Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Edge of the World Music Festival - Haida Gwaii

If you haven't heard of Haida Gwaii (Islands of the People) don't fret, you're not the only one. Few visitors trod these storied shores as it turns out, that is, until the last 50 years. I feel very blessed to have been able to walk the beaches and rain forests of this amazing place.

In order to better acquaint myself with the island and the community I found some volunteering positions to take on when I arrived. My first stop was the Edge of the World Music Festival in Tlell, where I found a magical community centered around music and dance. Then I'd spend a few days on an organic Farm helping tear down fence and cut back raspberry plants.

In exchange for admission to the weekend festy, meals and a place to park my van I would volunteer for roughly 24 hours over a 5 day period. Working on random things like hanging lights to the pit toilets, climbing trees to hang signs, setting up tents and so on...generally in the company of a few other volunteers.

It just so happened that during my 6 hour ferry ride across the Hecate Straight from Prince Rupert I met Lissy, the grounds volunteer coordinator for the festival. Lissy was a 50 something social worker on a sabbatical looking to find some peace and required a ride to Tlell fairgrounds where the festy was taking place. As a dear friend told's customary that you pick up hitch-hikers when driving a I did.

We arrived on location to find a Cirque du Soleil style stage tent...only MUCH smaller and instead of seats there were huge plank boards on cedar stumps - rustic. There was a vibrant community of people pulling the site together. I was drawn to a silver haired man in blue aviators and beard, much like Gandulf the White, working on some complicated electronics set up.

As I pulled into the lot I sarcastically called out to this fantastic character..."I have no idea where I am." To which his head spun while simultaneously belting out a guttural laugh that still defines Chris when I think of him. So full, so rich, it would start at the knees and force itself out through his broad smile nearly 24 hours a day. Chris was a happy man.

The fairgrounds roughly covered a NY city block and was politely laid out with pit toilets in each corner, stage in the middle and vendors lining the remaining border. In all, about 20 tents were set up including the childrens tent which was abuzz all weekend with crafts and such managed by the Goliath of creativity, Donnette.

People really made this event special. Betty, George, Elizabeth, Keith, Chris, Lissy, Rolly, Genie and Donnette were awesome hosts. The music, led by Pepe Danza, the flamenco sounds of Tambura Rosa, and the political rasta beats of MomaGuroove had me sore every day from dancing. Somehow I had time for song writing workshops, crafts classes and story telling...what a great weekend.

There is much more I wish to say about this weekend, but will do so in the appropriate medium...a story. From here I am off to help on the farm and then for some adventure into the magical Gwaii Haanas National Park.