The Yukon’s “best little fest under the midnight sun” is turning 40, and festival-goers are once again ramping up for three days of musical performances in Dawson City from July 20-22.
The Dawson City Music Festival (DCMF) follows on the heels of the the Atlin Music Festival, and after doing some restructuring, including reintroducing day passes for the main stage to encourage more people to see the festival and cutting the gazebo concerts, this year’s artists are ready to rock and roll.
DCMF’s executive director, Andrea Vincent, said ticket sales are up from last year. The festival also has a surprise in store.
As a way to celebrate its 40th, DCMF has partnered with Parks Canada to present its first ever music crawl.
“It’s short intimate sets in various Parks Canada locations throughout Dawson, and the artists remain a surprise to the public,” said Vincent.
The crawl takes place on July 22, departing from the Dawson Daily News building at 11:30 a.m. Led by Parks Canada staff, the group will wander from venue to venue, “seeing spaces that you might not otherwise have the opportunity to see.” It wraps up at St. Paul’s Anglican Church.
“I can’t tell you who is playing but I can say that the last stop will be a festival alumni,” said Vincent.
What originated as a small barbeque and some folk music in West Dawson has grown to attract hundreds of music-lovers from across Canada who swarm the town of just over 1,300 every July.
This year they are expecting 800 to 900 people, in addition to many walk-ups who will purchase day passes.
“Our mandate now is to provide something for everyone,” Vincent said.
“Because Dawson and Yukon is so diverse. There’s so many different people here with so many different (musical) tastes and passions.”
DCMF board president Andy Cunningham said the festival hasn’t sold out in years, but Atlin is not to blame. Many people choose to go to both, he said.
“When DCMF started, there was DCMF and that was pretty much it. Now 40 years later there’s (lots) happening every weekend in Dawson and Whitehorse,” he said.
“We’re doing okay. We’re not worried.… It’s going to be another fantastic year just like last year.”
The decision to cut the gazebo concerts, which was originally a sponsored venue, was made to save both money and volunteer resources. It’s being replaced with the music crawl.
“The first year people might be like ‘Oh, there’s no gazebo stage.’ However venues change all the time…. We still have lots of free programming,” he said.
After being closed for renovation for two years, the beloved Palace Grand Theatre, which Vincent said holds a special place in the heart of Dawson, is once again opening its doors to DCMF ticket holders.
“When people want to play the festival they always ask about the Palace Grand. It’s kind of a benchmark for a lot of artists to play that specific venue, and I think a lot of people just cherish the historic venues here,” she said.
Five people from the board formed a new programming committee this year to help select festival artists from the 600 applications DCMF received.
“Our role as programming committee this year was largely helping with scheduling,” said Cunningham.
“Our plan was to help with the selections but with timing, it was mainly Andrea that took that on.”
Vincent admits that despite the extra helping hands, things took a bit longer.
“It was just one of those years where everything is behind schedule. We were still booking flights a month ago,” she said.
“Sometimes life comes up and folks can’t play anymore, that’s happened a couple of times this year….you just have to rejig and try to rebook for another year.”
Some notable names on stage this year include Elliott Brood, plus Yamantaka // Sonic Titan and Snotty Nose Rez Kids, both of whom who were recently nominated for the Polaris Music Prize.
Vincent approached Yamantaka // Sonic Titan to perform after they released a new album in March.
“I started to see oh, they’re going on tour, maybe there’s a chance that they’ll be coming to the West Coast,” she said.
“I just reached out and they were really really receptive to it, they were really enthusiastic about coming, (and) very excited to see the Yukon and Dawson for the first time.”
Local artists include Jesse Smith, a singer-songwriter from Dawson whose music Vincent describes as “folk-rock “ and Driftwood Holly, a Yukoner originally from Germany and someone she’s “really excited to see.”
Smith and another familiar face around town, Sara Wray Enns, will be playing what DCMF is calling tweeners — short solos in between sets — inspired by festivals in Saskatchewan.
It’s an opportunity for the local artists to get comfortable playing on a large stage, said Vincent. They will be performing on the main stage on the evenings of July 20 and 21.
This year there will also be two new workshops, a beginner DJ workshop primarily for women in the LGTBQ2 community (but open to all genders), and one for hip hop run by Snotty Nose Rez Kids. Both workshops are pay what you can.
“The idea was that we’re bringing all of these incredible artists to the community, and it would be a really wonderful and constructive gift if there was the opportunity for people to learn from them,” said Vincent.
Yukon Girls Rock Camp, which expanded to Whitehorse this year, will once again be on the main stage. The performers, aged eight to 16, will be showcasing what they learned at camp this past week on July 21.
“It’s just really amazing. They’re learning (from other women) self-confidence, they’re learning tools and techniques to cope with what life throws at you.” Vincent said.
“It’s a tearjerker. If you want to be moved, go to that.”
Vincent can’t say who, but she’s already started working on booking artists for 2019.
She’s only been with DCMF for a couple of years, but she’s worked hard to make sure music lovers will remember the tiny, perfect festival’s 40th celebration.
“I hope they they feel a sense of community, and I hope that they feel warmth and I hope that they feel welcome,” she said.
“And I hope that they get to see some mind-blowing music.”
Tickets and camping passes are still available at dcmf.com.
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