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Bluegrass fest puts down new roots

Can you take the Kluane out of the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival? If early ticket sales are any indication, the answer is yes. Weekend passes for the festival, which runs from June 10 to 12, have nearly sold out.

Can you take the Kluane out of the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival?

If early ticket sales are any indication, the answer is yes.

Weekend passes for the festival, which runs from June 10 to 12, have nearly sold out.

But worry not, bluegrass fans. Organizers intend to also sell tickets to individual events.

“There’s always an empty seat or two,” said organizer Harvey Jessup. “So if people were to drop into the arts centre during the day, there’s a good chance they’ll get in to see music.”

And the festival’s Saturday night barn dance will be able to take on several hundred more music-lovers.

For the first time, the festival will be held in Whitehorse, rather than Haines Junction, following last year’s falling-out between festival organizers and the village council over attendees camping on public land.

Most festival events will be held at the Yukon Arts Centre. The barn dance will be at Takhini Elementary School. And gospel concerts will be held at the Anglican and United churches downtown.

The arts centre will have musicians playing on two stages: one in the main theatre space, and another in the art gallery.

Some festival fans feared the art centre would prove “too stuffy,” said Jessup. Organizers have done their best to allay these concerns and retain the festival’s feel.

Musicians will jam outside on the lawn. CDs will be hawked at tables. And doors to concert spaces will be propped open.

“Usually the door is closed and you’re not supposed to go in if music is playing,” said Jessup. “Well, that’s just not how bluegrass is done. You come and go. We want to try and recreate that atmosphere we had in the junction.”

Attendees can even park their trailers in the parking lot to camp.

This year’s festival will likely feature more Outside acts than ever before, said Jessup. Many have garnered recent awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

Take Flamekeeper. They’re an award-winning acoustic bluegrass group. For the festival, they’ve teamed up with Dale Ann Bradley, an award-winning singer.

Such mixing and matching isn’t uncommon in the bluegrass world. As it happens, Flamekeeper got its start as Bradley’s backup band, said Jessup.

Nashville-based Claire Lynch returns with her band, after becoming a bit hit at last year’s festival. Her band brings jazz, swing and Cajun influences to bluegrass.

Grasstowne also returns, after wowing festivalgoers in 2009. They feature fiddling master Adam Haynes, who has played the festival four times with other musicians.

Nashville guitar virtuoso Jim Hurst is another old hand from past festivals who is returning.

Four Chords of Wood is a group of Acadian musicians, joined by a fiddler from Seattle, who perform in the old style: all wearing suits, gathered around a single diaphragm microphone.

The Gibson Brothers, who won the IBMA’s 2010 song of the year for Ring the Bell, are also playing.

North Carolina’s Balsa Range are new to the festival. They were named 2010’s emerging artist.

And it’s not all bluegrass. Rick Fines and Suzie Vinnick are two Canadian acoustic blues musicians invited to play. “Don’t look for a banjo,” said Jessup.

Headwater, a young BC band that’s played the Atlin and Dawson City festivals, is taking the bluegrass stage for the first time the year. Jessup calls them “folk-rock with bluegrass in the middle.”

The festival will also feature a raft of well-known local musicians. They include George McConkey, the Canyon Mountain Boys, Kevin Barr, Home Sweet Home, Second Cousins, Fiddleheads and Barndance.

A music camp will be held before the festival, from June 6 to 10, at the Sundog Retreat. For four and a half days, students will be able to learn bluegrass from visiting masters.

Courses on mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass and banjo are on offer, as well as on vocals and harmonies.

Kim Winnicky, the camp organizer, describes herself as a “closet mandolin player” before attending her first music camp several years ago. “And now I play with people. I’ve done open mike a few times. It’s really built my confidence.”

It costs $425 to register. Enrollment spaces are filling up. For more information, email

Contact John Thompson at