Songs of justice and of hope
Geoff Berner will help open this year’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival on Oct. 24. (photo by Genevieve Buechner)
Recently back from Ontario, where he joined Orkestar Kriminal for a few shows, singer-songwriter and accordionist Geoff Berner will help launch the 15th annual Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival on Oct. 24.
Berner will be part of Songs of Justice, Songs of Hope, an evening of activist songs, led by musician, composer and conductor Earle Peach and featuring Solidarity Notes Labour Choir, among others. Berner will perform a solo set, but, he told the Independent, “I’m open to some collaboration with the choir, if that’s something they’d like to do.”
Berner has worked with Peach before.
“We’ve both lived in Vancouver for decades. We’ve both been active in left-wing politics and stuff in Vancouver for a long time,” said Berner. “I’ve played events with the Solidarity Notes Choir over the years. We have a lot of ideas in common.”
Heart of the City comprises more than 100 events at 40-plus locations around the Downtown Eastside over 12 days. Presented by Vancouver Moving Theatre with Carnegie Community Centre, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians and many community partners, this year’s theme is “Seeds of Justice, Seeds of Hope,” celebrating the community’s “history of advocacy for human rights and social justice.” The website notes there will be “music, stories, songs, poetry, cultural celebrations, films, theatre, dance, spoken word, workshops, discussions, gallery exhibitions, mixed media, art talks, history talks and history walks.”
About his decision to participate in festivals like Heart of the City, Berner said, “You can feel it when an event or a music venue is not about money, but about building community and getting strength from music and culture. This is one of those.”
Berner has had a busy year. In September 2017, he released a new album, Canadiana Grotesquica, and his second novel, The Fiddler is a Good Woman, came out in October 2017. In addition to performances throughout British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada, a European tour took him to many cities over several months. This coming November, he’s headed to Seattle and Los Angeles, with other dates no doubt in the planning.
In the latest news post on his website (Sept. 14), Berner welcomes everyone back to the September routine, “whether it’s a New Year for you, or not.”
While he makes “resolutions all the time, not only at Rosh Hashanah,” Berner said, “My routine is that I write songs, make an album about once every two years, and then tour around North America and Europe trying to spread the album as far and wide as I can. Then I do it all again. It’s a good job.”
True to form, Berner will head into the studio in January to get a new album ready for October 2019. It will be produced by Josh Dolgin, aka Socalled, with whom Berner has worked since 2010.
“He is a valuable editor and idea generator,” said Berner of Dolgin. “He knows more about the recording studio, more about musical arrangement and more about Jewish music, especially klezmer music, than I do. So that all comes in pretty handy. And if he tells me, ‘no, you shouldn’t do that,’ he’s almost always right.”
People curious about what the album might sound like should mark their calendars for the Heart of the City opening. “There will be some brand new material from me at this festival,” Berner told the Independent. “See you at the show, I hope!”
The free Oct. 24 launch event takes place at Carnegie Theatre, 401 Main St., at 7 p.m.
Also participating in the festival is Vetta Chamber Music, with Seasons of the Sea, which melds contemporary classical music by local composer Jeffrey Ryan with a narrative written by Rosemary Georgeson. The original work, performed by Vetta Chamber Music and Georgeson, “describes the seasons on and by the sea, and is inspired by the 13 moon season of the Coast Salish peoples who used the tides and seasons of the sea as their calendar.” The show takes place Oct. 28, 3 p.m., at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall St., and is admission by donation to the garden.
Most Heart of the City Festival events are free or by donation. For more information, visit heartofthecityfestival.com.