Hey, who doesn’t turn to music for relief in a time of personal crisis? We asked NWT evacuees to share the songs they’ve clung to since fleeing their homes.
Get the playlist on Spotify and use it to help you through your time as an evacuee, or as an accompaniment to your journey home.
There are nearly 40 songs. It’ll occupy at least two hours, and we think it’s good enough to withstand repeat listening. Thanks to everyone who contributed.
Note that two tracks – those by Megan Thee Stallion and Monty Python, who should appear in the same sentence more often – contain explicit lyrics. Occasionally, the track descriptions below use some raw language.
Anxiety, by Megan Thee Stallion
Submitted by Jori Lacey: I like it because it perfectly captures the frustration of having anxiety, but still knowing you’re a bad bitch! And the song isn’t full of vague platitudes – the artist has been through some real shit (getting shot in the foot by someone she considered to be a close friend, and then blasted all over the internet and across the industry about what a liar she is about getting shot, the death of her mom, etc).
Obviously, evacuating is super different from that, but it’s comforting to hear a song about someone who has been through some really hard times and is still struggling but is also really confident in who she is. You can know you’re the bomb but also be feeling like shit, and that’s nice to hear sometimes.
I could truly go on and on and on about how much I love Megan Thee Stallion. She also graduated from university in the middle of her fame and wants to open an assisted living facility in her hometown of Houston. She’s the bomb, and I love this song.
Yellowknife, by Craig Cardiff
Submitted by Gillian Burles: Rather obvious, but the images evoked by the song bring great comfort and the upbeat tempo always makes me smile.
We Didn’t Start the Fire, by Billy Joel
Submitted by Gillian Burles: Before we evacuated, I was texting with two friends and this song came up as we were discussing the approaching fire. At the time, we were howling with laughter and it still makes me chuckle.
This Old Town, by Nanci Griffiths
Submitted by Gillian Burles: It’s about the life of a town going through hard times –droughts, war, tornadoes – and how it survives and perseveres.
It has terrific lines: “I’ll be damned … this town still stands”, and “the heart of any town is the people that you know, and they’ll always call you home.”
Anoana, by Heilung
Submitted by Jessica Pawlik: Perhaps one of the stranger ones on your list, but I had Anoana by Heilung pretty-much on repeat during the scarier parts of the drive out of Yellowknife on Thursday morning.
I had heard the smoke had been really bad on the road and was really worried for my four-year-ould daughter as I wouldn’t be able to console her if we had to drive through a really bad patch (I wouldn’t be able to stop, and I had to drive as my husband stayed behind).
Singing along to Anoana – the lyrics are made from words found on amulets from the 4th to 7th century BC – was an excellent way for me to focus my anxious energy. A small excerpt I found online explaining the song I think captures its meaning well:
Anoana, by Heilung, is a song that speaks to the strength of faith, love and hope. It celebrates our connection with each other and the power of community, and calls us to come together and to be present in moments of joy.
The lyrics describe a ritualistic chant in which the singer urges us to stay true to ourselves, to be bold and fearless in our actions, and to live a life of free expression. The chanting of “Anoana tuwa tuwa” is repeated throughout the song, and is meant to signify the union of faith and love we share as a collective.
It is an anoana, a call that binds us together and encourages us to find unity within ourselves and in our relationships with each other.
Sea Shanty Medley, by Home Free
Submitted by Jessica Pawlik: This the song that I sang along to most once the adrenaline wore off to keep me upbeat. I’ll be honest, it was mostly their clip of “Away Santiana” on repeat.
Beds are Burning, by Midnight Oil
Submitted by Patrick Jacobson: The title connection aside, it’s so relevant in so many ways. It’s a song about land rights, occupying Indigenous land, and how colonization has ravaged Indigenous communities and brought poor living conditions, sickness, and poverty to the people, while devastating their environment. It feels more relevant today than ever before.
I think the song serves as a strong reminder that we can do better. We need to take better care of our world and our people. We need to stand up for each other and do what’s right.
I am not an evacuee, although I am a previous resident and I am still a Yellowknife homeowner. I have many friends and family who live in Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Smith who are drastically affected by these wildfires and the resulting evacuation. I am also Métis and a direct descendant of the Red River settlement.
For so many reasons, I find this song brings me a lot of strength and empowerment, and I hope others will feel the same about it.
Inkpot Gods, by The Amazing Devil
Submitted by Myranda Bolstad: It gives me “hope through the darkness” vibes.
Grapevine Fires, by Death Cab for Cutie
Submitted by Hayley Buckoll: I’ve been listening to/thinking about Grapevine Fires by Death Cab for Cutie for the last few weeks. It’s my evac song for obvious fire references, but also the “wake-up call to warn us it’s only a matter of time” reminds me of my husband calling me and telling me to pack the car immediately because we need to go.
The reference to the child dancing, and knowing it would be all right, reminds me of making a bed in the back of my car for myself, dog, and two-year-old in Fort Providence because it was too late to make it to High Level. That was a rather bleak moment for me at first, but my toddler was psyched about “camping” and was dancing around having a great time, which helped.
Hope in Front of Me, by Danny Gokey
Submitted by Sara Turcotte: (See next entry.)
Never Give Up by Sia
Submitted by Sara Turcotte: I’ve had two songs on repeat since we left Yellowknife. Hope in Front if Me by Danny Gokey and Never Give Up by Sia. Both songs are giving me hope we will get through this time and get to go home soon.
Atlantic City, by The Band
Submitted by Mike Smith: I’m one of the people who stayed behind to help with the construction on the sprinklers. I have had one specific song on repeat. Atlantic City by The Band. The lyrics:
Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact But maybe everything that dies some day comes back
I believe these words to hold true.
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, by The Hollies
Submitted by Tim Van Dam: Been in Red Deer and the services are amazing. People from who-knows-how-long past have sprung up to offer everything. So many random and sadly anonymous people have helped carry me through some tough moments. I thank them all.
Road Regrets, by Dan Mangan
Submitted by Alyssa Martin: Good afternoon from Sherwood Park. My family and I have made a small Spotify playlist that has had us in tears due to our horribly dark humour. We got lost on a dirt road at one point between High Level and Slave Lake and Road Regrets by Dan Mangan started playing. I had to pull over, I was laughing so hard.
Northern Fall, by Korpiklanni
Submitted by Aaron Perrott: Northern Fall is giving me hope that fire season should eventually wind down. Some decent Finnish folk metal. Also, their song Keep On Galloping reminds me of the drive out through the forest with an eventual, triumphant return.
Comfort Me, by Oliver Hazard
Submitted by Lynn Taylor: It is a simple folk song that I think is just lovely.
I’m Still Standing, by Elton John
Submitted by Jamie Dickson: For self-evident reasons.
Long Gone to Saskatchewan, by Corb Lund
Submitted by Jamie Dickson: We headed for the family cabin in northern Sask, which is where we have been holding up.
82 Fires, by The East Pointers
Submitted by Sophie: A longtime friend of mine made me a wildfire-themed playlist when she heard about all the evacuations in the NWT. The entire playlist is excellent but if I had to pick a favourite, this is the one.
Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley
Submitted by Susie Kuneyuna.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, by Eric Idle
Submitted by Thomas Wilson: Likely not appropriate for mass consumption at this time, but makes me laugh. Hopefully it makes your day a bit better too.
Editor’s note: I cannot think of a circumstance in which this song is not appropriate.
We Are All Gonna Die, by AJ Smith
Submitted by Vicky Johnston.
I Know the End by Phoebe Bridgers
Submitted by Aviva Forget: One of the songs that’s been helping me cope is Phoebe Bridgers’ I Know The End. It’s not exactly soothing or hopeful, given that it’s kind-of a musical trip through the apocalypse, but screaming along to it is cathartic as hell and it also served as the inspiration for my trauma tattoo. It’s proof that the end might be here but goddammit, I’m getting through it anyway.
Bananaphone, by Raffi
Submitted by Paige Anderson: I have almost four-month-old identical twin boys and usually we listen to music on their mobile at home. However, since we have left we have found some fun music on Spotify. Currently our favourite song that always gets a good laugh from the babies is Bananaphone by Raffi. This song is catchy, uplifting, and all-around funny.
Disco Inferno, by Tina Turner
Submitted by Lisa Quinlan: This didn’t exactly inspire me during the evacuation but I found it running through my mind.
Train Song, by Trevor Hall
Submitted by Keith Sulzer: The song is about travelling, a sense of the days repeating themselves, a longing for home, and uncertainty in what is coming next. The lyrics couldn’t be more fitting, in particular the start of the chorus:
I’ve been gone for way too long, been to so many towns, played so many songs, and still we keep on keeping on, I don’t know how
Search Party, by Wintersleep
Submitted by Shea Alain: It’s kind-of a downer but so has been this last month.
We Stand Tall, by Jaycee Leon
Not available on Spotify but you can listen here:
Submitted by Thorsten Gohl: The creation of the song We Stand Tall came from the inspiration of the perseverance, hard work, and team support of hockey and table tennis athletes. We stand together for We Stand Tall.
Free, by Ocie Elliot
Submitted by Cam Buddo.
Cinder and Smoke, by Iron and Wine
Submitted by Cam Buddo.
Northern Lights, by Whitebrow
Submitted by Cam Buddo.
We Are the Champions, by Queen
Submitted by Lori Mainville: My son is with the Manitoba crew. He’s been there at Hay River for about 10 days now. AJ is First Nations and wanted to fight fires to protect people and land. Our family is incredibly proud of him. I’m selecting We Are The Champions by Queen for his team and crew.
He and some of his crew had a pic taken of them in the August 30 update on the NWT Fire Facebook page. Thank you for putting together a playlist for evacuees and those helping. That will lift their spirits.
Topeka, by Ludo
Submitted by Victor: I first listened to the album this song is from just this week, after having meant to since at least October of last year. Hearing it now feels like it was meant to be.
Topeka was inspired by a real-life van breakdown and is about persevering through an unexpected catastrophe and finding the willpower to do so in the smallest places.
It opens with the lyrics:
I found God in a catalytic converter In Topeka on a Monday night I taste blood every time I think of summer If that’s true, I’m in for quite a treat
and continues with its equally melancholic and hopeful tone from there.
I find it especially applicable to our current circumstances because the song doesn’t gloss over its hardships, but also acknowledges the wonder that comes through in the small victories. The people of Alberta have been very accommodating, even as I’m sure the situation gets old for them as well. There are also heavy themes of past and future that feel appropriate given the way the wildfires make those things intertwine – what will the future look like if it includes all of this in the past? It’s hard to make it look like anything right now.
Running up That Hill, by Kate Bush
Submitted by Jeanne Yurris: Turn it up and belt it out while highway driving through Alberta.
We Didn’t Start the Fire, by Fall Out Boy
Submitted by Jeanne Yurris: This song played twice on the radio during our evacuation drive to Alberta.
No More I Love Yous, by Annie Lennox
Submitted by Ollie Williams: I realize this song is, on the face of it, not an upbeat summertime bop to carry all your troubles away. But it is, if you look closely, kind-of an optimist’s lament. To me, the lyrics are about moving on from trauma and leaving behind the language of a painful event.
We listened to this in our little Fort Simpson “field newsroom” after discussing different Annie Lennox songs (there was a communal rendition of Walking On Broken Glass) and really, the reason I’m recommending this is it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in my life. Some beauty is a welcome thing right now.
Silver Springs, by Fleetwood Mac
Submitted by Emily Blake.
To Build A Home, by Patrick Watson
Submitted by Chloe Williams: My housemate played To Build A Home by Patrick Watson on the piano the night before we left, and we all noticed for the first time how relevant the lyrics are for a wildfire evacuation, even though he’s played this song a thousand times before.
Angry, by Paravi
Submitted by Megan Miskiman: I’ve been scream-singing this song for the entire 2023 wildfire season. I found it hard to be surrounded by climate crises and watching the rest of the world go on.
Why is everybody not angry, crying out, throwing empty bottles at walls? Why is everybody so happy, in the sun like nothing ever happened at all?
feel really relevant when our skies are grey with smoke but we continue to go to work, hanging out with friends, etc, as if nothing ever happened.