Alberta Mirror

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Great to be here, and happy new year!

Finally, 2021 has arrived. And with it, the thrilling opportunity to be writing to you as the Edmonton Journal’s new arts and lifestyle editor. I’ll be contributing to and managing our YOU section, along with a stellar crew of contributors, and our wish for the year ahead is to hear more ideas, comments and questions from YOU about the section.

Some may recognize my name from the pages of Vue Weekly or See Magazine, or the entertainment pages of the Edmonton Sun where, after graduating from MacEwan’s journalism program, I was an arts reporter and editor through the ‘aughts. Fish and I, and many of the Journal’s current reporters and editors, worked together then and it’s great to be back with this team. Our mainstay contributor here, Tom Murray and I crossed paths as kids in the music scene, we’ve been pals since and I’ve always enjoyed his stories. You could say I was born and raised in the heart of Edmonton’s arts community, and I love the new things it’s continually contributing to our vibrant city.

Starting this position during the holidays from my home office was strange, especially at the end of a rather dark year, but there were definitely bright notes keeping me entertained. My first musical love, Neil Young, released a second box set from his archives in December. It contains a couple unheard singles, including Goodbye Christians on the Shore recorded in 1972 with the Stray Gators, the band backing him on one of his most-loved albums, Harvest. Promising still a third volume of archives, Rolling Stone hinted at Young being on stages soon too in a personal comment from Young to a fan, “When the audience can be safe, I will be back.” Hooray.

One of my favourite contemporary artists, GRiZ lit up the holiday count down with his virtual 12 Days of GRiZmas. The sax-playing DJ dished up a daily assortment of streaming entertainment from trivia games to a jazz concert, finally capping it off with a full-day electronica festival. Local event company, Cheshire Productions, kept the holidays lively with 12 Days of Cheshmas, a similar extravaganza seeing new sets from Edmonton DJs drop daily in the lead up to Christmas. All the sets are free to access on SoundCloud, and if you’re looking for a bit of a tropical vibe à la Mele Kalikimaka, Beat Burglar mixes it up with their set. Both these efforts not only keep me moving while cooped up, they raised funds for local charities, which made it all the sweeter.

I’d begun giving family gift money to charity a handful of years ago. After missing my usual tradition of delivering food hampers for the Christmas Bureau last year, I used the charity money to make my own hampers and delivered them to the city’s most down-and-out on Christmas Eve. The ante was upped this year with real turkey sandwiches (courtesy of a pal who made the cranberry sauce and buns too) and note pads and pencils. One guy immediately dug through the bag and exclaimed, ‘Great, I’m going to write my life story!’ I left him with a playful demand to do just that and carried on until all two dozen had been received.

The rest of my holiday time was spent prepping my home for a new year, playing with a gazillion plants and looking ahead at stories to share here.

Jenny Feniak playing with plants in the tropics. Supplied photo by Andy Day

Speaking of plants, Gerald Filipski has been writing the Growing Things column in the Edmonton Journal for 35 years, that’s longevity! His popular Q-and-A space isn’t going anywhere but we’ll put more of his questions online to share the print space with a new column I’ll be writing about indoor plants. Local growers and collectors will be profiled, tips and trends shared, and a questions-and-answers portion in that direction will also expand into the virtual realm.

There have been countless other bright notes during the dark times of 2020 and I found a lot of inspiration and strength from the amazing endeavours taken on by many, mostly everyday people doing their best to make it through. I’ll be reporting on some of these from artful food practises like fermentation and bread baking, to various crafts like knitting, pottery, woodturning and wordsmithing. We have some incredible writers here in Edmonton and we’ll be featuring some of them in the new year too.

I’m very thankful for this virtual space connecting us all these days. Online classes — from fitness and art to language and music lessons — are available, often for free. I’ve seen huge festivals and local albums releases, and have even been introduced to new local venues like the Black Lodge where Cassia Hardy of Wares was Playing Songs of Survival back in April. But it’s also an arena where we can connect with groups and individuals we’re separated from, not only by Covid-19, but life paths that have found some far from this city they once called home. Mark Morris, our classical music critic, will be covering every inch of his beat here in Edmonton, but he’s also working to track down the talents that have gone abroad and tell us what they’ve been up to.

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