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Bluegrass set to return to the Junction

After a four-year absence the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival will be returning to Haines Junction in June 2015.

After a four-year absence the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival will be returning to Haines Junction in June 2015.

The festival moved to Whitehorse in 2011 in hopes of growing its audience but will be taking this year off as it focuses on long-term viability.

The Yukon Bluegrass Music Society, who oversee the event, enlisted the service of Michael Pealow and Associates, who specialize in business and economic development for northern businesses and communities. They were able to retain a consultant through the Community Development Fund.

Moving forward, the society now as has a five-year plan to achieve sustainability, said president Robbyn Chiles.

Part of that plan includes gradually changing the society’s directives and creating more of an oversight board than a working board, said Chiles.

“In the past the board were also the ones doing all the work and planning, with the assistance of volunteers, and that was very difficult - to run a society and run a festival when it’s all the same people.”

Chiles hopes rearranging the duties will strengthen the society and allow them more time to focus on growing a membership base. Board members are still able to volunteer for the festival itself, but in the role of volunteers rather than board members.

Additional changes include creating a more formal membership base and adding member incentives such as priority purchasing for events, premium passes for the festival and special pricing on merchandise. Membership fees are currently set at $10.

John Faulkner, vice president of the society and the bass player of bluegrass band Canyon Mountain Boys, said the return of the festival to Haines Junction will help bring tourist dollars into the community.

“It’s not just the business it brings to town on that particular weekend but it helps put the town on the map and gets people into the village that wouldn’t go there otherwise,” he said.

The festival never found the audience it had hoped for in Whitehorse, after leaving the Junction due to issues surrounding visitor camping.

In May 2010, Haines Junction passed a bylaw that prohibited festival-goers from camping on municipal grounds, leaving commercial RV parks as the only option.

Those involved with organizing the festival at that time saw that as a “lack of appreciation for what the event gives to the town,” and, after eight years of calling the Junction home, they moved the festival to Whitehorse.

George Nassiopoulos, then the mayor of the village, was frustrated with the process, upset that people would be left with an impression that Haines Junction is not welcoming.

Between 2004 and 2009, the village spent $44,500 on facility improvements primarily to meet the needs of the festival.

“Even if we kind of left on a sour note over this bylaw, I would have thought that the more appropriate thing to do would be to say, ‘Gee thanks for all the years that we made this thing work and thanks for the help,’” Nassiopoulos said at the time.

Since then local bylaws have been amended, allowing visitors to camp on municipal grounds during the weekend.

As for their time in Whitehorse, despite their lack of growth Chiles had only good things to say.

“The arts centre has been wonderful to us but our audience didn’t grow. Whitehorse isn’t necessarily the destination that our loyal audience members want to be in and Haines Junction has really worked towards making it more attractive for the festival.”

Next year’s festival will be held from June 12-14 and a lineup will be announced in December.

In the meantime, the third annual Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival Warm-Up will be held at Lot 37 Boreal Road in Whitehorse this Saturday.

All proceeds from the event will go towards funding the 2015 festival.

Advance tickets are available for $20 at Well Read Books and Dean’s Strings and Music Supplies.

Contact Sam Riches at