Atlin festival a bursting jambuster of sights and sounds

The Atlin Arts and Music Festival is growing up. "We started out simple, that was good," said Rick Newberry, the festival's artistic director. "But, over the years, we've had to get more serious and professional.

The Atlin Arts and Music Festival is growing up.

“We started out simple, that was good,” said Rick Newberry, the festival’s artistic director. “But, over the years, we’ve had to get more serious and professional.”

The Atlin Festival has swelled from a few hundred musicians and guests to more than 2,000 people in the seven years it has been around.

That’s more than five times the population of Atlin itself.

Set in a valley cradled by snow-capped mountains and the glacial-fed Atlin lake, it could be described as the little festival that could.

This year, the Atlin festival is attracting blues and folk artists from south of 49 and concert-goers from as far away as Germany, said Newberry.

After last year’s disappointing no-show from East coast fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, the music festival has come back with several solid headlining acts.

Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing, of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, will each play mainstage shows on Friday and Saturday nights. Tom Wilson, the third member of the band, won’t be coming north.

Though he’s a star, he won’t be missed.

“Colin and Stephen are both such phenomenal artists in their own right,” said Newberry. “Fearing is at the top of his league. They’re both master performers individually.”

Friday and Saturday evening both performers will rock audiences with their eclectic mixture of folk, blues and roots and will collaborate together in workshops throughout the weekend.

It just might be that all roads lead to Linden at this festival.

Winnipeg duo Twilight Hotel, whose last album was produced by Linden, will be carting their vintage parlour guitar and button accordion act to Atlin.

And Patty Larkin, American singer-songwriter who will play in Canada for the first time this weekend, fondly remembers touring with Colin Linden while backing Bruce Cockburn.

Larkin experiments with sounds and uses her lapsteel guitar in a “slapsteel” method (by detuning her guitar and using a drumstick and her hand) as well as child’s violin bow on her electric baritone guitar.

“I’m surprised more folk singers don’t do it (use a violin bow),” said Larkin.

“It has a really cool sound.”

Larkin, who cut her first record 25 years ago, says she’s been gravitating lately towards the electric guitar.

“Most of music was originally done acoustically,” said Larkin.

“I’m really feeling torn between two lovers.”

Larkin isn’t the only American artist visiting Atlin.

Blues guitarist Toby Walker will be showing off his skills on Saturday night.

Walker rips apart his guitar with quick-finger picking that takes from old-time Delta-blues musicians and ragtime performers.

Having made a pilgrimage to the Mississippi Delta, Virginia and the Carolinas, Walker learned at the feet of blues greats like Eugene Powell and Etta Baker. His tutelage paid off—in 2002 he won the International Blues Challenge Award in Memphis.

And this musical instruction will continue to be passed along in a guitar workshop he’s holding at the festival.

“I couldn’t bring around Toby and not have him do a blues workshop,” said Newberry.

“Guitar icons were saying to me, “You gotta see him and take a lesson from him.’”

For those who want something in addition to singer-songwriters, high-charged dance bands, Mamaguroove and Delhi 2 Dublin will headline midnight shows on Friday and Saturday evening.

If you threw Celtic, Indian and electronic music into a blender and pressed high you would get a sound similar to that of Delhi 2 Dublin.

“We like to call ourselves Celtic Punjabi electronic,” said tabla player and electronics master Tarun Nayar.

The band started out as a one-shot gig for a Celtic music festival in 2006.

“We only started jamming a couple days before the show, invited a couple friends to join us and when we went on stage it worked out really, really well and people went crazy,” he said.

The band has played to crowds of 40,000 on Parliament Hill for Canada Day but say they are excited by playing small gigs.

“We’re not a studio band, we love playing live shows,” said Nayar. “And when we’re playing a city for the first time we go hard no matter the situation.”

And those hoping to get a taste of Quebec will have their senses satisfied.

“We always get one Quebecois band up for the festival,” said Newberry.

“This year its Reveillons! and they’re taking off like gangbusters.”

Reveillons! will be leading the step-dancing workshops that were wildly favoured last year said Newberry.

“Celtic-influenced music always seems to be popular and step-dancing is pretty easy to learn,” he said.

Atlin offers festival-goers the unique opportunity to gorge themselves on workshops and art and crafts exhibitions in addition to all the music they’re taking in over the weekend.

Artists such as oil and collage painter Don Weir, painter and photographer Gernot Dick and antler carver Maureen Morris will be showing their work at the historic courthouse in Atlin.

A series of films curated by the Yukon Film Society will be playing for those seeking refuge from all the sunshine and music.

Movies like Anvil! The Story of Anvil; Picturing the Yukon, and This is Spinal Tap will be playing throughout the day at the Globe Theatre.

“I haven’t heard that people are overwhelmed by all the events going on,” said Newberry. “I’ve heard the opposite.”

With 18 musical acts, 17 visual artists and six different films playing, its hard to believe the festival could

pack in any more than it already is.

The Atlin Music and Arts Festival runs from July 10-12 in Atlin, British Columbia. Weekend passes are $80 and can be purchased at Arts Underground and at the festival gates.

Contact Vivian Belik at