Homecoming for Willie Thrasher
Performs concert on stage just steps from pews he sat in as child
Northern News Services
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Sitting on the stage across from where he sat in the pews as a child, Willie Thrasher rocked the house for a hometown crowd Feb. 22.
Willie Thrasher performs during a concert at the Igloo Church Feb. 22. It has been 30 years since he's played Inuvik. - Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Battling through a cold and taking breaks in the midst of songs to cough away from the microphone, he played tune after boot-stomping, twangin' tune for a younger crowd than usual at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre show. His right arms swinging almost frantically across the strings, he belted out songs about being homesick, about love and about being good to the land.
"It's an honour, being here," Thrasher told the Drum. "Coming in here and playing here was really different. I used to come to mass here every Sunday."
Surrounded by the images painted by his sister Mona in the Igloo Church, Thrasher told a story of when he was an altar boy as a child. He said they had no water at their house, and that he came to do mass very thirsty one day. When the father sent him to go get the communion wine, he was overcome by thirst and chugged back three large goblets. Thrasher said he felt strange before he reached the top of the stairs and giggled his way through the service.
"You can bet I got a talking to for that," he laughed.
Thrasher kicked off the first Inuvik show he played in 30 years with a song he wrote shortly after leaving the Delta in 1970 called Eskimo Named John. It spoke of a powerful homesickness and a longing to escape the city and come back to the wild.
Other songs, in which he was accompanied by his partner, Linda Saddleback, were about caring for the land and getting in touch with what you need. All were preceded by a brief story and the words "and it goes like this."
Sitting in the audience was Thrasher's longtime friend and well-known Northern bard himself, Louie Goose.
"We go back to grade school in Aklavik, William and I," Goose told the Drum, adding they met again at residential school in Inuvik. "Back then, there wasn't much to do but play basketball. it was either sports, or to try to play music."
Thrasher and Goose played in a band called The Cordells, along with Moses Kalinek, Lawrence Thrasher and Jerome Tocher. They got together to compete in a talent show at the school, one that brought in musicians and revellers from all over the Delta. After some stealthy strategizing - including playing the hit song that week - the group won the contest.
"William was the spirit of the band," Goose said. "He kept our spirits up . he goes far beyond the music. His name should have been Curious George, he was always wanting to know about stuff."
Thrasher was busking on the street in Nanaimo, B.C., when producer Kevin Howes contacted him and asked him to be a part of the Grammy-nominated Native North America Vol. I album, along with a slew of other performers from the 1960s and 70s.
The NACC tour blossomed out of the success of that album, touching down in Inuvik Feb. 22 before taking off for Fort Smith the next day. While it wasn't much time in which to visit, Thrasher said he looked forward to coming back and playing for familiar faces once more, hopefully this time without a cold.