Baring Dawson’s soul

Out of a special case, Freddie Osson pulls a shiny, silver, vintage-style, ribbon microphone. He threads it onto the mic stand in front of him with slow precise turns, cooing at it like an affectionate lover.

Out of a special case, Freddie Osson pulls a shiny, silver, vintage-style, ribbon microphone.

He threads it onto the mic stand in front of him with slow precise turns, cooing at it like an affectionate lover.

In less than an hour’s time, that microphone will be a pulpit and Dawson City’s Midnight Sun Hotel’s Music Hall will be the most popular church in town.

“Freddie invented a way he talks to people from the stage that’s like a preacher to his crowd,” said drummer and vocalist Guy Chan.

“It’s his sermon,” said bassist C. Wray.

So what is his message to the loyal congregation?

Dance.

“Soul Sunday is an institution,” said Osson, as the parishioners begin to file in.

Nine years ago, hotel owner Nancy Wing wanted a jazz band for her older patrons. When the group of musicians came knocking at her door in hopes of taking root as the house band, she gave them Sunday.

Sunday – a dreaded day for performers hoping to be heard. The day of rest. The day of recovery. The day before a whole new week of work.

It wasn’t long before the jazz band turned to the ecstasies and agonies of soul, R&B and funk.

While the Klondike town’s penchant for partying was likely a factor, Wing believes it was the music itself that made Soul Sundays a success.

And hitting capacity (140 people) every Sunday from May to September is a pretty good indicator of success in a town of fewer than 2,000 permanent residents.

“It’s really about the music – it’s just good music,” said Wing. “It’s integrated ages.

“Kids have come to learn that Stevie Wonder wrote some of those songs that they’ve been listening to that have been sampled. So there’s an eclectic mix of customers and ages that come in now that are all enjoying the good music.

“R&B and funk have always been personal favourites of mine. I always tell people, ‘How could you go wrong with Sugarpie Honeybunch?’”

Osson leads the band with wails from his saxophone.

The horn cries and sings anthems from Aretha Franklin, chants by “The Godfather of Soul” James Brown,

ballads from the “wicked” Wilson Pickett and boogies by KC and the Sunshine Band.

It’s soul. It’s funk.

“It’s the preservation of the motion of hips,” said Osson, laughing.

But the Sunday night sermons have served more purpose than just a place of worship to the gods of good music, it has provided a place of refuge to musicians who find themselves at the end of the North Klondike Highway, said Osson.

“There are a lot of talented people who come up to Dawson,” said Chan. “A lot of musicians specifically. They’re looking for something right off the bat. We took anyone who was into it and was able to learn a lot of songs in a short amount of time.”

The Soul Sunday band has gone through a lot of players. Chan and Osson are the only two remaining from the original five – which included the club’s doorman they cajoled in joining them.

“He couldn’t play notes; he could only play basic chords,” Chan said laughing.

“In those days the stage was just a line of masking tape on the ground,” said Osson, his fingers still counting the number of musicians who’ve come and gone.

In the past six years, the core has stayed pretty much the same, he said, pointing to guitarist Sam Coxwell who started out on the bass.

“But he’s fabulous at both,” said Osson.

For the most part, the Soul Sunday crew does not tour. But they have played the Dawson City Music Festival and they’ve moved down the street to the Pit. They’ve played six weddings in total now (the first was for a couple that met at Soul Sundays), and their furthest gig was the Fireman’s Ball in Mayo.

The group erupts with laughter at this memory.

“Best paid, worst gig,” Coxwell said, mentioning that they didn’t know any of the country ballads the crowd was asking for.

“They made us a great breakfast on the way out,” Osson added.

“I know,” said Chan. “And they didn’t even like us. It’s like: we won’t dance to your music but how do you like your eggs?”

That was five years ago. Now the guys are thinking the territory’s capital is in need of some soul.

“We have our eye on Whitehorse,” said Chan. “We’ll get there.”

But above all, the group’s loyalty lies with their nearly 200-person congregation.

“We’ve had a really loyal following over the years,” said Osson. “People come and go in this town and it’s like something they pass on. It really keeps it groovin’.”

As for the band, what keeps them playing is simple.

“We’re here anyway,” Chan said jokingly.

“It seems so natural,” added Osson, earnestly. “I don’t know what I’d do without my weekly catharsis.

“It’s great fun. And as long as people keep coming, I’ll keep doin’ it.”

“It’s true love,” said Wray.

“I like being the band that people like to come and see,” said Chan. “Like the working people who want to come to Soul Sunday to dance and sweat and I just love being available to people for good times.”

“Ya man, we’re like a good-time institution,” said Osson.

As they take the stage, the front tables have already filled up with people.

“There will be a line tonight,” Wing warned.

With all four band members, and guests who jump on stage with their respective instruments to join in for a few songs, the stage looks chaotic.

Chan is hidden behind the clutter and his kit.

But like the group itself, the whole set-up is more organic than organized.

And once the lights go down – inside the blackout curtains of the characteristically dingy club – Osson’s voice comes through that vintage mic in quick, wet and smooth sentences. His words are almost inaudible at that speed but the tones he uses and his vocal riffs say everything.

People start getting up like parishioners rising for the opening prayer.

Their hips poised and ready.

And then, like the church steeple’s bell calling worshippers to service, Osson lays on the horn.

Mass has begun.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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