Encouraging Acceptance Through Music

By Melanie Larson

In 2017, a group of students at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School (DFC) took part in a songwriting workshop with Nick Ferrio and July Talk’s Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay. They came with the New Constellations tour and began writing what would become “Mourning Keeps Coming Back,” a song by DFC students about their experiences as Indigenous youth living in Thunder Bay. 

While recording “Mourning” with the students at July Talk’s studio in Toronto, the DFC staff officially pitched the music festival to the band. “There was no hesitation,” says Wake the Giant organizer and First Nations Student Success Program Coordinator at DFC, Sean Spenrath. “Right away they said, ‘yeah, that sounds awesome. Let’s do it.’ And that got the ball rolling.” It’s been a long time coming, but on September 14, the Wake the Giant music festival will finally be here.

Those connections to the music industry proved crucial for booking artists. “When we were going through a rut trying to fill the lineup, July Talk started touring with Metric,” recalls Spenrath. July Talk asked, and Metric obliged. Jarrett Martineau, the host of CBC’s Reclaimed and co-founder of Revolutions Per Minute, also played a significant role in the festival. “We asked him who the next big Indigenous bands that are going to blow up are and he gave us Crown Lands and Wolf Saga.”

Spenrath assures that “everyone will know about the cause by the time they leave.” There will be video messaging and guest speakers between performances all keeping with the purpose of the festival: to raise awareness for DFC’s need for a new school and living centre. Three hundred youth will also be flown out from remote communities to attend the festival as well. “If you don’t own a business, this is what you can do to help,” says Spenrath. “You can go to the festival, welcome these kids, and make sure they have the best time ever!” 

Those who attend can also expect some surprise collaborations between artists, and with DFC students. “I think it would be a real shame if we didn’t play the song [“Mourning Keeps Coming Back”],” says Fay. “We’re looking forward to reconnecting with some of the folks who we met in the process of writing the song. I think it’ll be a sight to behold. For a lot of students, it’ll be their first time performing. So, it’ll be really beautiful and exciting.” 

“It feels like the right time to do it because it’s the beginning of the school year,” adds Dreimanis. “To welcome all of the new students, the students coming back, and allow the community to all hang out and have a good time together. All you can do is bring positivity to a space and hope that the music can do the rest of the work.”