By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — Montreal born-and-raised environmental troubadour Derek Olive spent years studying classical music composition at UBC then completed his Masters at McGill. Presently, the singer-songwriter divides his time between two homesteads; spending part of the year in Montreal and part in James Bay on the southern end of Hudson’s Bay straddling the borders of Ontario and Quebec.
“I’ll play anything with strings and frets! Guitar, slide, banjo, mandolin, you name it,” explains Olive, who has also lived in Waskaganish, QC where he devoted two years to organizing and engineering a recording of all original tunes based on the musical talents of the people in the community. The classically-trained guitarist had another chance to take part in a group recording when he was featured as a performer on Amnesty International’s Voices Rising CD project. The compilation was a fitting application of Olive’s humanitarian side, an aspect of his personality which he further developed by returning to school to become an ER nurse three years ago.
So, how exactly does one go from teaching music and playing in blues, metal and country bands on weekends to healing the sick and injured? According to Olive, those seemingly disparate pursuits are but two sides of the same philanthropic coin.
“I was frustrated with music and started looking for something different,” he explains. “I knew that music had the power to sooth the soul, but I wanted to reach people in a more physical way. Once I started working as a nurse, I learned the benefits of the hands-on approach to showing people ideas, and helping them realize how they can change patterns that are not good for their health. It’s one thing to be sociable onstage, but nursing definitely pulls me out in front of people.”
Recently, Olive’s desire to ensure people’s rights to live in a healthy environment compelled to ally himself with the David Suzuki Blue Dot campaign — the Suzuki Foundation’s ambitious “mission to have every Canadian’s right to a healthy environment recognized in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The talented finger-tapping folk-popster will be crossing the provinces in celebration of the release of his second album, Mystery & Dust. No stranger to life on the road, Olive has added a twist to his 10-city tour by opting to bring awareness to the Blue Dot campaign by bicycling the 3,000 km between venues.
“Teaming up with the David Suzuki Blue Dot foundation was a no-brainer,” Olive confirms. “Stage or soapbox, let’s just say I have a pretty big mouth. So, why wouldn’t I put that to work for something as important as recognizing every Canadian’s right to clean water and air and healthy food? When I saw what the Blue Dot campaign was pushing for I got behind them immediately, and they, in-turn, have been greatly supportive of my willingness to promote them. It’s been fun to feel that mutual energy. The main point is that we want these commonly-held and fundamental values to be reflected in laws that have enough teeth to defend the environment and life on Earth.”
Olive points to activist/artists such as Bruce Cockburn, Chris Whitley and Ani DiFranco as inspiration for his purposeful stance. Another source of motivation is simply his desire to explore his natural surroundings, and the creatures who inhabit them, on two wheels and a heartbeat.
“I’ve done a music tour like this before, simply because I love cycling. For me it’s a pleasure, not a torment. I’ve ridden across eastern Europe to Turkey, and from Mexico to Panama City. When I came time to do the Mystery & Dust / Blue Dot tour it seemed ideal to do something I love while lowering my carbon-footprint and making less of an environmental impact. M&D has many songs that reference biking and being outdoors. Plus, riding a bicycle allows me to move at people-speed, giving me the chance to interact with people on the ground level.”
Derek Olive pedals into Calgary on Saturday, Aug. 15 and will share the Ironwood Stage with Ben Sures. To read more about the Blue Dot campaign go to bluedot.ca.AB, Alberta, Blue Dot, cycle tour, David Suzuki, Derek Olive, Ironwood, Ironwood Stage & Grill