.

These four musicians shared songs that have shaped and reflected their understanding of the world. As McRae’s “Be Your Own Light” says:
… go out and make some noise when you find you’ve got no choice
put down your toys the world needs your voice
and it sure could use your light …

These women certainly have heeded McRae’s call and shared their voices and their light.

The Northern Lights Folk Club’s next show is a double bill with Karen Savoca & Pete Heitzman and the Shari Ulrich Trio on February 18th, while the New Moon Folk Club is back on February 24th with the Slocan Ramblers. Please see the folk club’s individual websites for more ticket details.

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