This weekend, Whitehorse welcomes the annual Blue Feather Music Festival, this year returning fully fledged and ready to rock.
Known for its focus on community and youth mentorship, the Blue Feather Music Festival will be celebrating its 22nd year of continuous operation; it was not even put on hold during the height of COVID-19 in 2020, though the format did change drastically.
“We live–streamed, we followed COVID protocol… We just felt that it was really important for our community to keep music going in whatever capacity we could,” said festival producer Gary Bailie, of operations over the past two years.
This year, however, Bailie is looking forward to a more traditional form of the festival, with the Yukon Arts Centre at full capacity and the return of international musicianship to the stage.
“What’s exciting about this year is that we’re bringing up some really, really high level artists, while also maintaining our commitment to supporting local,” Bailie said.
The Blue Feather team has always strived to create an environment for new and upcoming artists to rub shoulders with veteran musicians, and this year will prove no exception.
Headlined by a collaborative project between acclaimed American guitarist Stevie Salas and the Rolling Stones’ Bernard Fowler, this year’s artist roster also features Juno-winning Canadian rock singer Sass Jordan, Russ Dwarf of the Killer Dwarfs, South African singer-songwriter Dilana, and Canadian guitarist Sierra Levesque, the 17-year-old protege of Blue Feather veteran Bumblefoot.
The local talent portion features singer/songwriter Bria Rose and her band The Thorns, indie rock outfit The Naysayers, and a very special guest, a six-piece rock ‘n roll band called Cows Go Moo, comprising musicians all 10- to 13-years-old.
The latter were the winners of another exciting new feature of this year’s Blue Feather – the Clash of the Artists. Part of the effort to engage more youth and up-and-coming performers, Clash of the Artists offered seven participants the chance to compete for the opening spot at Blue Feather, with the winner chosen by popular vote.
Video coverage, interviews, and graphic design for this event, not to mention the entire festival, were provided by yet another new addition to the Blue Feather collaboration family – Shakat Media, a local media production company that employs and mentors youth creators. Shakat will also be providing a live-stream of the entire festival, continuing the process from the past two years.
Bailie believes strongly that this type of collaboration and youth engagement is the best way forward.
“We have young people [at Shakat] that are really, really dynamic and active,” he said, “And [Blue Feather has] been mentoring youth in all areas of production, and performance for years. The door’s always open and we’re always looking for young people who are interested.. It’s a lot of work! We try to build a good team, and any of the young people that are involved in the stage crew, lighting, food service, they learn how to be professional, how to have fun and do a really good job.”
For his part, Bailie takes pride in creating a festival that both offers and receives plenty of community support; funding from Lotteries Yukon, Yukon Arts Operating Fund, Heritage Canada, Kwanlin Dün First Nation, and many other community supporters help to keep the festival afloat.
“I’ve been doing lighting for years for every festival in the Yukon, but I never ever thought, honestly, that I’d be doing this today,” Bailie said. “I’ve been motivated by a lot of tragedy in my life, and I just find music, and the arts are a healing and creative tool. So that’s why I do it, and I know it helps a lot of other people, too.”
He adds that, while Blue Feather always promotes a message of hope, this year’s theme is particularly special to him – Peace of Mind.
“I think it’s something that a lot of people are trying to attain, you know, having peace of mind, but then we also think of peace in the world, right? When you look at [this year’s] artwork, you’ll see the colors of the Ukrainian flag across it. Just the little things that we do is to try and put good vibes out there.”
Bailie and his team are excited and happy to be re-engaging with the community post-pandemic, while continuing some of the accessibility initiatives necessitated by COVID-19. The festival is always changing and evolving, but as Bailie explains, the intent and message remain the same.
“The blue feather is a symbol of hope. So yeah, we have a good, strong positive message, and we’re just having fun doing it.”
The Blue Feather Music Festival takes place on Nov. 4 and 5 at the Yukon Arts Centre. Tickets are available online through yukonartscentre.com. For more information on Blue Feather Music Festival, visit bluefeathermusic.ca.
Willow Gamberg is the owner of Road Dogs Music Supply and The Lab Rehearsal Studios in downtown Whitehorse.