Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival celebrates community
We all know that live music can unite—and even create—a community like nothing else, bringing people together in happy and sometimes healing shared experiences.
It’s certainly provided a glue and balm over many decades for residents of Vancouver’s original entertainment district along East Hastings Street. So it’s no surprise this year’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, which runs to November 4, is full of music of all colours and stripes.
Much of it is free, including all the offerings from the Carnegie Jazz Band, a group of local musicians that has indoor and outdoor variants, and stellar guests. “I took over leading the band about five years ago as a way of giving back to the community,” says multi-instrumentalist and composer Brad Muirhead, one of the pillars of Vancouver’s jazz scene. “This year we’ll be doing two things—one playing as a parade band, the other performing the second set of the big concert, which opens with Dal Richards’ six-piece band. Hopefully, there’s going to be some crossover, sitting in between the two outfits.”
For the concert the CJB will be playing songs of Louis Armstrong for blues and jazz vocalist Dalannah Gail Bowen, and also feature trombonist and bandleader Hugh Fraser, adding up to some 16 musicians, according to Muirhead. “I usually bring in one pro player for the horn section. And there’s James Dekker, a 16-year-old tenor-sax prodigy I’m bringing in for the educational experience. Not everyone from the jazz band will be able to go on the street, or at least certain instruments shouldn’t unless it’s dry. We have a couple of violins, a guitar, and an upright bass in the CJB—so I play the bass lines on a sousaphone. It’s like a New Orleans street band.
“We’ll be parading from Oppenheimer Park to Gallery Gachet on Friday afternoon [October 26] and also doing little strolling things around the neighbourhood on several days. It won’t be hard to find us—we’re loud.”
Among the festival’s other eclectic musical highlights are a special screening of Bloodied but Unbowed, Susanne Tabata’s documentary about Vancouver’s early punk scene, with a live solo performance and Q & A by Joe Keithley, founder and lead guitarist of the notorious D.O.A. (on Saturday [October 27] at the Carnegie Theatre); a Barrio Flamenco evening (on Friday [October 26] at the Carnegie); the Wayne Lavallée Band’s fusion of acoustic folk-rock and Cree chanting (on Sunday [October 28] at the Interurban Gallery); and a concert, supper, and community dance at Ukrainian Hall on November 4, featuring the Barvinok Choir and Axe Capoeira’s Brazilian martial-art dances and percussion, as well as gamelan music, bagpipes, and Ukrainian singing.
For those of literary bent, Dream of Words is an afternoon concert with Chinese Canadian writer and Vancouver poet laureate Evelyn Lau, poet and historian Jim Wong-Chu, and the core artists of Silk Road Music in the lovely setting of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden on Sunday (October 28).
“Both writers have a great reputation, and they’ll be reading from their works while we provide interludes of traditional music and song,” says Qiu Xia He, who plays the pipa, a tear-shaped lute, in Silk Road Music, with husband André Thibault on acoustic guitar. “I’ve worked before with Jim Wong-Chu’s writers’ workshop in Chinatown, and I’ve performed with many authors in the community, including Wayson Choy and Paul Yee, but not yet with Evelyn.”
Though, like Muirhead, not a DTES resident, He has often played in the neighbourhood since arriving here from China some 20 years ago, and has been part of earlier festival editions. “One of the top things I really like about Heart of the City is that they put the music into places that aren’t regular venues, like schools and community centres. It’s a strange thing for us to play in such settings, and to a different audience from what we’re used to. In Strathcona there are a lot of older Chinese immigrants, and it’s so great when we’re able to sing a song that people recognize from long ago.”
In other words, the musicians of the DTES are helping the heart of our city beat louder.