Executive Director of the Algoma Fall Festival, Donna Hilsinger welcomed the audience to the second performance of the festival – Buffy Sainte-Marie. Buffy had just finished performing for the crowds at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2016 in San Francisco, California and now would hold the crowd in the Kiawanis Community Theatre spellbound for the evening. Quite the change from huge crowds to the intimate setting of the theatre.
The concert began with two powerful videos; Starwalker and Power in the Blood, a bluegrass-gospel song. Then Buffy walked out on the stage, and began to play ‘It’s My Own Way’. When it finished, she modestly thanked the crowd for ‘spending your evening with me, a songwriter. This is a songwriter’s concert, you know I didn’t bring the band. Sorry about that, they miss you too! I also want to thank you for naming your town after me.”, to which the crowd cracked up. She picked up a guitar and began to play ‘I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again.
After her song, Buffy told the crowd “I sure love your theatre” – to which someone in the crowd yelled back “We love you!”, and the crowd erupted in applause. Her next song was ‘Cripple Creek” played with a mouthbow, one of the oldest stringed instruments in the world, Buffy explained, “Obviously it’s based on a hunting bow. And somehow in the world, the primitive types, that’s us” she quipped – to the laughter of the crowd, “I always figured that somehow it’d be the musician in the group, that figures out you can play music on a weapon. Swords into plowshares, weapons into mouthbows… this is a song that comes from a primitive tribe… known as the United States of America.” The crowd roared with laughter. She began to play and sing to a hushed crowd. By the end of the first line, the crowd was tapping toes, and clapping. She then changed the pace playing ‘Farm in the Middle of Nowhere’ and then ‘Little Wheel Spin and Spin” with dark lyrics.
Buffy took us down to her basement to listen to her play ‘The War Racket”, and then a treat, her updated version of ‘We Are Circling” unaccompanied by guitar or keyboard. Picking up her guitar, she played “Blue Sunday”. After that, we went back into the basement, where Buffy played and we listened to ‘Darling Don’t Cry’ and ‘Generation’.
Buffy then asked the crowd, “Is there anyone here who participates in an Idle No More kinda way?” She began to explain that when she was a young singer, people would ask where they could find out about aboriginal history. So she wrote a song, a long one ‘kinda of an Indian 101’. She related that she believed that it was the first time ‘that the word genocide had been used on stage with reference to the North American Holocaust; which has always been denied. It took more than fifty years, finally for truth and reconciliation to come forward and spell it out for people. The way I always put it is, you know, the good news about the bad news is that more people know now. And I still feel the same as I did, you know, fifty years ago singing in Greenwich Village, believing that if only people really knew… so much of it was done in secret.”
She then began to sing an updated Canadian version of ‘My Country ‘Tis of thy People You’re Dying’ reflecting the horrors that have been afflicted upon aboriginal peoples. Not pulling any punches, Buffy continued, “it was more than you know… St. Anne’s had an electrical chair, there were cattle prods involved, electric wires used. Tens of thousands of kids. We can do better than this. Thank God for Truth and Reconciliation.” Picking up her guitar she talked about the war that never happened, Vietnam, and began “Universal Soldier’. At the end of that song, she bowed to tremendous applause and a standing ovation – Buffy walked off the stage. With the crowd not stopping, she walked back out and sang an old favourite love song “Until it’s time for you to go”.
After the performance, Buffy did meet with members of the audience, signed autographs and took photographs.