Whitehorse roots/folk quintet The Bennett Sun got its start thanks to a set of forgotten tent poles.
Dana Jennejohn, a guitarist, was already ensconced at the annual bluegrass music camp in Kluane country in the summer of 2010 when she realized she’d forgotten her poles. She wound up crashing in the camper of an acquaintance, a stand-up bass player named Erin McKnight.
From the camp, Jennejohn and McKnight then headed to the nearby Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival, in Haines Junction, together.
Jennejohn had already been playing music and singing with her friend Lisa Christensen, who played the banjo, since soon after her arrival in the Yukon in 2002. After bluegrass camp, McKnight began joining the pair for their practice sessions.
A year later they added Roslyn Wilson on the mandolin. She was followed by Kyla Johnson, a fiddle player.
The group won the amateur stage at the bluegrass festival in 2012, and returned to play the festival in 2013.
When Johnson headed south to attend veterinary school that fall, fiddler Dorothy Williams stepped in.
Now, five years after the band members found each other, they’re heading to the Junction this weekend for an album release concert – a triumphant homecoming, of sorts.
Though their music ranges beyond the bluegrass sound, into folk, roots, and beyond, the group’s method of creating a song is straight out of the collaborative bluegrass tradition. Jennejohn is the main songwriter, but everyone has a hand in each piece they produce.
“Usually what I write is the lyrics and the structure of the song,” she says. “But that’s where we are drawing on bluegrass tradition. I’m not coming with composed music written on a page.” Instead she brings ideas, themes, and snippets of sound to the group, and they riff on it from there.
Sometimes a song falls flat, she says. But “sometimes you can just hear the potential.”
Wilson and Williams are both music teachers. “That adds a really nice element,” Jennejohn says. “I’ll write a song and I’ll have no idea what chord I’m playing.” Wilson will be able to put a name to it.
The band is built on the way its members’ personalities gel together, and also on their mutual admiration for each other’s skills and creativity. “We really enjoy listening to each other.” Sometimes, Jennejohn says with a laugh, the band members lose track of their own parts in a song, because they’re so intent on a bandmate’s singing or playing.
In the early going, the quintet took turns hosting and cooking a weekly meal for the group, a combined dinner party plus practice session. These days everyone has less time to spare – among other things, band members have given birth to a total of three children since they began playing together – but they still manage a weekly practice.
Jennejohn is aware that an all-female band can face some challenges that male musicians wouldn’t necessarily encounter in the same way – like, for instance, trying to keep up with band practice while nursing a newborn.
“If somebody has just had a baby, we’ll go to her place,” Jennejohn says. She remembers taking a headcount one year at the bluegrass festival, noting that of all the performers, 55 were men and just seven were women. “It really struck me.”
The album, which is self-titled, was produced at Jim Holland’s Green Needle Records. The Yukon Film and Sound Commission helped out with some funding, and the rest the band paid out of pocket. It’s been available since December, and has sold enough copies that the band members will get their money back.
“We’re going to break even!” Jennejohn says, laughing. “Which is what we wanted to do.”
The concert in the Junction will be the album’s official launch party. “We wanted to do a proper CD release,” says Jennejohn, “and it seemed fitting to go back to the Junction where it all started.”
The Bennett Sun CD release concert will take place Saturday night at the St. Elias Convention Centre Grand Hall in Haines Junction. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and children under 12 will be admitted for free. (Minors must be accompanied by an adult.) You can buy tickets at the door or arrange for advance purchase by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 8.