Death came to Atlin over the weekend. It was awesome.
The Detroit protopunk band that goes by that name, along with country legend Ian Tyson and plenty of other performers, all thrilled audiences at the Atlin Arts and Music Festival.
About 2,000 festival-goers enjoyed everything from indie films to screaming Stratocasters, art clinics to beer garden antics, with everything in between like face painting and crowd surfing.
The music is the big draw, but the art clinics and other activities around town are the backbone of the festival, said Stephen Badhwar, who helped found the first one in 2003.
“The bread and butter of the festival are all the other little things that make it a festival,” said Badhwar. “If you had a big name come down and play Friday and Saturday night, would that be a festival? That would be a concert.”
Each year people are arriving earlier. Showings of films at Atlin’s Globe Theatre were added to Thursday. “Next year we’re talking about doing storytelling on the Wednesday or Thursday afternoon,” said Badhwar.
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As festival-goers poured into town, lifting the population from 400 to 2,500, surrounding fields transformed into a tent city in which every neighbourhood was a friendly one with free-flowing granola bars and beer.
Though the scent of marijuana often perfumed the air, it was still a family affair. Young kids were everywhere – in some cases, wearing bulbous ear protection while bouncing on the shoulders of parents in the front row.
But not so much at the end of the night. Not when Death took to the stage at midnight on Saturday, whipping the packed tent into a frenzy with their high-energy 70s rock.
The band came to Atlin in the midst of a world tour. Their previous show was in Washington, D.C., where they were inducted into the Smithsonian.
Atlin was their most northern show to date.
“A lot of it reminds us of Vermont and a lot of it just reminds us of paradise that we’ve never seen,” said singer/bassist Bobby Hackney. “It’s just a beautiful place.”
“I still can’t understand a beach with pine trees on it,” said drummer Bobbie Duncan. “It’s still sticking out in my mind as one of the most awesome sights I’ve ever seen.”
“We’re thinking we might just move to the Yukon,” added guitarist Dannis Hackney, with laughs all around.
Death, which was formed in 1971, is considered by some to be one of the world’s first true punk bands. After years of failing to secure a recording contract because of their name, they called it quits in 1977. The two surviving members reunited in 2009 when their 70s demo became a hit in the underground scene. Their unique story has been chronicled in the documentary A Band Called Death, which was shown Friday.
“(Festival organizers) heard about our story, they invited us and, basically, here we are,” said Bobby. “They thought it was going to be a good fit. It’s a great story that the organizers loved and we’re thankful to be here.”
Audiences got swinging with the California Feetwarmers and were entranced by African singer-songwriter Bongeziwe Mabandla, but Yukon bands also had a chance to shine.
Whitehorse rock duo Soda Pony got the tent hopping Saturday in their first of three shows at the festival. Their ever-growing loyal fanbase kicked up a duststorm in the tent, forcing organizers to hose down the ground after the performance.
Both singer/guitarist/organist Aiden Tentrees and singer/drummer/synth-bassist Patrick Hamilton have played the festival before, but this was their first as Soda Pony.
“We got some day slots, which we weren’t sure how they would go down because it’s two in the afternoon, but people still came out, danced and enjoyed it, brought the ruckus, so that was sweet,” said Tentrees while sipping a beer backstage.
“Atlin is good. I think they do a good balance of Yukon local music and out-of-towners. It’s a good-sized festival. Good vibe, lots of families. It’s a bit of a party.”
Folk singer-songwriter James Keelaghan was glad he made it to Atlin. The Juno Award winner played the festival for his first time and had nothing but positive things to say about it.
“The music is fantastic. It’s amazing that they can get this kind of diversity of music from all over the place up here for this weekend,” said Keelaghan.
“I’ve been hearing about this festival for years. People like David Francey, (Whitehorse’s) Sarah MacDougall, have all claimed that this is one of the best festivals in the North. And I’d have to agree.”
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