Festival, mentorship program carries on legacy of Winnipeg musician Gerry Atwell

Gerry Atwell.
Gerry Atwell. Facebook / Remembering Gerry Atwell

The legacy of one of Winnipeg’s best-loved musical sons continues to live on.

This weekend, the St. Norbert Arts Centre hosts GerryFest 2022, the third annual tribute to late keyboardist and vocalist Gerry Atwell, who died in November 2019.

The three-day event is set to recognize not only the Juno Award-winner’s musical contributions, but his long history of community support and activism as well.

Elliott Walsh, artistic director for the three-day festival, said Atwell’s legacy has extended to a mentorship program for young Winnipeggers.

“One of the things that he was well known for was being able to — and always desiring to — offer help to young musicians and young artists, especially in the racialized community, the black community,” Walsh said.

“(He was) just an adventurous person that took where he was and what he did very seriously. He wanted to spread the knowledge of what he learned to other people, and to create space for marginalized communities and artists he didn’t see getting their place at the table … and sometimes needing to create your own table.

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“The mentorship program was one of Gerry’s dreams, and his family and friends were able to carry it on with the mentorship endowment fund.”

A painting of Gerry Atwell by Winnipeg artist Franklin Fernando, which will appear on the cover of a new tribute album. GerryFest

The program, which Walsh also directs, includes nine young artists who will perform original works at a concert Friday night.

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Walsh said the participants, who are involved in a number of artistic disciplines, will continue on with their involvement in the program well after GerryFest is over.

“We have the show, but then the mentorship continues, and that’s the really important part — generations speaking to each other and spreading that knowledge.

“And then emerging artists being able to have a platform and knowing how to get that platform for their medium as well.”

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The three-day event, which includes work from mentorship program alumni, will also feature a tribute concert, plus the official CD release of Generation of Love, a music project put together by Atwell’s friends, based on original songs that went unreleased during his lifetime.

More information about the event is available on the St. Norbert Arts Centre’s website.

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