What's In Your Fridge: Terry Hunter of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival

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      What’s In Your Fridge is where the Straight asks interesting Vancouverites about their life-changing concerts, favourite albums, and, most importantly, what’s sitting beside the Heinz ketchup in their custom-made Big Chill Retropolitan 20.6-cubic-foot refrigerators.

      On the grill

      Terry Hunter

      Who are you

      My name is Terry Hunter. I also carry the name Nang Gulgaa, which in Haida means Industrious One. I am the co-founder of Vancouver Moving Theatre (1983 to present) and co-founder and executive producer of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival (2004 to present). I was born and raised in the B.C. interior city of Nelson in the early ’50s to Saskachewan-born parents Don and Mary. I grew up in a home that lived and loved big-band jazz. In my early 20s, my dad offered me his optometry business, but I declined this secure path as I had this crazy desire to be an artist.

      My wild life and artistic journey led my partner Savannah and I, along with Karen Jamieson, to establish in 1978 the experimental groundbreaking Terminal City Dance studio in Chinatown in the Lim Sai Kow Mock Association clan building on Carrall Street. Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside have been my heart and home ever since. I had no idea when I moved into this community the profound effect this extraordinary community would have on my life.

      And that 27 years after moving into the community, I would co-found the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, which this year features over 1,000 artists at 150 events at over 50 locations throughout the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown, Oppenheimer Park and Strathcona neighbourhoods. Or that 50 years later I would be adopted into the St’llangng Laanas Clan of the Haida Nation in recognition of work I have been doing with the Indigenous community in the Downtown Eastside.

      My wife Savannah tells me I am fantastic because I will admit when I am wrong.

      First concert

      When I was 17, my parents took me to see the legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald at a hotel-lounge jazz club in North Vancouver. We sat at a table about 20 feet away from Ella, and I was in awe and mesmerized by her style, grace, purity of tone, and improvisational scat singing. I also remember how she had to wipe her brow after each song, as she sweated so heavily from the heat of her fancy dress clothing under the hot stage lights. I realized too, that for all the glamour and stardom, stars like Ella were also ordinary people who sweated and worked hard to realize their work and dreams.

      Life-changing concert

      How little doors can open into large hallowed halls. In 2010, I was asked by the Carnegie Community Centre to organize its 30th anniversary. One of the events was an open house with the Carnegie Jazz Band, led by trombonist, composer, arranger and band leader Brad Muirhead. On the day of the open house, I walked into the jazz band session, and Brad asked me if I played an instrument, to which I said “Yes, the piano.” He told me to sit at the piano and join in, which I did. When I was leaving he said, “See you next week.” Thirteen years later, I am still a member of the Carnegie Jazz Band. And it’s been a thrill and a highlight of my life. Practicing, rehearsing, and playing jazz for me is the equivalent of going to church. And in my church, I had the honour to sit at the piano and play four hands with the late and great trombonist and piano player Hugh Fraser, who taught me the importance of playing jazz with the spirit of joy and playfulness.

      Top three albums

      Leonard Cohen Live in London and Thanks for the Dance  When I was 16, I returned to Nelson to visit my childhood friend Gerry. We got stoned, I for the first time, and we visited a friend who said, “You gotta listen to Leonard Cohen.” He played the song ‘Suzanne’, which I loved. But the rest of Leonard’s songs didn’t do anything for me. Later in life, I started to listen, really listen, to Leonard again. Especially the music he started to do in his 70s, and I fell in love with his music. Played it over and over and over. Two of my favourite albums of his are Live in London, because of the brilliant instrumentation and arrangements, and because Leonard is so attuned and sparkles with the audience; and his last album, Thanks for the Dance, which resonates with lifelong wisdom. Then there is Rufus Wainwrights’s interpretation of “Hallelujah”, which is out of this world. Oh my. Praise the Lord, and pass the songbook.

      Mavis Staples We’ll Never Turn Back This album by Mavis simply knocks my socks off. Mavis’s voice just soars and the instrumentation and arrangements are out of this world. It’s a concept album with a theme relating to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and the musicians pour their heart and soul into their music. It’s roots, blues and gospel all intertwined, and the music comes across as baptismal, live-changing, life-affirming. And the album powerfully states: the struggle goes on and we will never give up.

      Rankin Family North Country This song takes me back to my Scottish roots, and my Maritime roots when my ancestors first came to Prince Edward Island in the 1830s. I get a thrill in my bones when I hear Scottish root music, and this contemporary recording taps into that genetic memory so powerfully. Every song on the album is a jem. My favourite, “Rise Again”, will be on my playlist for my Celebration of Life when I cross the river to the other side. The song powerfully speaks to, as the song’s writer Leon Dubinsky says, “The strength of home given to us by our families, our friends and our music.”

      All-time favourite music video (a.k.a. my favourite movie)

      Babette’s Feast. I wasn’t of the generation that was raised on music videos. I was brought up on movies. My all-time favourite movie is a little-known Oscar-winning jewel of a film called Babette’s Feast (1987), a Danish drama directed by Gabriel Axel. Savannah and I have watched this gentle and life-affirming movie so many times I have lost count. It’s the story of a famous female chef from Paris who flees the French revolution and seeks refuge in a small remote and very religious protestant community in Denmark. At its essence, it’s a story about the art of cuisine and how art can change people and bring life to a community. One of the lines in the movie, after Babette spends her lottery-won fortune on an incredible feast she cooks for the village, is ‘Now you will be poor for the rest of your life”. To which Babette replies: “An artist is never poor.” These words really resonate with me, as that is very much the life path I choose.

      What’s in your fridge

      Anchovies in Oil. I don’t do a lot of cooking around the house because why?: my partner Savannah not only likes to cook, she is an exceptional cook. In exchange, I have become a very good dishwasher. When I do cook, my home run, go-to-meal is Linguine with Anchovies, Garlic and Chili Flakes, passed onto me by Angelo Tosi, owner of the legendary Tosi Italian food retailer on Main Street in Chinatown. If you haven’t been to Tosi’s, GO, while you still have the chance. You will walk back in time to the 1920s: barrels, boxes, and shelves full of all kinds of Italian food products. Sadly, Angelo, now in his 80s and losing his hearing—and still working to this day at the store he inherited from his father—has his unique building up for sale. This last of the early Italian immigrants, and their businesses will soon be gone from our community. Angelo’s recipe he passed onto me will carry his and his store’s memory in my heart. And my belly.

      Peanut Butter. In my home as a child, peanut butter was both a beloved food source and a running gag. My dad loved peanut butter. “Come on over to the house, and let’s make peanut butter sandwiches.” Peanut butter with banana sandwiches. Open-face sandwiches baked with peanut butter with onion! Yes, for real, and very good. When I was 15, our family took our first trip to Chinatown and ate at the legendary Foo’s Ho Ho Chinese Restaurant on Pender at Columbia, and Dad being the clown he was, had to ask “Do you serve peanut butter sandwiches.”

      Perogies. Frozen perogies. Dozens of them. Love them with slowly cooked onions and sour cream. And we love them because they come from the local Ukrainian Hall at Pender and Jackson just down the street from our home. When Savannah and I began to do cultural work with, and for, our community in the mid-1990s, the good folks at the legendary Ukrainian Hall became one of our first partners. Since then we have partnered with them each year; Savannah sings in the Ukrainian Choir; and our son Montana trained there and became a Ukrainian dancer. Steeped in history, the hall served as a makeshift hospital for the postal workers attacked by the police during the post office sit-down strike for work and wages in 1938. The hall is run by great people with progressive politics and a decades-long dedication to promoting their beloved Ukrainian music, dance and fabric arts. And they love to cook. And they love to cook perogies. And we love to eat their perogies. Khay Zhyve Ukrayina.

      The 19th Annual Dowtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival runs October 26 to November 6. For full details go here