Festival Features Talented First Nations musicians

The Haig-Brown Festival has been attracting some excellent local talent in the last few years, and this year is no exception.  Duane J. Hanson, a member of Campbell River’s First Nations Homalco band, will be appearing again this year with the Bentwood Boyz, a group of musicians also composed of local Aboriginal artists.

Like last year, they plan to play a mix of blues and country tunes and Hanson is in favour of playing acoustically.  For this appearance, he will play the bass guitar, but he usually plays drums.  “I’ve been playing since I was six years old,” he said, “I grew up in a musical family and learned from my dad and my uncle.  I was already performing in public by the time I was 10.”

When asked what drew him to the Festival, Hanson said that while working with MISA in Campbell River last year on a project involving Aboriginal youth and art, he got to know Ken Blackburn at the Campbell River Arts Council.  When Blackburn (who also coordinates the Haig-Brown Festival) found out that Hanson was a musician, he asked him if he would be interested in providing the festival’s musical entertainment.

“I went to the property to get a feel for the location,” Hanson said.  “I liked the fact that it was right by the river.  Historically, everything in Campbell River started with the river.  I think the Haig-Brown Festival is a really good festival because it tries to create an awareness about our impact on the environment.”

“I don’t think there is a First Nations group that would disagree about the importance of preserving the environment, and right now, there is a concern that commercial interests are going to overwhelm the small communities that are being offered dollars in exchange for compromising their surroundings.”

Hanson has a degree in social and economic studies and works for the John Howard Society as First Nations Relations Advisor.  His recent experience with the Society has given him the opportunity to look from the outside, in.  He has also been an elected chief, and he is well acquainted with the frustration experienced on both sides.

“I have an ‘over the hedge’ philosophy,” he says, “I think Aboriginal peoples are in a position to take the best from both worlds and to empower each other.”

Duane playing with Darren Harry at the 2011 festival

This philosophy has worked well for Hanson musically, and he is ready to move forward with recording original songs.  He has been very busy this summer playing in the Vancouver area mostly for weddings and family reunions.  There, he says, the demand is usually for rock music.  As a writer of songs however, he leans more towards blues/rock.

He would like to see other First Nations musicians on the West Coast break away from what is classified as Aboriginal music and create something new, and he wants to help the Bentwood Boyz take the next steps towards doing that and creating a following.

This summer audiences enjoyed their music at Spirit Square, and they are booked to play at the Quinsam Hotel in November.  On Sunday, September 30, you can have the pleasure of hearing them play live on the grounds of the Haig-Brown house.  The festival is free and runs from noon to 4:00pm.

While you are there, don’t forget to look for this year’s commemorative fly, Haig-Brown’s ‘Coho Blue’.  A boxed ‘Coho Blue’ has been donated by Tony Pinder and will be available for auction at the Festival.

By Catherine Gilbert