Maritime invasion: Joel Plaskett, Rose Cousins and Ben Caplan to play Atlin music festival

Joel Plaskett must really like the North.

Joel Plaskett must really like the North.

After coming to the Yukon to play shows in Whitehorse and Dawson City last November, the singer-songwriter is making his way back this July to headline this year’s Atlin Arts and Music Festival. And this time, he’s bringing his father.

Bill Plaskett is a musician in his own right, and was part of the East Coast folk scene during Joel’s formative years in Nova Scotia.

This month, the two released a joint album, Solidarity, which Atlin festival producer Angela Drainville describes as having an “almost Celtic sound and really East Coast quality.”

The two Plasketts will be playing Friday night at Atlin. On Saturday, Joel will take the stage again with his band, the Emergency, for a more rock-infused performance.

The full list of performers for this year’s Atlin festival was released this week.

Drainville said the Saturday line-up will make for a “pretty full-on rocking show.”

“The intensity’s going to build through the course of the night and is hopefully going to culminate in a really great party.”

Booking Plaskett was part of a larger mission for Drainville, who took over the artistic direction of the Atlin festival this year from former producer Kim Winnicky.

Drainville wants her inaugural festival to appeal to young families — people in her own age group. She said more and more young people have been flocking to Atlin, and the board wants to reflect that change.

“We certainly don’t want to alienate the crowds that we’ve had, but the demographic has been shifting,” she said.

To that end, Drainville has booked the festival’s first hip hop and electronic musician, Winnipeg-born IsKwé, whose music is inspired by her mixed Irish and Cree/Dené roots. IsKwé was named one of CBC Music’s top 10 artists to watch in 2016.

But Drainville was quick to add that this year’s festival won’t stray too far from Atlin’s folk roots.

Other big names she’s booked include folk-pop singer-songwriter Rose Cousins, born and raised in Prince Edward Island, and Ben Caplan, a Halifax-based folk musician.

Cousins has just released a new album, Natural Conclusions. In the last few years, Caplan has played some major international festivals, including South by Southwest in Texas and Glastonbury in the U.K.

Drainville said both artists were on her “dream-team list” for this year’s Atlin line-up.

“I honestly think there’s something in this festival for everyone.”

As always, a number of Yukon artists will round out the slate of performers.

Drainville said she focused on booking musicians that have recently released new material, including Declan O’Donovan, who’s planning to drop a new album sometime around June.

“It’s going to be a heavy, heavy album that potentially could put the Yukon on the map in terms of music,” she said. “All the right things are aligned for Declan.”

Whitehorse-based Claire Ness is also releasing a new album, On the Trail, to be launched March 4 at the Yukon Arts Centre. She’ll be performing some of that new music at Atlin.

This year’s festival will also welcome some newcomers who are already well-known on the local music scene, including Calla Kinglit, who has entered CBC’s Searchlight competition this year, and the Patrick Jacobson Band, which Drainville said will provide an alternative rock sound that’s “kind of been missing.”

Local favourites Major Funk and the Employment, a funk ensemble comprised of vocals, guitar, trumpet and saxophone, will also be making their Atlin debut.

“(They’re) probably the most danceable band that I can think of,” Drainville said.

Of course, Atlin is about more than just the music. This year, organizers are planning a literary component alongside the musical events. There will be readings, panel discussions with authors and workshops for writing graphic novels, poetry and narratives.

As part of Drainville’s attempt to draw young families, she’s organizing a rock camp for kids that will give them a chance to work with musicians like Whitehorse-based Speed Control. There will be two four-hour sessions, which will give parents a chance to cut loose for a little while.

But Drainville probably doesn’t need to worry too much about drawing a crowd. Since Plaskett was announced as the headliner, she said, tickets have been selling fast. More than half of the 2,000 tickets have already been sold, and Drainville’s now trying to see if she can release a few hundred extra.

“I think it’s going to sell out really very quickly,” she said.

She’s also working with folks in Atlin to find some extra camping spots, which will be offered by private providers.

Still, running music festivals can be a fickle business. The Dawson City Music Festival, which has received international attention over the years, seems to have lost some momentum recently, and took a hit last year when the Palace Grand Theatre, one of its main venues, was closed for renovations. The theatre will stay closed this year. DCMF has yet to announce its 2017 lineup.

Drainville thinks Atlin’s growing popularity has to do with its relative proximity to Whitehorse. But she doesn’t like to think that she’s competing with Dawson.

“Whenever I hear that Dawson’s had a decline, it makes me really sad, because they are a long-standing, nationally known Yukon festival,” she said. “And I really want everyone to support that festival as well.”

The Atlin Arts and Music Festival runs from July 7 to 9. Tickets are available at yukontickets.com and in person at Dean’s Strings, Arts Underground or the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse, or at festival headquarters in Atlin.

The complete 2017 line-up is available on the festival’s Facebook page.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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